If you are reading these words, you are likely interested in science. Get ready for a fantastic journey through a world of wonder, delight, and knowledge. One of the themes of this page is “science is everywhere,” and indeed it is; you would not be alive if it weren’t for science because your body is a big chemical machine. If you don’t believe it, don’t worry. Every page in this section contains examples that will show you how science is, in fact, everywhere. So enjoy the ride—and enjoy science.
The Perfect Understanding
What is chemistry? Simply put, chemistry is the study of the interactions of matter with other matter and with energy. This seems straightforward enough. However, the definition of chemistry includes a wide range of topics that must be understood to gain a mastery of the topic or even take additional courses in chemistry. We will lay out the foundations of chemistry in a topic-by-topic fashion to provide you with the background you need to successfully understand chemistry.
Chemistry is the science that deals with the properties, composition, and structure of substances (defined as elements and compounds), the transformations they undergo, and the energy that is released or absorbed during these processes. The definition of chemistry—the study of the interactions of matter with other matter and with energy—uses some terms that should also be defined. We start the study of chemistry by defining some basic terms.
Matter is anything that has mass and takes up space. A book is matter, a computer is matter, food is matter, and dirt in the ground is matter. Sometimes matter may be difficult to identify. For example, air is matter, but because it is so thin compared to other matter (e.g., a book, a computer, food, and dirt), we sometimes forget that air has mass and takes up space. Things that are not matter include thoughts, ideas, emotions, and hopes.
To understand matter and how it changes, we need to be able to describe matter. There are two basic ways to describe matter: physical properties and chemical properties.
Physical properties are characteristics that describe matter as it exists. Some of many physical characteristics of matter are shape, color, size, and temperature. An important physical property is the phase (or state) of matter. The three fundamental phases of matter are solid, liquid, and gas.
Chemical properties are characteristics of matter that describe how matter changes form in the presence of other matter. Does a sample of matter burn? Burning is a chemical property. Does it behave violently when put in water? This reaction is a chemical property as well.
If matter always stayed the same, chemistry would be rather boring. Fortunately, a major part of chemistry involves change. A physical change occurs when a sample of matter changes one or more of its physical properties. For example, a solid may melt, or alcohol in a thermometer may change volume as the temperature changes. A physical change does not affect the chemical composition of matter.
Not So Fine Interactions