Physics and Chemistry

"No inanimate object is ever fully determined by the laws of physics and chemistry."

Michael Polanyi

The quote is a very sobering commentary on the all-powerful science! Physics and chemistry is the knowledge that we have developed to best explain the world, as we know it now.

Human mind and physical sciences

As we had mentioned earlier, language plays a critical role in exploring science and more specifically physics, even though this connection is not intuitive or apparent. Entirely real and practical subjects such as Physics and Chemistry are also quite language driven. It may just suffice to share that among the most eminent of physicists of all times, the lion’s share goes to theoretical physicists and not experimental physicists. One would think it to be other way round in a subject that is all about explaining observations, experiences and experiments.

Archimedes (287–212 BCE), Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), Isaac Newton (1642–1727), Michael Faraday (1791–1867), Albert Einstein (1879–1955) and Richard Feynman (1918-1988) were all essentially theoretical physicists. Richard Feynman is supposed to have coined the phrase “thought experiments” to explain how he experimented as a theoretical physicist.

The story of theoretical chemistry and chemists is quite similar – thought experiments and mathematics work in chemistry too. The following is what Wikipedia has to say on theoretical chemistry –

“It predicts what happens when atoms combine to form molecules. It also predicts chemical properties (characteristics) of molecules. An important part of theoretical chemistry is quantum chemistry. It uses mathematics and computers. Theoretical chemistry unites principles and concepts common to all branches of chemistry. Within the framework of theoretical chemistry, there is a systematization of chemical laws, principles and rules, their refinement and detailing, the construction of a hierarchy.”

It may be interesting to know that the 2013 Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to three theoretical chemists - Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel. Every human mind is capable of seeing the universe. Step up!

Excerpted from the book ‘You, The Unsung Hero’ by G S Madhav Rao, Sandeep Srivastava, Saloni Srivastava