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By the end of this module, you will be able to:
  • Outline the historical development of chemistry
  • Provide examples of the importance of chemistry in everyday life
  • Describe the scientific method
  • Differentiate among hypotheses, theories, and laws
  • Provide examples illustrating macroscopic, microscopic, and symbolic domains

Throughout human history, people have tried to convert matter into more useful forms. Our Stone Age ancestors chipped pieces of flint into useful tools and carved wood into statues and toys. These endeavors involved changing the shape of a substance without changing the substance itself. But as our knowledge increased, humans began to change the composition of the substances as well—clay was converted into pottery, hides were cured to make garments, copper ores were transformed into copper tools and weapons, and grain was made into bread.

Humans began to practice chemistry when they learned to control fire and use it to cook, make pottery, and smelt metals. Subsequently, they began to separate and use specific components of matter. A variety of drugs such as aloe, myrrh, and opium were isolated from plants. Dyes, such as indigo and Tyrian purple, were extracted from plant and animal matter. Metals were combined to form alloys—for example, copper and tin were mixed together to make bronze—and more elaborate smelting techniques produced iron. Alkalis were extracted from ashes, and soaps were prepared by combining these alkalis with fats. Alcohol was produced by fermentation and purified by distillation.

Attempts to understand the behavior of matter extend back for more than 2500 years. As early as the sixth century BC, Greek philosophers discussed a system in which water was the basis of all things. You may have heard of the Greek postulate that matter consists of four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Subsequently, an amalgamation of chemical technologies and philosophical speculations were spread from Egypt, China, and the eastern Mediterranean by alchemists, who endeavored to transform “base metals” such as lead into “noble metals” like gold, and to create elixirs to cure disease and extend life ( [link] ).

A sketch depicts 4 people stirring and handling chemicals. The chemicals are held in a variety of barrels and large cylinders. Several of the containers are being heated over burning embers. A large stove in the laboratory is filled with burning embers. There is also a large chest in the corner that is producing steam.
This portrayal shows an alchemist’s workshop circa 1580. Although alchemy made some useful contributions to how to manipulate matter, it was not scientific by modern standards. (credit: Chemical Heritage Foundation)

From alchemy came the historical progressions that led to modern chemistry: the isolation of drugs from natural sources, metallurgy, and the dye industry. Today, chemistry continues to deepen our understanding and improve our ability to harness and control the behavior of matter. This effort has been so successful that many people do not realize either the central position of chemistry among the sciences or the importance and universality of chemistry in daily life.

Chemistry: the central science

Chemistry is sometimes referred to as “the central science” due to its interconnectedness with a vast array of other STEM disciplines (STEM stands for areas of study in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields). Chemistry and the language of chemists play vital roles in biology, medicine, materials science, forensics, environmental science, and many other fields ( [link] ). The basic principles of physics are essential for understanding many aspects of chemistry, and there is extensive overlap between many subdisciplines within the two fields, such as chemical physics and nuclear chemistry. Mathematics, computer science, and information theory provide important tools that help us calculate, interpret, describe, and generally make sense of the chemical world. Biology and chemistry converge in biochemistry, which is crucial to understanding the many complex factors and processes that keep living organisms (such as us) alive. Chemical engineering, materials science, and nanotechnology combine chemical principles and empirical findings to produce useful substances, ranging from gasoline to fabrics to electronics. Agriculture, food science, veterinary science, and brewing and wine making help provide sustenance in the form of food and drink to the world’s population. Medicine, pharmacology, biotechnology, and botany identify and produce substances that help keep us healthy. Environmental science, geology, oceanography, and atmospheric science incorporate many chemical ideas to help us better understand and protect our physical world. Chemical ideas are used to help understand the universe in astronomy and cosmology.

Questions & Answers

anyone with an answer yet
Clare Reply
Formula for equilibrium
Danmori Reply
any response yet
what us atomic of molecule
Imhologhomhe Reply
chemical formula for water
Muhammad Reply
what is elemental
Maryam Reply
what are the properties of pressure
How can water be turned to gas
what's a periodic table
Okiemute Reply
how does carbon catenate?
obuke Reply
condition in cracking from Diesel to petrol
Brient Reply
hey I don't understand anything in chemistry so I was wondering if you could help me
Ruth Reply
i also
I also
condition for cracking diesel to form kerosene
can you tell me
please let me know
what is periodic law
rotimi Reply
periodic law state that the physical and chemical properties of an element is the periodic function of their atomic number
how is valency calculated
Ashley Reply
How is velency calculated
Hi am Isaac, The number of electrons within the outer shell of the element determine its valency . To calculate the valency of an element(or molecule, for that matter), there are multiple methods. ... The valency of an atom is equal to the number of electrons in the outer shell if that number is fou
what is the oxidation number of this compound fecl2,fecl3,fe2o3
Asmau Reply
bonds formed in an endothermic reaction are weaker than the reactants but y r these compound stable at higher temperatures
zille Reply
what is a disproportionation reaction
Ogor Reply
name the force that exist in cao
folarin Reply
Practice Key Terms 8

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Source:  OpenStax, Chemistry. OpenStax CNX. May 20, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11760/1.9
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