Chemists typically concern themselves with the properties of matter at the level of atoms and molecules. That focus may seem narrow, but it is quite the opposite. Chemistry reveals a great deal about the world around us, including the origins of life, how the human body works and how tiny molecules can profoundly change the earth's atmosphere. And, of course, chemistry makes it possible to create useful materials not found in nature.
Such insights have been celebrated for more than a century, as evidenced by the long record of Nobel Prizes for advances in chemistry. This summer past winners of the prize are joining up-and-coming scientists in Lindau, Germany, to discuss previous breakthroughs and future prospects. In honor of the event—the 63rd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting—Scientific American is publishing excerpts from articles authored by Nobel Laureates in chemistry over the years, beginning on page 70. Many of the snippets resonate with researchers' priorities today.