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Arrows in Chemistry
Abirami Lakshminarayanan
Arrows are an integral part of chemistry. What is there in an
arrow? It looks insignificant yet appears in most scientific
publications. These symbols which make use of ‘lines’ and
‘heads’ are perhaps the most powerful pictographic tools
used in day-to-day chemistry and provide chemists a convenient way of representing their thoughts. Reactions, their
states, electrons, their movement, and even processes like
reflux are shown using arrows. Thus, arrows form a part of
essential symbolism in chemistry.
1. Introduction
Science makes use of a variety of symbols in order to achieve
effective communication. While symbols like , and  play key
roles in physics and math, arrows are perhaps the most fundamental and widely used symbols in chemistry. In this article, we try to
explore one of the most powerful tools of chemistry, the ‘arrows’.
1.1. Origin of the Word ‘Arrow’
In Sanskrit, arrow is known as baan or teer. The word ‘Arrow’
derives from the Indo-European root arkw, which meant curve
and was used to describe the ‘bow’ [1]. The Latin equivalent
came to be known as arcus. The Germanic root became arkhw
which meant ‘the thing belonging to the bow’ versus just
‘bow’. Old English adapted it as arw, and perhaps that is where
today’s form arose from [2].

Abirami Lakshminarayanan
has completed her BSc in
chemistry from Fergusson
Collage, Pune. Currently she
is persuing MSc in organic
chemistry from the
University of Pune. As an
undergraduate, she was
nominated for the Goldman
Sachs Global Leadership
Award for academic
excellence and leadership
roles. She was a Summer
Research Fellow of the
Indian Academy of Sciences
in the year 2008.

1.2. Arrows and Chemistry
Chemical equations and reactions make use of arrows for their
representation thus avoiding a myriad array of words and sentences. Thus, arrows form an integral part in the expression of
chemistry. They stand true to the old adage, “A picture speaks a
thousand words”. When were arrows first used in chemistry, and

RESONANCE  January 2010

Arrows, reaction arrows, electron arrows.