A friend of mine made a tattoo on his chest of some chemical substance formula.

He challenged us to identify which substance is that. I thought that perhaps a combination of:

  • Mathematica image processing capabilities
  • Wolfram|Alpha chemical data
  • Manual intervention

could do the trick. Here is the picture:

enter image description here

I am looking for pointers on how to attack the problem (like keywords of Mathematica functions, etc).

EDIT 1: I suppose the following need to be done:

  • Extract the formula from the picture as basic (2D) structure diagram
  • Define a distance metric for images or use existing one (e.g., ImageDistance[])
  • Calculate the distance of our element's diagram against all ChemicalData[] elements
  • Pick the few first and do a visual verification

At the moment 1st step seems like the most challenging.

EDIT 2: As shown by Sjoerd it is much easier to search for a formula as string rather than as image!

  • $\begingroup$ Anyone know a quick way to import all chemical data? I ran ChemicalData/@ChemicalData[] but it connects to wolfram servers once for each entry, so some 40k times. Had to quit the kernel to get it to stop. (v8) $\endgroup$
    – ssch
    Sep 4, 2013 at 18:38
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @ssch Perhaps this is useful? mathematica.stackexchange.com/questions/3549/… $\endgroup$
    – stathisk
    Sep 4, 2013 at 18:41
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ I don't want to be a party pooper, so here's the spoiler alert. $\endgroup$ Sep 4, 2013 at 19:29
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ All I can say is drat - why was I giving a lecture when this question showed up?!?!? $\endgroup$ Sep 5, 2013 at 1:00

1 Answer 1


Preload all chemical data:

ChemicalData[All, "Preload"];
RebuildPacletData[]; (* the latter should not really be necessary *)

Get all names:

cd = ChemicalData[];

Get their molecular formulae:

l = ChemicalData[#, "MolecularFormulaString"] & /@ cd;

By counting the Cs, Os and Hs in the tattooed diagram we know we have to find $\rm{C_{19}H_{28}O_{2}}$. Looking for all molecules that have that molecular formula:

p = Position[l, "C19H28O2"];

Column[Labeled[ChemicalData[#, "StructureDiagram"], #] & /@ Extract[cd, p]]

Mathematica graphics

Looks like it is Testosterone.


In 10.4 one can call various external services dealing with chemical and/or pharmaceutical data, such as PubChem, ChemSpider and OpenPHACTS. If one knows how to code the chemical diagram into a SMILES string this gives an alternative approach to identifying this compound:

pubchem = ServiceConnect["PubChem"];

][1, "Synonym"] //Normal // Column

Mathematica graphics

Among all the synonyms we see testosterone pop up.

  • $\begingroup$ Nicely done Sjoerd! Searching for a formula as string is much easier than as image! $\endgroup$
    – stathisk
    Sep 4, 2013 at 20:38
  • $\begingroup$ @zet My pleasure. It took me a bit longer than necessary because I initially miscounted the number of Hs. $\endgroup$ Sep 4, 2013 at 20:48
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Nice solution, +1! It also thins down results if you have some additional chemistry knowledge, like the molecule has sterol structure (name should include "ster"), an alcohol (with a hydroxyl group -OH), with a carbonyl group at the other end (-C=0), i.e. it is also a ketone (name should end with "-one"). The friend's gender helps to figure out the "testo-" part... $\endgroup$ Sep 5, 2013 at 9:51
  • $\begingroup$ I will leave the question open for a couple of days and then I'll accept your answer @SjoerdC.deVries. Thanks again. $\endgroup$
    – stathisk
    Sep 5, 2013 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ @zet no problem. $\endgroup$ Sep 5, 2013 at 20:47

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