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Multicolored chemicals are frequent hallmarks of chemistry.

Chemistry (derived from alchemy) is the science of matter at or near the atomic scale. In this pursuit chemistry deals with the properties of such matter, the transformations of matter and the interactions of matter with other matter and with energy. Chemistry primarily studies atoms and collections of atoms such as molecules, crystals or metals that make up ordinary matter. According to modern chemistry it is the structure of matter at the atomic scale that is determinant of the nature of any given matter.


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Laboratory, Institute of Biochemistry, University of Cologne

Chemistry is often called the central science because it connects other sciences together, such as physics, biology or geology. Chemistry encompasses many specific specialized sub-disciplines that often overlap with significant portions of other sciences. Sub-disciplines, however, are very specific to chemistry, for example, they allow the manufacturing and testing of stronger materials, the synthesis of pharmaceuticals to treat disease, and determination of the mechanisms behind life processes.

A fundamental component of chemistry is that matter is involved. Chemistry may involve the interaction of matter with matter, or, involve matter with non-material phenomena such as energy. Most central and traditional to chemistry is the interaction of one substance with another such as in a chemical reaction where one substance or substances is transformed into another. This may involve electromagnetic radiation (as in photochemistry) where a chemical reaction is driven by the stimulation of light. However the chemical reaction is only part of a larger field that also studies matter in other ways. Chemical spectroscopists for example study the interaction of light with matter often without any reaction occurring.

Scientists who profess chemistry are known as chemists. According to contemporary chemists all ordinary matter consists of atoms or the sub atomic components that make up atoms. Atoms may be combined to produce more complex forms of matter such as ions, molecules or crystals. The structure of the world we commonly experience and the properties of the matter we commonly interact with are determined by properties of chemical substances and their interactions. Steel is hard because its atoms are bound together in a crystalline lattice. Wood burns because it can react spontaneously with oxygen in a chemical reaction above a certain temperature. Water is a liquid at room temperature because its molecules move about more than in a solid but less than in a gas. One can see because of the interaction of light with protein molecules in the back of ones eye.

With such a large area of study, it is impossible to know everything about chemistry and very difficult to summarize the field concisely. Even the most knowledgeable, experienced chemist only knows a very narrow area of chemistry better than others, though most chemists have a general knowledge of many areas of chemistry. Chemistry is divided into many areas of study called sub-disciplines in which chemists specialize. The chemistry taught at the high school or early college level is often called "general chemistry" and is intended to be an introduction to a wide variety of fundamental concepts and to give the student the tools to continue on to more advanced subjects. Many concepts presented at this level are often incomplete and technically inaccurate, yet they are of extraordinary utility. Chemists regularly use these simple, elegant tools and explanations in their work because the best solution possible is often so overwhelmingly difficult and the true solution is usually unobtainable.

The science of chemistry is historically a recent development but has its roots in alchemy which has been practiced for millennia throughout the world. The word chemistry is directly derived from the word alchemy; however, the etymology of alchemy is unclear (see alchemy).

History of chemistry

Main article: History of chemistry

The roots of chemistry can be traced to the phenomenon of burning. Fire was a mystical force that transformed one substance into another and thus was of primary interest to mankind. It was fire that led to the discovery of iron and glass. After gold was discovered and became a precious metal, many people were interested to find a method that could convert other substances into gold. This led to the protoscience called Alchemy. Alchemists discovered many chemical processes that led to the development of modern chemistry. Chemistry as we know it today, was invented by Antoine Lavoisier with his law of Conservation of mass in 1783. The discoveries of the chemical elements has a long history culminating in the creation of the periodic table by Dmitri Mendeleev. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry created in 1901 gives an excellent overview of chemical discovery in the past 100 years.

Chemical phenomena

A chemical phenomenon is a phenomenon that is describable by chemistry and involves substances and energy. Chemical phenomena are associated with a change in the properties of the substance as a result of a chemical reaction. Fire is undoubtedly the most spectacular chemical phenomenon. Chemists strive to explain all known chemical phenomena, to discover others and group chemical phenomena into classes with common causes or effects. For example, substances that react with oxygen to produce other substances are said to undergo oxidation; similarly a group of substances called acids or alkalis can react with one another to neutralize each other's effect, a phenomenon known as neutralization. Substances can also be dissociated or synthesized from other substances by various different chemical processes. A chemical reaction is often accompanied by evolution or absorption of energy, this phenomenon is studied under a subdiscipline of chemistry called chemical thermodynamics/ thermochemistry. Similarly certain substances emit light without being heated, a phenomenon known as phosphorescence.

Subdisciplines of chemistry

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Chemistry typically is divided into several major sub-disciplines. There are also several main cross-disciplinary and more specialized fields of chemistry.

  • Analytical chemistry is the analysis of material samples to gain an understanding of their chemical composition and structure. Analytical chemistry incorporates standardized experimental methods in chemistry. These methods may be used in all subdiciplines of chemistry, excluding purely theoretical chemistry.
  • Inorganic chemistry is the study of the properties and reactions of inorganic compounds. The distinction between organic and inorganic disciplines is not absolute and there is much overlap, most importantly in the sub-discipline of organometallic chemistry.

Other fields are Astrochemistry, Atmospheric chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Chemo-informatics, Electrochemistry, Environmental chemistry, Geochemistry, Green chemistry, History of chemistry, Materials science, Medicinal chemistry, Molecular Biology, Molecular genetics, Nanotechnology, Organometallic chemistry, Petrochemistry, Pharmacology, Photochemistry, Phytochemistry, Polymer chemistry, Sonochemistry, Supramolecular chemistry, Surface chemistry, and Thermochemistry.

Fundamental concepts


Main article: IUPAC nomenclature

Nomenclature refers to the system for naming chemical compounds. There are well-defined systems in place for naming chemical species. Organic compounds are named according to the organic nomenclature system. Inorganic compounds are named according to the inorganic nomenclature system.


Main article: Atom

An atom is a collection of matter consisting of a positively charged core (the atomic nucleus) which contains protons and neutrons, and which maintains a number of electrons to balance the positive charge in the nucleus.


Main article: Chemical element

An element is a class of atoms which have the same number of protons in the nucleus. This number is known as the atomic number of the element. For example, all atoms with 6 protons in their nuclei are atoms of the chemical element carbon, and all atoms with 92 protons in their nuclei are atoms of the element uranium.

The most convenient presentation of the elements is in the periodic table, which groups elements with similar chemical properties together. Lists of the elements by name, by symbol, and by atomic number are also available. In addition elements have many isotopes.


Main article: Chemical compound

A compound is a substance with a fixed ratio of chemical elements which determines the composition, and a particular organization which determines chemical properties. For example, water is a compound containing hydrogen and oxygen in the ratio of two to one, with the Oxygen between the hydrogens, and an angle of 104.5° between them. Compounds are formed and interconverted by chemical reactions.


Main article: Molecule

A molecule is the smallest indivisible portion of a pure compound or element that retains a set of unique chemical properties. A molecule consists of two or more atoms covalently bonded together.


Main article: Ion

An ion is a charged species, or an atom or a molecule that has lost or gained one or more electrons. Positively charged cations (e.g. sodium cation Na+) and negatively charged anions (e.g. chloride Cl) can form neutral salts (e.g. sodium chloride NaCl). Examples of polyatomic ions that do not split up during acid-base reactions are hydroxide (OH), or phosphate (PO43−).


Main article: Chemical substance

A chemical substance can be an element, compound or a mixture of compounds, elements or compounds and elements. Most of the matter we encounter in our daily life are one or another kind of mixtures, e.g. air, alloys, biomass etc.


Main article: Chemical bond

A chemical bond is an interaction which holds together atoms in molecules or crystals. In many simple compounds, valence bond theory and the concept of oxidation number can be used to predict molecular structure and composition. Similarly, theories from classical physics can be used to predict many ionic structures. With more complicated compounds, such as metal complexes, valence bond theory fails and alternative approaches which are based on quantum chemistry, such as molecular orbital theory, are necessary.

States of matter

Main article: Phase (matter)

A phase is a set of states of a chemical system that have similar bulk structural properties, over a range of conditions, such as pressure or temperature. Physical properties, such as density and refractive index tend to fall within values characteristic of the phase. The phase of matter is defined by the phase transition, which is when energy put into or taken out of the system goes into rearranging the structure of the system, instead of changing the bulk conditions.

Sometimes the distinction between phases can be continuous instead of having a discrete boundary, in this case the matter is considered to be in a supercritical state. When three states meet based on the conditions, it is known as a triple point and since this is invariant, it is a convenient way to define a set of conditions.

The most familiar examples of phases are solids, liquids, and gases. Less familiar phases include plasmas, Bose-Einstein condensates and fermionic condensates and the paramagnetic and ferromagnetic phases of magnetic materials. Even the familiar ice has many different phases, depending on the pressure and temperature of the system. While most familiar phases deal with three-dimensional systems, it is also possible to define analogs in two-dimensional systems, which is getting a lot of attention because of its relevance to biology.

Chemical reactions

Main article: Chemical reaction

Chemical reactions are transformations in the fine structure of molecules. Such reactions can result in molecules attaching to each other to form larger molecules, molecules breaking apart to form two or more smaller molecules, or rearrangement of atoms within or across molecules. Chemical reactions usually involve the making or breaking of chemical bonds.

Quantum chemistry

Main article: Quantum chemistry

Quantum chemistry describes the behavior of matter at the molecular scale. It is, in principle, possible to describe all chemical systems using this theory. In practice, only the simplest chemical systems may realistically be investigated in purely quantum mechanical terms, and approximations must be made for most practical purposes (e.g., Hartree-Fock, post Hartree-Fock or Density functional theory, see computational chemistry for more details). Hence a detailed understanding of quantum mechanics is not necessary for most chemistry, as the important implications of the theory (principally the orbital approximation) can be understood and applied in simpler terms.

Chemical Laws

Main article: Chemical law

The most fundamental concept in chemistry is the law of conservation of mass, which states that there is no detectable change in the quantity of matter during an ordinary chemical reaction. Modern physics shows that it is actually energy that is conserved, and that energy and mass are related; a concept which becomes important in nuclear chemistry. Conservation of energy leads to the important concepts of equilibrium, thermodynamics, and kinetics.

Further laws of chemistry elaborate on the law of conservation of mass. Joseph Proust's law of definite composition says that pure chemicals are composed of elements in a definite formulation; we now know that the structural arrangement of these elements is also important.

Dalton's law of multiple proportions says that these chemicals will present themselves in proportions that are small whole numbers (i.e. 1:2 O:H in water); although in many systems (notably biomacromolecules and minerals) the ratios tend to require large numbers, and are frequently represented as a fraction. Such compounds are known as non-stoichiometric compounds


Main article: Etymology of chemistry

The Etymology of the word chemistry comes directly from the Greek word χημεια, and can be also met in the old French alkemie; or the Arabic al-kimia: the art of transformation.

See also

External links

Further reading

  • Chang, Raymond. Chemistry 6th ed. Boston: James M. Smith, 1998. ISBN 0071152210.


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