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Transforming Matter: A History of Chemistry…

Transforming Matter: A History of Chemistry from Alchemy to the Buckyball…

by Trevor H. Levere

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"an accessible overview of the chemical sciences. [...] As an "introductory study," it eschews chemical formulae and focuses on the big picture, considering what philosophies guided the work of chemists and to what uses chemistry was put throughout its development."
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 080186609X, Hardcover)

In 1980, writes historian Trevor Levere, University of California physicists turned an "unimaginably small sample of bismuth into gold," turning one element into another through the medium of a particle accelerator. We call such things experimental science; a medieval scholar would have called it alchemy, a lay observer magic--all of which, by Levere's account, describe modern chemistry.

The history of chemistry is being rewritten every day, notes Levere. In the last three decades alone, more than 7.5 million chemical compounds have been discovered, while great advances have been made in our understanding of the chemical composition of the heavens and our own planet. Locating its origins in ancient and medieval alchemy, the quest to divine the nature of the universe, Levere traces the development of chemistry over a series of conceptual forward steps: from Francis Bacon's development of experimental method to Lavoisier's elucidation of the part of oxygen in combustion and respiration, from Mendeleyev's invention of the periodic table of the elements to the manufacture of modern microcircuitry (which, Levere observes, "involves nearly one hundred different chemical processes").

Much as science has progressed, the author notes, the alchemical aspects of chemistry have not disappeared, as that California experiment shows. What lies ahead is anyone's guess, but, Levere concludes, the history of chemical science is one of ever-changing boundaries, and "there is no reason to assume that this fluidity will come to a sudden stop." --Gregory McNamee

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:34 -0400)

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