Chemistry is immensely intriguing. Had it not been for this wing of science, we may have still been deprived of a clear understanding of matter itself. Research in the field of chemistry alone has made us aware of the atmosphere, the earth and above all, us. From Alchemy to chemistry, the science has a history dating back to over 2500 years. Chemistry is a branch of physical science which is the study of the composition, properties and behaviour of matter. It is called “the central science” as it relates with physics, geology and biology. Let us thus read about some of the most significant inventions in this wonderful science of Chemistry. The importance of inventions in chemistry is so important that we are forced to make this an 11 point list.
The first winner of Nobel Prize in Chemistry Jacobus Henricus van ‘t Hoff, Jr. helped the cause of chemistry by discovering the laws of chemical dynamics and osmotic pressure in solutions. This helped in shaping the discipline of physical chemistry as it is today. This discovery proved that very dilute solutions follow mathematical laws that closely resemble the laws describing the behaviour of gases.
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The discovery of the Noble gases- neon, krypton, and xenon, later isolated helium observed in the spectrum of the sun and radon- is another milestone in the history of Chemistry. Scottish chemist Sir William Ramsay who discovered these gases was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in the year 1904 for the same.
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Johann Wilhelm Hittorf in the year 1869 discovered a glow emitted from a cathode that increases in size with pressure. Eventually in the year 1896 British physicist J. J. Thomson conducted experiments to prove that the cathode rays were made up of unique particles which he called corpuscles. These particles were eventually named Electrons; imperative to many branches of science and our understanding of atomic theory and quantum mechanics.
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Radioactivity was first discovered in 1896 by the French scientist Henri Becquerel, while he was working on phosphorescent materials. It was initially thought to be similar to X-Rays but further investigation by chemists and scientists like Becquerel, Ernest Rutherford, Paul Villard, Pierre Curie, Marie Curie, proved that this form of radioactivity was significantly more complicated. Madam Curie first isolated Uranium from its ore which eventually led to the discovery of polonium and radium.
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Gustav Kirchhoff and Robert Bunsen discovered that each element absorbs or emits light at specific wavelengths, producing specific spectra. This was an important discovery as it led to the understanding that colored flames could be differentiated by looking at their emission spectra through a prism. This eventually aided the fields of spectroscopy and the understanding of emission of black-body radiation by heated objects.
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Discoveries of several alkali and alkaline earth metals by Sir Humphry Davy proved that electricity transforms chemicals. Experiment with the use of electrical piles to separate salt that was performed at that time by him is today known as Electrolysis. Several new metals were discovered as a result of these experiments like sodium, potassium, magnesium, boron and barium.
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Periodic Table is the tabular display of chemical elements. Any student of chemistry begins his journey with this Periodic Table and hence the publication of the same is of utmost importance when one talks about the chronicles of Chemistry. Dmitri Mendeleev is credited with the first widely recognized periodic table which he made public in the year 1869. Mendeleev’s periodic table has over the years been developed and refined with the new inventions in chemistry.
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The study of molecular structure was brought to the forefront in the 1850s by Friedrich August Kekule von Stradonitz. With the chemical structure of benzene being figured out headway was possible in understanding the aromatic compounds, imperative eventually for both pure and applied chemistry as discovered in the subsequent years.
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Atomic theory is defined as a theory of the nature of matter, which states that matter is composed of discrete units called atoms, as opposed to the obsolete notion that matter could be divided into any arbitrarily small quantity. John Dalton’s atomic theory as published in the year 1808 is a significant step in the evolution of chemistry. The flaws in his theory were later corrected by Amedeo Avogadro to give us the Avogadro’s Principle.
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‘Fire Gas’ or Oxygen was first discovered by Swedish pharmacist Carl Wilhelm Scheele in 1772 but no documentation was published regarding the same till 1777. It was a British clergyman Joseph Priestley who is thus given priority in the discovery as his findings were made known first in 1775. The discovery of Oxygen hence is of prime importance in the timeline of Chemistry. This eventually led to Lavoisier conclusively proving that Oxygen was a chemical element.
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A German Chemist by the name of Friedrich Wöhler provided the biggest step in the field of Chemistry by synthesizing Urea for the first time. In fact, this vital invention in Chemistry – creation of Urea – refuted the ‘belief or vitalism’ that all living things were alive due to some “special vital force!” This pioneering step of conversion of ammonium cyanate into urea in the year 1828 is certainly of mammoth historical significance as for the first time an organic compound was produced from inorganic reactants. This huge discovery led to the all important branch of Organic Chemistry.
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