Remember Lucretius this Mole Day


Mars is overcome by the beauty of Venus

Today is Mole Day.  This is a celebration of a number, called Avagadro’s number, that chemists use to keep track of the fact that atoms are really small.  In 12g of carbon for example, there are 600,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms.  This is Avagadro’s number.   There is the same number of atoms in 207g of lead.  This is all handy stuff if you want to work out how a chemical reaction works.  The name for the unit used is the mole.  And today the date is the 23rd of the 10th, which is a reminder of Avagadro’s number in scientific notation.

If you are interested in atoms, you should be interested in moles and today is the day to celebrate.

But I’d like to remember that man that wrote the first poem to celebrate the atom.  Lucretius was a Roman poet who took the idea of atoms from a Greek thinker whose work is totally lost called Democritus.  He opens the poem with a hymn of praise to Venus.

     Dear Venus that beneath the gliding stars
     Makest to teem the many-voyaged main
     And fruitful lands—for all of living things
     Through thee alone are evermore conceived,
     Through thee are risen to visit the great sun

He then goes on to describe how Venus uses the power of love to overcome the warlike Mars.

Then comes the bit about atoms, which he describes in great detail.  It really is an amazing job.  So much of what he says rings true to what we now know about the nature of atoms and the world that they create.  One bit I particularly like is how he describes that someone killed in battle is actually killed by their atoms being disrupted.  It is little wonder he approves of Venus putting a brake on Mars.  Warfare was a very physical business in those days.

Sadly, the idea of atoms didn’t catch on.  In fact we know about the ideas men had about them in the ancient world only by this one poem.  And this poem is known by one single copy that somehow survived the centuries of neglect.

But it did survive, and that is something to be happy about today when we celebrate more modern achievements.


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