Science Poetry

Quick Start

“Contemplate, calculate
Progress methodical,
Motions molecular, 
Pathways refined;
Speeding towards heeding 
The week’s celebration:
Kinetic endeavors in
Chem frame of mind.”  

Another academic year is off to its start as of Monday, and I’ll also aim to keep up with these weekly posts during the fall semester.  This 18 October 2021 Twitter poem marked the start of National Chemistry Week 2021, which celebrated the theme, “Fast or Slow, Chemistry Makes It Go.”  

“Contemplate, calculate /
Progress methodical, /
Motions molecular, /
Pathways refined…”

This poem adopts the pseudo-double-dactyl structure that’s been useful on several occasions.  The first four lines commemorate some concepts related to chemical kinetics and reaction rates (i.e., answering the question: how quickly does a reaction occur?).  Reaction progress, steric effects (which can have an impact on “motions molecular”), and mechanistic pathways are all chemistry-related terms that have implications for a chemical reaction’s rate.  

It is always an interesting statement to my chemistry students that a spontaneous reaction can occur very slowly; this tends to defy many “everyday” definitions of spontaneity, in which the word suggests an abrupt, last-minute action or decision.  However, in a chemical setting, a spontaneous reaction is simply one that occurs naturally, as predicted by the laws of thermodynamics; it does not have a meaning related to time.  By contrast, a reaction’s rate or timescale is explored via the field of chemical kinetics.  

These are concepts that can be both “contemplate[d]” and “[calculate[d]”; fully exploring a problem in chemical kinetics generally involves considering the route by which molecules interact at the particulate level, as well as completing overall quantitative examinations of how reaction rate (speed) depends on concentrations of various reactants, via a reaction’s rate law.     

“Speeding towards heeding /
The week’s celebration…” 

The next two lines note the National Chemistry Week occasion more directly, with a kinetics-themed internal rhyme: “[s]peeding towards heeding / [the] week’s celebration.”     

“Kinetic endeavors in /
Chem frame of mind.” 

Kinetic” is a term that can be used in many different disciplines, and the final two lines reiterate that, in this instance, the academic setting of interest will be chemistry.