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Who said: “The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it... That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”
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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index N > Category: Nitrogen

Nitrogen Quotes (26 quotes)

A force unconnected with matter, hovering loose over matter, is an utterly empty conception. In nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, in sulphur and phosphorus, their several properties have dwelt from all eternity.
As quoted in Ludwig Büchner, Force and Matter: Or, Principles of the Natural Order of the Universe (1891), 1.
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A lot of people ask, “Do you think humans are parasites?” It’s an interesting idea and one worth thinking about. People casually refer to humanity as a virus spreading across the earth. In fact, we do look like some strange kind of bio-film spreading across the landscape. A good metaphor? If the biosphere is our host, we do use it up for our own benefit. We do manipulate it. We alter the flows and fluxes of elements like carbon and nitrogen to benefit ourselves—often at the expense of the biosphere as a whole. If you look at how coral reefs or tropical forests are faring these days, you’ll notice that our host is not doing that well right now. Parasites are very sophisticated; parasites are highly evolved; parasites are very successful, as reflected in their diversity. Humans are not very good parasites. Successful parasites do a very good job of balancing—using up their hosts and keeping them alive. It’s all a question of tuning the adaptation to your particular host. In our case, we have only one host, so we have to be particularly careful.
Talk at Columbia University, 'The Power of Parasites'.
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A small bubble of air remained unabsorbed... if there is any part of the phlogisticated air [nitrogen] of our atmosphere which differs from the rest, and cannot be reduced to nitrous acid, we may safely conclude that it is not more than 1/120 part of the whole.
Cavendish did not realize the significance of the remaining small bubble. Not until a century later were the air’s Noble Gases appreciated.
'Experiments on Air', read 2 June 1785, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1785, 75, 382.
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Borel makes the amusing supposition of a million monkeys allowed to play upon the keys of a million typewriters. What is the chance that this wanton activity should reproduce exactly all of the volumes which are contained in the library of the British Museum? It certainly is not a large chance, but it may be roughly calculated, and proves in fact to be considerably larger than the chance that a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen will separate into the two pure constituents. After we have learned to estimate such minute chances, and after we have overcome our fear of numbers which are very much larger or very much smaller than those ordinarily employed, we might proceed to calculate the chance of still more extraordinary occurrences, and even have the boldness to regard the living cell as a result of random arrangement and rearrangement of its atoms. However, we cannot but feel that this would be carrying extrapolation too far. This feeling is due not merely to a recognition of the enormous complexity of living tissue but to the conviction that the whole trend of life, the whole process of building up more and more diverse and complex structures, which we call evolution, is the very opposite of that which we might expect from the laws of chance.
The Anatomy of Science (1926), 158-9.
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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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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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England and all civilised nations stand in deadly peril of not having enough to eat. As mouths multiply, food resources dwindle. Land is a limited quantity, and the land that will grow wheat is absolutely dependent on difficult and capricious natural phenomena... I hope to point a way out of the colossal dilemma. It is the chemist who must come to the rescue of the threatened communities. It is through the laboratory that starvation may ultimately be turned into plenty... The fixation of atmospheric nitrogen is one of the great discoveries, awaiting the genius of chemists.
Presidential Address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science 1898. Published in Chemical News, 1898, 78, 125.
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Food may be defined as material which, when taken into the body, serves to either form tissue or yield energy, or both. This definition includes all the ordinary food materials, since they both build tissue and yield energy. It includes sugar and starch, because they yield energy and form fatty tissue. It includes alcohol, because the latter is burned to yield energy, though it does not build tissue. It excludes creatin, creatininin, and other so-called nitrogeneous extractives of meat, and likewise thein or caffein of tea and coffee, because they neither build tissue nor yield energy, although they may, at times, be useful aids to nutrition.
Methods and Results of Investigations on the Chemistry and Economy of Food, Bulletin 21, US Department of Agriculture (1895). Quoted in Ira Wolinsky, Nutrition in Exercise and Sport (1998), 36.
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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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I know Teddy Kennedy had fun at the Democratic convention when he said that I said that trees and vegetation caused 80 percent of the air pollution in this country. ... Well, now he was a little wrong about what I said. I didn't say 80 percent. I said 92 percent—93 percent, pardon me. And I didn’t say air pollution, I said oxides of nitrogen. Growing and decaying vegetation in this land are responsible for 93 percent of the oxides of nitrogen. ... If we are totally successful and can eliminate all the manmade oxides of nitrogen, we’ll still have 93 percent as much as we have in the air today.
[Reagan reconfirming his own pathetic lack of understanding of air pollutants.]
Address to senior citizens at Sea World, Orlando, Florida (9 Oct 1980). As quoted later in Douglas E. Kneeland, 'Teamsters Back Republican', New York Times (10 Oct 1980), D14.
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I propose to provide proof... that just as always an alcoholic ferment, the yeast of beer, is found where sugar is converted into alcohol and carbonic acid, so always a special ferment, a lactic yeast, is found where sugar is transformed into lactic acid. And, furthermore, when any plastic nitrogenated substance is able to transform sugar into that acid, the reason is that it is a suitable nutrient for the growth of the [lactic] ferment.
Comptes Rendus (1857), 45, 913.
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I tell my students, with a feeling of pride that I hope they will share, that the carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen that make up ninety-nine per cent of our living substance were cooked in the deep interiors of earlier generations of dying stars. Gathered up from the ends of the universe, over billions of years, eventually they came to form, in part, the substance of our sun, its planets, and ourselves. Three billion years ago, life arose upon the earth. It is the only life in the solar system.
From speech given at an anti-war teach-in at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (4 Mar 1969) 'A Generation in Search of a Future', as edited by Ron Dorfman for Chicago Journalism Review, (May 1969).
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If we ascribe the ejection of the proton to a Compton recoil from a quantum of 52 x 106 electron volts, then the nitrogen recoil atom arising by a similar process should have an energy not greater than about 400,000 volts, should produce not more than about 10,000 ions, and have a range in the air at N.T.P. of about 1-3mm. Actually, some of the recoil atoms in nitrogen produce at least 30,000 ions. In collaboration with Dr. Feather, I have observed the recoil atoms in an expansion chamber, and their range, estimated visually, was sometimes as much as 3mm. at N.T.P.
These results, and others I have obtained in the course of the work, are very difficult to explain on the assumption that the radiation from beryllium is a quantum radiation, if energy and momentum are to be conserved in the collisions. The difficulties disappear, however, if it be assumed that the radiation consists of particles of mass 1 and charge 0, or neutrons. The capture of the a-particle by the Be9 nucleus may be supposed to result in the formation of a C12 nucleus and the emission of the neutron. From the energy relations of this process the velocity of the neutron emitted in the forward direction may well be about 3 x 109 cm. per sec. The collisions of this neutron with the atoms through which it passes give rise to the recoil atoms, and the observed energies of the recoil atoms are in fair agreement with this view. Moreover, I have observed that the protons ejected from hydrogen by the radiation emitted in the opposite direction to that of the exciting a-particle appear to have a much smaller range than those ejected by the forward radiation.
This again receives a simple explanation on the neutron hypothesis.
'Possible Existence of a Neutron', Letter to the Editor, Nature, 1932, 129, 312.
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If you look at a tree and think of it as a design assignment, it would be like asking you to make something that makes oxygen, sequesters carbon, fixes nitrogen, distills water, provides habitat for hundreds of species, accrues solar energy’s fuel, makes complex sugars and food, changes colors with the seasons, creates microclimates, and self-replicates.
In audio segment, 'William McDonough: Godfather of Green', WNYC, Studio 360 broadcast on NPR radio (18 Mar 2008) and archived on the station website.
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In a certain sense I made a living for five or six years out of that one star [υ Sagittarii] and it is still a fascinating, not understood, star. It’s the first star in which you could clearly demonstrate an enormous difference in chemical composition from the sun. It had almost no hydrogen. It was made largely of helium, and had much too much nitrogen and neon. It’s still a mystery in many ways … But it was the first star ever analysed that had a different composition, and I started that area of spectroscopy in the late thirties.
Oral History Transcript of interview with Dr. Jesse Greenstein by Paul Wright (31 Jul 1974), on website of American Institute of Physics, about his research on strange shell stars. As quoted in J. B. Hearnshaw, The Analysis of Starlight: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Astronomical Spectroscopy (1986, 1990), 362. Hearnshaw footnoted that Berman earlier analysed the peculiar star R CrB (1935).
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It is a very strange thing to reflect that but for the invention of Professor Haber the Germans could not have continued the War after their original stack of nitrates was exhausted. The invention of this single man has enabled them, utilising the interval in which their accumulations were used up, not only to maintain an almost unlimited supply of explosives for all purposes, but to provide amply for the needs of agriculture in chemical manures. It is a remarkable fact, and shows on what obscure and accidental incidents the fortunes of possible the whole world may turn in these days of scientific discovery.
[During World War I, Fritz Haber and Karl Bosch invented a large scale process to cause the direct combination of hydrogen and nitrogen gases to chemically synthesize ammonia, thus providing a replacement for sodium nitrate in the manufacture of explosives and fertilizers.]
Parliamentary debate (25 Apr 1918). In Winston Churchill, Richard Langworth (ed.), Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations (2008), 469. by Winston Churchill, Richard Langworth
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Judging from our experience upon this planet, such a history, that begins with elementary particles, leads perhaps inevitably toward a strange and moving end: a creature that knows, a science-making animal, that turns back upon the process that generated him and attempts to understand it. Without his like, the universe could be, but not be known, and this is a poor thing. Surely this is a great part of our dignity as men, that we can know, and that through us matter can know itself; that beginning with protons and electrons, out of the womb of time and the vastnesses of space, we can begin to understand; that organized as in us, the hydrogen, the carbon, the nitrogen, the oxygen, those 16-21 elements, the water, the sunlight—all having become us, can begin to understand what they are, and how they came to be.
In 'The Origins of Life', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (1964), 52, 609-110.
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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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The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote. Nevertheless, it has been found that there are apparent exceptions to most of these laws, and this is particularly true when the observations are pushed to a limit, i.e., whenever the circumstances of experiment are such that extreme cases can be examined. Such examination almost surely leads, not to the overthrow of the law, but to the discovery of other facts and laws whose action produces the apparent exceptions. As instances of such discoveries, which are in most cases due to the increasing order of accuracy made possible by improvements in measuring instruments, may be mentioned: first, the departure of actual gases from the simple laws of the so-called perfect gas, one of the practical results being the liquefaction of air and all known gases; second, the discovery of the velocity of light by astronomical means, depending on the accuracy of telescopes and of astronomical clocks; third, the determination of distances of stars and the orbits of double stars, which depend on measurements of the order of accuracy of one-tenth of a second-an angle which may be represented as that which a pin's head subtends at a distance of a mile. But perhaps the most striking of such instances are the discovery of a new planet or observations of the small irregularities noticed by Leverrier in the motions of the planet Uranus, and the more recent brilliant discovery by Lord Rayleigh of a new element in the atmosphere through the minute but unexplained anomalies found in weighing a given volume of nitrogen. Many other instances might be cited, but these will suffice to justify the statement that “our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.”
In Light Waves and Their Uses (1903), 23-4. Michelson had some years earlier referenced “an eminent physicist” that he did not name who had “remarked that the future truths of physical science are to be looked for in the sixth place of decimals,” near the end of his Convocation Address at the Dedication of the Ryerson Physical Laboratory at the University of Chicago, 'Some of the Objects and Methods of Physical Science' (4 Jul 1894), published in University of Chicago Quarterly Calendar (Aug 1894), 3, No.2, 15. Also
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The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.
In Cosmos (1980), 233.
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The overwhelming astonishment, the queerest structure we know about so far in the whole universe, the greatest of all cosmological scientific puzzles, confounding all our efforts to comprehend it, is the earth. We are only now beginning to appreciate how strange and splendid it is, how it catches the breath, the loveliest object afloat around the sun, enclosed in its own blue bubble of atmosphere, manufacturing and breathing its own oxygen, fixing its own nitrogen from the air into its own soil, generating its own weather at the surface of its rain forests, constructing its own carapace from living parts: chalk cliffs, coral reefs, old fossils from earlier forms of life now covered by layers of new life meshed together around the globe, Troy upon Troy.
In Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (1984), 22-23.
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There's antimony, arsenic, aluminium, selenium,
And hydrogen and oxygen and
nitrogen and rhenium,
And nickel, neodymium, neptunium, germanium,
And iron, americium, ruthenium, uranium,
Europium, zirconium, lutetium, vanadium,
And lanthanum and osmium and astatine and radium,
And gold and protactinium and indium and gallium,
And iodine and thorium and thulium and thallium.
There's yttrium, ytterbium, actinium, rubidium,
And boron, gadolinium, niobium, iridium,
And strontium and silicon and silver and samarium,
And bismuth, bromine, lithium, beryllium and barium.
There's holmium and helium and hafnium and erbium,
And phosphorus and francium and fluorine and terbium,
And manganese and mercury, molybdenum, magnesium,
Dysprosium and scandium and cerium and cesium,
And lead, praseodymium and platinum, plutonium,
Palladium, promethium, potassium, polonium,
And tantalum, technetium, titanium, tellurium,
And cadmium and calcium and chromium and curium.
There's sulfur, californium and fermium, berkelium,
And also mendelevium, einsteinium, nobelium,
And argon, krypton, neon, radon, xenon, zinc and rhodium,
And chlorine, cobalt, carbon, copper, tungsten, tin and sodium.
These are the only ones of which the news has come to Harvard,
And there may be many others, but they haven't been discarvard.
[To the tune of I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General.]
Song, 'The Elements' (1959). In Tom Lehrer,Too Many Songs by Tom Lehrer: With Not Enough Drawings by Ronald Searle (1981), 151.
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When the formulae of inorganic chemical compounds are considered, even a superficial observer is struck with the general symmetry of their construction; the compounds of nitrogen, phosphorus, antimony and arsenic especially exhibit the tendency of the elements to form compounds containing 3 or 5 equivs. of other elements, and it is in these proportions that their affinities are best satisfied; thus in the ternal group we have NO3, NH3, NI3, NS3, PO3, PH3, PCl3, SbO3, SbH3, SbCl3, AsO3, AsH3, AsCl3 &c; and in the five-atom group NO4, NH4O, NH4I, PO5, PH4I, &c. Without offering any hypothesis regarding the cause of this symmetrical grouping of atoms, it is sufficiently evident, from the examples just given, that such a tendency or law prevails, and that, no matter what the character of the uniting atoms may be, the combining power of the attracting element, if I may be allowed the term, is always satisfied by the same number of these atoms.
'On a New Series of Organic Bodies Containing Metals', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 1852, 14:2, 440.
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When the state is shaken to its foundations by internal or external events, when commerce, industry and all trades shall be at a stand, and perhaps on the brink of ruin; when the property and fortune of all are shaken or changed, and the inhabitants of towns look forward with dread and apprehension to the future, then the agriculturalist holds in his hand the key to the money chest of the rich, and the savings-box of the poor; for political events have not the slightest influence on the natural law, which forces man to take into his system, daily, a certain number of ounces of carbon and nitrogen.
Reflecting on events of 1848.
Familiar Letters on Chemistry (1851), 3rd edn., 483.
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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.
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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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