history of chemistry



We explain the history of chemistry, its beginnings, relationship with alchemy and how modern chemistry was founded.

Modern chemists like Dalton took up ideas from antiquity.

History of chemistry

The chemistry is one of the Sciences most transcendental at the disposal of the human being. His history dates back to times long before the concept itself of "science", since the interest of our species to understand what the matter it is almost as old as civilization itself. This means that chemical knowledge existed since the prehistory, although with other names and organized in very different ways.

In fact, the first chemical manifestation that captured our interest was the generation of fire, more than 1,600,000 years ago. What we call today combustion, was studied and possibly replicated by our ancestors of the species Homo erectus.

From the moment we learned to produce fire and handle it at will, either to cook our food or, much later, to melt metals, bake pottery and carry out other activities, a new world of physical transformations Y chemical was within our reach, and with it, a new understanding of the nature of things.

The first theories regarding the composition of matter arose in the Antiquity, the work of philosophers and thinkers whose hypothesis were based both on the observation of the nature, as in its mystical or religious interpretation. Its purpose was to explain why the different substances that make up the world have different properties and transformation capacities, identifying their basic or primary elements.

One of the first theories that tried to answer this dilemma arose in Greece in the 5th century BC. C., work of the philosopher and politician Empedocles of Agrigento, who proposed that there should be four basic elements (four like the seasons) of matter: air, Water, fire and earth, and that the different properties of things depended on the proportion in which they were mixed.

This logic served so that later the Hippocratic school of Greek medicine proposed its theory of the four humors that made up the human body (blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile). On the other hand, the famous philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC) later added the ether or quintessence as the pure and primordial element that made up the stars and the stars of the firmament.

However, the most important precursor of chemistry in Ancient Greece was the philosopher Democritus of Abdera (c. 460-c. 370 BC), who first proposed that matter was composed of minimal and fundamental particles: the atoms (from the Greek atomon, "Indivisible" or "without parts").

Later philosophers took the idea that him universe it is made up of indestructible particles, while various ancient Indian thinkers came to similar conclusions.

However, this was not the vision that prevailed for centuries to come, but rather the one proposed by the Christianity, among whose concerns was not the understanding of matter, as much as the salvation of the human soul. That is, for her God had created everything that exists, and that is enough.

That is why the next step in the history of chemistry should not be sought in the West, but in the flourishing Arab nations, both Persian and Muslim, heirs to the esoteric knowledge of Ancient Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. We refer to the alchemy.

Alchemy was a protodiscipline born in the East, predecessor of modern chemistry. Combining mystical beliefs about the existence of the philosopher's stone, capable of transmuting certain materials into gold, with the experimental combination of different substances, the alchemists created a good part of the instruments that today we use in chemical laboratories.

Thus, famous alchemists such as Al-Kindi (801-873), Al-Biruni (973-1048) or the famous Ibn Sina or Avicenna (c. 980-1037), learned to melt, distill and purify substances. They also discovered materials such as alcohol, caustic soda, vitriol, arsenic, bismuth, sulfuric acid, nitric acid and many others, especially metals and salts, which were associated with the celestial stars and the Kabbalistic and numerological tradition.

Although alchemists were frowned upon in the Christian West, their knowledge eventually leaked into Europe and they were rescued by philosophers and thinkers, especially those who were interested in their experiments in pursuit of the elixir of eternal life or the transformation of lead into precious metals.

As the West was reborn around the 15th century, rediscovering the knowledge of antiquity, a new way of understanding the reality was brewing: a thought secular, rational and skeptical who finally gave rise to the idea of ​​science, and who renamed alchemical inheritance as chemistry.

The appearance of Renaissance texts such as Novum Lumen Chymicum ("The new light of chemistry") in 1605, by the Polish Michel Sedziwoj (1566-1646); Tyrocium Chymicum ("The practice of chemistry") in 1615, by Jean Beguin (1550-1620); or especially Ortus Medicinae ("The origin of medicine") in 1648, by the Dutchman Jan Baptist van Helmont (1580-1644), show the paradigm shift between alchemy and chemistry proper.

This transition was formally completed when the English chemist Robert Boyle (1627-1691) proposed a method properly scientific experimental in his work The Sceptical Chymist: or Chymico-Physical Doubts & Paradoxes ("The skeptical chemist: or the doubts and chemical-physical paradoxes"). That is why he is considered the first modern chemist and one of the founders of the discipline.

From then on, chemistry took its footsteps as a science, which led to numerous successive hypotheses and theories, many today discarded, such as the phlogiston theory of the late seventeenth century. However, the first chemical elements were also discovered.

Its first systematic descriptions date from the early 18th century. For example, E. F. Geoffroy's Table of Affinities of 1718 was a precursor to the periodic table of elements which appeared in the 19th century, the work of the Russian Dmitri Mendeleev (1834-1907).

During the 18th century, the investigations of the great founders of modern chemistry took place, such as Georg Brandt (1694-1768), Mikhail Lomonosov (1711-1765), Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794), Henry Cavendish (1731-1810) or the physicist Alessandro Volta (1745-1827).

His contributions were diverse and very significant, but among them stands out the resurgence of the atomic theory in 1803, thanks to the work of the Englishman John Dalton (1766-1844), who reformulated and adapted it to the understanding of modern times. So transcendent was this contribution that 19th century chemistry was all divided between those who supported Dalton's vision and those who did not.

The former, however, continued and updated atomic theory in later years, thus laying the groundwork for the atomic models contemporaries that emerged in the twentieth century, and for the understanding that we have today about the functioning of matter. The study of radioactivity was also fundamental in this, whose pioneers were Marie Curie (1867-1934) and her husband Pierre Curie (1859-1906).

Thanks to these discoveries and those made in the 20th century by scientists of the stature of Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937), Hans Geiger (1882-1945), Niels Bohr (1885-1962), Gilbert W. Lewis (1875-1946) , Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961) and many others, the so-called atomic age began.

This new period had its successes (such as the nuclear energy) and its horrors (such as atomic bomb), thus inaugurating an unsuspected chapter in the history of chemistry, which allowed humanity a deep and revolutionary understanding of matter, as never before would have even dreamed of.

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