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What is Chemistry?

Updated on May 22, 2008

All the Pretty Sciences

Chemistry is my game. I got a four-year degree in Utah in Chemistry. It is not the most basic of sciences. Nope, physics is not either. Mathematics. They call it a universal language for a reason. Chemistry theory is completely based of mathematics. Chemistry practice not so much. Even a mathematician that knows all the nooks and crannies of Chemistry will still need to learn lab technique, hense Chemistry has not been absorbed into other sciences.

What is chemistry? I'll do the best I can to answer, but keep in mind I am not the leading expert on it. Chemistry is the study of atoms and their interactions with each other. This includes how they transfer energy, how they grab on to each other, even how they balance equilibrium.

One of the main keys here is energy. If energy did not move around, chemists would have no job. There are many forms of energy. They are not limited to the following: motion, gravitational potential, electrical, chemical, heat, light, and sound. Even how random something is has different energy than something that is ordered.

There are more chemicals in the world than scientists can name.
There are more chemicals in the world than scientists can name.

Stats and Chemistry

The atom is the most basic particle chemists study. Beyond that is nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry. People that study that are the type that have a crazed twinkle in their eye that makes you loose sleep once you've seen it.

When you flip a coin, it can either be heads or tails. When you flip it ten times, there are many combinations you can get. The most likely combination is five of each. However, how often do you get five of each as opposed to six of one and four of the other? In all actuality, even though it is the most likely, the odds of getting it are still smaller than most people think. It's hard to get 50/50. Now what if you flipped the coin a hundred times? You still won't get exactly 50/50, but you might get closer. How about a thousand times? A million? A billion? The more times you flip that coin, the closer you will get to 50/50. Another way of saying this is that the more coins you flip, the closer you'll get to the expected statistic you're looking for - the window of deviation gets smaller.

An atom is a lot like the coin. Some atoms are moving faster than the rest, others are moving slower. Some have fewer electrons than others. A single atom might have all sorts of things that aren't "normal" about it. But the abnormality of one might cancel out the abnormality of another. A collection of a hundred atoms might seem a bit more normal than each individual atom in the collection. Try to imagine a billion atoms now. The variations from atom to atom start looking like drops in the bucket compared to the collection of atoms. By the time you have enough atoms packed together to see with the naked eye, the window of deviation is so small that you will not be able to measure it.

If you do not know what an atom is, this might all be sounding like some language you hear on Star Trek. An atom is a tiny particle, so small that the best light microscopes cannot see it. Anything you can see with a microscope or with the naked eye is a bundle of atoms billions upon billions upon trillions in number. It's like trying to count the grains of sand on the beach or how many girls my roommate has slept with.

So you might be curious what deviations I'm talking about that an atom might have. When you stick a thermometer in your mouth it might read 98.6 F. But when you look at each individual atom one might be 99.0 and another might be 98.2. One might have picked up an electron while another might have lost an electron. One might be spinning incredibly fast while another is sitting quite still.

One could say Chemistry is the study of the statistical behaviors of large quantities of atoms.


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    • Constant Walker profile image

      Constant Walker 9 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

      OK. I get it... Thanks.

      Big Bang Theory is a sitcom about a theoretical physicist, his roommate (also highly intelligent), their two friends and the hot babe across the hall. The jokes are intelligent, the dialogue is well-written and, for a sitcom, it's actually very funny. It airs Mondays at 8, or you can watch it online: I'm thinking you'll probably like it.

    • Science Guru profile image

      Science Guru 9 years ago

      Constant Walker,

      It's not a stupid question. It actually perplexes a lot of people. Consider rolling two dice. 7 is the most probable combination because there are six different ways to get a 7. 2 and 12 are the least probably combinations because there is only one way to get either. Even though 7 is the most probable number to get, you still only have a one in six chance of getting it. That one in six is still better odds than you would get for any other number. Same thing with flipping coins.

      I've never watched Big Bang Theory. Sorry.

    • Constant Walker profile image

      Constant Walker 9 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

      Stupid question: If, when flipping a coin, 50/50 is so difficult to achieve, how is it the most likely?

      PS: Do you like the sitcom "Big Bang Theory"?