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"Everything you hear, see, smell, taste, and touch involves chemistry and chemicals (matter). And hearing, seeing, tasting, and touching all involve intricate series of chemical reactions and interactions in your body. With such an enormous range of topics, it is essential to know about chemistry at some level to understand the world around us." [Courtesy of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

  • General Chemistry
    Over 600 pages of quality textbook material provided by OpenStax..

General Chemistry

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Catching the Fire for Chemistry (as a Kid)

"When I'd grown old enough to have my own public library card (probably the early 1950s), I checked out a grown-up's book on the chemical elements. I seem to recall there were only about 98 elements on the periodic table at the time that book was written. I could only understand a fraction of the information, but the names, physical descriptions, and history of their discoveries occupied most of my spare time. I have never been able to find a copy of that book again, probably because I don't remember the title, author, or publisher. Nevertheless, it became a significant influence upon my life a few decades later.

When I was in high school in the 1950s, chemistry was still taught primarily as a descriptive science. But we managed to learne our way around the periodic table, did a few mole calculations, learned about acid-base reactions, did the usual set of lab demonstrations, and (my favorite) balanced formulas.

Naturally (for me, anyway), I set up a chemistry lab in the basement of my home. It was a crude setup to say the least, but I did manage to heat up stuff on an old gas stove that my mom used for baking on days when it was too hot in the house to use the regular oven in the kitchen. My first experiments involved purifying lead and zinc by melting them. But of course it didn't take long to discover how to toss those molten metals into a bucket of water--wonderful sounds, lots of steam, and interesting "flowers" of metal. There was a period of time when I cobbled together a carbon arc and used it to melt copper and other metals that had melting points beyond that of the gas cook stove.

Then there were the chemical reactions. I soon got tired of the old baking-soda-and-vinegar routine, I don't recall how it happened, but I eventually ended up with a bottle of dilute hydrochloric acid. Its reactions with my metals were slow, but fun to watch.

The high school chemistry teacher must have gotten word about my home laboratory, because he gave me a load of chemicals and labware he was about to discard after cleaning up the lab storeroom at the school. I was in heaven! Now I had free access to several ounces of hydrochloric, nitric, and sulfuric acids. Then there were the dry chemicals such as sulfur, copper sulfate, and sodium thiosulfate. In today's world where you have to post a choking warning on a box of thumbtacks, that teacher would have been fired and his teaching certificate revoked for handing such hazardous substances to a teen." 

Those paragraphs are taken from my book, Radical Lifelong Learning: Harnessing the Energy.

Oh, and that book on the chemical element that lit the first fires of enthusiasm for chemistry? I wrote my own version. You can see the details above.



The Magazine Rack


David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 06, 2015