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The Birth of Chemistry
Posted: 24 August 2007 01:56 PM   [ Ignore ]
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What were the pioneering chemical experiments and empirical observations that gave the likes of Robert Boyle reason to employ explanation in the form of a nomenclature that assumed atoms?

I want to gain a better understanding of chemistry, but I find the task of assimilating what there is to be taught in entry level chemistry (e.g., chemical bonding, balancing chemical equations, chemical equilibria, chemical calculations, periodic law, nomenclature, oxidation and reduction, acids and bases) to be a bit loathsome, whereas, for some reason, I find the thought of understanding exactly how the science of chemistry was first pioneered by the likes of Boyle and others, to be very exciting.  I want to understand what it was they observed in experimentation, and how these observations justified the creation of a nomenclature that was based on the assumption of atoms.   

Also, I wanted to get some advice from you folks about a decision I’m faced with:

There is a university preparation course being offered in chemistry($375),  but I’m wondering if the material being taught can’t instead be easily obtained simply by searching for and absorbing tutorials on the internet?

The course description reads:

You will gain a solid foundation in the subject by learning the major concepts of Grade 11 and 12 chemistry. Topics include:

  * atomic theory
  * chemical bonding
  * balancing chemical equations
  * chemical equilibria
  * chemical calculations
  * periodic law
  * nomenclature
  * oxidation and reduction
  * acids and bases

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Posted: 24 August 2007 02:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Wow ... ! As for the history of chemistry, it’s a fascinating study and one that can’t be contained in a single post (even if I knew it well enough to do so, which I don’t. It’s been awhile since my history of science classes ...)

Check THIS out first, though. You could do worse than starting there, and drilling down on some of the links.

As for the course, the problem is always how good the teacher is, etc. No way to know. But that said, chemistry really is a hands-on science. I would imagine that a course would be way more rewarding than just doing some readings on your own. It might well make the readings come to life. The readings you could do anyway, at the same time. Now, the question is about the price and the time, and whether they’re worth the hassle ... that’s a decision that nobody can make but you, however.

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Posted: 24 August 2007 02:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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To put it in other words, I’m really interested in knowing what the first few chemicals were that were first discovered.

How were they discovered?  What were they?  Were microscopes used?  How powerful were the microscopes?  In what interesting and significant ways did the science of chemistry evolve concomitantly with the evolution of the microscope?

Someone needs to write a book on this. (ok, that may seem silly, as I’m sure someone already has in some sense, to some degree -but would it be to my liking?  That’s the question)

Also, I’d appreciate a documentary, or would like to make a documentary myself, capturing the evolution of chemistry and biology in relationship to the evolution of the microscope.

The documentary: Death By Design, I think is a testament to how great a future documentary could be on the evolution of the microscope and it’s role in the evolution of the sciences.

[ Edited: 24 August 2007 02:14 PM by CoryDuchesne ]
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Posted: 24 August 2007 02:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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dougsmith - 24 August 2007 02:05 PM

Wow ... ! As for the history of chemistry, it’s a fascinating study and one that can’t be contained in a single post (even if I knew it well enough to do so, which I don’t. It’s been awhile since my history of science classes ...)

Check THIS out first, though. You could do worse than starting there, and drilling down on some of the links.

As for the course, the problem is always how good the teacher is, etc. No way to know. But that said, chemistry really is a hands-on science. I would imagine that a course would be way more rewarding than just doing some readings on your own. It might well make the readings come to life. The readings you could do anyway, at the same time. Now, the question is about the price and the time, and whether they’re worth the hassle ... that’s a decision that nobody can make but you, however.

Thank you Doug.  I’ll probably have some questions later on, after going through the material. 

smile

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Posted: 24 August 2007 02:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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well, the fact that a gas can exert a force on you, despite being invisible, suggests it’s made of something.  And if something is invisible, there are only three possible explanations of how that can happen 1. light passes through the substance completely undeflected (v. unlikely)  2.  It is mostly empty space interspersed with particles so tiny as not to be seen with the naked eye, or 3, it actually bends the light from behind it around itself and into your eye in such a way as for the path of the light to appear as if it has travelled a path straight through the substance (extremely unlikely.

Another observation is brownian motion (I suggest you look this up as it would take a while to explain it. J.J. Thompson discovered electrons (look this up as well), and came up with the christmas pudding theory of atoms.  A part-time PhD student in Manchester (by the name of Marsden) was given the task of investigating the effect of firing helium nuclei at a very thin sheet of gold film; he obtained a surprising result, which his supervisor (Lord Ernest Rutherford) interpretted as meaning that the vast majority of the volume of any substance is empty space and he used probabililties to estimate the volume of the atom and the nucleus (look this up also).

Milliken measured the size of an atom using a brilliant piece of lateral thinking in his famous oil drop experiment.  Up until the late nineteen-eighties, nobody had ever seen a microscope image of an atom.  This all changed when George (?) Binning came up with the scanning probe microscope (for which he won a Nobel prize in 1989 if memory serves me correctly).  I hope that is enough for you to go on.


As to balancing chemical equations, it took quite a few developments, most notably Lavoissiers Magnesium in a crucible experiment, and Avagadro’s definition of the mole.  It’s simple really- the stoichiometry just follows on naturally from any reasoned mathematical analysis.  1 mole of x reacts with 2 moles of y, therefore times the product side by two and multiply by the RMM (in g/mol which cancels with the mol. leaving a mass in g when you times them together).

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Posted: 24 August 2007 02:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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narwhol - 24 August 2007 02:20 PM

well, the fact that…

whoa, slow down. you had me at “well.”

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Posted: 24 August 2007 02:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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dougsmith - 24 August 2007 02:05 PM

chemistry really is a hands-on science….

explain that to my hand that was dissolved in sulfuric acid leaving me this horrific looking nub!

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Posted: 24 August 2007 03:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Try sodium hydroxide.  It’s much more effective at dissolving flesh.  Even con. H2SO4 would only burn like hell and scar you, not take it to a nub. 

As a chemist I wouldn’t even try to cover the early history of chemistry (really alchemy) in a post or even a series of posts.  Go to your library and find some books on the history of chemistry, history of science, history of the scientific method, and possibly go to the children’s section and look for some science books there because they focus on how, when, and by whom discoveries were made rather than the mechanics of the reactions.

Occam

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Posted: 24 August 2007 03:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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That’s possibly why I lost trutaddict at “well,” Occam.  Anyway, look up some of the experiments and people mentioned in my post and it will give you a good starting point.  As Occam points out, it would take me lecturing you non-stop for many hours to explain the whole thing.

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Posted: 24 August 2007 03:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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narwhol - 24 August 2007 03:18 PM

That’s possibly why I lost trutaddict at “well,” Occam.

LOL

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Posted: 24 August 2007 05:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Thanks for the leads, narwhol.  I’ve got much work to do, apparently.


[quote author=“narwhol”]
As Occam points out, it would take me lecturing you non-stop for many hours to explain the whole thing.

Well, how about we start with something very small.  I just read a bit about moles, and there was mention made about ‘pure substance’ (which I assume is synonymous with ‘element’) 

What technique was used to isolate the first pure substance?  How did they originally capture and distinguish a pure substance for the first time?

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Posted: 24 August 2007 06:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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No, pure substance can mean a compound too.  It just means that there are no other compounds or elements in the sample.  It’s eay-ish to purify a substance - you either distill it, recrystallise, dry it (in the case of liquids), whatever, depends on the substance, the impurities and whether or not it is liquid solid or gas.  The first one that they would have found, I guess would be gold since that is pretty much entirely pure when you find it in rivers or streams or mines.  Note that practically a substance is considered to be pure when its around 97% of just one substance or higher.

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Posted: 25 August 2007 11:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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What technique was used to isolate the first pure substance?  How did they originally capture and distinguish a pure substance for the first time?

Cory, you’re asking the wrong (nit-picking) type of question.  just accept, for now, that they had uncontaminated samples to work with, then learn what moles are.  After you develop a basic understanding of chemistry, you can dig into the smaller things like purity.

Occam

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Posted: 25 August 2007 12:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Well, I imagine Cory is asking a historical question ... how was it first done. I’d suggest once again starting with wikipedia ... they have a good historical page on how the first substances were discovered. This is the question of the history of the molecule.

NB: from the wikipedia page,

James Clerk Maxwell published his famous thirteen page article ‘Molecules’ in the September issue of Nature. In the opening section to this article, Maxwell clearly states: “An atom is a body which cannot be cut in two; a molecule is the smallest possible portion of a particular substance.”

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Posted: 25 August 2007 05:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Well, there are all sorts of naturally or close to naturally occurring pretty pure substances.  Some examples that come to mind are rain water, salt crystals, sucrose (sugar) crystals, quartz crystals, soot, any mineral crystal, and gold.  I’m sure if we were to spend a few minutes we could come up with quite a few more.  So, it wouldn’t be necessary for the early chemists to purify everything.  Since they liked to tinker, something as simple as heating cinnabar (mercuric sulfide) breaks it down and pure mercury droplets form on the inside of the vessel.

Occam

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Posted: 25 August 2007 09:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Occam - 25 August 2007 11:56 AM

What technique was used to isolate the first pure substance?  How did they originally capture and distinguish a pure substance for the first time?

Cory, you’re asking the wrong (nit-picking) type of question.  just accept, for now, that they had uncontaminated samples to work with

No, I refuse to simply fill up my mind with ‘what’ 

I want to start by asking *how*  I want to see what techniques were originally used to isolate the first chemicals. 

I agree with Richard Feynman when he said, “science is not about what things are - it’s about how things are.”

Do you see any significance in making such a distinction, between knowing what and knowing how?

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