Chemistry 101/Elements and Atoms: The Basics of Chemistry/The Importance of Chemistry

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Section 1: The Importance of Chemistry[edit]

So many of the luxuries we have become accustomed to today would not have been possible without recent advancements in the physical sciences, namely Chemistry. One must think of all the super strong adhesives, fibers, and building materials that are used everyday in construction, and production. Without an understanding of Chemistry, the development of these materials, in addition to the development of things like prescription drugs, would never have been possible. And while these advents are useful and interesting to the layman, an understanding of Chemistry is even more vital for an aspiring scientist. The applications that chemistry has to all scientific disciplines are enumerable. For example, it is an understanding of the behavior of matter on a small scale that allows chemical engineers to design and produce the interesting systems that run our world's infastructure.

Chemistry, as a science, studies the composition and properties of matter. Chemistry also studies the reactions between different chemicals, known as chemical reactions. Basic chemical reactions are always going on around us as well as a more complex system of reactions, even just within our bodies. For example, as anyone sits down at his computer and begins to type, his body undergoes a huge amount of chemical reactions to make his eyes and hands move, and to make his brain think. This is an example of the Chemistry of biological processes. Some chemists study these biological processes, while others may study different things. In general, all chemists do the following:

  • Chemists try to understand how the composition of substances affect the substance's properties.
  • Chemists seek to understand why and how substances change within chemical reactions.
  • Chemists try to understand and observe the underlying structure of matter.
  • Chemists attempt to understand why the properties that we observe with our senses occur in matter.


Of course, taking a first class in Chemistry does not mean you are going to become a chemist. However, Chemistry is useful in all branches of science. Even for a non science major, chemistry can improve one's understanding of the world around them, and in my experience, can help you win some arguments. Chemistry is used in Physics, Biology, Engineering, Electronics, Pharmaceuticals etc. So you know what chemists do, in a very general sense. So you may be wondering why chemistry is so important to all of the sciences. The answer is that all things are composed of chemicals. This includes your hair, your water, your computer, and your dinner. Even living things are composed entirely of chemicals. You may already know this, and say "duhh", but think of the implications this has. Everything you know is made of matter, and contains chemicals that are able to participate in complex reactions. You can see why Chemistry is such a deep field of study. So, while scientific disciplines may have varying interests, they all use chemistry, and today the lines between Physics, Biology, and Chemistry are more hazy than ever.

Matter 
Matter can be defined as anything that has Mass and also takes up space (has volume).
Mass 
Mass is a measure of the amount of matter an object contains. Mass is often thought to be the same as weight, but it is not. Weight refers to the force of which an object of a particular mass is attracted by gravitational forces. We will discuss mass more formally later. An easy way to understand this concept is that weight is gravity dependent, while mass is gravity independent.
Volume 
Volume can be thought of as the amount of 3-dimensional space occupied by an object.