Chemistry Quotes and Jokes

gathered by Terry L. Helser

The following are some quotations and jokes about chemistry and chemists I found amusing or enlightening. Sections include academics, physical chemists, classes, tests, labs, the elements and toxic chemicals. You can also send me comments or suggestions, or return to my home page.

Quotes about the profession in general:

  • What in the world ISN'T chemistry? Unknown
  • Chemistry ought to be not for chemists alone. Miguel de Unamuno (1972) The Tragic Sense of Life, Princeton U.
  • A mosquito was heard to complain
  • "A chemist has poisoned my brain."
    The cause of his sorrow was paradichloro-
  • Two sodium atoms were walking along the street when one stops and says, "Oh my goodness, I think I've lost an electron!" "Are you sure?" asks his companion. "Yes," replies the first sodium atom. "I'm positive." or the equivalent:
  • Two ions are talking to each other in a solution. One says: "Are you a cation or an anion?" To which the other replys, "Oh, I'm a cation." The first asks, "Are you sure?" The reply, "I'm positive."
  • "What is zinc?" That's what you do if you can't zwim.
  • "Why do chemists use nitrates?" Because they are cheaper than day rates. from 'New Scientist' December19/26, 1992, p. 66-67
  • A chemistry Fairy Tale:
  • Here are the ten myths of an academic career :
    1. At last I'll have some money
    2. I'll have my life back
    3. I thought I was supposed to be a teacher, not a researcher
    4. Just call me, 'Dr.'
    5. I'm now the expert, so I can teach
    6. I've done a dissertation, so I can do research
    7. I do my job. What else do you want?
    8. My colleagues will be thrilled for me when I succeed
    9. All is fair in academe: I'll advance solely on my merits
    10. I can be happy only as an academic Dr. Patricia Kearney, Cal. State Long Beach
  • You might be a teacher if...
    1. You want to slap the next person who says,"Must be nice to have all your holidays and summers free."
    2. You can tell it's a full moon without ever looking outside.
    3. You believe "shallow gene pool" should have its own box on the report card.
    4. When out in public, you feel the urge to talk to strange children and correct their behavior.
    5. When you mention "vegetables" and you're not talking about a food group.
    6. You think people should be required to get a government permit before being allowed to reproduce.
    7. You wonder how some parents ever MANAGED to reproduce.
    8. You wonder WHY some parents ever reproduced.
    9. You can't have children of your own, because there is NO name you could give a child that wouldn't bring on high blood pressure the moment you heard it.
    10. Meeting a child's parents INSTANTLY answers the question, "Why is this kid like this?"
    11. You understand why some animals eat their young. John Paul Jones
  • The Progress of Modern Education from the Journal Of Irreproducible Results, 39, 5, by John R. Clark, U. South Florida.
  • Assignment:
  • A Lesson
  • Then one of the Pharisees who was present asked for Jesus' lesson plan and inquired of Jesus, "Where are your anticipatory set of goals and objectives in the cognitive domain?"

    And some pertinent ones about physical chemists:

  • Comment by a physical chemist on being shown a successful experiment:
  • "That's all very well in practice, but will it ever work in theory?" G. Hill, Education in Chemistry, 1992(1), 28.
  • Physical Chemistry is the study of theories in chemistry.
  • Chemistry is the study of matter and all its aspects.
    Since all science involves matter, and anything interesting in science involves theory,
    a physical chemist can study anything interesting in science.
  • Physics is the taking of very accurate measurements on impure and poorly defined materials.
  • Chemistry is characterized by sloppy measurements on very pure materials.
    Thus Physical Chemistry is sloppy measurements on impure materials.
    Although they like to think of themselves as the only ones
    making very accurate measurements on very pure materials. Reed Howald, Montana State U.

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    About class or lecture:

  • FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) from students in Chemistry classes.
  • Seven Dangerous Assumptions About Lecturing
    1. If your students are looking at you, they must be listening.
    2. When teachers start lecturing, students start listening.
    3. Students will remember the points you think are the most important.
    4. Students finish listening when teachers finish lecturing.
    5. Students accurately repeat what teachers tell them.
    6. Students process things in the same way their teachers do.
    7. If students understand and agree with the information presented, they will apply the principles in their work.Source: INSTRUCTIONAL STRATEGIES NEWSLETTER Fall 1994 Volume 3 Issue 3 Saskatchewan Professional Development Unit Sakatoon, SK Canada

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    And tests:

  • The following story is true: Gotcha!
  • There were these two fairly average college students taking the required chemistry course at their school one semester. They were both pretty good at chemistry, so by the end of the course they both had A averages.
    The final for this class was on a Monday. Since they were both doing well, they figured that they could go to a party that weekend up at another school. Well, obviously they didn't quite make it back. (Hangovers are a real bitch.) So they decided they would tell their professor that they went up to another school that weekend, had a flat tire on the way back, and couldn't get help for a long time so that they just didn't get back in time.
    The professor thought about it and finally decided to let them take the final the next day. So they went home that night, studied hard, and went to bed early. The next day they went in, the professor gave each of them a copy of the final, and put them in separate rooms. So they started the exam. The first page had one problem worth five points, and it was a fairly simple problem dealing with molarity. So they figured this would be an easy exam.
    The second page also had one question. It was worth ninety-five points: "Which tire?" Unknown
  • Science Exam Quotes (from 11 year olds) Laurie Sale/Norman Josephs
  • A colleague of mine recently took off points for the name of a fluoride compound which was, predictably, spelled flouride. The student complained to him, saying, "It's obvious what I meant -- flourine isn't an element." My colleague's answer: "That's exactly the point. That's why you got it wrong."
  • This is like askeing them too right some thing in English and having there anser come out looking like an other langwidge, but giveing them full credit four there anser cause you shudve none what they ment. Unknown

  • TO: Professor _____________________________

    FROM: __________________________________

    I think my grade in your course, _____________________________, should be changed from ___ to ___ for the following reasons:

    ___ 1. The persons who copied my paper made a higher grade than I did.

    ___ 2. The person whose paper I copied made a higher grade than I did.

    ___ 3. This course will lower my grade point average and I wonÕt get into:

    ___ 4. I have to get an A in the course to balance my E in __________________________.

    ___ 5. IÕll lose my scholarship.

    ___ 6. IÕm play varsity sports and my tutor couldnÕt find a copy of your exam.

    ___ 7. I didnÕt come to class and the person whose notes I used didnÕt get the material you tested on.

    ___ 8. I studied the basic principles and the exam asked every fact.

    ___ 9. I studied the facts and definitions but you exams asked for basic principles.

    ___ 10. If I flunk out of school my father will disinherit me (or cut my allowance.)

    ___ 11. You told us to be creative but didnÕt tell us exactly how to do that.

    ___ 12. I was creative but you said I was shooting the bull.

    ___ 13. I donÕt have a reason; I just want a higher grade.

    Signed: ______________________________ Date: ___ /___ /___

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    More about lab matters:

  • Short attention spans make short nylon strands! Terry Helser, 1993
    1. When you don't know what you're doing, do it neatly.
    2. Experiments must be reproducible. They should fail the same way each time.
    3. First draw your curves, then plot your data.
    4. Experience is directly proportional to equipment ruined.
    5. A record of data is essential. It shows you were working.
    6. To study a subject best, understand it thoroughly before you start.
    7. To do a lab really well, have your report done well in advance.
    8. If you can't get the answer in the usual manner, start at the answer and derive the question.
    9. If that doesn't work, start at both ends and try to find a common middle.
    10. In case of doubt, make it sound convincing.
    11. Do not believe in miracles---rely on them.
    12. Team work is essential. It allows you to blame someone else.
    13. All unmarked beakers contain fast-acting, extremely toxic poisons.
    14. Any delicate and expensive piece of glassware will break before any use can be made of it.(Law of Spontaneous Fission) Dave Coble
  • Who's on First in Lab? The teaching experience:

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    About elements:

  • Elementary Puns from the Net:
    1. I hit my neon the table.
    2. Elsa just washed the fluorine the kitchen.
    3. It was a long trek, but the hikers boron.
    4. I bought twelve cookies, but I ate hafnium. Then I ate the other six; now they argon.
    5. I can't wait until he's dead so we can barium in the krypton the hill.
    6. Tellurium going to the store.
    7. The church towers aren't any good since there's nobelium.
    8. I like watching plays, but mostly I like to actinium.
    9. I've never heard of a weavers' rooms without aluminum.
    10. I'll steal the horses as soon as I can think of a way to get the mendelevium unguarded.
    11. Bring the pictures over here and let calcium. 12) We had a roach problem, but called the exterminator to get iridium.
    12. I didn't have time to read all the books; I just scandium.
    13. He wanted to buy my CDs, but I already sodium.
    14. The police caught the robbers after their radon the bank.
    15. Many people want to be cowboys. They want terbium so they can learn how to herd cattle and how europium.
    16. It's stopped raining, so you can get radium brella.
    17. Be careful, if your pianos need repairs, that you don't let someone who's in neptunium.
    18. The rope gave way just as they were chlorine the drawbridge. (?)
    19. Slow down! You're going to phosphorus!
    20. The kidnapper tried to leave the country, but the the FBI went to the airport to cesium.
    21. Only a few of the plants survived, but manganese ever grow!
    22. Come down to Dr. Smith's biotech lab and see the oxygen-erated.
    23. The hubcaps are missing, the seats are ripped and the doors are dented...where's the carbon?
    24. It's necessary to galvanize the ship so it won't rust through and zinc.
    25. Sulfur, so good.
    26. The last batch of cookies you made was great...can I have samarium?
    27. I'll never bicycle one hundred miles again, considering how thorium.
    28. It's not mature to throw a temper tantalum. With apologies..... Steve Hardinger, Cal State U. Fullerton
  • The following riddles were published in J.Chem.Educ., 12/94 by Doris Eckey.
    1. I bear two gifts not one or three,
    2. Earthbound yet I roam the sea,
      All brilliant white,
      I head you ache,
      Fond of milk, averse to cake. This is magnesium
    3. Allover black and white and red,
    4. I bow and scrape my shamefaced head,
      Ignite with rage, glow envious green,
      I'm bound for dirt and yet I'm clean. This is phosphorus
    5. An active sailor, yet seldom free,
    6. An old salt, Peter, afire in the sea,
      Near noble, yet base and prone to lie,
      Purple with rage when excited am I. This is potassium
    7. Shunned by most and craved by all,
    8. Food for rabbits, made from straw,
      Billions found greed and abandoned sense,
      Though not a fool, I am quite dense. This is gold
  • In a recent contest, The Washington Post asked readers to dream up new elements for the Periodic Table. Among the best of the batch:
    1. Limbaughium Lb
    2. The heaviest known element. It possesses an ever-expanding mass.
      Very white. Acidic. Emits heat but no light.
      Instantly polarizes all elements that come in contact with it.
      Repels protons and electrons; attracts only morons.
    3. Billclintium Bc
    4. With a slick appearance and slimy texture, this element undergoes a series of interesting changes when in hot water.
    5. Gorium Gr
    6. Lightweight element. Antagonistic to internal combustion engines;
      essential for growing tobacco until a few years ago;
      effective cure for insomnia; can be used as a means to raise money.
    7. Canadium Eh
    8. Similar to Americium, but a little denser.
      Much more rigid. Often called Boron.
    9. Innofensium Pc
    10. Precisely equal numbers of electrons, protons, neutrons, leptons, quarks.
      Completely inert, utterly useless, but smells like a rose.
    11. Newtium Sh
    12. Extreme irritant. Carries a strong negative charge.
      Does not possess magnetic properties. Can be purchased cheaply.
    13. Quaylium Vp
    14. Einsteinium it ain't.
    15. Budweisium Ps
    16. Has no taste or smell; is often indistinguishable from water.
    17. Cabmium Cb
    18. Found in abundance, except when needed.
      Exists in two states, in motion and at rest.
      When in motion, it cannot be stopped, no matter what you do.
      Cabmium has a charge associated with it.
      The charge is variable, and scientists have not determined the formula for calculating it.
    19. Politicium Po
    20. Contains a great deal of gas. Similar to radon in that it can reach lethal concentrations in the House.
    21. Congressium Cg
    22. Atomic number 525. Can never be found in a solution.
    23. Snot Sn
    24. Bonds forever with corduroy Robert L. Carter, UMass, Boston
    25. FLOURIDE: Negatively charged, finely ground wheat. Wm. Munsey
  • You also might enjoy a Chemistry Christmas Carol told with elemental puns.

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    Are these straight from the MSDSs for these materials? Toxic Comments:

  • Someone down the hall from me put up a sign beside her door that says
  • "CAUTION: The Surgeon General has determined that doing just about anything, anytime, anywhere can be hazardous to your health."
  • Oxygen is a very toxic gas and an extreme fire hazard.
  • It is fatal in concentrations of as little as 0.000001 ppm.
    Humans exposed to these oxygen concentrations die within a few minutes.
    Symptoms resemble very much those of cyanide poisoning (blue face, etc.)
    In higher concentration e.g. about 20%, the toxic effect is somewhat delayed
    and it takes about 2.5 billion inhalations before death takes place.
    The reason for the delay is the difference in mechanism of the toxic effect of of oxygen in 20% concentration.
    It apparently contributes to a complex process called aging,
    of which very little is known, except that it is always fatal.
    However, the main disadvantage of the 20% oxygen concentration is the fact that it is habit forming. The first inhalation (occurring at birth) is sufficient to make oxygen addiction permanent. After that, any considerable decrease in the daily oxygen doses results in death with symptoms resembling those of cyanide poisoning.
    Concentrations higher than 20% decrease the above mentioned delay. High oxygen concentration provokes in prematurely born babies placed in incubators a condition known as retrolental fibroplasia resulting in blindness. Lung irritation has been reported on experimental animals exposed for several days to high oxygen concentrations.
    Oxygen is an extreme fire hazard. All the fires that were reported in the continental U.S. for the period of the past 25 years were found to be due to the presence of this gas in the atmosphere surrounding the buildings in question.
    Oxygen is especially dangerous because it is odorless, colorless and tasteless, so that its presence cannot be readily detected until it is too late. Richard Graham
    It should also be noted that the delayed toxic effect with 20% oxygen is completely inhibited by the presence small amounts of a number of other gases including CO and HCN. Allan Smith
  • NO: A few years ago at a Dairy Queen in Ottawa, a young clerk on the night shift was found dead by the morning shift. He'd been breathing nitrous oxide from the cylinder used to make whipped cream; apparently he'd stuck the tank nozzle in his mouth. The gas expansion had cooled the nozzle, of course, and his lips froze to it; his lungs ruptured shortly afterwards. Not exactly a laughing matter, though I suppose it makes a fairly graphic demonstration of how gas laws can be relevant to the Real World. Joel
  • And then there is H2O:
  • When I was teaching a lab as a GTA, one of the students apparently didn't see the word "with" when reading the lab manual, which instructed the students to "dilute with distilled water". The student walked to the end of the lab bench, where there were large carboys labeled "DISTILLED WATER". She looked at the label on the carboy for a second, then asked me "Is this concentrated or dilute distilled water?" I smiled a little, then said "It's 55 molar, so I would say it is pretty concentrated." When it was obvious that she didn't get the joke, I explained it to her. Sometimes these students just have no sense of humor whatsoever.... :-) James H. Burness, Penn State York, PA 17403 USA
  • Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide!! THE INVISIBLE KILLER:
  • Dihydrogen monoxide is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and *kills* uncounted thousands of people every year. Most of these deaths are caused by inhalation of DHMO, but the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide do not end there. Symptoms of DHMO ingestion can include excessive sweating and urination, and possibly a bloated feeling, nausea, vomiting and body electrolyte imbalance. For those who have become dependent, DHMO withdrawal means certain death.
    1. is also known as hydric acid, and THE major component of acid rain.
    2. contributes to the greenhouse effect.
    3. may cause severe burns.
    4. accelerates corrosion and rusting of many metals.
    5. may cause electrical failure and decreased effectiveness of automobile brakes.
    6. has been found in excised tumors of terminal cancer patients.
    Quantities of dihydrogen monoxide have been found in almost every stream, lake and reservoir in America today. But the pollution is global, and the contaminant has even been found in Antarctic ice. In the Midwest alone DHMO has caused *millions* of dollars in property damage.
    1. as an industrial solvent and coolant.
    2. in nuclear power plants.
    3. in the production of Styrofoam.
    4. as a fire retardant.
    5. in many forms of cruel animal research.
    6. in the distribution of pesticides. Even after washing, produce remains contaminated by this chemical.
    7. as an additive in certain "junk-foods" and other food products.
    8. Waste DHMO is allowed to pollute our precious lakes, rivers, streams and the ocean itself. The impact of wildlife is extreme, and we cannot afford to ignore it any longer!
    The American government has *refused* to ban the production, distribution, or use of this damaging chemical due to its "importance to the economic health of this nation." In fact, the navy and other military organizations are conducting experiments with DHMO. Unknown

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