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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

What is whizatron?
Frendick Reply
What is stoichometry
ngwuebo Reply
what is atom
yinka Reply
An indivisible part of an element
ngwuebo
the smallest particle of an element which is indivisible is called an atom
Aloaye
An atom is the smallest indivisible particle of an element that can take part in chemical reaction
Alieu
is carbonates soluble
Ebuka Reply
what is the difference between light and electricity
Joshua Reply
What is atom? atom can be defined as the smallest particles
Adazion
what is the difference between Anode and nodes?
Adazion
What's the net equations for the three steps of dissociation of phosphoric acid?
Lisa Reply
what is chemistry
Prince Reply
the study of matter
Reginald
what did the first law of thermodynamics say
Starr Reply
energy can neither be created or distroyed it can only be transferred or converted from one form to another
Adedeji
Graham's law of Diffusion
Ayo Reply
what is melting vaporization
Anieke Reply
melting and boiling point explain in term of molecular motion and Brownian movement
Anieke
Scientific notation for 150.9433962
Steve Reply
what is aromaticity
Usman Reply
aromaticity is a conjugated pi system specific to organic rings like benzene, which have an odd number of electron pairs within the system that allows for exceptional molecular stability
Pookieman
what is caustic soda
Ogbonna Reply
sodium hydroxide (NaOH)
Kamaluddeen
what is distilled water
Rihanat
is simply means a condensed water vapour
Kamaluddeen
advantage and disadvantage of water to human and industry
Abdulrahman Reply
a hydrocarbon contains 7.7 percent by mass of hydrogen and 92.3 percent by mass of carbon
Timothy 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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