Sections: The origins of chemistry; The Arabs and alchemy; The beginning of modern chemistry; Chemistry as an experimental science; The 19th century; Atomic theory and new elements; The beginnings of physical chemistry; Gases; Organic chemistry becomes a separate discipline; Modern synthetic organic chemistry; Modern atomic theory; Isotopes and biochemistry; The boundaries between chemistry and other sciences; Retrosynthesis
The origins of chemistry
Chemistry seems to have originated in Egypt and Mesopotamia several thousand years before Christ. Certainly by about 3000 BC the Egyptians had produced the copper-tin alloy known as bronze, by heating the ores of copper and tin together, and this new material was soon common enough to be made into tools, ornaments, armor, and weapons. The Ancient Egyptians were also skilled at extracting juices and infusions from plants, and pigments from minerals, which they used in the embalming and preserving of their dead. By 600 BC the Greeks were also becoming a settled and prosperous people with leisure time in which to think. They began to turn their attention to the nature of the universe and to the structure of its materials. They were thus the first to study the subject we now call chemical theory. Aristotle (384-322 BC) proposed that there were four elements--earth, air, fire, and water--and that everything was a combination of these four. They were thought to possess the following properties: earth was cold and dry, air was hot and moist, fire was hot and dry, and water was cold and moist. The idea of the four elements persisted for 2,000 years. The Greeks also worked out, at least hypothetically, that matter ultimately consisted of small indivisible particles, atomos--the origin of our word "atom."