Happy Chemistry Year!

Finally, it’s our year.

Thanks to the good graces of the United Nations, 2011 is the International Year of Chemistry. I’m planning to do everything I can think of to draw attention to the wonders of chemistry—its science, its history, its creativity, its technologies, its contributions to the common good, its limitations, its peccadilloes. In short, the story of chemistry is the story of the human enterprise.

To start the year, here is my assessment of the three worst and the three best things about chemistry:


  • It’s a difficult subject. You have to memorize scads of reactions to master organic chemistry. And for pure hardness, few things top quantum chemistry in challenging one’s mental acuity.

  • It has a bad reputation. Some of this is deserved (releasing chemicals into the environment without regard to consequences, for example), but some is just sheer ignorance (as in those who wish for “a world without chemicals”).

  • It has an inferiority complex vis-à-vis both physics and biology. Best putdown? Physics is for people not creative enough to be chemists; biology is for those not smart enough for chemistry.


  • It solves real-world problems by making things that didn’t exist before.

  • It’s great for revolting smells, awesome fireworks, and things that are gooey, gummy, and icky. This is the stuff of growing up and becoming thoroughly intrigued by our world.

  • It has a great history, full of heroic, inspirational characters. Plus a few rascals and ne’er-do-wells. Both categories are favorites of mine.


Posted In: Education | History

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