Friday, June 29, 2012

What are your favorite chemistry aphorisms?

On days when the Forces of Good are on the run from the Forces of Evil, I'm reminded of Colin Powell's rules (which I wrote down into my quote book in 1995 or so):
  1. It ain't as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
  2. Get mad, then get over it.
  3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
  4. It can be done!
  5. Be careful what you choose. You may get it.
  6. Don't let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
  7. You can't make someone else's choices. You shouldn't let someone else make yours.
  8. Check small things.
  9. Share credit.
  10. Remain calm. Be kind.
  11. Have a vision. Be demanding.
  12. Don't take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
  13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.
Rule #1 and #10 are important for me to remember. 

I'm also reminded of how much I love aphorisms of all sorts. One of the early signs of Derek Lowe's greatness, I understand, is that copies of his "Laws of the Lab" circulated long before mammoths ruled the earth the beginning of the World Wide Web. My favorite is "You should only believe yields in Tetrahedron Letters papers if you also send off for everything you see advertised on late-night TV."

Readers, what are your favorite aphorisms or proverbs, chemistry-related or otherwise? I'll nominate this one from Solomon:
Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred.
Have a good weekend!


  1. We try things. Sometimes they work.

  2. Do the right thing. DRT. In my company a chemist in san Diego started saying it all the time and then DRT spread with chemists across the company. If something feels wrong, you should stop and say DRT to yourself.

  3. Related to Brandon's, I've always been fond of a quote attributed to Niels Bohr - "An expert is a person who has found out by his own painful experience all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field."

  4. Never threaten your colleagues with violence, it ruins the surprise.

  5. My experience tells me that success is easier achieved by following the motto of another great African American:
    I am Rick James, bitch!

  6. Young whippersnappers! I miss being about to go through the drive-through for a Big Mammoth and fries. Good times.

    But yeah, I did have people coming up to me in the late 80s and on into the 1990s telling me that they'd had copies of the Laws around their grad school labs. Spread by photocopier, the old-fashioned way. . .

  7. I put the following quote at the start of my PhD thesis:

    "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan, 'press on' has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race." --Calvin Coolidge

    Although I was tempted to go for a shorter, but no less true, quote from Ogden Nash
    "Abracadabra, so we learn, the more we create, the less we earn"

    I once read a PhD thesis which started which started with this remarkably apposite quote from 19th century Christian preacher Edward McKendree Bounds:
    "Men are looking for better methods, God is looking for better men"

    I've also found it important in the lab to always remember what William Gibson once said:
    “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, surrounded by assholes.”

  8. "One day I will take my cobwebs down and have them dry cleaned."

  9. Is there an older version of Lowe's Laws available? His Pipeline archive only has 6 listed with the first mentioning that there is a 3-years older list he is adding to. Was there an original list that was photocopied around?

    1. I believe I've seen a copy, and it was about 10 or 15 aphorisms. Unwisely, I did not ask for a copy immediately.

    2. Well, a look through the 2002 archives was entertaining, but no Laws appeared. If anyone can point to them, it would be much appreciated!

  10. 11. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade...or, when a reaction gives you poor selectivity, call it stereodivergent.

  11. An appliance repair man had gone to laundry school. He gave the following recommendation to someone I know:

    Laundry soap has chemicals in it. Noone knows what these chemicals are, so just look for the soap with the longest list of chemicals. Longest list means it has the most chemicals in it, which is good because "Chemicals do stuff."

  12. When I was buying a new driver at the local golf store, the salesman said that the metal composite allowed the ball to be driven further and straighter. I asked him how it did that, he replied "you know, molecules and shit."

  13. "Ludwig Boltzmann, who spent much of his life studying statistical mechanics, died in 1906, by his own hand. Paul Ehrenfest, carrying on the work, died similarly in 1933. Now it is our turn to study statistical mechanics. Perhaps it will be wise to approach the subject cautiously." - intro to a thermodynamics text

  14. in the olden days (early 60s) synthetic soap would have been spelled "sope" by procter&gamble chemists, fwiw