Chemistry - History

History

Main article: History of chemistry See also: Alchemy, Timeline of chemistry, and Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Ancient Egyptians pioneered the art of synthetic "wet" chemistry up to 4,000 years ago. By 1000 BC ancient civilizations were using technologies that formed the basis of the various branches of chemistry such as; extracting metal from their ores, making pottery and glazes, fermenting beer and wine, making pigments for cosmetics and painting, extracting chemicals from plants for medicine and perfume, making cheese, dying cloth, tanning leather, rendering fat into soap, making glass, and making alloys like bronze.

The genesis of chemistry can be traced to the widely observed phenomenon of burning that led to metallurgy—the art and science of processing ores to get metals (e.g. metallurgy in ancient India). The greed for gold led to the discovery of the process for its purification, even though the underlying principles were not well understood—it was thought to be a transformation rather than purification. Many scholars in those days thought it reasonable to believe that there exist means for transforming cheaper (base) metals into gold. This gave way to alchemy and the search for the Philosopher's Stone which was believed to bring about such a transformation by mere touch.

Greek atomism dates back to 440 BC, as what might be indicated by the book De Rerum Natura (The Nature of Things) written by the Roman Lucretius in 50 BC. Much of the early development of purification methods is described by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia.

A tentative outline is as follows:

  1. Alchemy in Greco-Roman Egypt, the earliest Western alchemists such as Mary the Jewess, Cleopatra the Alchemist, and Zosimos of Panopolis described early laboratory equipment. They are estimated to have lived between the first and third centuries.
  2. Islamic alchemy, the Muslim conquest of Egypt; development of alchemy by Jābir ibn Hayyān, al-Razi and others; Jābir modifies Aristotle's theories; advances in processes and apparatus.
  3. European alchemy, Pseudo-Geber builds on Arabic chemistry. From the 12th century, major advances in the chemical arts shifted from Arab lands to western Europe.
  4. Chemistry, Boyle writes his classic chemistry text The Sceptical Chymist.
  5. Chemistry, Lavoisier writes his classic Elements of Chemistry.
  6. Chemistry, Dalton publishes his Atomic Theory.
  7. Chemistry, Dmitri Mendeleev presented his Periodic table being the framework of the modern chemistry

The earliest pioneers of chemistry and the scientific method, were medieval Arab and Persian scholars. They introduced precise observation and controlled experimentation into the field and discovered numerous chemical substances.

"Chemistry as a science was almost created by the Muslims; for in this field, where the Greeks (so far as we know) were confined to industrial experience and vague hypothesis, the Saracens introduced precise observation, controlled experiment, and careful records. They invented and named the alembic (al-anbiq), chemically analyzed innumerable substances, composed lapidaries, distinguished alkalis and acids, investigated their affinities, studied and manufactured hundreds of drugs. Alchemy, which the Muslims inherited from Egypt, contributed to chemistry by a thousand incidental discoveries, and by its method, which was the most scientific of all medieval operations."

The most influential Muslim chemists were Jābir ibn Hayyān (Geber, d. 815), al-Kindi (d. 873), al-Razi (d. 925), al-Biruni (d. 1048) and Alhazen (d. 1039). Their works became more widely known in Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, beginning with the Latin translation of Jābir’s Kitab al-Kimya in 1144. The contribution of Indian alchemists and metallurgists in the development of chemistry was also quite significant.

For some practitioners alchemy was an intellectual pursuit, and over time they got better at it. Paracelsus (1493–1541), for example, rejected the 4-elemental theory, and with only a vague understanding of his chemicals and medicines formed a hybrid of alchemy and science in what was to be called iatrochemistry. Similarly, the influences of philosophers such as Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626) and René Descartes (1596–1650), who demanded more rigor in mathematics and in removing bias from scientific observations, led to a scientific revolution. In chemistry this began with Robert Boyle (1627–1691) who came up with an equation known as Boyle's Law about the characteristics of gaseous state.

Chemistry came of age when Antoine Lavoisier (1743–1794) developed the theory of Conservation of mass in 1783; and the development of the Atomic Theory by John Dalton around 1800. The Law of Conservation of Mass resulted in the reformulation of chemistry based on this law and the oxygen theory of combustion, which was largely based on the work of Lavoisier. Lavoisier's fundamental contributions to chemistry were a result of a conscious effort to fit all experiments into the framework of a single theory.

Lavoisier established the consistent use of the chemical balance, used oxygen to overthrow the phlogiston theory, and developed a new system of chemical nomenclature and made contribution to the modern metric system. Lavoisier also worked to translate the archaic and technical language of chemistry into something that could be easily understood by the largely uneducated masses, leading to an increased public interest in chemistry. All these advances in chemistry led to what is usually called the chemical revolution. The contributions of Lavoisier led to what is now called modern chemistry—the chemistry that is studied in educational institutions all over the world. It is because of these and other contributions that Antoine Lavoisier is often celebrated as the "Father of Modern Chemistry". The later discovery of Friedrich Wöhler that many natural substances, organic compounds, can indeed be synthesized in a chemistry laboratory also helped the modern chemistry to mature from its infancy.

The discovery of the chemical elements has a long history from the days of alchemy and culminating in the creation of the periodic table of the chemical elements by Dmitri Mendeleev (1834–1907) and later discoveries of some synthetic elements.

Jöns Jacob Berzelius, Joseph Priestley, Humphry Davy, Linus Pauling, Gilbert N. Lewis, Josiah Willard Gibbs, Robert Burns Woodward, and Fritz Haber also made notable contributions.

The year 2011 was declared by the United Nations as the International Year of Chemistry. It was an initiative of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, and of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization and involves chemical societies, academics, and institutions worldwide and relied on individual initiatives to organize local and regional activities.

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