"The systems that confront the intelligence remain basically unchanged through the ages, although they assume different forms...There is nothing so disastrous in science as the arrogant dogmatism that despises the past and admires nothing but the present." Hoffer.
Chemistry has its beginnings in the early civilizations of Egypt, India, and China. However, the basis for the developments that took place in European nations can be found in Aristotle's works from 350 B.C. In his Theory of the four elements, Aristotle connected earth, air, fire, and water with the physical qualities of cold, wet, hot, and dry.
Hovering behind these four elements was a shadowy and poorly defined fifth element, that would later be known as the `philosopher's stone,' or quinta essentia, held to be the reason or driving power behind chemical reactions. The theory of four elements also tried to explain chemical reactions as the changing, or transmuting of one element into another. For example, water, the cold-wet element, can be transmuted into air through the application of heat. This theory of transmutation was soon extended to metals, leading to the centuries-long fruitless search for a method of converting common metals, such as lead, into gold.
The attempts to convert other metals or even organic substances, such as eggs, into gold are far too numerous to list. The actual attempts are documented in cryptic forms, since the alchemists guarded their research carefully and coded the findings, often in the form of secretive poetry:
The Flying Fix, and then live happily."
Other methods for preparing gold are described somewhat more directly. Many alchemists were successful at tricking and cheating their customers; the actual products of their chemistry were not gold, but gold-colored metals.
The concept of transmutation relied on a theory that all forms of matter are one in origin and have subsequently been transmuted. The alchemists were searching for methods to change the very form of matter. The elusive philosopher's stone can be compared to modern catalysts that stimulate chemical reactions without themselves being permanently changed. Despite the apparent failure to change common metals into gold, the alchemists, through research and experimentation on metals and organic substances, formed the foundation for the scientific revolution and the development of modern scientific theory in the 17th century.
However, despite the changes for which Galileo and Newton provided the impetus in the 17th century, chemistry remained rather unchanged. Despite the new scientific concepts of the world as a macrocosm, subject to describable laws of motion, and new studies of the living organism, the Aristotelian elements retained their hold on chemistry. Not until the chemical interactions of elements and their composition were better understood, could chemistry change drastically. The action of combustion and the nature of the so-called elements air and water were not accurately described until Lavoisier isolated oxygen and gained an understanding of combustion in the 1770s. The challenges faced by chemists to explain chemical phenomena from the 18th century to the present continues.
One thing I would like to do
Is draw a character sketch of CO 2 ...
Meet an angry LiH perhaps,
Or talk to a placid He gas...
Find an NaH that likes to play
And picnic on a sunny day,
Or an NO 3 that moaned and cried
When his kindly mother, HNO 3 , died.
The world could hold
But then of course, on cloudy days
The H 2 's would go off to war
And cruelly spread their acid horror
Among the lowly SO 4 .
Yes, good is mixed with evil:
That is the way of life.
And if we're to have friendly O's
We must have H 2 strife. Au bless us, every mole.
CHEM 13 NEWS, April 1969, p. 41
Seventh bell time 1 is a swell time
To rock the lab away
Well, Mr. Evans 2 might give you an "A"
So listen here, lend an ear and we'll tell you why
It's chemistry at the top
It'll keep your mind working overtime
That's the Chemistry Rock!
1 Put in your own time.
2 Put in your teacher's name.
CHEM 13 NEWS, February 1982, p. 12
a. KC? Discoverer with Knowledgeable Counselor, by Daniel Cabrol, John W. Moore and Robert C. Rittenhouse. Special Issue 2, for IBM PS/2, PC compatible computers.
b. KC? Discoverer: Exploring the Properties of the Chemical Elements, by Aw Feng and John W. Moore. Vol. I B, No. 1, for IBM PS/2, PC compatible computers.
c. KC? Discoverer?, by Michael Liebl, Vol. IV A, No. 2, for all Apple II computers.
d. The Periodic Table Stack, by Michael Farris. Vol. I C, No. 1, for the Apple Macintosh.
e. The Periodic Table (Toolbook), by Paul F. Schatz, John C. Kotz and John W. Moore, in press. For Windows running on IBM PS/2 and PC-compatible computers.
f. REDOX: A Tutorial on REDuction /OXidation Equations, by Derek Davenport, Paul Groves and Dale Jensen. Vol. III A, No. 1, for the Apple II computer.
g. PIRExS: Predicting Inorganic Reactivity Expert System, by Jame P. Birk. Vol. III B, No. 1, for IBM PS/2 PC-compatible computers.
a. "Nitrogen Triiodide Decomposed" and "Thermite Reaction," two chapters on The World of Chemistry: Selected Demonstrations and Animations: Disc II (double sided, 60 min.), Special Issue 4.
b. "Similarities and Trends in Groups I - Noble Gases" and "Similarities and Trends in Groups II - Alkali Metals," "An Exothermic Reaction" and "An Endothermic Reaction," four chapters on The World of Chemistry: Selected Demonstrations and Animations: Disc I (double sided, 60 min.), Special Issue 3.
c. The Periodic Table Videodisc (single side, 30 min.), Special Issue 1.
d. Demonstrations in Organic Chemistry (double sided, 60 min.). Special Issue 6.
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