Decode and start reacting

The Penguin Dictionary of Chemistry. Third edition
February 27, 2004

Professional chemists can refer to many compilations of data to get the information they need, but what do you do if you are a student and encounter an unfamiliar word or phrase? Then you need a handy-sized reference work for your desk, and it must give the essential minimum of explanation.

Is The Penguin Dictionary of Chemistry such a book? I think so, and it is ideal for those who are starting to study the subject at university.

David Sharp's book is now in its third edition, and I must confess that I began browsing through it in a determined effort to find errors within its 6,000 or so entries.

Of course, there are a few typos: bonds missing in a few formulae, such as those of mannitol or mucic acid, and occasional entries are all too brief, such as those on scanning tunnelling microscopy and combinatorial chemistry.

On the other hand, a few entries are possibly too long -for example, that on the Hammett equation. And I could take issue with Sharp for spelling sulfur as sulphur, the former being the correct chemical term. But these are minor points in what is otherwise a quick and easy-to-use resource (helped considerably by lots of cross-references).

What must strike those who study chemistry at university is the way that the subject seems to be inundated with acronyms; spectroscopists seem unable to write a sentence without using one. All the basic ones are to be found in this dictionary, but it is not these that are likely to puzzle the beginner, or even long-established chemists such as myself. When Sharp comes to compile the fourth edition of this work, I hope that he will widen the appeal of his book by including even the more obscure acronyms.

John Emsley is a science writer attached to the department of chemistry, University of Cambridge.


The Penguin Dictionary of Chemistry. Third edition

Editor - David W. A. Sharp
Publisher - Penguin
Pages - 434
Price - £8.99
ISBN - 0 14 051445 7

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