A classroom limerick challenge

Scott Hopkins from the Chemistry Department at the University of Waterloo sent us a little chemical limerick. For St. Paddy’s Day — March 17 — we thought we might gather up some other chemical limericks from past issues of Chem 13 News and other sources. In the spirit of the day, please encourage your students (and you) to write up some chemical limericks and send them in for us to share. 

Here are some limericks we found to inspire you.

Scott Hopkins, Department of Chemistry
University of Waterloo, Waterloo ON  N2L 3G1

For hobbies, Schrödinger had few,

Although his kitten was one such pursuit.

He tried to teach it to speak,

Alphabetical Greek,

But the kitten could only say μ.

Reprinted from Chem 13 News, January 1979.
Sent in by Peter E. Childs, Limerick Ireland

On the vitamin C controversy:

All praise to the great Linus Pauling

Who gained fame in his chosen calling

But on vitamin C

We can’t all agree

And some find his views quite appalling.

On the persistence of defunct theories in syllabi:

There was a young Dane called Niels Bohr

By whose theory we once set great store

But it didn’t last long

For it proved to be wrong

So why teach it in school anymore?

A comment on the dangers of leaded petrol:

It’s time that we took out the lead

Before it all goes to our head

It may be a shock

When your car starts to knock

But you’re better off knocking than dead.

Reprinted from Chem 13 News, April 1990.
Barbara Barker, Cincinnati OH wrote the first; Richard Ramette, Northfield MN sent the second; and Richard Cornelius sent in the rest from this reprint.

Some bonds are just sigma, some pi;

So, how can we tell which, and why?

It’s no great mystery,

‘Cause in reality,

Just look where the symmetries lie.

When dealing with cells and potential

Just keep in your mind the essential:

The Nernstian view,

Cell diagrams, too,

And conclusions will be consequential.

A bright yellow metal called gold

As elements go is quite old.

Unreactive in air,

Delightful to wear,

It also is heavy to hold.

You know cancer’s a horrid disease.

Take platinum drugs, if you please.

Although they can hurt you,

They do have their virtue;

They might put the cancer on freeze.

There’s a play about arsenic and lace

Which tells its historical place.

Yes, arsenic is bad,

And if some you’ve had,

You may end up flat on your face.

Titanium metal is light;

The dioxide of it is white.

In paint it does make

The cover opaque

So houses and walls look just right.

A JCE article called There once was a teacher from Tech… was published in December 1995. The author Fredrick D. Williams from Michigan Technological University, Houghton MI describes the use of student-generated chemical limericks to lighten up his lectures. Fredrick would read these limericks out-loud during class. Students received extra grade consideration for their limericks.

Here are two of our favourites from this article.

Ray Axshun was starting to cry

Mount Ea was simply too high!

But when he sat on the grass

He saw Catalyst Pass

And then crossed to the opposite side.

Al Cohol is a guy with no pride

With his name he was not satisfied.

So with no trepidation

Underwent oxidation

And then was renamed Al de Hyde

Reprinted Chem 13 News, May 1981.
Sent in by a class at Herzliah High School, Montreal QC

Bond formation can make me unwell

(Electrons join up in a shell)

For it doesn’t seem fine

To say they combine

When we know very well they repel!

Reprinted from Chem 13 News, November 1988
The first three limericks were written by Richard Ramette, Northfield MN; the last three by Richard Cornelius, Annville PA.
An acid-base titration curve

Has several functions to serve.

The chemist can choose

Indicators to use,

And titrate without losing nerve.

You don’t have to worry and suffer,

Thus making the task even tougher.

Write the Ka expression,

And in a short session

You’ll know how to make up your buffer.

You must use a conjugate pair,

And mix with meticulous care.

For pH to be true,

Ionic strength, too,

Your errors of thought must be rare.

(See page 6!)

CHEM 101 students have tried

To make an insoluble halide.

They took silver nitrate

Plus salt at the right rate,

And, indeed, they made silver chloride.

Yes, there’s a liquid called bromine.

It is dark red, reactive, and so mean.

An alkane won’t react

In the dark; that’s a fact,

But bromine does react with alkene.

Hydrogen, as you know, is a gas.

Of all gases it has the least mass.

React it with air;

You’ll get more than a flare:

An explosion to show to the class.

In our Chem 13 News files, we found this limerick in June 1988 from Professor Robert Hufstedler (late) in Lowesville VA  22951. We are not sure if it was ever published in our magazine.

There once was a man named Gene,

Who played with a can of benzene.

He took a match

There was a scratch
And since then he hasn’t ben zene.

In 2003, the Royal Society of Chemistry received 1,500 entries for their limerick contest.

Here are two favourites. The first was written by a student, Helen Parsons, and the second by Ron Falder.

The soil had so much uranium

It killed my prize geranium.

It would have won shows

But now it just glows

Enough to light up a stadium.

The compounds of sodium are great,

If you can tell the chloride from chlorate.

The one makes fried chips

Taste good on your lips

The other clears weed from your gate.