A Student’s Guide to Chemistry

Chemistry is a field of science that studies matter and how it behaves and interacts with its surroundings. Matter is any object that takes up space and has mass. Matter is everywhere you look, including anything you can touch. Even you are made of matter. While it’s common to think of chemistry as something that only scientists do in a laboratory, chemistry is actually all around us, and chemical reactions are happening all the time.

You might not have plans to be a chemist when you grow up, but you should still understand the basics of chemistry. Scientists sometimes call chemistry the “central science” because it is a foundation if almost all of the other sciences, such as biology, physics, and more. Chemistry is the study of how everything on Earth works. Chemical reactions happen in the human body, in the oven when you cook and bake things, and outside in plants. Chemistry is organized into different branches that focus on specific types of matter. For example, biochemistry studies the interactions that happen inside any living thing. Physical chemistry is the study of what happens when matter and energy interact with each other. Chemists are very important because they study how and why chemical reactions and interactions happen, which helps them invent new products and even cure diseases.

Matter is made of elements, which all have special properties that make them unique. Naturally occurring elements can’t be broken down into anything smaller. There are somewhere around 120 known elements, of which 92 are naturally occurring. The other elements have been created in laboratories by scientists. Scientists continue to work to discover more elements. Every element has a symbol that stands for it. Some elements are labeled with one capital letter, while others have two letters. Living things are all made of the same four elements, which are oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen. The elements exist in the same specific proportion for every living thing. The periodic table is an organized chart of the elements. Every element has a specific place in the periodic table, according to the size of its atoms. The rows of the periodic table are called periods. The elements in each period share the same number of orbitals, which are paths in an atom that contain electrons. The periods on the bottom of the periodic table contain elements with more orbitals than the elements in the upper periods.

Atoms are the tiniest building blocks of matter. Atoms have a nucleus, which has protons and neutrons inside of it. Protons are particles with a positive charge, and neutrons are particles with a neutral charge. The number of protons in the nucleus is called the atomic number, and it tells you what element it is and where it goes on the periodic table. Atoms also have a cloud of electrons, which are particles with a negative charge. The number of electrons decides what types of chemical reactions can happen when two or more atoms get together. It’s this chemical reaction that ties atoms together to create more complicated things.

Different atoms joined together create molecules. Compounds are created when molecules of different elements join together. Many different compounds are possible, depending on the molecules that join together. Compounds can also be combined to make mixtures. With mixtures, the molecules don’t blend to make new molecules, so they aren’t bonded together chemically. Instead, they combine together but keep their original molecule identities. This means that you can separate the mixture by filtering or using evaporation.

Matter can change states, turning into different forms of the same material, thanks to chemical changes. Kids grow and get bigger, and that also happens because of chemical changes. Adults grow older, which is also caused by chemical changes. An apple tree produces fruit and goes dormant for the winter, and chemical changes make that happen. Even the foods in your refrigerator will have chemical changes as the foods ripen or spoil. Once you understand a little about chemistry, you’ll see it everywhere everyday.