The Science of Existence – Chemistry


“No inanimate object is ever fully determined by the laws of physics and chemistry.” ~ Hungarian English polymath Michael Polanyi

Chemistry is the science of matter and its interaction. Physics bounds what exists. Chemistry gives it form.


By 2,000 years ago, humans had developed diverse technologies that would eventually lead to an understanding of chemistry. The technologies included the making of pottery and glazes, extracting metal from ore and chemicals from plants, fermentation, dying cloth, tanning leather, rendering soap from fat, making glass, and attaining alloys such as bronze. These were all practical skills that drove those involved to greater mastery.

The progenitor of chemistry was alchemy: seekers of knowledge over the power of the elements, some of whom sought the philosopher’s stone, which was the legendary substance capable of transmuting base metals of scant worth into gold, the most precious metal. Written mention of the philosopher’s stone dates to at least 300 ce.

Alchemy failed in its craven direction, but its methodology – experiment and record-keeping – set the stage for modern chemistry.

“I have always looked upon alchemy in natural philosophy to be like enthusiasm in divinity, and to have troubled the world much to the same purpose.” ~ English Anglican clergyman William Temple

 Antoine Laurent Lavoisier

We must trust to nothing but facts: these are presented to us by Nature and cannot deceive. We ought, in every instance, to submit our reasoning to the test of experiment, and never to search for truth but by the natural road of experiment and observation. ~ Antoine Lavoisier

18th-century French nobleman Antoine Laurent Lavoisier is considered the father of modern chemistry. He was an exacting experimenter and an observant man with a keen sense of reason.

In addition to his other considerable accomplishments in chemistry and biology, Lavoisier, by his meticulous measurements and quantitative observations of chemical phenomena, was critically important in creating a paradigm shift from acquisitive alchemy to the natural science of chemistry.

Lavoisier collated the first extensive list of elements, revising chemical nomenclature in the process. He discovered that the mass of matter is constant, even though it may change shape or form. Lavoisier was also instrumental in devising the metric system.