Understanding chemistry

What is chemistry?

Chemistry is one of the so-called natural sciences that focusses on the interaction of certain substances, especially how they react with one another. These substances are usually elements or compounds - mixtures of a few different parts. Either way, the substances referred to are chemicals, hence the name given for the study of them. Along with the elemental study of chemicals, some aspects of chemists' work delves down to the atomic level, looking at the interactions of individual molecules and ions. Their composition and structure are just as important to chemists as are their properties and behaviours in different situations.

Who is the father of chemistry?

Chemistry has a very long history. Chemical substances were known to be studied in ancient times, for instance, to make soaps and to extract metals from ore to make weapons and tools. Mixing metals to form alloys, like bronze, also led to new forms of art in the ancient world, too. This field of science goes all the way back to the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, Democritus. When people tried to apply chemical knowledge in the Middle Ages to create gold, this was known as alchemy. Some of the methods used in alchemy transferred into modern chemistry techniques, a science that only really took off as we know it today from the Age of Enlightenment onwards under pioneers like Robert Boyle. He is often considered to be the discipline's father figure.

How does chemistry overlap with other sciences?

Chemistry is often said to be the central natural science because it connects very much with physics on the one hand and biology on the other. Many of the processes that are studied in atomic chemistry use the same techniques that physicists would be familiar with. At the larger scale, the same could be said of biologists. In fact, biochemistry is now such a large field – where biology and chemistry intersect – that it is often considered a natural science in its own right.

How has chemistry changed the world?

As mentioned, chemistry led to the first detergents, which gave early man his best chance of fighting off microbial infections. It also led to metallurgy and the invention of all sorts of things made from metals. In addition, this branch of science has been responsible for creating artificial fertilisers which have pushed up land productivity greatly, helping the human population to grow. In more recent years, the invention of plastics has been down to chemistry. These materials are now causing an ecological problem and the solution, according to many, may lie once more in the research work of chemists.

What does human chemistry mean?

Human chemistry is not a natural science. Biochemistry - which studies chemicals in living things - is, however. Instead, human chemistry is a metaphoric term that relates to how people find one another attractive or not, usually based on visual, cultural and pheromone responses.

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