In the case of the logo of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the answer is a good deal of science history. A recent issue of Chemical and Engineering News (protected content link here) featured an interview with UW historian of science professor Catherine M. Jackson that highlighted this curious device chosen by the ACS in 1909 to symbolize the chemist’s skill: Liebig’s Kaliapparat.
Invented by German chemist Justus Liebig almost 200 years ago to tackle the problem of organic analysis, this small triangular piece of hollow glassware with five bulbs inserted along its three arms continues to fascinate chemists and historians alike. For Jackson, studying the Kaliapparat revealed a major transformation in chemical practice and allowed her to explain for the first time the origins of organic synthesis, one of the late nineteenth century’s most important sciences.
You can read more about the fascinating story of the Kaliapparat in a short interview piece Professor Jackson did for the history of science journal Isis earlier this summer.