A Chemist Chats with ChatGPT. How Does it Do?

By Josh Bloom — Mar 30, 2023
AI. Blah blah blah. You can’t turn on the news without hearing about it constantly. So I decided to see if it knew chemistry. With a few exceptions, it did very well. Even when I tried to trick it.

When it comes to chemistry, how does AI perform? The best way to find out is to ask questions, but I threw some doozies in there to see if it could handle odd or trick questions. Bottom line: It did very well, with some notable exceptions.

1. Basic Chemistry.

I expected it to do very well here, but it really bombed on one question. Let's start with the easiest.

Q: What is the boiling point of toluene?

A: The boiling point of toluene is approximately 110.6 degrees Celsius or 231.1 degrees Fahrenheit at standard atmospheric pressure

Grade: A. It also knew that the boiling point is dependent upon atmospheric pressure.


Q: How many isomers have the chemical formula C5H12?

A: There are three structural isomers with the chemical formula C5H12... They are Pentane,  Isopentane, and Neopentane

Grade: A. Perfect

[Time for a trick]

Q: How many isomers are there with the formula C4H14

A: There are two structural isomers with the chemical formula C4H14. They are: Butane and isobutane.

Grade: F. Uh oh. There are no chemicals in the universe with that formula. ChatGPT's answer is even worse when you consider that butane and isobutane both have the formula C4H10. I don't know how it screwed this up. It should have been trivial.


Q: Which is more acidic? Acetic acid or benzoic acid?

A: The pKa values (a measure of acidity) for benzoic acid and acetic acid are 4.20 and 4.76, respectively. This means that at the same concentration, benzoic acid is more acidic than acetic acid.

Grade: A

[Time for another trick!]

Q: Which is more acidic, butyric acid or butanoic acid?

A: Butyric acid and butanoic acid are two names for the same compound.

Grade: Bravo! A. It didn't bite.

Q: What is dimethylmercury?

A: Dimethylmercury is an extremely toxic and dangerous substance. It is a colorless liquid that can easily pass through latex gloves and skin, making it highly toxic even in small amounts. Due to its extreme toxicity, dimethylmercury is considered one of the most dangerous chemicals known to mankind

Grade: A (I think it quoted me, so let's make that A+)

2. Somewhat off-beat chemistry

I wanted to test its ability to answer odd or stupid questions here.

Q: Should I eat potassium?

A: While potassium is an essential nutrient for the human body, it is not recommended to eat pure potassium metal. Potassium metal is highly reactive and can react violently with water or moisture, potentially causing burns or explosions.

Grade: A+. I wanted to see if it could distinguish between potassium metal and potassium salt since they are both called potassium. It did. I like the "it is not recommended" – a mastery of understatement. Potassium metal will blow your head off.


Q: How do you pronounce phenol?

A: The pronunciation of phenol is "fee-nawl" or "fee-nol," with the stress on the first syllable.

Grade: C. I knew it! That is how doctors pronounce the word. Chemists, who know better (and discovered it), pronounce it with the accent on the second syllable. When a chemist uses the doctor's pronunciation, it is socially acceptable to throw potassium at them.


More controversial stuff

I needed to ask it a few ACSH-like questions just to see.

Q: Is aspartame bad for you?

A: Aspartame is an artificial sweetener used in food and drinks since the 1980s. It is composed of two amino acids, phenylalanine and aspartic acid, and a small amount of methanol. The safety of aspartame has been studied extensively by regulatory agencies, and it is generally considered safe for human consumption in normal amounts.

Grade: A+. No nonsense from EWG, Joe Mercola, or Oz.


Q: Do vaccines cause autism?

A:There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that vaccines cause autism. The overwhelming majority of scientific studies conducted over the past two decades have found no evidence of a causal link between vaccines and autism...The idea that vaccines cause autism originated from a now-debunked study published in 1998 that has since been retracted due to serious flaws and ethical violations. Numerous subsequent studies have failed to find any evidence to support the claims made in the original study.

Grade: A+. Whew! I was a little worried there

Q: Is Andrew Wakefield a fraud?

A: Andrew Wakefield is a former British medical researcher who became infamous for publishing a fraudulent study in 1998 claiming a link between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. The study has since been thoroughly discredited and retracted by the journal that initially published it. Wakefield has been stripped of his medical license due to ethical violations related to the study.

Grade: A+. Excellent. No conspiracy nonsense.

And finally...

Q: Is homeopathy real science?

A: The scientific community generally does not consider homeopathy a legitimate form of science...the principles of homeopathy are not supported by scientific evidence, and numerous studies have failed to demonstrate its efficacy beyond that of a placebo. Homeopathic remedies are often heavily diluted to the point where they contain little to no active ingredient and no plausible scientific mechanism by which they could work.

Grade: A+. I couldn't have said it better.

Bottom line

My first experience with ChatGPT was much better than I expected. It answered straightforward science questions perfectly (except for that abomination about isomers of C4H14) and was also able to handle strange and tricky questions quite well. It did especially well with controversial questions, such as the vaccine-autism myth, and even opined that Andrew Wakefield, the perpetrator of the myth, was indeed a fraud. Likewise, it didn't go down the rabbit hole and give wishy-washy answers about aspartame or homeopathy. This is what I found to be most impressive.

In the end, I couldn't resist:

Q: Will I get a raise from the American Council on Science and Health?

A: As an AI language model, I don't have access to information about your personal circumstances or any specific information about your job performance, so I cannot predict with certainty whether you will receive a raise from the American Council on Science and Health.

That's odd. We can all predict that one.


Josh Bloom

Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science

Dr. Josh Bloom, the Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science, comes from the world of drug discovery, where he did research for more than 20 years. He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry.

Recent articles by this author:
ACSH relies on donors like you. If you enjoy our work, please contribute.

Make your tax-deductible gift today!



Popular articles