How Would You Define Chemistry as a Science?
1 of 8 in Series: The Essentials of Chemistry Basics
Chemistry is a branch of science that studies the composition and properties of matter and the changes it undergoes. Chemistry is far more than a collection of facts and a body of knowledge. It’s all about matter, which is anything that has mass and occupies space.
Matter is made up of either pure substances or mixtures of pure substances. The change from one substance into another is what chemists call a chemical change, or chemical reaction, and it’s a big deal because when it occurs, a brand-new substance is created.
The general field of chemistry is so huge that it was originally subdivided into a number of different areas of specialization. But there’s now a tremendous amount of overlap between the different areas of chemistry, just as there is among the various sciences.
Here are the traditional fields of chemistry:
Analytical chemistry: This branch is highly involved in the analysis of substances. Chemists from this field of chemistry may be trying to find out what substances are in a mixture (qualitative analysis) or how much of a particular substance is present (quantitative analysis) in something. A lot of instrumentation is used in analytical chemistry.
Biochemistry: This branch specializes in living organisms and systems. Biochemists study the chemical reactions that occur at the molecular level of an organism — the level where items are so small that people can’t directly see them.
Biochemists study processes such as digestion, metabolism, reproduction, respiration, and so on. Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between a biochemist and a molecular biologist because they both study living systems at a microscopic level. However, a biochemist really concentrates more on the reactions that are occurring.
Biotechnology: This is a relatively new area of science that is the application of biochemistry and biology, when creating or modifying genetic material or organisms for specific purposes. It’s used in such areas as cloning and the creation of disease-resistant crops, and it has the potential for eliminating genetic diseases in the future.
Inorganic chemistry: This branch is involved in the study of inorganic compounds such as salts. It includes the study of the structure and properties of these compounds. It also involves the study of the individual elements of the compounds. Inorganic chemists would probably say that it is the study of everything except carbon, which they leave to the organic chemists.
So what are compounds and elements? Just more of the anatomy of matter. Matter is made up of either pure substances or mixtures of pure substances, and substances themselves are made up of either elements or compounds.
Organic chemistry: This is the study of carbon and its compounds. It’s probably the most organized of the areas of chemistry. There are millions of organic compounds, with thousands more discovered or created each year. Industries such as the polymer industry, the petrochemical industry, and the pharmaceutical industry depend on organic chemists.
Physical chemistry: This branch figures out how and why a chemical system behaves as it does. Physical chemists study the physical properties and behavior of matter and try to develop models and theories that describe this behavior.