Can you imagine walking out your back door to snip a few fresh chives for your baked potato? Or the satisfaction from growing that potato in the first place? Or how about plucking blueberries for your morning cereal from a container on your balcony or deck?
America is often described as a nation of doers. Its folk heroes are men and women of action, like Daniel Boone and Annie Oakley, who subdued an untamed wilderness on the way to forging a great nation. But is that the whole story? Is American history really just a tale of dynamic movers and shakers who left philosophizing to their European counterparts?
Chemistry is defined as the study of matter and its properties. With regard to this definition, the roots of the study of chemistry can be traced back to more than one ancient civilization. Most notably, the Greeks and Chinese each independently postulated thousands of years ago that there must be a small number of elemental substances from which all other things were created as admixtures. Remarkably, both civilizations theorized that air, earth, water, and fire were among those elements. It was much more recently, however—just about 300 years ago—that famed French nobleman and chemist Antoine Lavoisier correctly identified one of the elements experimentally. Lavoisier’s discovery is often cited as the event that heralded the birth of chemistry as a proper science. Theorizing based on observation of natural systems began to give way to controlled testing of the properties of matter, leading to an explosion of understanding, the echoes of which are still ringing in modern-day laboratories.