Chemistry – The Central Science

In modern thought, Chemistry (from Egyptian – Chem or Keme meaning “earth” or “black”, due to the rich soil) is connected to almost all other natural sciences: astronomy, biology, geology, material science, physics, etc. The subcategories of chemistry are getting more specialized as time passes and the understanding of the composition and structure of matter increases.

Some of the basic subdisciplines of matter studied include (but are not limited to): analytical chemistry, biochemistry, inorganic chemistry, nuclear chemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, and theoretical chemistry.

Alchemy most often refers to both the early form of investigation of nature and philosophy that combine elements of many disciplines. Having been studied everywhere from Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt to Classical Greece and Rome as well as the orient and the Mediterranean for well over 2 millennia, its diversity may be as great as science itself.

In history, Alchemy (from Arabic – al-chimiya – likely similar root word from Egyptian) was more than simply connected to many disciplines; it was composed of them: art, astrology, chemistry, medicine, metallurgy, mysticism, physics, semiotics, spiritualism, etc.

The Greek philosopher Empedocles championed the idea that all things were composed of four basic elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. The four elements were attributed properties: cold, dry, hot, and wet. The interaction of these four elements can be demonstrated by the following relationship order: Water – wet – Air – hot – Fire – dry – Earth – cold – Water (ad nauseum). Around 350 BCE, Aristotle conceived of a fifth element that he called “quintessence” which made up the heavens.

Initially an “Element” was defined as a body in which other bodies can be decomposed and which itself is not capable of being divided into other bodies. This definition is nearly identical to the concept of the atom as the indivisible component of matter.

Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (1201-1274) suggested in his writings from the 13th century that a body of matter is able to change, but is not able to simply disappear. While his theory was incomplete, it is likely to have inspired those conservationists of the 5 centuries that came after him until the Law of Conservation of Mass was fully formulated in 1789 by Antoine Lavoisier (the father of modern chemistry).

When the scientific community figured out that the substances never disappear, then they were finally able to embark on thorough studies on the transformation of substances.

Following the chemical revolution, the physical science of chemistry began to relate to smaller and smaller parts. Then, of course, physicists discovered subatomic particles and decided that atoms were not indivisible. The atom consists of electrons (British physicist Sir Joseph John “J.J.” Thomson, 1897), protons (the “father” of nuclear physics, Lord Ernest Rutherford, 1918), and for most atoms, the neutron (physicist Sir James Chadwick, 1932).

In time, it was discovered that both protons and neutrons are composed of “elementary particles” called quarks (Murray Gell-Mann, 1961). Quarks are a type of fermion (Enrico Fermi + suffix “on”) which is one of the two basic constituents of matter. The electron is an example of the other constituent, the lepton (from the Greek leptos meaning “thin”) (physicist Leon Rosenfeld, 1948).

Quarks, so named as a nonsense word to rhyme with “pork” and spelled to match a word from Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce (though it should rhyme with “Mark”).

Six flavors (or types) of quarks are known to exist: up, down, top, bottom, strange, and charm. These terms were abitrarily coined based on necessity of names which were easy to use and remember. All subatomic particles are composed of 3 of the 6 quarks combined in specific ways. Each quark has a different mass and fractional electric charge. They are held together by the strong nuclear force and mediated by gluons (glue + suffix “on”).

The discovery of the buoyant effect of our planet’s atmosphere on the weight of gases was of key importance to the transmutation from the Art of Alchemy to the Science of Chemistry. This allowed for quantitative studies on the transformation of substances thus in turn leading to the idea that chemical processes themselves are simply reactions between chemical elements of different amounts.

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