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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index P > Category: Phosphorus

Phosphorus Quotes (15 quotes)

Ohne Phosphor, Kein Gedanke.
Without phosphorus there would be no thought.
From Lehre der Nahrungsmittel (1850), 115. (The title translates as Science of Food.) Some sources—incorrectly—attribute these words to Ludwig Büchner, who quoted it but credited it as Jakob “Moleschott’s well-known phrase” in Büchner’s Kraft und Stoff (1856), lxxv; later translated by the author from the 15th German edition in Force and Matter: Or, Principles of the Natural Order of the Universe (1891), 217.
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Ohne Phosphor, Kein Gedanke.
Without phosphorus there would be no thought.
[This is wrongly attributed to Büchner.]
Bückner did not originate this quote, even though some sources state “Attributed.” It is included here to provide this correction. Büchner himself quotes it, but credits it as Jakob “Moleschott’s well-known phrase” in Kraft und Stoff (1856), lxxv; translated by the author from the 15th German edition in Force and Matter: Or, Principles of the Natural Order of the Universe (1891), 217. Büchner states that it is from Jakob Moleschott’s book, Lehre der Nahrungsmittel. (That title translates as Science of Food and in the 1850 edition, the maxim in on p.115.) Büchner and Moleschott were contemporaries, and they held the same philosophic view of scientific materialism.
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Question: Why do the inhabitants of cold climates eat fat? How would you find experimentally the relative quantities of heat given off when equal weights of sulphur, phosphorus, and carbon are thoroughly burned?
Answer: An inhabitant of cold climates (called Frigid Zoans) eats fat principally because he can't get no lean, also because he wants to rise is temperature. But if equal weights of sulphur phosphorus and carbon are burned in his neighbourhood he will give off eating quite so much. The relative quantities of eat given off will depend upon how much sulphur etc. is burnt and how near it is burned to him. If I knew these facts it would be an easy sum to find the answer.
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1880), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 183, Question 32. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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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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About eight days ago I discovered that sulfur in burning, far from losing weight, on the contrary, gains it; it is the same with phosphorus; this increase of weight arises from a prodigious quantity of air that is fixed during combustion and combines with the vapors. This discovery, which I have established by experiments, that I regard as decisive, has led me to think that what is observed in the combustion of sulfur and phosphorus may well take place in the case of all substances that gain in weight by combustion and calcination; and I am persuaded that the increase in weight of metallic calxes is due to the same cause... This discovery seems to me one of the most interesting that has been made since Stahl and since it is difficult not to disclose something inadvertently in conversation with friends that could lead to the truth I have thought it necessary to make the present deposit to the Secretary of the Academy to await the time I make my experiments public.
Sealed note deposited with the Secretary of the French Academy 1 Nov 1772. Oeuvres de Lavoisier, Correspondance, Fasc. II. 1770-75 (1957), 389-90. Adapted from translation by A. N. Meldrum, The Eighteenth-Century Revolution in Science (1930), 3.
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After some experiments made one day at my house upon the phosphorus, a little piece of it being left negligently upon the table in my chamber, the maid making the bed took it up in the bedclothes she had put on the table, not seeing the little piece. The person who lay afterwards in the bed, waking at night and feeling more than ordinary heat, perceived that the coverlet was on fire.
Quoted in John Emsley, The 13th Element: The Sordid Tale of Murder, Fire, and Phosphorus (2000), 11.
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Every arsenate has its corresponding phosphate, composed according to the same proportions, combined with the same amount of water of crystallization, and endowed with the same physical properties: in fact, the two series of salts differ in no respect, except that the radical of the acid in one series in phosphorus, while in the other it is arsenic.
The experimental clue he used forming his law of isomerism. Originally published in 'Om Förhållandet emellan chemiska sammansättningen och krystallformen hos Arseniksyrade och Phosphorsyrade Salter', (On the Relation between the Chemical Composition and Crystal Form of Salts of Arsenic and Phosphoric Acids), Kungliga Svenska vetenskapsakademiens handlingar (1821), 4. Translation as shown in Joseph William Mellor, A Comprehensive Treatise on Inorganic and Theoretical Chemistry (1922), Vol. 1, 652. A very similar translation (“the same physical properties” is replaced with “nearly equal solubilities in water and acids”) is in F. Szabadváry article on 'Eilhard Mitscherlich' in Charles Coulston Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1974), Vol. 9, 424; perhaps from J.R. Partington, A History of Chemistry, Vol. 4 (1964), 210.
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If you fix a piece of solid phosphorus in a quill, and write with it upon paper, the writing in a dark room will appear beautifully luminous.
From 'Artist and Mechanic', The artist & Tradesman’s Guide: embracing some leading facts & principles of science, and a variety of matter adapted to the wants of the artist, mechanic, manufacturer, and mercantile community (1827), 15.
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Is no one inspired by our present picture of the universe? This value of science remains unsung by singers: you are reduced to hearing not a song or poem, but an evening lecture about it. This is not yet a scientific age.
Perhaps one of the reasons for this silence is that you have to know how to read music. For instance, the scientific article may say, “The radioactive phosphorus content of the cerebrum of the rat decreases to one-half in a period of two weeks.” Now what does that mean?
It means that phosphorus that is in the brain of a rat—and also in mine, and yours—is not the same phosphorus as it was two weeks ago. It means the atoms that are in the brain are being replaced: the ones that were there before have gone away.
So what is this mind of ours: what are these atoms with consciousness? Last week’s potatoes! They now can remember what was going on in my mind a year ago—a mind which has long ago been replaced. To note that the thing I call my individuality is only a pattern or dance, that is what it means when one discovers how long it takes for the atoms of the brain to be replaced by other atoms. The atoms come into my brain, dance a dance, and then go out—there are always new atoms, but always doing the same dance, remembering what the dance was yesterday.
'What do You Care What Other People Think?' Further Adventures of a Curious Character (1988), 244.
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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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The autopsy of a person who had died from phosphorus poisoning would reveal inflammation and haemorrhage in the stomach and bowel, the liver would show fatty changes and both it, and the kidneys would be enlarged, greasy and of a yellow colour. But the most convincing proof of death due to phosphorus exposure would be to turn off all the lights in the mortuary and see its tell-tale glow...
The 13th Element: The Sordid Tale of Murder, Fire and Phosphorus (U.S., 2000), 191. Also published in Great Britain as The Shocking History of Phosphorus (2000).

The phosphorous smell which is developed when electricity (to speak the profane language) is passing from the points of a conductor into air, or when lightning happens to fall upon some terrestrial object, or when water is electrolysed, has been engaging my attention the last couple of years, and induced me to make many attempts at clearing up that mysterious phenomenon. Though baffled for a long time, at last, I think, I have succeeded so far as to have got the clue which will lead to the discovery of the true cause of the smell in question.
[His first reference to investigating ozone, for which he is remembered.]
Letter to Michael Faraday (4 Apr 1840), The Letters of Faraday and Schoenbein, 1836-1862 (1899), 73. This letter was communicated to the Royal Society on 7 May, and an abstract published in the Philosophical Magazine.
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The precise equivalence of the chromosomes contributed by the two sexes is a physical correlative of the fact that the two sexes play, on the whole, equal parts in hereditary transmission, and it seems to show that the chromosomal substance, the chromatin, is to be regarded as the physical basis of inheritance. Now, chromatin is known to be closely similar to, if not identical with, a substance known as nuclein (C29H49N9O22, according to Miescher), which analysis shows to be a tolerably definite chemical compased of nucleic acid (a complex organic acid rich in phosphorus) and albumin. And thus we reach the remarkable conclusion that inheritance may, perhaps, be effected by the physical transmission of a particular chemical compound from parent to offspring.
In An Atlas of the Fertilization and Karyokinesis of the Ovum (1895), 4.
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The sea from its extreme luminousness presented a wonderful and most beautiful appearance. Every part of the water which by day is seen as foam, glowed with a pale light. The vessel drove before her bows two billows of liquid phosphorus, and in her wake was a milky train. As far as the eye reached the crest of every wave was bright; and from the reflected light, the sky just above the horizon was not so utterly dark as the rest of the Heavens. It was impossible to behold this plane of matter, as if it were melted and consumed by heat, without being reminded of Milton’s description of the regions of Chaos and Anarchy.
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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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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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