Introduction to Chemistry

What is chemistry all about? Chemistry is one of those scientific disciplines that helps us to build models to help us to understand, make predictions, and sometimes explain the reality around us.

  • At the next level, physics is the study of the nature and properties of matter and energy, including mechanics, heat, light, and other radiation, sound, electricity, magnetism, and the structure of atoms. Albert Einstein called Neil Bohr‘s atomic model “the highest form of musicality in the sphere of thought.” More recently, the late Nobel laureate Richard Feynman, describing his discovery of new laws of physics, wrote, “You can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity.” the beauty of physics is rooted in symmetry–in the possibility of change without change. Circles can be rotated around their centers at any angle, changing the position of each point, but never changing the form of the circle. If we are all moving at the same velocity, it is the same world as if we were all standing complete still. And even as the universe ages, the laws of physics remain the same. Physics is simple, and physics is elegant. You can write the equations from the core theories of physics on a T-shirt–yet they explain so much more than that simplicity would suggest. And physics is fun–see Richard Feynman demonstrating just that, here and here.
  • One level above that is chemistry. When we talk about chemical equations and molecular structures, we are fundamentally talking about the interaction between and among atoms–quantum mechnical interaction–and we can use chemistry to start to make sense of the math and the physics. Even something like the periodic table–this is the product of thousands of years of trying to get to an understanding of all of the different complexities in the world. It may appear as if there are an infinite number of substances which make up the world, but in fact, it’s a finite number, with just a few elements appearing again and again and again.

And chemistry is very important because, on top of chemistry, we build biology. As you study all of these things, there are points where these disciplines overlap. Life is based on interactions–between molecules, between atoms–and that involves chemistry. Even as you are reading this webpage, there are so many chemical reactions occurring in you that are allowing you to read and understand this introduction.