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Report on Elemental Matters

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In the chapter “Elemental Matters”, of the book, “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson, the author talks about the basic evolution of chemistry in one big paragraph. He begins the chapter by introducing the reader to a man by the name of Robert Boyle of Oxford and of his book “The Skeptical Chymist”, which altered the idea of chemists and alchemists. Then the chapter goes on to continue about Johann Becher who published a book called, “Physica Subterranea” on the topic of mineralogy. Forwardly, the chapter goes on to Hennig Brand, the German who discovered phosphorus through an experiment he was conducting to convert human urine to gold. From then on new elements were beginning to be discovered.

The topic of the chapter changes when a Swedish chemist by the name of, Karl Scheele came along and he came up with a way to produce phosphorus in bulk without the horrid smell of urine. He is also responsible for discovering eight elements but was never appointed for his discoveries due to being overlooked or someone else publicly made it known to have “discovered” them. He also discovered many compounds, even one we still use to clean our communities, Bleach! Scheele later died at the age of forty-three because of the toxic chemicals in ingested. Though Scheele made those discoveries the credits were given to Joseph Priestley and Humphry Davy. But, between those chemists, they differ much so from the ones that came after them in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In the ending years of the 1700s a scientist by the name of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, husband of now Madame Lavoisier, provided clarity and method to chemistry after not discovering a single element and wrongly issuing a theory that came out to be very wrong and the young student he presented it to never forgave him. Later, Lavoisier is arrested and put to death by the guillotine. This is where in the chapter the author gets away from the idea of elements themselves, but more in depth of different materials and revolutionized intellect that starts making things around them change. For example, “laughing gas” became a very popular drug and wasn’t until 1846, did people use it in the medical field as an aesthetic. Soon after there were other discoveries such as Robert Brown, with his theory of perpetual motion, Benjamin Thompson with thermodynamics as well as the inventions of the drip coffee maker, thermal underwear, and the Rumford fireplace. The author then brings Humphry Davy back into the picture and explains that he discovered 6 new elements, Dalton comes up with the atomic theory, J.J Berzelius comes up with element abbreviations, and Mendeleyev comes up with the periodic table. In all are about 120 elements with 92 of them being naturally occurring. The author ends the chapter stating that science is going into a new stage, The Atomic One.

The excerpt from Bill Bryson’s book was very informative about all



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