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What is chemistry about?

Chemistry is the study of matter

Chemistry is about understanding the properties of different substances and how these substances can change. Chemistry allows us to predict how substances may alter when the surrounding conditions change, or how they may react to form new substances, and to explain why this happens. Chemists are continually changing matter into new and more useful forms.

Chemical transformations happen all the time, everywhere

Chemistry goes on continuously, all around us; in plants that make food using the air and in animals that digest this food, in the burning of fuel and rusting of cars, in the formation of snow and ice, in the industries that supply us with all our household products, and in the many biological processes that maintain the living world.

Chemists interpret the world from an atomic perspective

Chemists and students who study chemistry use their understanding of atoms, molecules, and ions – particles that are too tiny to be seen with our eyes – to explain and predict the properties and behaviour of different materials.

Interpreting the Nature of Science aims in a chemistry context

Understanding about science

Students learn about how knowledge of chemistry has developed, how chemical ideas have evolved over time, and how the work of chemists interacts with society. For example:

  • The current understanding of the structure of the atom has developed from Thompson’s plum pudding model to Rutherford’s nuclear model to the quantum mechanical model used today.
  • New technologies have enabled much greater understanding of the structure of atoms and molecules and the way that they interact.
  • New discoveries, such as Alan MacDiarmid’s conducting polymers, often lead to new technologies, materials, and processes that benefit humankind.

Investigating in science

Students investigate the chemical and physical properties of a range of different substances in different conditions. For example, they:

  • look for similarities and differences in order to classify groups of substances or identify unknowns
  • look for patterns or trends in the concentrations or type of chemicals in different contexts
  • make new substances, utilising simple chemical reactions.

Communicating in science

Students learn to communicate using the language and symbols of chemistry. For example, by:

  • writing chemical equations to represent chemical reactions
  • carrying out quantitative analysis using stoichiometric relationships
  • explaining chemical reactions and the properties of substances using their understanding of the particle nature of matter and the properties and interactions of the appropriate particles
  • discussing accuracy and bias in advertisements about consumer products, using their understanding of chemical principles
  • reading and interpreting the specialist language in articles about chemistry.

Participating and contributing

Students use their understanding of chemical principles to make informed decisions about socio-scientific issues. For example, by:

  • evaluating campaigns to buy 'natural' rather than 'man-made' substances, using their understanding of the particle nature of matter
  • basing decisions about consumer products on an evaluation of claims made about the chemical composition and potential chemical reactivity of the ingredients
  • making informed decisions about the use of chemicals in the environment, based on an understanding of chemical reactions and principles.

Last updated July 18, 2012