Chemistry - Term Overview

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Chemistry is the science that studies the composition, structure and properties of matter, including its relationship with energy and also the changes that can occur in it through so-called reactions. That is, chemistry is the science that studies substances and the particles that compose them, as well as the different dynamics that can occur between them.

Chemistry is one of the great contemporary sciences, whose appearance revolutionized the world forever and gave us a never-before-seen knowledge of the way matter operates. Thus, this science has offered functional and testable explanations for the complex behavior of known materials, capable of explaining both their permanence and their changes.

On the other hand, chemical knowledge is present in everyday life, to the extent that we use natural substances and create artificial ones. Processes like cooking, fermentation, metallurgy, creating smart materials, and even many of the processes that take place in our bodies, can be explained through a chemical (or biochemical ) perspective.

On the other hand, the domain of chemistry allowed the emergence of industry: the transformation of materials at will to create useful objects (or the materials necessary to make them). In this sense, it's one of the sciences that have had the greatest impact in the world and in the history of humanity.

Branches of chemistry

Chemistry comprises a gigantic number of branches, given that its field of study is close to various sciences and disciplines. But among these branches stand out:

  • The inorganic chemistry, dedicated to the study of matter composed mostly not the living beings and their substances but is characteristic of inanimate forms of matter. It differs from organic chemistry in that it's not focused on any particular element, as the latter is focused on carbon.
  • Organic chemistry, also called life chemistry, is a branch of chemistry focused on the compounds that revolve around carbon and hydrogen, and that are mostly those that allow the composition of life.
  • The biochemistry, Taking a step towards biology, biochemistry is the chemistry of the bodies of living beings, interested in the energy processes that keep them alive, in the reactions that occur in an orderly manner in their cells, and other areas of knowledge that allow us to understand how our bodies are physically made.
  • Physicochemistry, also called physical chemistry, studies the physical bases that sustain all kinds of chemical processes, especially those related to energy, such as the area of ​​electrochemistry, chemical thermodynamics and other loans from physics (or chemistry, as seen).
  • Industrial chemistry, or applied chemistry, takes the theoretical knowledge of chemistry and applies it to solving problems in everyday life, hand in hand with chemical engineering. Thus, it's interested in the economic production of chemical reagents, in novel materials and, currently, in the ways of conducting industrial activity without so much damage to the environment.
  • The analytical chemistry, whose main purpose is to detect and quantify the chemical elements present in a substance, that is, to find methods and ways to check how things are made and at what rate.
  • Astrochemistry, which moves away from the everyday world to become interested in the stars and their composition, hand in hand with astrophysics. It's one of the most specialized branches of this vast science.

Importance of chemistry

Chemistry is present in the vast majority of industrial processes, as well as in very everyday aspects of our lives. Thanks to it, we have developed complex materials, adapted to our various needs throughout history.

From metal alloys, to pharmacological compounds or fuels to power our transports, knowledge of chemical reactions has been essential. In fact, thanks to chemistry we have modified the world around us so much, for better and for worse.

On the other hand, chemistry will probably provide us with the knowledge to amend the damage caused to the ecosystem throughout our history.

Chemistry Applications

Chemistry is one of the fields of human knowledge that has the greatest applications in many areas of life. Some of them, by way of example, are the following:

  • Obtaining energy: It's possible thanks to the manipulation of chemical substances such as fuels and hydrocarbons, or even the manipulation of atomic nuclei of heavy elements, to generate heat energy that, in turn, serves to generate electricity. This is what happens in power plants.
  • The manufacture of advanced materials: Thanks to chemistry, today there are synthetic fibers, smart materials and other elements that allow the manufacture of new types of garments, better tools and new applications to improve human life.
  • Pharmacology: Hand in hand with biochemistry and medicine, chemistry allows the combination of compounds to produce medicines, analgesics and treatments that extend human life and cure diseases.
  • The improvement of agriculture: Through understanding the chemistry of soils, today we can manufacture additives, fertilizers and other substances whose correct use turns poor soils into ideal soils for planting, allowing us to combat hunger and poverty.
  • Sanitation and decontamination: By understanding the properties of astringent substances, degreasers and other types of local action, we can produce disinfectants and cleaners to lead a healthier life, and also provide a remedy for the ecological damage that our own industries cause to the ecosystem.

Principles of modern chemistry

Modern chemistry is governed by the so-called quantum principle, the result of the atomic theory that considers matter from different levels of complexity, such as:

  • Matter: Anything that has mass, volume, and is made up of particles. They can be pure substances or mixtures (unions of two or more pure substances).
  • Chemical compounds: Chemical substances made up of more than one chemical element or type of atom, which doesn't mean that they are mixtures, but rather they are substances whose particle framework repeats identical combinations of the same different elements.
  • Molecules: Unions of two or more atoms, in a minimum unit endowed with unique functionality and properties, the result of the characteristics, location and abundance of the elements that compose them. A chemical compound can be reduced to its minimum molecules, but if these are "broken", there will be no more compound and we will only have atoms, that is, the minimum pieces that compose it.
  • Atoms: Minimal, imperceptible particles, endowed with weight, volume, stability and electrical charge, are the bricks from which matter is made. There is a finite number of atoms, each type corresponding to a chemical element, of which the Periodic Table of the Elements contemplates.
  • Subatomic particles: Those particles that make up the atoms and give them their properties. Three types of them are known: electrons (negatively charged), neutrons (uncharged) and protons (positively charged). The former orbit the nucleus of the atom like a cloud, while the latter two make up the nucleus itself, and are in turn composed of even smaller and more ephemeral subparticles, called quarks.

Chemistry and physics

Chemistry and physics are sister disciplines, but they look at reality from different points of view. If chemistry is the science of matter, of its reactions and compositions. Instead, physics is the science of the forces that govern the real world, and that largely determine the state (not the composition) of matter.

This difference in perspectives can be understood if we think of the states of matter: a glass of water is composed of two chemical elements determining its molecules: hydrogen and oxygen (H 2 O). This will continue to be the case when the glass of water is in a liquid state, when it freezes to a solid state, and when it boils into vapor.

In each of its physical states, the substance has very different internal energy levels, making its particles vibrate in different ways. There is a physical change, but not a chemical change, since water, ice, and steam still have the same chemical elements.

On the other hand, by promoting a chemical reaction of water with a metal, oxide is obtained, that is, the chemical composition of both substances changes and a new one is obtained (metal oxide), without the water ceasing to be liquid and the iron from be solid, that is, without altering the physical state of matter.

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