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The Fictional Chemist?

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IAN GRAYSON
Member of Chimica Oggi / Chemistry Today Scientific Advisory Board

I find it interesting how the work of the chemist is portrayed in works of fiction. By this I do not necessarily mean science fiction, but also the more realistic depiction of scientific and particularly chemical endeavours. Carl Djerassi has termed this “science-in-fiction” (1) and has himself written several novels and stage plays about the lives and professional activities of scientists, particularly chemists. Chemistry has long held a fascination for writers and artists for many years, perhaps because of the exotic products chemists prepare using unusual apparatus, or because the writer believes that the chemist has made a Faustian pact with the devil. This is a short anthology of some of my favourites. Let us begin in the laboratory.

Now that I, tying thy glass mask tightly,
My gaze thro’ these faint smokes curling whitely,
As thou pliest thy trade in this devil’s-smithy –
Which is the poison to poison her, prithee? (2)

It is good to see the chemist in this poem using personal protective equipment, which is usually absent in most fictional descriptions of chemical activities. However it is clear that this practitio ...




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