Field of Science

Mysteries Revealed

We're discussing NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) in physical chemistry this week. It's a standard technique for determining molecular structure in organic chemistry. (The same quantum mechanics is the basis for MRI.) Bloch and Purcell won the Nobel prize in 1952 for their pioneering work in NMR. The opening to Purcell's Nobel lecture is almost poetic in its intensity:

Professor Bloch has told you how one can detect the precession of the magnetic nuclei in a drop of water. Commonplace as such experiments have become in our laboratories, I have not yet lost a feeling of wonder, and of delight, that this delicate motion should reside in all the ordinary things around us, revealing itself only to him who looks for it. I remember, in the winter of our first experiments, just seven years ago, looking on snow with new eyes. There the snow lay around my doorstep - great heaps of protons quietly precessing in the earth’s magnetic field. To see the world for a moment as something rich and strange is the private reward of many a discovery.

I wonder if I have a richer view of the world for knowing something of its underlying structure? And how often do I stop to think about it?


  1. I often stop and think of this:
    There is the picture that, because every(?!) atoms are replaced periodically in ones' body, an atom enters your body, does a little QED dance, then leaves. This implies that what we are (i.e. consciousness) has less to do with our physical make up than with the "delicate motion" of the atoms setting up electrical patterns in our brain.

  2. Ah, found the origin of the above thought. Should have known, it's in one of Feynman's speech:

  3. Michael D. CassidyMay 10, 2007 at 12:49 PM

    Its a bit wierd commenting on a 2005 post but....

    Someone once said to me that science took the 'romantic' and beauty out the world around us by explaining it. The reason as a non-scientist that I read science blogs and books is in fact for me science shows me the beauty and romance of the world at greater depth.


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