Periodic Table Quotes


Some scattered quotes about the periodic table. Take ‘em or leave ‘em. (And by way, I’m always looking for more…)

We’ll start with my favorite:

[On learning about the periodic table] “For the first time I saw a medley of haphazard facts fall into line and order. All the jumbles and recipes and hotchpotch of the inorganic chemistry of my boyhood seemed to fit themselves into the scheme before my eyes — as though one were standing beside a jungle and it suddenly transformed itself into a Dutch garden.”
—C.P. Snow

Another justly famous one:

“I thought of another moral, more down to earth and concrete, and I believe that every militant chemist can confirm it: that one must distrust the almost-the-same (…) the practically identical, the approximate, the or-even, all surrogates and all patchwork. The differences can be small, but they can lead to radically different consequences, like a railroad’s switch points; the chemist’s trade consists in good part in being aware of these differences, knowing them close up, and foreseeing their effects. And not only the chemist’s trade”
—Primo Levi, “Potassium,” The Periodic Table

Let’s hope we never need this one:

From the place of ground zero,
……O Lord, deliver us.
From the rain of the cobalt,
……O Lord, deliver us.
From the rain of the strontium,
……O Lord, deliver us.
From the rain of the cesium,
……O Lord, deliver us.
—monks’ prayer from the post-apocalyptic novel A Canticle for Liebowitz, by Walter Miller.

The periodic table (or at least the high end of it) meets the funny pages:

“Have you considered the possibility that human beings are the chemical reaction that produces superheavy elements?”
“That’s a scary thought.”
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Not strictly periodic table related, but a good one to keep in mind:

“It is disconcerting to reflect on the number of students we have flunked in chemistry for not knowing what we later found to be untrue.”
—Robert L. Weber, Science With a Smile

Not sure what this one means:

I never let a cyborg take out the garbage / I’m sorry I stole the radio / I did it
I sawed the legs off the periodic table / I re-elected the President / I did it, it was my fault
—“I’m Sorry,” a song by by King Missile

A joke:

A chemistry teacher was berating the students for not learning the Periodic Table of the Elements. She said, “Why when I was your age I knew both their names and weights.”
One kid popped up, “Yeah, but teach, there were so few of them back then.”
—from Chemistry Jokes and the Periodic Table, which by the by contains oodles of bad periodic puns.

We’ll end with another classic:

As long as chemistry is studied, there will be a periodic table. And even if someday we communicate with another part of the universe, we can be sure that one thing both cultures will have in common is an ordered system of the elements that will be instantly recognizable by both intelligent life forms.
—John Emsley, Nature’s building blocks: an A-Z guide to the elements