What Is Chemistry?

What Is Chemistry?

JC student confused while considering her science choices

Should I pursue chemistry in secondary school? How about in JC? Before you evaluate your choices, you might ask ‘What is Chemistry’? Many might associate chemistry with lab lessons and the periodic table, but there is much more to that. In this article, we will be sharing our insights and knowledge of chemistry, giving you an upper hand to making an informed decision to taking this subject.

About chemistry

Chemistry is the study of matter and its composition, properties and structure. Understanding what it consists of and how it changes over time. Chemistry is also the study of chemical reactions between various substances, and in particular, “matter”. Matter is essentially anything that has mass and takes up space; however, not all matter is obvious, such as air.

Fun fact: Did you know that air has mass, and it takes up space? Let’s paint the scenario. When we blow up a balloon, it expands – air is taking up space. Now if we were to weigh and compare a balloon filled with air and an empty balloon, you will notice that the inflated balloon weighs more. This is due to compressed air being heavier – therefore, air is considered matter.

There are many different branches of science, and chemistry is one branch that focuses on the study of matter. Although we divide the various sciences, there is overlap amongst them – for instance, biochemistry, whereby both biology and chemistry are combined to study biological processes.

Basics of chemistry

Chemistry is logical science which requires conceptual understanding. Therefore, to excel in this subject, you will need to understand the periodic table, conversions of units and measurement.

Did you know that everything that we see and use in our daily lives can be broken down into chemical elements?

Every chemical element is made of a combination of a single atom, and each chemical is distinctive.  Subatomically, each atom contains neutrons, electrons and protons. The number of protons is unique and can be used as an identifier for each element. You can also identify the chemicals by its symbol from the periodic table, for instance, ‘O’ for oxygen. Referring to the periodic table, it shows the list of elements that scientists have discovered so far.

Chemical compounds are formed when chemical elements bond together. Hence, forming substances made up of multiple elements or sometimes, multiple atoms of a single element. For instance, water (H2O) is made of Hydrogen and Oxygen (multiple elements), while oxygen (O2) is made of 2 single oxygen atoms bonded together.

Qualitative and quantitative analysis

The study of chemistry involves both qualitative and quantitative analysis.

Qualitative analysis is the determination of non-numerical details about a chemical reaction. It can tell you if an atom or compound is present or absent in the sample. An example would be observing a reaction from an experiment through testing the effervescence produced or the colour changes that resulted from a reaction. The qualitative analysis mainly answers the ‘what’ in the sample.

On the other hand, quantitative analysis determines the amount of chemical in a sample. Quantitative analysis is expressed as a number with relevant units, and one of the most commonly used terminologies is mole which represents a count of 6 x 1023. This data is interpreted with graphs and tables of raw numbers. In turn, the statistics help us turn numbers into useful information aiding the decision-making process.

Different types of chemistry

chemist of different specialization coming together for a study

There are 5 main branches of chemistry: organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, physical chemistry and analytical chemistry. Each branch determines the different ways chemists study matter and change.

Organic chemistry

Organic chemistry is a sub-category of chemistry that involves the study of chemicals containing the carbon element. Carbon is considered an element that is essential to life. An organic chemist studies the structure, properties, composition and reaction of carbon-containing compounds along with other non-carbon containing compounds such as hydrogen, silicon, oxygen and sulfur.

Organic chemistry was originally restrained to studying compounds produced by living organisms, as most chemicals found in living organisms were made of carbon elements. Progressively, the study of organic chemistry broadened to include human-made substances, such as fragrances, plastics and preservatives.

Common industries students can explore are – working in pharmaceutical, polymer and food companies.

Inorganic chemistry

Inorganic chemistry studies the chemical compounds or non-living things such as metals and minerals. In general, inorganic chemistry is the opposite of organic chemistry, where most chemicals studied do not contain carbon elements.

Inorganic chemistry has applications in every aspect of the chemical industry, which includes, pigments, coatings, paints, catalysts and medicines. An inorganic chemist’s work is based on understanding chemical behaviour and how these chemical compounds can be used, separated and modified.

Common career paths for inorganic chemist includes environmental scientist, plastics scientist, industrial chemist and medicinal chemist.

Biochemistry

two biochemist doing a research together

Biochemistry is both chemical science and life science; it explores the chemical processes in living organisms and cells. Thus, the methods used in biochemistry brings biology and chemistry together – using chemical techniques and knowledge to solve biological problems. Biochemistry studies cellular pathway, cytoplasmic organelles and biological molecules like proteins, lipids and carbohydrates.

Biochemists need to understand the structure of a molecule and predict how it will interact in various factors. With biochemistry, researchers can map out the human genome, understand the different proteins in our body, which helps them develop cures for diseases.

Biochemistry covers the range of scientific knowledge, for example, forensics, medicine, genetics and microbiology.

Physical chemistry

Physical chemistry studies how matter behaves, its atomic properties, macroscopic properties and phenomena in chemical systems. Physical chemistry is a combination of physics and chemistry, using the concepts from physics to understand how the chemicals work.

An example would be the study of why water turns into vapour at high temperatures. Through their analysis, physical chemist might develop new theories on how chemical structures are formed. A physical chemist uses mathematical analysis and statistics to understand chemical materials, compounds and processes. Examples of the materials they study are plastics, batteries, electronics and ceramics. From their analysis, they can determine the performance and shelf-life of products, which plays a crucial role in product developments.

Common industries that students can explore are – working at food manufacturing, pharmaceutical and household care product companies.

Analytical chemistry

scientist using chemistry to test soil acidity

Analytical chemistry is the study of characterizing the composition of matter, using both qualitative and quantitative analysis. Qualitative analysis, such as observing the colour change in an experiment, and quantitative analysis such as the wavelength of light that affects the chemical colour change.

These studies are beneficial to many food companies as they study the different properties of chemicals. With analytical chemistry, food companies can detect how chemicals change in frozen food. In other cases, analytical chemistry is used to monitor the environment, for instance, measuring chemicals in the soil or water.

Common industries that students can explore are – working at government laboratories, forensic laboratories and food companies.

How TSA can help you ace Chemistry

The Science Academy’s approach to chemistry tuition has helped countless students not only improve their performance but also strengthen their passion for the subject. With over 20 years of combined experience, our science tutors are committed to helping our students get the most out of their science education and instil a lifelong love of science.

Choose us as your education partner on your journey to master Chemistry. TSA provides both O-level chemistry tuition and JC chemistry tuition to help you pass your exams with flying colours.

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