Field of Science

Writing Science: Poetic Movements

Paul Dirac (Nobel Prize in physics, 1933) once said: "In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite."

Is it? Can or should poetry and science mix? Should we teach scientists how to write poetry as a matter of course?

Writing Prompt

Using 2 to 5 words from the list write a poem. Stuck for form? Try haiku.
(5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables)

protein, atom, diffuse, drosophila, phylum, differential, set, scalar, momentum, graphite, ionized, equilibrium, eutrophic, entropy, catalyst, precipitate

When Science and Poetry Were Friends, an essay by Freeman Dyson
The Future of Science is Art, Jonah Lehrer, Seed Magazine
Roald Hoffman (Bio here) Individual poems here.
Sabrina Vourvoulais Fata Morgana
Karl Kirchewey, Propofol
J.C. Todd, Instant of Turbulence and Endless Caverns, in What Space This Body
Photo is from surrealmuse, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. Dirac supposedly said that as a response to Robert Oppenheimer when he found out that the latter was composing poetry. However, I don't agree with Dirac that poetry turns simple notions into complicated ones; sometimes it does exactly the opposite. Dirac was right about many things but the nature of poetry and chemistry seems to have escaped him.

    As you know, the essay by Dyson is about Richard Holmes's wonderful book "The Age of Wonder" which I would indeed strongly recommend to students. I gifted a book of poetry to Dyson last year.

  2. Words diffuse like a
    Catalyst for creative
    Momentum and stop.

    I gave it a shot. Science is not my strong suit.

  3. In grad school, many years ago, I wrote this about one of our profs:

    A galactochemist named Brown,
    Through telescopes always would frown.
    For he hoped that one day,
    He’d find DNA,
    In space, just floating around.

  4. Wavefunction - The Age of Wonder is a great book! What book did you give Dyson (if you're willing to share)?

    And thanks to both Constant Writer and Nick for sharing some poetry...

    Nick's is a great lead in to the last section of the course: humor!

  5. Sure! I gifted Dyson Harold Bloom's latest book "Till I End my Song: A Collection of Last Poems" which is not as morbid as it sounds.

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