What Is Chemistry? Definition and Description

What Chemistry Is and Why You Should Study It

Chemistry often involves colorful chemicals and cool glassware.
Chemistry often involves colorful chemicals and cool glassware, but there are calculations and theory in addition to labwork. Arne Pastoor, Getty Images

Question: What Is Chemistry?

Chemistry Definition

If you look 'chemistry' up in Webster's Dictionary, you'll see the following definition:

"chem·is·try n., pl. -tries. 1. the science that systematically studies the composition, properties, and activity of organic and inorganic substances and various elementary forms of matter. 2. chemical properties, reactions, phenomena, etc.: the chemistry of carbon.

3. a. sympathetic understanding; rapport. b. sexual attraction. 4. the constituent elements of something; the chemistry of love. [1560-1600; earlier chymistry]."

A common glossary definition is short and sweet: Chemistry is the "scientific study of matter, its properties, and interactions with other matter and with energy".

Relating Chemistry to Other Sciences

An important point to remember is that chemistry is a science, which means its procedures are systematic and reproducible and its hypotheses are tested using the scientific method. Chemists, scientists who study chemistry, examine the properties and composition of matter and the interactions between substances. Chemistry is closely related to physics and to biology. Chemistry and physics both are physical sciences. In fact, some texts define chemistry and physics exactly the same way. As is true for other sciences, mathematics is an essential tool for the study of chemistry.

Why Study Chemistry?

Because it involves math and equations, many people shy away from chemistry or are afraid it's too difficult to learn. However, understanding basic chemical principles is important, even if you don't have to take a chemistry class for a grade. Chemistry is at the heart of understanding everyday materials and processes.

Here are some examples of chemistry in daily life:

  • Cooking food is applied chemistry, as recipes are basically chemical reactions. Baking a cake and boiling an egg are examples of chemistry in action.
  • Once you cook the food, you eat it. Digestion is another set of chemical reactions, intended to break down complex molecules into a form the body can absorb and use.
  • How the body uses food and how cells and organs function is more chemistry. Biochemical processes of metabolism (catabolism and anabolism) and homeostasis govern health and illness. Even if you don't understand the details of the processes, it's important to understand why, for example, you need to breathe oxygen or the purpose served by molecules, such as insulin and estrogen.
  • Drugs and supplements are a matter of chemistry. Knowing how chemicals are named can help you decipher labels, not only on a bottle of pills, but also a box of breakfast cereal. You can learn what types of molecules are related to make the best choices for yourself and your family.
  • Everything is made of molecules! Some types of molecules combine in ways that can present health risks. If you know the basics of chemistry, you can avoid mixing household products that inadvertently form poisons.
  • Understanding chemistry or any science means learning the scientific method. This is a process of asking questions about the world and finding answers that extends beyond science. It can be used to reach logical conclusions, based on evidence.
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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "What Is Chemistry? Definition and Description." ThoughtCo, Nov. 14, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-chemistry-602019. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2017, November 14). What Is Chemistry? Definition and Description. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-chemistry-602019 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "What Is Chemistry? Definition and Description." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-chemistry-602019 (accessed December 18, 2017).