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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index M > Category: Molecule

Molecule Quotes (125 quotes)

A casual glance at crystals may lead to the idea that they were pure sports of nature, but this is simply an elegant way of declaring one's ignorance. With a thoughtful examination of them, we discover laws of arrangement. With the help of these, calculation portrays and links up the observed results. How variable and at the same time how precise and regular are these laws! How simple they are ordinarily, without losing anything of their significance! The theory which has served to develop these laws is based entirely on a fact, whose existence has hitherto been vaguely discerned rather than demonstrated. This fact is that in all minerals which belong to the same species, these little solids, which are the crystal elements and which I call their integrant molecules, have an invariable form, in which the faces lie in the direction of the natural fracture surfaces corresponding to the mechanical division of the crystals. Their angles and dimensions are derived from calculations combined with observation.
Traité de mineralogie ... Publié par le conseil des mines (1801), Vol. 1, xiii-iv, trans. Albert V. and Marguerite Carozzi.
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A great deal of the universe does not need any explanation. Elephants, for instance. Once molecules have learnt to compete and to create other molecules in their own image, elephants, and things resembling elephants, will in due course be found roaming around the countryside ... Some of the things resembling elephants will be men.
The Creation (1981), 3.
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All of today’s DNA, strung through all the cells of the earth, is simply an extension and elaboration of [the] first molecule.
In The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974, 1979), 27.
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All things on the earth are the result of chemical combination. The operation by which the commingling of molecules and the interchange of atoms take place we can imitate in our laboratories; but in nature they proceed by slow degrees, and, in general, in our hands they are distinguished by suddenness of action. In nature chemical power is distributed over a long period of time, and the process of change is scarcely to be observed. By acts we concentrate chemical force, and expend it in producing a change which occupies but a few hours at most.
In chapter 'Chemical Forces', The Poetry of Science: Or, Studies of the Physical Phenomena of Nature (1848), 235-236. Charles Dicken used this quote, with his own sub-head of 'Relative Importance Of Time To Man And Nature', to conclude his review of the book, published in The Examiner (1848).
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Among nonclassical ions the ratio of conceptual difficulty to molecular weight reaches a maximum with the cyclopropylcarbinyl-cyclobutyl system.
Nonclassical Ions (1965), 272.

An aromatic compound may be defined as a cyclic compound with a large resonance energy where all the annular atoms take part in a single conjugated system.
Electronic Theory of Organic Chemistry (1949), 160.
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An unelectrified atom is so elusive that unless more than a million million are present we have no means sufficiently sensitive to detect them, or, to put it another way, unless we had a better test for a man than for an unelectrified molecule, we should be unable to find out that the earth was inhabited. … A billion unelectrified atoms may escape our observation, whereas a dozen or so electrified ones are detected without difficulty.
From the Romanes Lecture (10 Jun 1914) delivered in the Sheldonian Theatre, published as The Atomic Theory (1914), 9.
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As a well-known sports announcer would have put it: “ATP is the most underrated molecule in the league today.”
In The Wine of Life, and other Essays on Societies, Energy & Living Things (1981), 19.
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As soon as we touch the complex processes that go on in a living thing, be it plant or animal, we are at once forced to use the methods of this science [chemistry]. No longer will the microscope, the kymograph, the scalpel avail for the complete solution of the problem. For the further analysis of these phenomena which are in flux and flow, the investigator must associate himself with those who have labored in fields where molecules and atoms, rather than multicellular tissues or even unicellular organisms, are the units of study.
'Experimental and Chemical Studies of the Blood with an Appeal for More Extended Chemical Training for the Biological and Medical Investigator', Science (6 Aug 1915), 42, 176.
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At quite uncertain times and places,
The atoms left their heavenly path,
And by fortuitous embraces,
Engendered all that being hath.
And though they seem to cling together,
And form 'associations' here,
Yet, soon or late, they burst their tether,
And through the depths of space career.
From 'Molecular Evolution', Nature, 8, 1873. In Lewis Campbell and William Garnett, The Life of James Clerk Maxwell (1882), 637.
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At your next breath each of you will probably inhale half a dozen or so of the molecules of Caesar’s last breath.
'Assault on Atoms' (Read 23 Apr 1931 at Symposium—The Changing World) Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (1931), 70, No. 3, 219.
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Atoms and molecules … from their very nature can never be made the objects of sensuous contemplation.
In Ernst Mach and Thomas J. McCormack (trans.), 'Space and Geometry from the Point of View of Physical Inquiry', Space and Geometry in the Light of Physiological, Psychological and Physical Inquiry (1906), 138. Originally written as an article for The Monist (1 Oct 1903), 14, No. 1, Mach believed the realm of science should include only phenomena directly observable by the senses, and rejected theories of unseeable atomic orbitals.
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Available energy is energy which we can direct into any desired channel. Dissipated energy is energy which we cannot lay hold of and direct at pleasure, such as the energy of the confused agitation of molecules which we call heat. Now, confusion, like the correlative term order, is not a property of material things in themselves, but only in relation to the mind which perceives them. A memorandum-book does not, provided it is neatly written, appear confused to an illiterate person, or to the owner who understands it thoroughly, but to any other person able to read it appears to be inextricably confused. Similarly the notion of dissipated energy could not occur to a being who could not turn any of the energies of nature to his own account, or to one who could trace the motion of every molecule and seize it at the right moment. It is only to a being in the intermediate stage, who can lay hold of some forms of energy while others elude his grasp, that energy appears to be passing inevitably from the available to the dissipated state.
'Diffusion', Encyclopaedia Britannica (1878). In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 646.
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Biology is a science of three dimensions. The first is the study of each species across all levels of biological organization, molecule to cell to organism to population to ecosystem. The second dimension is the diversity of all species in the biosphere. The third dimension is the history of each species in turn, comprising both its genetic evolution and the environmental change that drove the evolution. Biology, by growing in all three dimensions, is progressing toward unification and will continue to do so.
In 'Systematics and the Future of Biology', Systematics and the Origin of Species: on Ernst Mayr's 100th anniversary, Volume 102, Issues 22-26 (2005), 1.
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Biology today is moving in the direction of chemistry. Much of what is understood in the field is based on the structure of molecules and the properties of molecules in relation to their structure. If you have that basis, then biology isn’t just a collection of disconnected facts.
From interview with Neil A. Campbell, in 'Crossing the Boundaries of Science', BioScience (Dec 1986), 36, No. 11, 737.
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Built up of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, together with traces of a few other elements, yet of a complexity of structure that has hitherto resisted all attempts at complete analysis, protoplasm is at once the most enduring and the most easily destroyed of substances; its molecules are constantly breaking down to furnish the power for the manifestations of vital phenomena, and yet, through its remarkable property of assimilation, a power possessed by nothing else upon earth, it constantly builds up its substance anew from the surrounding medium.
In History of the Human Body (1919), 1.
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But in the heavens we discover by their light, and by their light alone, stars so distant from each other that no material thing can ever have passed from one to another; and yet this light, which is to us the sole evidence of the existence of these distant worlds, tells us also that each of them is built up of molecules of the same kinds as those which we find on earth. A molecule of hydrogen, for example, whether in Sirius or in Arcturus, executes its vibrations in precisely the same time. Each molecule, therefore, throughout the universe, bears impressed on it the stamp of a metric system as distinctly as does the metre of the Archives at Paris, or the double royal cubit of the Temple of Karnac ... the exact quantity of each molecule to all others of same kind gives it, as Sir John Herschel has well said, the essential character of a manufactured article and precludes the idea of its being external and self-existent.
'Molecules', 1873. In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 375-6.
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Cheetah genes cooperate with cheetah genes but not with camel genes, and vice versa. This is not because cheetah genes, even in the most poetic sense, see any virtue in the preservation of the cheetah species. They are not working to save the cheetah from extinction like some molecular World Wildlife Fund.
From Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion, and the Appetite for Wonder (1998), 218.
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Chemical biodynamics, involving as it does, the fusion of many scientific disciplines, … [played a role] in the elucidation of the carbon cycle. It can be expected to take an increasingly important place in the understanding of the dynamics of living organisms on a molecular level.
In Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1961), 'The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis', Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1942-1962 (1964).
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Chemistry dissolves the goddess in the alembic,
Venus, the white queen, the universal matrix,
Down to the molecular hexagons and carbon-chains.
'The Human Form Divine', in The Collected Poems of Kathleen Raine (1956), 86.
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Chemistry must become the astronomy of the molecular world.
Autograph Quotation for a Charity, (1905). In G. B. Kaufman, Alfred Werner (1966), iii.
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Compare ... the various quantities of the same element contained in the molecule of the free substance and in those of all its different compounds and you will not be able to escape the following law: The different quantities of the same element contained in different molecules are all whole multiples of one and the same quantity, which always being entire, has the right to be called an atom.
Sketch of a Course of Chemical Philosophy (1858), Alembic Club Reprint (1910), 11.
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Each of us has read somewhere that in New Guinea pidgin the word for 'piano' is (I use English spelling) 'this fellow you hit teeth belonging to him he squeal all same pig'. I am inclined to doubt whether this expression is authentic; it looks just like the kind of thing a visitor to the Islands would facetiously invent. But I accept 'cut grass belong head belong me' for 'haircut' as genuine... Such phrases seem very funny to us, and make us feel very superior to the ignorant foreigners who use long winded expressions for simple matters. And then it is our turn to name quite a simple thing, a small uncomplicated molecule consisting of nothing more than a measly 11 carbons, seven hydrogens, one nitrogen and six oxygens. We sharpen our pencils, consult our rule books and at last come up with 3-[(1, 3- dihydro-1, 3-dioxo-2H-isoindol-2-yl) oxy]-3-oxopropanoic acid. A name like that could drive any self-respecting Papuan to piano-playing.
The Chemist's English (1990), 3rd Edition, 57.
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Einstein, twenty-six years old, only three years away from crude privation, still a patent examiner, published in the Annalen der Physik in 1905 five papers on entirely different subjects. Three of them were among the greatest in the history of physics. One, very simple, gave the quantum explanation of the photoelectric effect—it was this work for which, sixteen years later, he was awarded the Nobel prize. Another dealt with the phenomenon of Brownian motion, the apparently erratic movement of tiny particles suspended in a liquid: Einstein showed that these movements satisfied a clear statistical law. This was like a conjuring trick, easy when explained: before it, decent scientists could still doubt the concrete existence of atoms and molecules: this paper was as near to a direct proof of their concreteness as a theoretician could give. The third paper was the special eory of relativity, which quietly amalgamated space, time, and matter into one fundamental unity. This last paper contains no references and quotes no authority. All of them are written in a style unlike any other theoretical physicist's. They contain very little mathematics. There is a good deal of verbal commentary. The conclusions, the bizarre conclusions, emerge as though with the greatest of ease: the reasoning is unbreakable. It looks as though he had reached the conclusions by pure thought, unaided, without listening to the opinions of others. To a surprisingly large extent, that is precisely what he had done.
Variety of Men (1966), 100-1.
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For if there is any truth in the dynamical theory of gases the different molecules in a gas at uniform temperature are moving with very different velocities. Put such a gas into a vessel with two compartments [A and B] and make a small hole in the wall about the right size to let one molecule through. Provide a lid or stopper for this hole and appoint a doorkeeper, very intelligent and exceedingly quick, with microscopic eyes but still an essentially finite being.
Whenever he sees a molecule of great velocity coming against the door from A into B he is to let it through, but if the molecule happens to be going slow he is to keep the door shut. He is also to let slow molecules pass from B to A but not fast ones ... In this way the temperature of B may be raised and that of A lowered without any expenditure of work, but only by the intelligent action of a mere guiding agent (like a pointsman on a railway with perfectly acting switches who should send the express along one line and the goods along another).
I do not see why even intelligence might not be dispensed with and the thing be made self-acting.
Moral The 2nd law of Thermodynamics has the same degree of truth as the statement that if you throw a tumblerful of water into the sea you cannot get the same tumblerful of water out again.
Letter to John William Strutt (6 Dec 1870). In P. M. Hannan (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1995), Vol. 2, 582-3.
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For us, an atom shall be a small, spherical, homogeneous body or an essentially indivisible, material point, whereas a molecule shall be a separate group of atoms in any number and of any nature.
Annales de Chimie 1833, 52, 133. Trans. W. H. Brock.
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Four elements, Hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen, also provide an example of the astonishing togetherness of our universe. They make up the “organic” molecules that constitute living organisms on a planet, and the nuclei of these same elements interact to generate the light of its star. Then the organisms on the planet come to depend wholly on that starlight, as they must if life is to persist. So it is that all life on the Earth runs on sunlight. [Referring to photosynthesis]
In lecture, 'Life and Mind in the Universe', versions of which George Wald delivered throughout the 1980s. On the website of his son, Elijah Wald, who states it was the last of his father's major lectures.
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Haemoglobin is a very large molecule by ordinary standards, containing about ten thousand atoms, but the chances are that your haemoglobin and mine are identical, and significantly different from that of a pig or horse. You may be impressed by how much human beings differ from one another, but if you were to look into the fine details of the molecules of which they are constructed, you would be astonished by their similarity.
In Of Molecules and Men (1966, 2004), 6.
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Heat energy of uniform temperature [is] the ultimate fate of all energy. The power of sunlight and coal, electric power, water power, winds and tides do the work of the world, and in the end all unite to hasten the merry molecular dance.
Matter and Energy (1911), 140.
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I have lived much of my life among molecules. They are good company. I tell my students to try to know molecules, so well that when they have some question involving molecules, they can ask themselves, What would I do if I were that molecule? I tell them, Try to feel like a molecule; and if you work hard, who knows? Some day you may get to feel like a big molecule!
Nobel banquet speech (10 Dec 1967). In Ragnar Granit (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1967 (1968).
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I think that the formation of [DNA's] structure by Watson and Crick may turn out to be the greatest developments in the field of molecular genetics in recent years.
‘Discussion des rapports de M Pauling’, Rep. Institut International de Chemie Solvay: Conference on Proteins, 6-14 April 1953 (1953), 113.
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I was sitting writing at my textbook but the work did not progress; my thoughts were elsewhere. I turned my chair to the fire and dozed. Again the atoms were gambolling before my eyes. This time the smaller groups kept modestly in the background. My mental eye, rendered more acute by the repeated visions of the kind, could now distinguish larger structures of manifold confirmation: long rows, sometimes more closely fitted together all twining and twisting in snake like motion. But look! What was that? One of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail, and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes. As if by a flash of lightning I awoke; and this time also I spent the rest of the night in working out the rest of the hypothesis. Let us learn to dream, gentlemen, then perhaps we shall find the truth... But let us beware of publishing our dreams till they have been tested by waking understanding.
Kekule at Benzolfest in Berichte (1890), 23, 1302.
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I would ... change the accepted rule that the nature of a complex molecule is determined by the nature, quantity, and position of its elementary component parts, by the following statement: the chemical nature of a complex molecule is determined by the nature of its elementary component parts, their quantity and chemical structure.
'On the Chemical Structure of Substances' 1861.
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If it be urged that the action of the potato is chemical and mechanical only, and that it is due to the chemical and mechanical effects of light and heat, the answer would seem to lie in an enquiry whether every sensation is not chemical and mechanical in its operation? Whether those things which we deem most purely spiritual are anything but disturbances of equilibrium in an infinite series of levers, beginning with those that are too small for microscopic detection, and going up to the human arm and the appliances which it makes use of? Whether there be not a molecular action of thought, whence a dynamical theory of the passions shall be deducible?
In Erewhon, Or, Over the Range (1872), 192.
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If molecules can be structurally identical and yet possess dissimilar properties, this can be explained only on the ground that the difference is due to a different arrangement of the atoms in space.
In Annalen der Chemie (1873), 166, 47, translated in A. Ihde, The Development of Modern Chemistry (1964), 326.
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If the actual order of the bases on one of the pair of chains were given, one could write down the exact order of the bases on the other one, because of the specific pairing. Thus one chain is, as it were, the complement of the other, and it is this feature which suggests how the deoxyribonucleic acid molecule might duplicate itself.
[Co-author with Francis Crick]
In 'Genetic Implications of the Structure of Deoxyribonucleic Acid', Nature (1958), 171, 965-966.
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If the structure that serves as a template (the gene or virus molecule) consists of, say, two parts, which are themselves complementary In structure, then each of these parts can serve as the mould for the production of a replica of the other part, and the complex of two complementary parts thus can serve as the mould for the production of duplicates of itself.
Molecular Architecture and the Processses of Life (1948), 10.
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If there is no God, we are just molecules in motion, and we have no sense and no mind; we are just random firings of chemical in the brain. If our minds are composed only of physical matter, then our thoughts are, as Doug Wilson wittily quipped in his debate with atheist Dan Barker, just “brain gas.”
God Does Exist (2005), 45.
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In design, people like Buckminster Fuller amazed me at the levels at which he could think. He could think molecularly. And he could think at the almost galactic scale. And the idea that somebody could actually talk about molecules and talk about buildings and structures and talk about space just amazed me. As I get older–I’ll be 60 next year–what I’ve discovered is that I find myself in those three realms too.
In interview with Kerry A. Dolan, 'William McDonough On Cradle-to-Cradle Design', Forbes (4 Aug 2010)
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In your letter you apply the word imponderable to a molecule. Don’t do that again. It may also be worth knowing that the aether cannot be molecular. If it were, it would be a gas, and a pint of it would have the same properties as regards heat, etc., as a pint of air, except that it would not be so heavy.
Letter to Lewis Campbell (Sep 1874). In Lewis Campbell and William Garnett, The Life of James Clerk Maxwell (1882), 391.
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Incandescent carbon particles, by the tens of millions, leap free of the log and wave like banners, as flame. Several hundred significantly different chemical reactions are now going on. For example, a carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms, coming out of the breaking cellulose, may lock together and form methane, natural gas. The methane, burning (combining with oxygen), turns into carbon dioxide and water, which also go up the flue. If two carbon atoms happen to come out of the wood with six hydrogen atoms, they are, agglomerately, ethane, which bums to become, also, carbon dioxide and water. Three carbons and eight hydrogens form propane, and propane is there, too, in the fire. Four carbons and ten hydrogens—butane. Five carbons … pentane. Six … hexane. Seven … heptane. Eight carbons and eighteen hydrogens—octane. All these compounds come away in the breaking of the cellulose molecule, and burn, and go up the chimney as carbon dioxide and water. Pentane, hexane, heptane, and octane have a collective name. Logs burning in a fireplace are making and burning gasoline.
Pieces of the Frame
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It has been recognized that hydrogen bonds restrain protein molecules to their native configurations, and I believe that as the methods of structural chemistry are further applied to physiological problems it will be found that the significance of the hydrogen bond for physiology is greater than that of any other single structural feature.
Nature of the Chemical Bond and the Structure of Molecules and Crystals (1939), 265.
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It is possible with … carbon … to form very large molecules that are stable. This results from the stability of the carbon-to-carbon bond. You must have complexity in order to achieve the versatility characteristic of living organisms. You can achieve this complexity with carbon forming the molecular backbone.
From interview with Neil A. Campbell, in 'Crossing the Boundaries of Science', BioScience (Dec 1986), 36, No. 11, 739.
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It is probable that all organisms now alive are descended from one ancestor, for the following reason. Most of our structural molecules are asymmetrical, as shown by the fact that they rotate the plane of polarized light, and often form asymmetrical crystals. But of the two possible types of any such molecule, related to one another like a right and left boot, only one is found throughout living nature. The apparent exceptions to this rule are all small molecules which are not used in the building of the large structures which display the phenomena of life.
In 'The Origin of Life', The Inequality of Man: And Other Essays (1932), 157.
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It is probable that serum acts on bacteria by changing the relations of molecular attraction between the bacteria and the surrounding fluid.
In Studies in Immunity (1909), 144.
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It is the destiny of wine to be drunk, and it is the destiny of glucose to be oxidized. But it was not oxidized immediately: its drinker kept it in his liver for more than a week, well curled up and tranquil, as a reserve aliment for a sudden effort; an effort that he was forced to make the following Sunday, pursuing a bolting horse. Farewell to the hexagonal structure: in the space of a few instants the skein was unwound and became glucose again, and this was dragged by the bloodstream all the way to a minute muscle fiber in the thigh, and here brutally split into two molecules of lactic acid, the grim harbinger of fatigue: only later, some minutes after, the panting of the lungs was able to supply the oxygen necessary to quietly oxidize the latter. So a new molecule of carbon dioxide returned to the atmosphere, and a parcel of the energy that the sun had handed to the vine-shoot passed from the state of chemical energy to that of mechanical energy, and thereafter settled down in the slothful condition of heat, warming up imperceptibly the air moved by the running and the blood of the runner. 'Such is life,' although rarely is it described in this manner: an inserting itself, a drawing off to its advantage, a parasitizing of the downward course of energy, from its noble solar form to the degraded one of low-temperature heat. In this downward course, which leads to equilibrium and thus death, life draws a bend and nests in it.
The Periodic Table (1975), trans. Raymond Rosenthal (1984), 192-3.
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It may be argued that to know one kind of beetle is to know them all. But a species is not like a molecule in a cloud of molecules—it is a unique population.
'The Biological Diversity Crisis: A Challenge to Science', Issues in Science and Technology (Fall 1985), 2:1, 22. Reprinted in Nature Revealed: Selected Writings, 1949-2006 (2006), 622.
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It must ... be admitted that very simple relations ... exist between the volumes of gaseous substances and the numbers of simple or compound molecules which form them. The first hypothesis to present itself in this connection, and apparently even the only admissible one, is the supposition that the number of integral molecules in any gases is always the same for equal volumes, or always proportional to the volumes. Indeed, if we were to suppose that the number of molecules contained in a given volume were different for different gases, it would scarcely be possible to conceive that the law regulating the distance of molecules could give in all cases relations so simple as those which the facts just detailed compel us to acknowledge between the volume and the number of molecules.
'Essay on a Manner of Determining the Relative Masses of the Elementary Molecules of Bodies, and the Proportions in which they enter into these Compounds', Journal de Physique, 1811, 73, 58-76. In Foundations of the Molecular Theory; Alembic Club Reprints, Number 4 (1923), 28-9.
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It turned out that the buckyball, the soccer ball, was something of a Rosetta stone of an infinite new class of molecules.
From interview with National Public Radio (2000), quoted and cited in Nell GreenfieldBoyce, '‘Buckyball’ Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley Dies', All Things Considered (31 Oct 2005). Transcript on NPR website.
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It will be possible, through the detailed determination of amino-acid sequences of hemoglobin molecules and of other molecules too, to obtain much information about the course of the evolutionary process, and to illuminate the question of the origin of species.
'Molecular Disease and Evolution'. Typescript of the Rudolph Virchow Lecture (5 Nov 1962). Quoted in T. Hager, Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling (1997), 541.
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It would not become physical science to see in its self created, changeable, economical tools, molecules and atoms, realities behind phenomena... The atom must remain a tool for representing phenomena.
'The Economical Nature of Physics' (1882), in Popular Scientific Lectures, trans. Thomas J. McConnack (1910), 206-7.
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Knowing what we know from X-ray and related studies of the fibrous proteins, how they are built from long polypeptide chains with linear patterns drawn to a grand scale, how these chains can contract and take up different configurations by intramolecular folding, how the chain- groups are penetrated by, and their sidechains react with, smaller co-operating molecules, and finally how they can combine so readily with nucleic acid molecules and still maintain the fibrous configuration, it is but natural to assume, as a first working hypothesis at least, that they form the long scroll on which is written the pattern of life. No other molecules satisfy so many requirements.
William Thomas Astbury and Florence O. Bell. 'Some Recent Developments in the X-Ray Study of Proteins and Related Structures', Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology, 1938, 6, 1144.
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Life ... is a relationship between molecules.
Quoted In T. Hager, Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling (1997), 542.
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Life arose as a living molecule or protogene, the progression from this stage to that of the ameba is at least as great as from ameba to man. All the essential problems of living organisms are already solved in the one-celled (or, as many now prefer to say, noncellular) protozoan and these are only elaborated in man or the other multicellular animals. The step from nonlife to life may not have been so complex, after all, and that from cell to multicellular organism is readily comprehensible. The change from protogene to protozoan was probably the most complex that has occurred in evolution, and it may well have taken as long as the change from protozoan to man.
The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life and of its Significance for Man (1949), 16
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Life is not found in atoms or molecules or genes as such, but in organization; not in symbiosis but in synthesis.
'Cell and Protoplasm Concepts: Historical Account', The Cell and the Protoplasm: Publication of the American Association of Science, 1940, Number 114, 18.
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Life is order, death is disorder. A fundamental law of Nature states that spontaneous chemical changes in the universe tend toward chaos. But life has, during milliards of years of evolution, seemingly contradicted this law. With the aid of energy derived from the sun it has built up the most complicated systems to be found in the universe—living organisms. Living matter is characterized by a high degree of chemical organisation on all levels, from the organs of large organisms to the smallest constituents of the cell. The beauty we experience when we enjoy the exquisite form of a flower or a bird is a reflection of a microscopic beauty in the architecture of molecules.
The Nobel Prize for Chemistry: Introductory Address'. Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1981-1990 (1992), 69.
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Life is water, dancing to the tune of solids.
From Perspect. Biol. Med. (1971), 12, 239. As cited by John G Watterson, 'The Wave-Cluster Model of Water-Protein Interactions',in David G Green, Complex Systems: From Biology to Computation (1993), 36. Also quoted as "Life is water, dancing to the tune of macro molecules," by Gerald H. Pollack and Ivan L. Cameron, in Water and the Cell (2006), viii.
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Man, the molecule of society, is the subject of social science.
The Unity of Law: As exhibited in the relations of physical, social, mental and moral science (1872), 77.
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MOLECULE, n. The ultimate, indivisible unit of matter. It is distinguished from the corpuscle, also the ultimate, indivisible unit of matter, by a closer resemblance to the atom, also the ultimate, indivisible unit of matter. Three great scientific theories of the structure of the universe are the molecular, the corpuscular and the atomic. A fourth affirms, with Haeckel, the condensation or precipitation of matter from ether—whose existence is proved by the condensation or precipitation. The present trend of scientific thought is toward the theory of ions. The ion differs from the molecule, the corpuscle and the atom in that it is an ion. A fifth theory is held by idiots, but it is doubtful if they know any more about the matter than the others.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  220-221.
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Now that we locate them [genes] in the chromosomes are we justified in regarding them as material units; as chemical bodies of a higher order than molecules? Frankly, these are questions with which the working geneticist has not much concern himself, except now and then to speculate as to the nature of the postulated elements. There is no consensus of opinion amongst geneticists as to what the genes are—whether they are real or purely fictitious—because at the level at which the genetic experiments lie, it does not make the slightest difference whether the gene is a hypothetical unit, or whether the gene is a material particle. In either case the unit is associated with a specific chromosome, and can be localized there by purely genetic analysis. Hence, if the gene is a material unit, it is a piece of chromosome; if it is a fictitious unit, it must be referred to a definite location in a chromosome—the same place as on the other hypothesis. Therefore, it makes no difference in the actual work in genetics which point of view is taken. Between the characters that are used by the geneticist and the genes that his theory postulates lies the whole field of embryonic development.
'The Relation of Genetics to Physiology and Medicine', Nobel Lecture (4 Jun 1934). In Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1922-1941 (1965), 315.
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On the basis of the results recorded in this review, it can be claimed that the average sand grain has taken many hundreds of millions of years to lose 10 per cent. of its weight by abrasion and become subangular. It is a platitude to point to the slowness of geological processes. But much depends on the way things are put. For it can also be said that a sand grain travelling on the bottom of a river loses 10 million molecules each time it rolls over on its side and that representation impresses us with the high rate of this loss. The properties of quartz have led to the concentration of its grains on the continents, where they could now form a layer averaging several hundred metres thick. But to my mind the most astounding numerical estimate that follows from the present evaluations, is that during each and every second of the incredibly long geological past the number of quartz grains on earth has increased by 1,000 million.
'Sand-its Origin, Transportation, Abrasion and Accumulation', The Geological Society of South Africa (1959), Annexure to Volume 62, 31.
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Once a molecule is asymmetric, its extension proceeds also in an asymmetrical sense. This concept completely eliminates the difference between natural and artificial synthesis. The advance of science has removed the last chemical hiding place for the once so highly esteemed vis vitalis.
‘Synthesen in der Zuckergruppe', Berichte der deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft, 1894, 27, 3189.
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One can ask: “If I crystallize a virus to obtain a crystal consisting of the molecules that make up the virus, are those molecules lifeless or not?” … The properties of living organisms are those of aggregates of molecules. It’s very difficult to draw a line between molecules that are lifeless and molecules that are not lifeless.
From interview with Neil A. Campbell, in 'Crossing the Boundaries of Science', BioScience (Dec 1986), 36, No. 11, 738.
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One of the most striking evidences of the reliability of the organic chemist's methods of determining molecular structure is the fact that he has never been able to derive satisfactory structures for supposed molecules which are in fact nonexistent.
Physical Organic Chemistry; Reaction Rates, Equilibria, and Mechanisms (1940),38.
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Our atom of carbon enters the leaf, colliding with other innumerable (but here useless) molecules of nitrogen and oxygen. It adheres to a large and complicated molecule that activates it, and simultaneously receives the decisive message from the sky, in the flashing form of a packet of solar light; in an instant, like an insect caught by a spider, it is separated from its oxygen, combined with hydrogen and (one thinks) phosphous, and finally inserted in a chain, whether long or short does not matter, but it is the chain of life. All this happens swiftly, in silence, at the temperature and pressure of the atmosphere, and gratis: dear colleagues, when we learn to do likewise we will be sicut Deus [like God], and we will have also solved the problem of hunger in the world.
Levi Primo and Raymond Rosenthal (trans.), The Periodic Table (1975, 1984), 227-228. In this final section of his book, Levi imagines the life of a carbon atom. He calls this his first “literary dream”. It came to him at Auschwitz.
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Our conception of a native protein molecule (showing specific properties) is the following. The molecule consists of one polypeptide chain which continues without interruption throughout the molecule (or, in certain cases, of two or more such chains); this chain is folded into a uniquely defined configuration, in which it is held by hydrogen bonds between the peptide nitrogen and oxygen atoms and also between the free amino and carboxyl groups of the diamino and dicarboxyl amino acid residues.
The characteristic specific properties of native proteins we attribute to their uniquely defined configurations.
The denatured protein molecule we consider to be characterized by the absence of a uniquely defined configuration.
[Co-author with American chemist, Linus Pauling (1901-94)]
'On the Structure of Native, Denatured, and Coagulated Proteins', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (1936), 22, 442-3.
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Perhaps the most impressive illustration of all is to suppose that you could label the molecules in a tumbler of water. ... threw it anywhere you please on the earth, and went away from the earth for a few million years while all the water on the earth, the oceans, rivers, lakes and clouds had had time to mix up perfectly. Now supposing that perfect mixing had taken place, you come back to earth and draw a similar tumbler of water from the nearest tap, how many of those marked molecules would you expect to find in it? Well, the answer is 2000. There are 2000 times more molecules in a tumbler of water than there are tumblers of water in the whole earth.
In Lecture (1936) on 'Forty Years of Atomic Theory', collected in Needham and Pagel (eds.) in Background to Modern Science: Ten Lectures at Cambridge Arranged by the History of Science Committee, (1938), 99-100.
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Phenomena unfold on their own appropriate scales of space and time and may be invisible in our myopic world of dimensions assessed by comparison with human height and times metered by human lifespans. So much of accumulating importance at earthly scales ... is invisible by the measuring rod of a human life. So much that matters to particles in the microscopic world of molecules ... either averages out to stability at our scale or simply stands below our limits of perception.
…...
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Physicist Isador Isaac Rabi, who won a Nobel Prize for inventing a technique that permitted scientists to probe the structure of atoms and molecules in the 1930s, attributed his success to the way his mother used to greet him when he came home from school each day. “Did you ask any good questions today, Isaac?” she would say.
Thomas J. Peters, Liberation Management: Necessary Disorganization for the Nanosecond Nineties (1992).
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Reagents are regarded as acting by virtue of a constitutional affinity either for electrons or for nuclei... the terms electrophilic (electron-seeking) and nucleophilic (nucleus-seeking) are suggested... and the organic molecule, in the activation necessary for reaction, is therefore required to develop at the seat of attack either a high or low electron density as the case may be.
'Significance of Tautomerism and of the Reactions of Aromatic Compounds in the Electronic Theory of Organic Relations', Journal of the Chemical Society (1933), 136, 1121, fn.
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Recently, we’ve reported that we have made all five bases, the compounds that spell out the instructions for all life and are a part of the nucleic acids, RNA and DNA. Not only did we make all five bases but we found them in a meteorite! So that these two things coming together really assure us that the molecules necessary for life can be found in the absence of life. This was the biggest stumbling block.
In Space World (1985), 5, 25.
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Science tries to answer the question: ‘How?’ How do cells act in the body? How do you design an airplane that will fly faster than sound? How is a molecule of insulin constructed? Religion, by contrast, tries to answer the question: ‘Why?’ Why was man created? Why ought I to tell the truth? Why must there be sorrow or pain or death? Science attempts to analyze how things and people and animals behave; it has no concern whether this behavior is good or bad, is purposeful or not. But religion is precisely the quest for such answers: whether an act is right or wrong, good or bad, and why.
Science and Imagination, ch. 4, Basic Books (1967).
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Simple molecules combine to make powerful chemicals. Simple cells combine to make powerful life-forms. Simple electronics combine to make powerful computers. Logically, all things are created by a combination of simpler, less capable components. Therefore, a supreme being must be in our future, not our origin. What if “God” is the consciousness that will be created when enough of us are connected by the Internet?!!
Thoughts by character Dogbert in Dilbert cartoon strip (11 Feb 1996).
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Suppose we divide the space into little volume elements. If we have black and white molecules, how many ways could we distribute them among the volume elements so that white is on one side and black is on the other? On the other hand, how many ways could we distribute them with no restriction on which goes where? Clearly, there are many more ways to arrange them in the latter case. We measure “disorder” by the number of ways that the insides can be arranged, so that from the outside it looks the same. The logarithm of that number of ways is the entropy. The number of ways in the separated case is less, so the entropy is less, or the “disorder” is less.
In 'Order And Entropy', The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1964), 46-7.
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That Brobdingnagian molecule, tobacco mosaic virus.
In 'Synthesis', in A. Todd (ed.), Perspectives in Organic Chemistry (1956), 175.
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The artificial products do not have any molecular dissymmetry; and I could not indicate the existence of a more profound separation between the products born under the influence of life and all the others.
Quoted in Joseph S. Fruton, Proteins, Enzymes, Genes: The Interplay of Chemistry and Biology (1999), 135.
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The Astonishing Hypothesis is that “You,” your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased it: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.”
In 'Introduction', The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for Soul (1994), 3.
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The chemical differences among various species and genera of animals and plants are certainly as significant for the history of their origins as the differences in form. If we could define clearly the differences in molecular constitution and functions of different kinds of organisms, there would be possible a more illuminating and deeper understanding of question of the evolutionary reactions of organisms than could ever be expected from morphological considerations.
'Uber das Vorkommen von Haemoglobin in den Muskeln der Mollusken und die Verbreitung desselben in den lebenden Organismen', Pflügers Archiv für die gesamte Physiologie des Menschen und der Tiere, 1871, 4, 318-9. Trans. Joseph S. Fruton, Proteins, Enzymes, Genes: The Interplay of Chemistry and Biology (1999), 270.
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The discovery of an interaction among the four hemes made it obvious that they must be touching, but in science what is obvious is not necessarily true. When the structure of hemoglobin was finally solved, the hemes were found to lie in isolated pockets on the surface of the subunits. Without contact between them how could one of them sense whether the others had combined with oxygen? And how could as heterogeneous a collection of chemical agents as protons, chloride ions, carbon dioxide, and diphosphoglycerate influence the oxygen equilibrium curve in a similar way? It did not seem plausible that any of them could bind directly to the hemes or that all of them could bind at any other common site, although there again it turned out we were wrong. To add to the mystery, none of these agents affected the oxygen equilibrium of myoglobin or of isolated subunits of hemoglobin. We now know that all the cooperative effects disappear if the hemoglobin molecule is merely split in half, but this vital clue was missed. Like Agatha Christie, Nature kept it to the last to make the story more exciting. There are two ways out of an impasse in science: to experiment or to think. By temperament, perhaps, I experimented, whereas Jacques Monod thought.
From essay 'The Second Secret of Life', collected in I Wish I'd Made You Angry Earlier (1998), 263-5.
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The dogma of the impossibility of determining the atomic constitution of substances, which until recently was advocated with such fervor by the most able chemists, is beginning to be abandoned and forgotten; and one can predict that the day is not far in the future when a sufficient collection of facts will permit determination of the internal architecture of molecules. A series of experiments directed toward such a goal is the object of this paper.
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The elements of the living body have the chemical peculiarity of forming with each other most numerous combinations and very large molecules, consisting of five, six or even seven different elements.
In discourse (10 Dec 1893) to General Meeting, Nassau Association for Natural Science, Wiesbaden, Germany. Printed in 'The Distribution of the Organic Elements', The Chemical News and Journal of Industrial Science (1895), 71, No. 1832, 19.
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The equations of dynamics completely express the laws of the historical method as applied to matter, but the application of these equations implies a perfect knowledge of all the data. But the smallest portion of matter which we can subject to experiment consists of millions of molecules, not one of which ever becomes individually sensible to us. We cannot, therefore, ascertain the actual motion of anyone of these molecules; so that we are obliged to abandon the strict historical method, and to adopt the statistical method of dealing with large groups of molecules … Thus molecular science teaches us that our experiments can never give us anything more than statistical information, and that no law derived from them can pretend to absolute precision. But when we pass from the contemplation of our experiments to that of the molecules themselves, we leave a world of chance and change, and enter a region where everything is certain and immutable.
'Molecules' (1873). In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 374.
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The fact that, with respect to size, the viruses overlapped with the organisms of the biologist at one extreme and with the molecules of the chemist at the other extreme only served to heighten the mystery regarding the nature of viruses. Then too, it became obvious that a sharp line dividing living from non-living things could not be drawn and this fact served to add fuel for discussion of the age-old question of “What is life?”
Nobel Lecture (12 Dec 1946), 'The Isolation and Properties of Crystalline Tobacco Mosaic Virus', collected in Nobel Lectures in Chemistry (1999), 140.
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The fertilized ovum of a mouse and a whale look much alike, but differences quickly show up in the course of their development. If we could study their molecules with the naked eyes, we would see the differences from the start.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 73.
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The greatest single achievement of nature to date was surely the invention of the molecule DNA.
In The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974, 1979), 27.
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The human brain is a machine which alone accounts for all our actions, our most private thoughts, our beliefs. ... To choose a spouse, a job, a religious creed—or even choose to rob a bank—is the peak of a causal chain that runs back to the origin of life and down to the nature of atoms and molecules.
The Mind Machine (1998), 145. In Vinoth Ramachandra, Subverting Global Myths: Theology and the Public Issues Shaping our World (2008), 179.
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The most stable arrangement for an assemblage of molecules is one in which the component atoms and groups are packed together so that (a) the distances between neighbors are close to the equilibrium distance, (b) each atom or group has as many close neighbors as possible, and (c) there are no large unoccupied regions. In other words, each structure tends to be as 'close-packed' as possible, consistent with the 'sizes' of its component atoms or groups.
'The Structure of Fibrous Proteins', Chemical Reviews (1943), 32, 198.
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The nature of heredity is based upon the transmission of nuclear substance with a specific molecular constitution. This substance is the specific nucleoplasm of the germ-cell, to which I have given the name of germ-plasm.
Trans. Joseph S. Froton, Proteins, Enzymes, Genes: The Interplay of Chemistry and Biology (1999), 391.
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The nature of the atoms, and the forces called into play in their chemical union; the interactions between these atoms and the non-differentiated ether as manifested in the phenomena of light and electricity; the structures of the molecules and molecular systems of which the atoms are the units; the explanation of cohesion, elasticity, and gravitation—all these will be marshaled into a single compact and consistent body of scientific knowledge.
In Light Waves and Their Uses? (1902), 163.
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The nucleic acids, as constituents of living organisms, are comparable In importance to proteins. There is evidence that they are Involved In the processes of cell division and growth, that they participate In the transmission of hereditary characters, and that they are important constituents of viruses. An understanding of the molecular structure of the nucleic acids should be of value In the effort to understand the fundamental phenomena of life.
[Co-author with American chemist, B. Corey (1897-1971)]
'A Proposed Structure for the Nucleic Acids', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (1953), 39, 84.
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The separate atoms of a molecule are not connected all with all, or all with one, but, on the contrary, each one is connected only with one or with a few neighbouring atoms, just as in a chain link is connected with link.
'The Scientific Aims and Achievements of Chemistry', Nature (1878), 18, 212.
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The story is told of Lord Kelvin, a famous Scotch physicist of the last century, that after he had given a lecture on atoms and molecules, one of his students came to him with the question, “Professor, what is your idea of the structure of the atom.”
“What,” said Kelvin, “The structure of the atom? Why, don’t you know, the very word ‘atom’ means the thing that can’t be cut. How then can it have a structure?”
“That,” remarked the facetious young man, “shows the disadvantage of knowing Greek.”
As described in 'Assault on Atoms' (Read 23 Apr 1931 at Symposium—The Changing World) Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (1931), 70, No. 3, 219.
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The study of mathematics is apt to commence in disappointment. The important applications of the science, the theoretical interest of its ideas, and the logical rigour of its methods all generate the expectation of a speedy introduction to processes of interest. We are told that by its aid the stars are weighed and the billions of molecules in a drop of water are counted. Yet, like the ghost of Hamlet's father, this great science eludes the efforts of our mental weapons to grasp it.
Opening to An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 7.
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The study of mathematics is apt to commence in disappointment. … We are told that by its aid the stars are weighed and the billions of molecules in a drop of water are counted. Yet, like the ghost of Hamlet's father, this greatest science eludes the efforts of our mental weapons to grasp it.
Opening of Chap 1, in An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 7.
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The swelling and towering omnibuses, the huge trucks and wagons and carriages, the impetuous hansoms and the more sobered four-wheelers, the pony-carts, donkey-carts, hand-carts, and bicycles which fearlessly find their way amidst the turmoil, with foot-passengers winding in and out, and covering the sidewalks with their multitude, give the effect of a single monstrous organism, which writhes swiftly along the channel where it had run in the figure of a flood till you were tired of that metaphor. You are now a molecule of that vast organism.
Describing streets in London, from 'London Films', Harper’s Magazine (), 110, No. 655, 72.
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The words are strung together, with their own special grammar—the laws of quantum theory—to form sentences, which are molecules. Soon we have books, entire libraries, made out of molecular “sentences.” The universe is like a library in which the words are atoms. Just look at what has been written with these hundred words! Our own bodies are books in that library, specified by the organization of molecules—but the universe and literature are organizations of identical, interchangeable objects; they are information systems.
In The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature (1983), 255.
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There is beauty in discovery. There is mathematics in music, a kinship of science and poetry in the description of nature, and exquisite form in a molecule. Attempts to place different disciplines in different camps are revealed as artificial in the face of the unity of knowledge. All illiterate men are sustained by the philosopher, the historian, the political analyst, the economist, the scientist, the poet, the artisan, and the musician.
From address (1958), upon being appointed Chancellor of the University of California.
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To Avogadro and Cannizzaro, as to Couper and Kekulé, the molecules and atoms considered in this great theory were real objects: they were thought of the same way as one thinks of tables and chairs.
On the Operational Interpretation of Classical Chemistry', British Journal for the Philosophy of Science (1955), 6, 32. In Mary Jo Nye, From Chemical Philosophy to Theoretical Chemistry (1993), 58
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We are just beginning to understand how molecular reaction systems have found a way to “organize themselves”. We know that processes of this nature ultimately led to the life cycle, and that (for the time being?) Man with his central nervous system, i.e. his memory, his mind, and his soul, stands at the end of this development and feels compelled to understand this development. For this purpose he must penetrate into the smallest units of time and space, which also requires new ideas to make these familiar concepts from physics of service in understanding what has, right into our century, appeared to be beyond the confines of space and time.
Answering “Where Now?” as the conclusion of his Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1967) on 'Immeasurably Fast Reactions', published in Nobel Lectures, Chemistry 1963-1970 (1972).
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We are survival machines—robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment.
From Preface to The Selfish Gene (1976, 2006), xxi.
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We define thermodynamics ... as the investigation of the dynamical and thermal properties of bodies, deduced entirely from the first and second law of thermodynamics, without speculation as to the molecular constitution.
The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (2003), 664-665.
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We have come a long way on that old molecule [DNA].
In The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974, 1979), 28.
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We knew that DNA was important. We knew it was an important molecule. And we knew that its shape was likely to be important. But we didn’t realise I think just how important it would be. Put in other words, we didn’t realise that the shape would give us a clue to the replication mechanism. And this turned out to be really an unexpected dividend from finding out what the shape was.
From Transcript of BBC TV program, The Prizewinners (1962).
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We must ascribe to all cells an independent vitality; that is, such combinations of molecules as occur in any single cell are capable of setting free the power by which it is enabled to take up fresh molecules.
In Theodor Schwann and Henry Smith (trans.), 'Theory of the Cells', Microscopical Researches Into the Accordance in the Structure and Growth of Animals and Plants (1839, 1847), 192.
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We set out, therefore, with the supposition that an organised body is not produced by a fundamental power which is guided in its operation by a definite idea, but is developed, according to blind laws of necessity, by powers which, like those of inorganic nature, are established by the very existence of matter. As the elementary materials of organic nature are not different from those of the inorganic kingdom, the source of the organic phenomena can only reside in another combination of these materials, whether it be in a peculiar mode of union of the elementary atoms to form atoms of the second order, or in the arrangement of these conglomerate molecules when forming either the separate morphological elementary parts of organisms, or an entire organism.
Mikroskopische Untersuchungen über die Uebereinstimmung in der Struktur und dem Wachsthum der Thiere und Pflanzen (1839). Microscopic Researches into the Accordance in the Structure and Growth of Animals and Plants, trans. Henry Smith (1847), 190-1.
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We should first look at the evidence that DNA itself is not the direct template that orders amino acid sequences. Instead, the genetic information of DNA is transferred to another class of molecules which then serve as the protein templates. These intermediate templates are molecules of ribonucleic acid (RNA), large polymeric molecules chemically very similar to DNA. Their relation to DNA and protein is usually summarized by the central dogma, a How scheme for genetic information first proposed some twenty years ago.
In Molecular Biology of the Gene (1965), 281-282.
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We suppose ... that the constituent molecules of any simple gas whatever (i.e., the molecules which are at such a distance from each other that they cannot exercise their mutual action) are not formed of a solitary elementary molecule, but are made up of a certain number of these molecules united by attraction to form a single one.
'Essay on a Manner of Determining the Relative Masses of the Elementary Molecules of Bodies, and the Proportions in which they enter into these Compounds', Journal de Physique, 1811, 73, 58-76. In Foundations of the Molecular Theory: Alembic Club Reprints, Number 4 (1923), 31.
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We think of something that has four legs and wags its tail as being alive. We look at a rock and say it’s not living. Yet when we get down to the no man’s land of virus particles and replicating molecules, we are hard put to define what is living and what is non-living.
From interview, 'The Seeds of Life', in The Omni Interviews (1984), 4.
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We’re inquiring into the deepest nature of our constitutions: How we inherit from each other. How we can change. How our minds think. How our will is related to our thoughts. How our thoughts are related to our molecules.
Newsweek 4 Jul 76
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What attracted me to immunology was that the whole thing seemed to revolve around a very simple experiment: take two different antibody molecules and compare their primary sequences. The secret of antibody diversity would emerge from that. Fortunately at the time I was sufficiently ignorant of the subject not to realise how naive I was being.
From Nobel Lecture (8 Dec 1984), collected in Tore Frängsmyr and ‎Jan Lindsten (eds.), Nobel Lectures in Physiology Or Medicine: 1981-1990 (1993), 248.
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What is there about fire that's so lovely? ... It's perpetual motion; the thing man wanted to invent but never did. Or almost perpetual motion. ... What is fire? It's a mystery. Scientists give us gobbledegook about friction and molecules. But they don't really know.
[Fahrenheit 451 refers to the temperature at which book paper burns. In the short novel of this title 'firemen' burn books forbidden by the totalitaran regime.]
Fahrenheit 451 (1953, 1996), 115.
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When carbon (C), Oxygen (o) and hydrogen (H) atoms bond in a certain way to form sugar, the resulting compound has a sweet taste. The sweetness resides neither in the C, nor in the O, nor in the H; it resides in the pattern that emerges from their interaction. It is an emergent property. Moreover, strictly speaking, is not a property of the chemical bonds. It is a sensory experience that arises when the sugar molecules interact with the chemistry of our taste buds, which in turns causes a set of neurons to fire in a certain way. The experience of sweetness emerges from that neural activity.
In The Hidden Connections (2002), 116-117.
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When ultra-violet light acts on a mixture of water, carbon dioxide, and ammonia, a vast variety of organic substances are made, including sugars and apparently some of the materials from which proteins are built up…. But before the origin of life they must have accumulated till the primitive oceans reached the consistency of hot dilute soup…. The first living or half-living things were probably large molecules synthesized under the influence of the sun’s radiation, and only capable of reproduction in the particularly favorable medium in which they originated….
In 'The Origin of Life', The Inequality of Man: And Other Essays (1932, 1937), 152.
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Who then can calculate the path of the molecule? how do we know that the creations of worlds are not determined by the fall of grains of sand?
Victor Hugo and Charles E. Wilbour (trans.), Les Misérables (1862), 41.
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Why are atoms so small? ... Many examples have been devised to bring this fact home to an audience, none of them more impressive than the one used by Lord Kelvin: Suppose that you could mark the molecules in a glass of water, then pour the contents of the glass into the ocean and stir the latter thoroughly so as to distribute the marked molecules uniformly throughout the seven seas; if you then took a glass of water anywhere out of the ocean, you would find in it about a hundred of your marked molecules.
What is life?: the Physical Aspect of the Living Cell (1944). Collected in What is Life? with Mind And Matter & Autobiographical Sketches (1967, 1992), 6-7.
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Why can the chemist not take the requisite numbers of atoms and simply put them together? The answer is that the chemist never has atoms at his disposal, and if he had, the direct combination of the appropriate numbers of atoms would lead only to a Brobdingnagian potpourri of different kinds of molecules, having a vast array of different structures. What the chemist has at hand always consists of substances, themselves made up of molecules, containing defined numbers of atoms in ordered arrangements. Consequently, in order to synthesize anyone substance, his task is that of combining, modifying, transforming, and tailoring known substances, until the total effect of his manipulations is the conversion of one or more forms of matter into another.
In 'Art and Science in the Synthesis of Organic Compounds: Retrospect and Prospect', in Maeve O'Connor (ed.), Pointers and Pathways in Research (1963), 28.
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Without any doubt, the regularity which astronomy shows us in the movements of the comets takes place in all phenomena. The trajectory of a simple molecule of air or vapour is regulated in a manner as certain as that of the planetary orbits; the only difference between them is that which is contributed by our ignorance. Probability is relative in part to this ignorance, and in part to our knowledge.
Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1814), 5th edition (1825), trans. Andrew I. Dale (1995), 3.
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[Beyond natural history] Other biological sciences take up the study at other levels of organization: dissecting the individual into organs and tissues and seeing how these work together, as in physiology; reaching down still further to the level of cells, as in cytology; and reaching the final biological level with the study of living molecules and their interactions, as in biochemistry. No one of these levels can be considered as more important than any other.
In The Nature of Natural History (1961, 2014), 7.
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[Molecular biology] is concerned particularly with the forms of biological molecules and with the evolution, exploitation and ramification of these forms in the ascent to higher and higher levels of organisation. Molecular biology is predominantly three-dimensional and structural—which does not mean, however, that it is merely a refinement of morphology. It must at the same time inquire into genesis and function.
From Harvey lecture (1951). As cited by John Law in 'The Case of X-ray Protein Crystallography', collected in Gerard Lemaine (ed.), Perspectives on the Emergence of Scientific Disciplines, 1976, 141.
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[Our work on the structure of DNA] was fairly fast, but you know, we were lucky. One must remember, it was based on the X-ray work done here in London started off by Morris Wilkins and carried on by Rosalind Franklin, and we wouldn’t have got to the stage of at least having a molecular model, if it hadn't been for their work.
Quoted and cited from BBC radio (1999) in transcript of Australian ABC radio program PM (30 Jul 2004) on the ABC website.
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[S]uppose you make a hole in an ordinary evacuated electric light bulb and allow the air molecules to pass in at the rate of 1,000,000 a second, the bulb will become full of air in approximately 100,000,000 years.
In Lecture (1936) on 'Forty Years of Atomic Theory', collected in Needham and Pagel (eds.) in Background to Modern Science: Ten Lectures at Cambridge Arranged by the History of Science Committee, (1938), 99.
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[The nanotube] brings those properties you cannot get from other organic molecules. And it’s still carbon, so it has organic chemistry. Here is an object that has, to a superlative degree, the aspects that we hold most central to the inorganic world: hardness, toughness, terrific strength, thermal and electrical conductivity. Things you just can’t do with bone and wood. But it’s made out of carbon. It's something that plays the game at the same level of perfection as molecules and life.
From interview in 'Wires of Wonder', Technology Review (Mar 2001), 104, No. 2, 88.
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[The] structural theory is of extreme simplicity. It assumes that the molecule is held together by links between one atom and the next: that every kind of atom can form a definite small number of such links: that these can be single, double or triple: that the groups may take up any position possible by rotation round the line of a single but not round that of a double link: finally that with all the elements of the first short period [of the periodic table], and with many others as well, the angles between the valencies are approximately those formed by joining the centre of a regular tetrahedron to its angular points. No assumption whatever is made as to the mechanism of the linkage. Through the whole development of organic chemistry this theory has always proved capable of providing a different structure for every different compound that can be isolated. Among the hundreds of thousands of known substances, there are never more isomeric forms than the theory permits.
Presidential Address to the Chemical Society (16 Apr 1936), Journal of the Chemical Society (1936), 533.
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[To elucidate using models] the different combining powers in elementary atoms, I … select my illustrations from that most delightful of games, croquet. Let the croquet balls represent our atoms, and let us distinguish the atoms of different elements by different colours. The white balls are hydrogen, the green ones chlorine atoms; the atoms of fiery oxygen are red, those of nitrogen, blue; the carbon atoms, lastly, are naturally represented by black balls. But we have, in addition, exhibit the different combining powers of these atoms … by screwing into the balls a number of metallic arms (tubes and pins), which correspond respectively to the combining powers of the atoms represented … to join the balls … in imitation of the atomic edifices represented.
Paper presented at the Friday Discourse of the the Royal Institution (7 Apr 1865). 'On the Combining Power of Atoms', Proceedings of the Royal Institution (1865), 4, No. 42, 416.
Science quotes on:  |  Atom (251)  |  Model (64)

…the Form or true definition of heat … is in few words as follows: Heat is a motion; expansive, restrained, and acting in its strife upon the smaller particles of bodies. But the expansion is thus modified; while it expands all ways, it has at the same time an inclination upward. And the struggle in the particles is modified also; it is not sluggish, but hurried and with violence.
Novum Oranum (1620), Book 2, Aphorism 20. Translated as 'First Vintage Concerning the Form of Heat', The New Organon: Aphorisms Concerning the Interpretation of Nature and the Kingdom of Man), collected in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1857), Vol. 4, 154-5.
Science quotes on:  |  Heat (90)


Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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