Materials Science and Engineering/List of Topics/Origins of Modern Chemistry

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The history of chemistry is long and convoluted. It begins with the discovery of fire; then metallurgy which allowed purification of metals and the making of alloys, followed by attempts to explain the nature of matter and its transformations through the protoscience of alchemy. Chemistry begins to emerge when the distinction is made between chemistry and alchemy by Robert Boyle in his work The Sceptical Chymist (1661). Chemistry then becomes a full-fledged science when Antoine Lavoisier develops his laws of Conservation of mass, which demands careful measurements and quantitative observations of chemical phenomena. So, while both alchemy and chemistry are concerned with the nature of matter and its transformations, it is only the chemists who apply the scientific method.The history of chemistry is intertwined with the history of thermodynamics, especially through the work of Willard Gibbs.

Definitions[edit | edit source]

In retrospect, the definition of chemistry seems to invariably change per decade, as new discoveries and theories add to the functionality of the science. Shown below are some of the standard definitions used by various noted chemists:

  • Alchemy (330) – the study of the composition of waters, movement, growth, embodying and disembodying, drawing the spirits from bodies and bonding the spirits within bodies (Zosimos of Panopolis).
  • Chymistry (1661) – the subject of the material principles of mixt bodies (Robert Boyle).
  • Chymistry (1663) – a scientific art, by which one learns to dissolve bodies, and draw from them the different substances on their composition, and how to unite them again, and exalt them to an higher perfection (Christopher Glaser).
  • Chemistry (1730) – the art of resolving mixt, compound, or aggregate bodies into their principles; and of composing such bodies from those principles (Georg Ernst Stahl).
  • Chemistry (1837) – the science concerned with the laws and effects of molecular forces (Jean-Baptiste Dumas).
  • Chemistry (1947) – the science of substances: their structure, their properties, and the reactions that change them into other substances (Linus Pauling).
  • Chemistry (1998) – the study of matter and the changes it undergoes (Raymond Chang).