Preston MacDougallIn human chemistry, Preston John MacDougall (1961-) is a Canadian-born American chemist noted for his 2006 Gibbs and Goethe connection.


In 2006, MacDougall, in his Valentine’s day article “Chemical Eye on Love”, touched on German polymath Johann Goethe’s 1809 physical chemistry based novella Elective Affinities, speculating that this book is the origin of the colloquial phrase “the chemistry between them is magical”, but then, of interesting note, attempts to upgrade the Goethean chemistry model in thermodynamic terms as follows: [1]

“To revisit this long-lost sentimentality, I would like to chemically paraphrase John Lennon's famous theorem [“all you need is love”, 1967 (Ѻ)]. First, however, I need to tell you that the most important thing about chemical reactions is that they try to reach equilibrium. Or, to put it in thermodynamic terms, when they occur in the open, they seek to minimize their Gibbs energy, which is universally given the symbol capital G. Graphically, and truthfully, one can say that reacting molecules spontaneously find the lowest spot on their G-curves [“G-spot” (Ѻ) pun]. Getting back to the Beatles, perhaps the love you take is in equilibrium with the love you make?”

Very interesting section here indeed, as very view people, historically, have been able to make a connection between Goethe’s affinities and Gibbs free energies, although the two were proved to be thermodynamically equivalent in 1882, via the Goethe-Helmholtz equation, by German physicist Hermann Helmholtz. MacDougall then gives the following excerpt:

“Closer to home, children are both the product of love, and seemingly able to spontaneously generate it, even where none existed before. This is a feat that chemists are unable to rise to, as atoms are never created nor destroyed during chemical reactions.”

This seems to be an "I'm just making a fun analogy" type of "people are not chemicals" footnote.

MacDougall completed his BS in chemistry and PhD, dissertation “The Laplacian of the Electronic Charge Distribution” (1989), at McMaster University, Canada. In 1994, MacDougall became a chemistry professor at Middle Tennessee State University.

Chemical Eye
In 2004, MacDougall began writing a “Chemical Eye” column series, published by the Alaskan online newspaper Stories in the News, themed on the overlap of chemistry and public affairs, such as politics, sports, global warming, etc. [3] His commentaries are also featured in the Arts and Public Affairs portion of the Murfreesboro/Nashville NPR station WMOT.

1. MacDougall, Preston. (2006). “Chemical Eye on Love”, Stories in the News, Ketchikan, Alaska.
2. MacDougall, Preston J. (1989). “The Laplacian of the Electronic Charge Distribution” (abs), McMaster University.
3. Chemical Eye (publications) –

Further reading
● Lederman, Lynne. (2008). “Profile of Preston J. MacDougall”, BioTechniques, 45(3): 211, Sep.

External links
Preston MacDougall (contact) (faculty) – Middle Tennessee State University.
Preston MacDougall – Twitter.

TDics icon ns