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Chemistry LibreTexts

1: Introduction to Chemistry

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    "What is this made of? How can we produce this material quickly and at a low cost? Will this product harm us or help us?"—these are all questions that can be answered using the science of chemistry.

    What is Chemistry?

    If we look up the word "chemistry" in the dictionary, we'll find something like this: "The science of the composition, structure, properties, and reactions of matter, especially of atomic and molecular systems" (Free Online Dictionary). This definition is certainly accurate, but does not give a good picture of the scope of chemistry or of the many interesting aspects of the field.

    Chemistry touches every area of our lives. The medicines we take, the food we eat, the clothes we wear—all of these materials and more are, in some way or another, products of chemistry.

    What is the World Made Of?

    Questions about matter have been asked for centuries. The ancient Greek philosophers spent a lot of time trying to figure out what matter was. Different philosophers debated whether matter was earth, water, air, fire, or some combination. They argued, but did not do any experiments at that time.

    It took many centuries for humans to develop a better concept of what matter really is—even today, we have an incomplete picture. Chemistry involves the study of these substances in terms of basic properties and practical application.

    Chemists look at the world in two ways, often simultaneously. The two worlds of the chemist are the macroscopic world and the microscopic world. Macroscopic refers to substances and objects that can be seen, touched, and measured directly. Microscopic refers to the small particles that make up all matter. Chemists must observe matter and do experiments macroscopically; then make generalizations and propose explanations that are microscopic in nature. For example, anyone can observe the physical change in appearance that occurs as an iron object, such as a tractor, is left out in the elements and gradually turns to rust. However, a chemist looking at the rusting tractor considers the individual atoms that make up the iron, and how they are changing as a result of exposure to oxygen in the air, and water from rain. Throughout the study of chemistry, there is often a switch back and forth between the macroscopic and microscopic worlds.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Rusting artillery shells.


    Chemistry is the study of matter and the changes it undergoes. Chemistry considers both macroscopic and microscopic information.

    Explore More

    1. Read the label on a prepared food product (for example: bread, cereal, dessert). List all of the ingredients in the product. Look up each ingredient on the Internet and write down what that material is doing in the food product.
    2. Select your favorite hobby or activity. List all of the items you use in that activity or hobby. For each item, find out how chemistry has contributed to the creation or better operation of that item.

    Contributors and Attributions

    • CK-12 Foundation by Sharon Bewick, Richard Parsons, Therese Forsythe, Shonna Robinson, and Jean Dupon.

    • 1.1: What Is This Made Of?
      What is this made of? How can we produce this material quicker and at lower cost? Will this produce harm us or help us? All of these questions can be answered using the science of chemistry.
    • 1.2: Prelude to Chemistry
      Get ready for a fantastic journey through a world of wonder, delight, and knowledge. One of the themes of this book is "chemistry is everywhere," and indeed it is; you would not be alive if it were not for chemistry because your body is a big chemical machine. If you do not believe it, do not worry. Every chapter in this book contains examples that will show you how chemistry is, in fact, everywhere. So enjoy the ride-and enjoy chemistry.
    • 1.3: What is Chemistry?
      Chemistry is the study of matter—what it consists of, what its properties are, and how it changes. Being able to describe the ingredients in a cake and how they change when the cake is baked is called chemistry. Matter is anything that has mass and takes up space—that is, anything that is physically real. Some things are easily identified as matter—this book, for example.
    • 1.4: Basic Definitions
      Chemistry is the study of matter and its interactions with other matter and energy. Matter is anything that has mass and takes up space. Matter can be described in terms of physical properties and chemical properties. Physical properties and chemical properties of matter can change. Matter is composed of elements and compounds. Combinations of different substances are called mixtures. Elements can be described as metals, nonmetals, and semimetals.
    • 1.5: Chemistry as a Science
      Science is a process of knowing about the natural universe through observation and experiment. Scientists go through a rigorous process to determine new knowledge about the universe; this process is generally referred to as the scientific method. Science is broken down into various fields, of which chemistry is one. Science, including chemistry, is both qualitative and quantitative.
    • 1.6: The Scientific Method
      The Scientific Method is simply a framework for the systematic exploration of patterns in our world. It just so happens that this framework is extremely useful for the examination of chemistry and its many questions. The scientific process, an iterative process, uses the repeated acquisition and testing of data through experimental procedures to disprove hypotheses.
    • 1.7: Chemistry in the Environment
    • 1.8: Applying Properties - MSDS
    • 1.9: Alchemy
      Mining for gold is a slow, dirty, and dangerous process. Not everyone owns a gold mine - in both the ancient Egyptian society and during the Roman Empire, the gold mines were the property of the state, not an individual or group. So there were few ways for most people to legally get any gold for themselves.

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