period table in blueprint

What is Chemistry? Answered!

 What Is Chemistry?


chemistry is the practical science
     Figure 1: Chemistry is used to solve society’s                 problems

When asked: “What is Chemistry?”, chemists have a hard time with an elevator pitch.


The most common answer sounds like a dry definition. You hear “the science of matter and change”.  That definition hardly does it  justice.


Chemistry forms the vital science that appears in every aspect of life. Every problem human beings have solved using the stuff around them makes chemistry.


Chemistry makes up known ways  to improve what nature provides.


Chemistry the Oldest Word


The oldest known word in any language in use since ancient times is chemistry. It comes from Egyptian to mean “to transform the Earth.” Even before a word existed, the presence of human beings reveals itself when you find the effect of humans making use of materials in their environment.


Chemists Solve Problems


chemistry as a problem solving practice
Figure 2: “What is chemistry” uses the material world to solve problems


Every concept in a chemistry textbook  solves a problem.


Unlike what chemists do in movies, chemists do not just mix things together to see what will happen.


Maybe a problem gets solved by a new material with desired properties. Chemists apply  knowledge to the practical world to make life better. Urgent needs or  profit drives research.


Chemist live more in the business of combining the properties and behaviors of new matter.




The Path to Solving Problems


When you think about how to solve a problem with chemistry, you take into account three factors.  The materials on hand limits your first choices. The second thing comes from what you know about how to make things. The third restrcition makes you think about what use the new material will have.


Raw Matrials


Resources dictate what possibilties exist. Lack of raw materials has often led to innovation. When new raw materials become available, chemists explore new combinations of matter which were not have been possible in the past.


Known Methods


As a chemist considers his or her attempt to solve a problem, reading published accounts of similar materials and how those were made act as a guide. They first consider if the same way to make a new material will apply, or if a known method needs modificatuion. That kind of knowledge only comes from careful experiments.


Desired Properties


Chemists first research substances and what affects the properties of substances. Reasonably, the combination of several substances combines the desired properties in a single material. Whether this happens or not involves careful experimentation.


This makes up the activity you see when chemists work in a laboratory.


Chemistry Needs Theory


Chemists learn about the relationship between the composition of matter and its properties. They study the behavior of matter.  How do you make the new composition of matter you want?


Chemists build a theory to relate its structure and properties.


They study what happens when one compound mixes with another compound . Another kind of chemist analyzes matter to discover its make up.


Microscopic Theory of Matter


The theory starts with: microscopic smaller subunits compose all matter, (atoms). A finite number of elementary particles form all the combinations from which every substances form, (elements).


New compounds come from a fixed whole number ratio of elements, (Dalton’s law of fixed composition). Every time a chemist introduces a new substance, the material composition of the universe changes. Sometimes, a new use for an old compound solves a problem.


A Better Answer


Now when someone asks “what is chemistry?”, you can answer: “known ways to use the environment to solve problems.”