Why Chemistry is So Important?
History of chemistry
- Chemistry already existed a long time ago. As early as 8 000 years ago, people in the Middle East extracted metals such as copper and iron for making tools and ornaments. The Egyptians knew how to make glass from sand 4 500 years ago. However, the chemical processes involved were not understood.
- The systematic study of chemistry only began 1700 years ago. It revolved around alchemy, an art of transforming common metals such as lead, into precious metals such as gold or silver. Even though no one ever succeeded in doing so, a number of important substances such as sulphur and chemical processes such as distillation were discovered.
- In fact, the word chemistry’ is believed to originate from ‘al-kimiya, an Arabic word for alchemy.
- Modern chemistry was founded during the 17th century. The works of scientists of that time laid the foundation for todays chemistry.
(a) Antoine Lavoisier, a French chemist, is considered the founder of modern chemistry. He did many experiments on combustion and the composition of water.
(b) Robert Boyle, an English philosopher, is also considered as one of the founders of modern chemistry. He separated chemistry from alchemy and introduced experimental methods and the idea that elements are the basic building blocks of matter.
- Now, chemistry is acknowledged as a branch of science that deals with matter.
Importance of chemistry
- Chemistry is the study of the composition, structure, properties and interactions of matter.
- Any form of matter is considered as a chemical. Thus, chemicals or chemical substances are not only found in laboratories, but all around us.
- In chemistry, we study what chemical substances are made of, what are their properties, how they interact among each other and how we can use this knowledge to produce new useful substances.
- Chemistry has enabled us to produce many useful chemicals such as metals, glass, ceramics, plastics, soaps, detergents and medicinal drugs. Table 1.1 shows some other common chemicals in our daily life.
- Chemistry plays a very important role in our life that we cannot live without it. For example, the water that we drink would not be safe without chemical processes.
Why chemistry is important in our daily life?
Common chemicals in our daily life:
|Sodium chloride||As table salt; used in preserving food, e g. salted fish.|
|Oxygen||For respiration and combustion.|
|Carbon dioxide||Used in making carbonated drinks.|
|Ethanoic acid (acetic acid)||As vinegar; used in preserving food, e.g. pickles.|
|Calcium carbonate||It is used in flooring if in the form of marble.|
|Copper||Made into wires; mixed with nickel to make coins.|
|Sodium bicarbonate||Used in baking powder.|
|Slaked lime (calcium oxide)||Used in the preparation of cement and mortar.|
Chemistry Related Careers
- Chemists are found in almost all industries. For example, food, textile, detergent, paint and water treatment industries.
- Other than chemists, there are many other careers that rely on the knowledge of chemistry. Here are some examples.
(a) Medical doctors and biochemists need to understand the chemical processes that occur in the human body.
(b) Pharmacists are experts in medicinal drugs – how they interact with each other and with the human body.
(c) Forensic scientists help the police to solve crimes by analysing evidence such as blood samples, weapons, poisons and drugs.
(d) The knowledge of chemistry helps pathologists to determine the cause of death by an autopsy.
Autopsy means examination of a dead body to find out the cause of death.
(e) Food technologists use chemistry to develop new ways of processing and preserving food.
(f) Farmers need chemistry to better understand the proper usage of fertilisers and pesticides.
- Other chemistry related careers include bioengineers, nutritionists, chemical and material engineers, geologists, pollution controllers, researchers and science lecturers.
- There are many chemical-based industries. Below table lists the main industries and their products.
Chemical-based industry Products Palm oil industry Cooking oil, margarine, shortenings and soaps Petroleum industry Fuels and petrochemicals such as plastics and detergents Rubber industry Tyres, gloves and condoms Agrochemical industry Fertilisers and pesticides Paint industry Paints, inks, dyes and varnishes Pharmaceutical industry Medicinal drugs Healthcare industry Food supplements Cosmetic industry Cosmetic products such as facial cleansers and creams Inorganic industry Chlorine, acids, hydrogen, alcohols
- Local chemical-based industries have contributed greatly to our economy. Many of the products are directly used by local consumers, thus reducing the need to import similar products from other countries. Furthermore, when the products are exported overseas, we earn foreign exchange.
- These industries also support other industries in the country. For example, the production of rubber, steel and plastics support our national automobile industry. They also provide job opportunities to millions of people.