General Chemistry/Introduction

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Chemistry is Everywhere[edit]

Chemistry: the study of the properties, composition, and transformation of matter.

The modern human experience places a large emphasis upon the material world. From the day of our birth to the day we die, we are frequently preoccupied with the world around us. Whether struggling to feed ourselves, occupying ourselves with modern inventions, interacting with other people or animals, or simply meditating on the air we breathe, our attention is focused on different aspects of the material world. In fact only a handful of disciplines—certain subsets of religion, philosophy, and abstract math—can be considered completely unrelated to the material world. Everything else is somehow related to chemistry, the scientific discipline which studies the properties, composition, and transformation of matter.

Branches of Chemistry[edit]

Chemistry itself has a number of branches:

  • Analytical chemistry seeks to determine the composition of substances.
  • Biochemistry is the study of chemicals found in living things (such as DNA and proteins).
  • Inorganic Chemistry studies substances that do not contain carbon.
  • Organic chemistry studies carbon-based substances. Carbon, as described in more detail in this book, has unique properties that allow it to make complex chemicals, including those of living organisms. An entire field of chemistry is devoted to substances with this element.
  • Physical chemistry is the study of the physical properties of chemicals, which are characteristics that can be measured without changing the composition of the substance.
This is the structure of table salt, or sodium chloride.

Chemistry as a discipline is based on a number of other fields. Because it is a measurement-based science, math plays an important role in its study and usage. A proficiency in high-school level algebra should be all that is needed in this text, and can be obtained from a number of sources. Chemistry itself is determined by the rules and principles of physics. Basic principles from physics may be introduced in this text when necessary.

Why Study Chemistry?[edit]

There are many reasons to study chemistry. It is one pillar of the natural sciences necessary for detailed studies in the physical sciences or engineering. The principles of biology and psychology are rooted in the biochemistry of the animal world, in ways that are only now beginning to be understood. Modern medicine is firmly rooted in the chemical nature of the human body. Even students without long term aspirations in science find beauty in the infinite possibilities that originate from the small set of rules found in chemistry.

Chemistry has the power to explain everything in this world, from the ordinary to the bizarre. Why does iron rust? What makes propane such an efficient, clean burning fuel? How can soot and diamond be so different in appearance, yet so similar chemically? Chemistry has the answer to these questions, and so many more. Understanding chemistry is the key to understanding the world as we know it.

This Book: General Chemistry[edit]

An introduction to the chemical world is set forth in this text. The units of study are organized as follows.

Chemicals in flasks.jpg
  1. Properties of Matter: An explanation of the most fundamental concept in chemistry: matter.
  2. Atomic Structure: While technically in the domain of physics, atoms determine the behavior of matter, making them a necessary starting point for any discussion of chemistry.
  3. Compounds and Bonding: Chemical bonding is introduced, which explains how less than one hundred naturally-occurring elements can combine to form all the different compounds that fill our world.
  4. Chemical Reactions: Things get interesting once chemical reactions start making and breaking bonds.
  5. Aqueous Solutions: Substances dissolved in water have special properties. This is when acids and bases are introduced.
  6. Phases of Matter: A detailed look at the organization of substances, with particular focus on gases.
  7. Chemical Equilibria: Chemical reactions don't go on forever. Equilibrium is the balance that reactions seek to achieve.
  8. Chemical Kinetics: Kinetics explain why it takes years for an iron nail to rust, but only a split second for a hydrogen-filled hot air balloon to explode.
  9. Thermodynamics: Two things decide which reactions can occur and which reactions cannot: heat and chaos. Or enthalpy and entropy, as they are called in thermodynamics
  10. Chemistries of Various Elements: An exploration of the elements that make up all substance. Includes an introduction to nuclear chemistry and carbon, the essence of organic chemistry.


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