Chemists are secretly doing applied category theory! When chemists list a bunch of chemical reactions like
they are secretly describing a ‘category’.
That shouldn’t be surprising. A category is simply a collection of things called objects together with things called morphisms going from one object to another, often written
The rules of a category say:
1) we can compose a morphism f: x → y and another morphism g: y → z to get an arrow gf: x → z,
2) (hg)f = h(gf), so we don’t need to bother with parentheses when composing arrows,
3) every object x has an identity morphism 1ₓ: x → x that obeys 1ₓ f = f and f 1ₓ = f.
Whenever we have a bunch of things (objects) and processes (arrows) that take one thing to another, we’re likely to have a category. In chemistry, the objects are bunches of molecules and the arrows are chemical reactions. But we can ‘add’ bunches of molecules and also add reactions, so we have something more than a mere category: we have something called a symmetric monoidal category.
My talk here, part of a series, is an explanation of this viewpoint and how we can use it to take ideas from elementary particle physics and apply them to chemistry! For more details try this free book:
• John Baez and Jacob Biamonte, A Course on Quantum Techniques for Stochastic Mechanics.
as well as this paper on the Anderson–Craciun–Kurtz theorem (discussed in my talk):
• John Baez and Brendan Fong, Quantum techniques for studying equilibrium in reaction networks.
You can also see the slides of this talk. Click on any picture in the slides, or any text in blue, and get more information!