CHNOPS (diagram)
Left: American plant physiologist Frank Thone's 1936 depiction of a plant as a "CHNOPS plus" system, i.e. he described plant systems as systems comprised of the elements: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, sulfur (CHNOPS) plus potassium and calcium, among others. This is chemical upgrade to older late 18th century, albeit now-defunct (2009), term "biological system" (see: bio-). [1] Right: a 2010 high school level rendition of the CHNOPS model by American illustrator and former high school biology teacher Katie McKissick from her blog article “That Which Life is Made of, Dude”, in which she explains: “At the most basic level, we are made of atoms, just like all matter is. Living things are mainly composed of the following ingredients: Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Phosphorus, Sulfur.” [2]
In science, CHNOPS, “CHONSP” (Berry, 1997) (Ѻ) or SPONCH (Cockell, 2015) (Ѻ), is an acronym short for the six dominant elements common to animated organisms, namely: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur; the other dozen to twenty or so elements common to "animate organisms" (defunct term: living organism) sometimes referred to as trace elements, although the distinction is far from exact.

Hill order
In 1900, American chemist Edwin Hill introduced the following set of rules for making formulas of carbon-based compounds and molecules:

1. For carbon-containing compounds, carbon (C) appears first.
2. Carbon is followed immediately by hydrogen (H), if present.
3. Compounds are listed by increasing number of atoms.
4. All non-carbon element symbols follow in alphabetical order, and within alphabetical order are listed by increasing atom count.

In this scheme of things, in alphabetical order, CH would be followed by N, O, P, S, and so on, hence the acronym: "CHNOPS". This come to be known as "Hill order".

It remains to be determined who exactly introduced the so-called acronym "CHNOPS", but it does seem to have something to do with the Hill order scheme for arranging atoms in a molecule or chemical species.

In 1926, German physical chemist Wilhelm Ostwald, in his Lifelines: an Autobiography, stated the following about himself: [11]

“I am made from the C-H-N-O-S-P combination from which a Bunsen, Helmholtz, Kirchhoff came.”

CHNOPS (2013 PBS video still)
Image of the 2013 NOVA video (Ѻ) special “CHNOPS: Ingredients for Life”.
In 1936, American plant physiologist Frank Thone described plants, pictured above, as "CHNOPS plus" systems. [1] In particular, Thone stated "Chnops: six chemical elements are essential parts of protoplasm, the living substance itself. These are carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur." [1]

In 1964, the term "CHNOPS system" was introduced in US National Bureau of Standards report entitled “Preliminary Report on Survey of Thermodynamic Properties of the Compounds of the Elements of CHNOPS” by a group of researchers led George Armstrong. [6]

In 1968, Harold Morowitz, per citation and work with Armstrong, was referring to humans, animals, plants, and bacteria as “CHNOPS organisms”. (Ѻ)

In 1974, American thermoregulation heart surgeon Henry Swan, in his Thermoregulation and Bioenergetics, stated the following: [4]

"But a biochemistry could emerge in which life is powered by the * This small group of low molecular-weight 'core elements of life' has been dubbed the 'CHNOPS System' by Armstrong, et al. (1964)."

In 2005, American electrochemical engineer Libb Thims, following Hill order protocol, posted the following online first-draft listing of the molecular formula for one human: [5]

CHNOPS (human molecular formula)

Further refined calculations, however, began to give way to the view that the old Hill order system (alphabetical) was an an inconsistent way of ordering atoms, particularly when dealing with a 26 atoms in one molecular formula. The new system, outlined below, lists atoms via decreasing atomic count in the molecule.

In 2015, Charles Cockell, in his Astrobiology: Understanding Life in the Universe, referred to carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur as the “bioelements”, showing them as follows: (Ѻ)

CHNOPS (Cockell, 2015)


CHNOPS (blocks)CHNOPS (bracelet)
Two CHNOPS representations: blocks and bracelet. (Ѻ)
Pronunciation | Schnapps or Chin-ups
In 1936, Frank Thone, in his Science News Letters article “Nature Ramblings: ‘Chnops,’ Plus”, stated the following on the chemistry of protoplasm: [1]

“Six chemical elements are essential parts of protoplasm, the living substance itself. These are carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulphur. Their initial letters, which happen also to be their chemical symbols, have been arranged into a memory-saver word or mnemonic: CHNOPS — pronounced like the German word for strong liquor, Schnapps. There is a considerable quantity of the first four elements in protoplasm, and only a very little of the other two; but those small amounts are indispensable to life. Take them away, and protoplasm is no longer protoplasm; neither is it any longer alive.” ”

The English word "schnapps", according to the above view, is, supposedly, derived from the German Schnaps (plural, Schnäpse); a representative pronunciation example being the common American liqueur Peach Schnapps. [7]

Alternatively, however, to the English reader, a representative example being the mindset of American electrochemical engineer Libb Thims, the first to employ the pneumonic in human molecular formula memory device (c. 2003), has always thought of the pronunciation along the lines of someone doing “chin-ups” exercises. [7]

Mnemonic | Human formula

The following, using Hill order, for the first six element comprising a human, according to the 26-element Thims molecular formula, is a useful memory device—one employed by Libb Thims in 2005 to help remember the elements of a human molecule:

#sFormula (section)MnemonicConceived byElementsImage[s]

1-6Hill order:
CE27HE27NE26 | OE27PE25SE24

Composition order:
CE27HE27OE27 | NE26PE25SE24

Amounts (powers of 10):
27, 27, 27 | 26, 25, 24

Throne (1936)

Thims (2005)
C, H, N ; O, P, SChin-ups
(guy doing "chin ups")
Peach Schnapps
(German for hard liquor)
7-12Composition order:
CaE25KE24ClE24 | NaE24MgE24FeE23

Amounts (powers of 10):
25, 24, 24 | 24, 24, 23
Parrot, pirate, and mug

"Cackle" (Ca+K+Cl) parrot on shoulder of pirate who's holding a "Namless Mug that's Foam[e]" (Na+Mg+Fe)
Thims (2005)Ca, K, Cl ; Na, Mg, FeNameless Mug Foamy (labeled)
13-18Composition order:

Amounts (powers of 10):
23, 22, 21 | 21, 21, 20
Cute cubicle girl

"Feel (F) Zestfully (Zn) Simple (Si) in CuBIcle (Cu+B+I)"
Thims (2005/15)F, Zn, Si ; Cu, B, ICubicle (labeled)
18-24Composition order:

Amounts (powers of 10):

20, 20, 20 | 20, 20, 19
Sinful coin maker

Sinful (Sn) Magnanimously (Mn) Secretive (Se) coin maker Creating (Cr) Nickel (Ni) Money (Mo)”
Thims (2015)Sn, Mn, Se ; Cr, Ni, Mo Coin minter (labeled) 3
25-26Composition order:

Amounts (powers of 10):

19, 18
Cobalt vanadium blade

“to buy an expensive Cobalt (Co) Vanadium (V) blade.”
Thims (2015)Co, V Cobalt (Co) Vanadium (V) blade c

In sum, a good story mnemonic to help remember the elements and numbers of elements in one human, formulaically-speaking, is to remember the following story:

“Once upon a time, a guy, while doing 26 chin-ups {CHNOPS}; remembered the story of a cackling parrot {CaKCl}, on the shoulder of a pirate, stairring at a nameless mug of beer, with a foamy top {NaMgFe}; who once was a beautiful girl, feeling zestfully simple {FZnSi}, while working, 27 to 18 days a month, in a pleasant cubicle {CuBI}; but was transformed chemically into a pirate because of her association with a sinful magnanimously secretive {SnMnSe} coin maker who created nickel money {CrNiMo}, so to buy an expensive cobalt vanadium {CoV} blade, which was said to contain the the secret principle behind Empedocles’ famous aphorism that friends mix like water and wine, whereas enemies separate like oil and water.”
Atom to human (diagram)
The new system model is depicted well by the 1993 “cell-as-molecule” approach, pioneered by English physical chemist Lionel Harrison, and the 2002 “human-as-molecule” (human molecule) approach, pioneered by American limnologists Robert Sterner and James Elser, according to which organisms are defined as individual abstract molecules, each defined by a characteristic molecular formula: 22-elements according to the Sterner-Elser human molecular formula (2002):

H375,000,000 O132,000,000 C85,700,000 N6,430,000 Ca1,500,000 P1,020,000 S206,000 Na183,000 K177,000
Cl127,000 Mg40,000 Si38,600 Fe2,680 Zn2,110 Cu76 I14 Mn13 F13 Cr7 Se4 Mo3 Co1

or 26-elements according to the Thims human molecular formula (2007); a view according to which the old 6-element CHNOPS model becomes obsolete, archaic in a sense.

The number 26 here refers to the number of types of elements, in one human, the numbers 27 to 18 signify the range power subscripts, associated with each element, respectively, e.g. C (10E27), H (10E27), N (10E26) ... V (10E18), i.e. there are, on average, e.g., 10 to the power of 18 vanadium atoms in one 150 kilogram human.

New system
In contrast to what might be called the "old system", i.e. the CHNOPS system model (1936), the "new system" is centered around animate molecular formula point of view, i.e animate molecule perspective.

In the human-centric case, the human molecular formula perspective is followed, according to which there are 26 functional elements of relevance rather than 6 as described by the old system model. In this sense the CHNOPS ordering model becomes somewhat inoperable. The following, then, in modern terms, is the 26-element formula of the molecular formula for a typical 70kg (154lb) person: [2]


where EN, e.g. E22, means exponent to the power of ten.

In this sense, in stead of defining a human or a plant as a "biological system", which is a baseless term, being that in the famous 1915 by Serbian-born American electrical engineer Nikola Tesla “there is no thing endowed with life” (see: defunct theory of life), we can instead define a plant or a human as a "chnops plus system", which is a chemistry based terminology rather than a religious-mythology based terminology.

Thermodynamics of animation
The principles of thermodynamics are what define the nature of animation in "CHNOPS plus systems. This subject is sometimes called "animate thermodynamics" (Sture Nordholm, 1997), particularly when applied to humans.

CHNOPS cycleSponch cake (CHNOPS-variant) (labeled)CHNOPS T-shirt
Left: A 1993 diagram of the “CHNOPS cycle and energy flow” from Chinese-born English biophysicist Mae-Wan Ho’s The Rainbow and the Worm: the Physics of Organism; which seems to capture the notion of the photon mill concept. [3] Center: American ecologist Richard Castenholz (Ѻ) eating a “Sponch” (variant of CHNOPS), a Mexican version of a Twinkie, his acronym to define life chemically. [12] Right: A 2012 “CHNOPS: the Life of the Party!” T-shirt, centered over what seems to be a big bang explosion artwork. [8]
The following are related quotes:

“Here, as elsewhere, evolution may have proceeded partly by the loss of function and capacity, and the so-called bioelements, C H N O P S Na K Ca Fe etc., with which present-day organisms unenterprisingly carry out 99.99 per cent, of their activities, may have been economically selected from an initially more catholic approach to chemistry.”
— Author (1954), “Article”, New Biology, 16-17

“There is no evidence of a special life force, all of life on earth, including ourselves, is based on chemical processes and the four most common elements involved in the chemistry of life are hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen, collectively known by the acronym CHON. We are made out of exactly the raw materials which are most easily available in the universe. The implication is that the earth is not a special place, and that life forms based on CHON are likely to be found across the universe, not just in our galaxy but in others. It is the ultimate removal of humankind from any special place in the cosmos, the completion of the process that began with Copernicus and De Revolutionibus.”
— John Gribbin (2002), “CHON and Humankind’s Place in the Universe” [10]

See also
● Redfield ratio

CHNOPS orbital (diagrams)
A 2010 depiction of the CHNOPS elements on the periodic table (see: hmolscience periodic table), shown in the top left corner, as found amid a discussion of a NASA press release about an extremophile bacterium that can be coaxed into substituting arsenic for phosphorus in some of its basic biochemistry, surrounded by orbital views of the six CHNOPS elements, which crudely shows that all of chnopsological based animate existencehuman existence included–is but the result of the so-called "need" of the CHNOPS atoms, predominately, to fill the "empty slots", quantum electrodynamically (photon-electron dynamics) speaking, of their orbitals to achieve the stable noble gas configuration (see: octet rule) geometry (see: floating magnets experiment). [9]
1. Thone, Frank. (1936). “Nature Ramblings: ‘Chnops,’ Plus”, Science News Letters (CHNOPS, pg. 110; protoplasm, pg. 110), 30(801), Aug 15.
2. McKissick, Katie. (2010). “That Which Life is Made of, Dude”,, Jul 22.
3. Ho, Mae-Won. (1993). The Rainbow and the Worm: the Physics of Organism (2008 3nd ed). World Scientific.
4. Swan, Henry. (1974). Thermoregulation and Bioenergetics (pg. 2). Elsevier.
5. Human molecular formula (methodology) –
6. Armstrong, George T., Domalski, E.S., Furukawa, George T., and Krivanec, M.A. (1964). “Preliminary Report on Survey of Thermodynamic Properties of the Compounds of the Elements of CHNOPS”, National Bureau of Standards (US) Report number: 8521.
7. (a) Schnapps – Wikipedia.
(b) Schnapps (pronunciation) –
8. It’s a Chnops Life –
9. (a) Myers, P.Z. (2010). “It’s Not an Arsenic-Based Life Form”,, Dec. 02.
(b) Fisher, Kathleen. (c.2005). “Atoms, Elements, and the Periodic Table”, San Diego State University.
10. Gribbin, John. (2002). Science: a History (pgs. 610-11). BCA.
11. (a) Ostwald, Wilhelm. (1926-27). Lifelines: an Autobiography (Lebenslinien. Eine Selbstbiographie) (in two or three volumes). Berlin: Klasing & Co.
(b) Farber, Eduard. (1961). Great Chemists (§:Wilhelm Ostwald, pgs. 1019-30; quote, pg. 1021). Interscience Publishers.
12. Hoehler, Tori. (2007). “Life and Extremes”, Slide #11 (Ѻ), from ppt presentation.

External links
CHNOP – Wikipedia.

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