Chemistry and Our Universe
Since the beginning of recorded history, humankind has sought to understand the properties of materials. Why does iron rust over time while gold remains shiny and beautiful? What causes the deep green color of tree leaves to convert into a brilliant variety of colors as fall approaches? How do clouds form and dispense rain? These and many other questions perplexed the minds of great thinkers millennia ago.
In the 1600s, now-iconic investigators such as John Dalton and Isaac Newton started to apply a new technique to understanding matter that involved not just observing and theorizing, but manipulating systems and observing the effect of their changes in what is now called the scientific method.
These and other great scientific explorers elevated chemistry from its alchemical roots to a bona fide science. Contributions include those of such great minds as John Dalton, who offered the first experimental evidence of fundamental particles; Antoine Lavoisier, who is credited with the first correct identification of a chemical element; and Dmitry Mendeleev, whose now-famous table of the elements helped demonstrate the ordered and predictable properties of elements in nature.
Chemists study all things made of matter as well as the energy that flows through them as they interconvert and interact. No substance or process is outside of its realm. What distinguishes chemists from all other scientists is not what they study, but the scale at which they study it.
Chemists focus on the properties and behaviors of fundamental particles called atoms—particles so small that billions of them could rest on the head of a pin. Remarkably, by understanding the structure and interactions of atoms, the materials that they comprise can be explained and even predicted with great accuracy. Materials that we see every day (such as our Sun), hold in our hands (such as tools made of metals), and even our bodies themselves all can be understood and explained scientifically. The first step on that journey is to understand the most fundamental particles making up all matter and the forces that govern their behavior.
In this course, you will be introduced to the fundamental mathematical laws governing the behavior of matter. You will explore the properties and makeup of light, atoms, and molecules, all of which play critical roles in how matter in our universe behaves and interacts. Attention will be given to the phases of matter, the most common of which are solids, liquids, and gases. Even phases such as supercritical fluids that are less common but no less important to modern technologies and natural chemical processes will be approached.
Next, you will move on to laws governing such diverse concepts as the interaction of light and matter, chemical reaction rates, the phenomenon of chemical equilibrium, the chemistry of acids and bases, and the storage and release of electrochemical potential in so-called redox reactions.
Once you have mastered the fundamentals of chemistry, you will put your knowledge to work to explore an even wider variety of topics. Time will be spent exploring how chemistry has contributed to some of humankind’s most influential inventions, including the quests to find and develop useful medicines, devise powerful weapons, and even harness the stunning power of the atom itself to help satisfy humanity’s power needs.
Not to be outdone by humankind, nature offers a wide array of chemical reactions and materials to study, understand, and even use to our benefit. You will use laws and ideas developed by centuries of research to analyze the chemistry we see in nature every day. From explaining the magnetic field of the Earth to solving the problem of ozone depletion in the upper atmosphere, the chemistry of our home in the cosmos will offer much to study. Finally, you will consider the cosmos and ask how chemistry can contribute to our understanding of life’s origins in our universe.
Along the way, many of the founding fathers of the discipline of chemistry will be discussed. Much more than just names attached to equations or concepts, these men and women were complex people who were influenced by one another and the times that they lived in.
This course endeavors to cover a great deal of topics. As varied as those topics are, in each case, you will discover how understanding the structure and behavior of matter at the atomic and molecular levels influences the properties of matter that we all observe on the human scale every day.
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|April 21, 2022|