Chemistry is a natural science dating back to medieval times when it was known in alternate forms like alchemy.
The study of the properties of matter and its individual components has been monumental to the advancement of human technology.
Basically, we wouldn't have the technology or medicine we have today had some individuals not been fascinated by how different chemical properties function. These people have come to be known as chemists.
The scope of their discoveries spans from antibiotics to pasteurized milk, and all their experiments and findings make our lives much more convenient.
We'll be talking about some of the most recognized names in the field of chemistry. These famous chemists in history provided us the foundations from which several modern sciences stem from.
The periodic table proved to be one of the most crucial scientific collections in chemistry history. It lists down all existing elements known to humans, arranged by their atomic numbers and electron configurations.
The chemical properties, usage, and further scientific applications of an element can be deduced by its position on the periodic table.
The man behind this development was Dmitri Mendeleev, a chemist from Russia, who devised this table on his findings and the past work done by chemists like Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier and John Newlands.
Newlands had done research that described the properties of elements based on their atomic weight, but it was not definite.
Mendeleev took these works and coupled them with his research, coming up with a two-volume piece called the Principles of Chemistry.
This came to be known as the ultimate authority on the periodicity and the properties of elements that formed the basis of the periodic table, making Mendeleev one of the most famous chemists of all time.
While oxygen is quite literally the source that drives us, it was not until 1774 that Joseph Priestly discovered the nature of oxygen.
Although Antoine Lavoisier had done some rudimentary work in discovering the element, the credit for finding its use goes to Priestly.
There has been some controversy about who was the first scientist to discover oxygen, as there have been reports of Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Steel making the discovery in 1772.
However, he published his findings in 1777, three years after Priestly discovered it officially. And that in itself wins the case for Joseph Priestly.
During his findings, Priestly conducted numerous experiments to understand oxygen's true nature and its role in combustion and respiration. He is also credited with inventing carbonated water, where he dissolved air in water.
Priestly's work was heavily influenced by Lavoisier, who is responsible for naming oxygen and working out its chemical nomenclature.
However, Priestly made the correlation between oxygen and the processes of combustion and respiration, giving us one of the most famous chemistry discoveries.
Learn more about Joseph Priestley here.
Although scientists knew about electricity for a long time, they did not understand that the current driving it was composed of electrons.
Even after the cathode ray tube was invented, the scientific community was still unclear about the phenomenon of how it worked.
In 1897, JJ Thompson got down to analyzing electric currents, placing cathode tubes inside electric and magnetic fields, when he discovered the presence of electrons.
He was aware that particles moved from side to side due to the effect of the fields. However, he noticed that the cathode rays also seemed to move.
This led to the conclusion that the rays must comprise small particles, which he named 'corpuscles,' and on further inspection, he found that the electric currents were made up of minuscule moving electrons.
The hard work culminated in the discovery of electrons, becoming one of the most important discoveries in the world of physics and chemistry.
John Dalton was the first scientist to make the correlation between elements and measurable qualities like volume and mass, breaking down elements into smaller subunits.
In his discovery, he talked about small microscopic particles called atoms which make up elements. This theory stated that any pure elements could be broken down into smaller units of identical atoms with the same mass.
However, he wasn't the first person to make such a proposition, as Greek philosophers like Leucippus had often talked about smaller invisible units of matter that make up mass.
Their theory was not entirely correct as they believed these units did not have any internal structure and were responsible for properties like colors and taste as well.
Dalton was the first scientist to give real credibility to the idea of atoms in his publication "A New System Of Chemical Philosophy."
In this, he presented four ideas:
- Atoms were made of chemical elements
- Atoms in the same element had the same weight
- Atoms in different elements had different weights
- Atoms combined in various ratios of whole numbers to form compounds
Some of Dalton's ideas were extensions of previous theories put forward by Greek philosophers and thinkers.
To date, his most significant contribution to the study of atoms was this theory of calculating atomic weights and providing standardized symbols for elements.
Lady Mary Montagu
Smallpox crippled the world in the 17th and 18th centuries, causing millions of deaths and disfigurements.
The epidemics were routine, and they would wipe out large sections of the population of numerous cities, sometimes killing up to 30% of the total infected population.
Even those who survived were left with horrible scars and physiological problems for the rest of their lives. When the smallpox vaccine was invented, it changed the world.
The credit for this invention goes to Lady Mary Montagu, who was part of the British nobility and was stationed in Turkey as her husband was an ambassador there.
She contracted the disease herself in 1715, and although she survived, it left her with disfigurement and scars, leaving her face distorted.
While in Turkey, she discovered that the locals practiced inoculation, using tiny particles of the disease to give a person a mild case, allowing them to build up their natural immunity.
Coming back to England in 1721, she practiced this inoculation technique on her two children, who survived the disease without forming lingering, long-term effects.
She proceeded to educate others about the concept, with many people – including the Royal Family –rushing to her for inoculation.
In the early 1900s, Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre Curie, were working with uranium ore, attempting to extract and study its properties.
In the extraction process, they discovered the radioactive properties of uranium and successfully isolated radioactive materials.
Though Antoine Henri Becquerel first found that uranium left an imprint when stationed on a photographic plate, even when kept in the dark, Marie Curie was the first to analyze this phenomenon and give it the name "radioactivity."
The Curies and Becquerel won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1903 for their work on radioactivity. This victory made her the first woman to achieve Nobel laureate status.
Marie Curie, born in Poland, was also the first to discover other radioactive elements like radium and polonium and also the first to isolate radioactive isotopes.
She went onto win another Nobel Prize in 1911 for her additional discoveries, being one of the only people to win two prizes.
Pasteurization is a vital process that helped saved countless lives by preventing disease. It takes its name from Louis Pasteur, who discovered that heating milk to high temperatures and rapidly cooling it helped keep it fresh for an extended time.
Since this discovery, pasteurization has proved to be a permanent practice in the food and drink industry. It helps keep edible items fresh by preventing the growth of microbes
The relevance and use of pasteurization make it one of the most important discoveries in chemistry history — one we can't imagine our lives without.
Louis also applied his findings to the alcohol industry, helping keep wine and beer fresh for longer and preventing spoilage during production.
His research on alcohol was done at Napoleon III's request, who commissioned him to study contamination in wine.
Pasteur discovered that microbes grow in wine, causing contamination and that this can be prevented by heating the wine to between 120 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Alexander Fleming gets credit for discovering penicillin, a discovery that went on to change medical history.
Fleming was a Scottish scientist who won the Nobel Prize in 1928, and his discovery of penicillin happened due to chance.
He was studying a petri dish with penicillium Rubens that had been discarded when he found mold growing.
Stumbling upon the mold, he realized that growing Penicillium Rubens created a property that could be used as an antibiotic. He named this discovery penicillin.
How he discovered penicillin makes for an exciting story and compels one to realize how much humanity has achieved by accident or chance.
Fleming spent weeks experimenting with the substance in the mold, trying to single it out.
He discussed his research with another chemist, C.J La Touche, and concluded that this mold was penicillium mold. It had most probably floated into Fleming's lab from Touche's lab down below.
Further experiments led to Fleming publishing these findings in 1929, but they couldn't find much traction until later. It was after a decade when chemists were able to apply these results into the medical field.
The credit for developing penicillin as medicine goes to another chemist, Howard Walter Florey, who isolated the substance that contained bacteria-killing properties, and mass-produced it.
Later, this medicine was used on soldiers during the Second World War, saving millions of lives and giving us the penicillin we now use to treat syphilis and pneumonia.
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Although James Watson and Francis Crick are credited with the 1953 discovery of DNA, Rosalind Franklin's work laid the foundations.
Crick himself admitted the same year that the information they based their research on was obtained by Rosalind Franklin, making her a pioneer in DNA study.
Franklin showed an early interest in science and found herself a job at King's College in London, where she spent her time studying DNA with her colleague Maurice Wilkins.
In May 1952, she took the picture, famously known as Photograph 51, which showed the X-ray diffraction pattern of DNA.
This photograph and other findings of Franklin gave Watson and Crick the insight to conclude that DNA had a helical structure.
Although Franklin and Wilkins got the credit, this discovery was almost wholly based upon Franklin's work.
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