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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Chemistry Buzzword Dictionary

Understanding scientific literature can be hard. Let's face it: scientists, despite all our claims to the contrary, love words. We love making words up and flaunting them about - and bonus points if they're pronouncable acronyms.

Some chemistry words, however, are unnecessarily flashy and find their way into headlines a little too often. Buzzwords can be misleading at worst, and tiresome at best.

If you're trying to understand the chemical literature but keep getting tripped up in the jargon, have no fear. Because I care about you, my dearest readers, I've assembled a list of some of the most common chemistry buzzwords along with clear, concise definitions or, where quotations are used, what the authors probably could have said instead. Armed with this reference, you'll be an unstoppable scientific critic from this point forward.

asymmetric catalysis/reaction: "We spent a lot of money on ligands. A lot."

biomimetic: has the same metal as a protein that does the reaction faster and better than the molecule under study

challenge: something scientists collectively have not figured out yet; what the authors think about to prevent themselves from getting too happy

divergent synthesis: "Turns out you can do more than one reaction on the same molecule!"

(photo)electrochemical: (even more) questionably relevant

elusive: "difficult to make, but come on, that's not our fault."

"from first principles": "We have successfully avoided wet labs since undergrad."

ionic liquid: salts that are liquid at or near room temperature; definitely not a fad

limitation: what happens when physics gets in the way

"mechanistic insight": the next best thing to guessing

nano[noun or adjective]: oh god please publish this

novel: a meaningless adjective

public engagement: Twitter

serendipitous: accidental

synthesis: what the authors do when they're not on Facebook

transformation: seriously just a reaction

ultrafast: The last time the authors came to your party, they just repeated, "I work with a big fancy laser" until they were either unanimously acknowledged as the coolest person in the room or were later found repeating "I work with a big fancy laser" shakily to themselves in a corner with their drink and all of your chips.

I hope that this will serve as a valuable tool for your future forays into the scientific literature. No citations will be necessary; everyone knows that scientists don't really care about their H-indexes.

This article has been submitted to Nature BuzzChem, pending review by its prestigious board of editors.

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