I am translating a book and I am confused with this sentence:

When Madame Curie started out in search of radium, when nobody knew what radium was like, they did not know how many molecules to the atom,...

Success Habits: Proven Principles for Greater Wealth, Health, and Happiness
Napoleon Hill, pub Pan Macmillan 2019

What does it mean by "molecules to the atom"?

  • 3
    Might need more context. As is, it seems like the author has the terms reversed and it should have been 'atoms to the molecule. – user150753 Jan 1 '19 at 7:45
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it’s asking about science not English – Jim Jan 1 '19 at 7:45
  • 1
    It might mean "particles" rather than molecules. – Pam Jan 1 '19 at 9:24
  • It may be sarcastic, or referring to the Aristotelian version of "atom". Or both. – Hot Licks Jan 1 '19 at 12:49

It means "how many molecules were contained in an atom": "molecules to the atom" is an expression of a ratio, and by convention the larger quantity is put last.

Now, this is nonsense, as molecules consist of atoms, not the other way round. However, it does appear to be what the author wrote (if the representation in Google Books is anything to go by): if you're translating it, presumably you should represent that nonsense accurately in your own language.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.