Questions tagged [history-of-chemistry]

Questions regarding the development and exploration of chemical ideas, innovations, and discoveries.

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Why is scandium not in Group 13 despite being once called "eka-boron"?

When drawing up the Periodic Table, Mendeleyev famously predicted the existence of then-unknown elements such as "eka-boron", which we now know as scandium. However, in the modern Periodic ...
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Why would tellurium + sodium hydroxide have worked as a good anti-knock gasoline additive (if it wasn't so smelly)?

The April 22, 2022 Veritasium video The Man Who Accidentally Killed The Most People In History mentions several aspects of the historical use of tetra-ethyl lead in gasoline, the resulting widespread ...
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Why did anyone invent the concepts of acids and bases? [closed]

I am home-schooling my son in first-year Chemistry, and I am struggling to teach Acids and Bases in a rewarding way. I am not new to Chemistry. I went to grad school in Physics and I even taught High ...
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Creating sodium tetraborate decahydrate from boric acid

I would like to obtain sodium tetraborate decahydrate (borax) from boric acid (note not the other way around that is answered here: Creating Boric Acid from Borax and Hydrochloric Acid) Perhaps use ...
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Is there a name for the law that in chemical reactions atoms are conserved?

One characteristic of chemical reactions is the trivial fact that the number of atoms of a given element is conserved. This is not conservation of mass, albeit conservation of mass is a consequence of ...
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Producing hydrogen sulfide—difficult to do much?

When I was young (nearly sixty years ago), my "chemistry set" taught me how to heat sulfur and candle wax to stink up the house.  It had no warning that hydrogen sulfide is toxic and ...
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4 votes
3 answers
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What is the origin of the word salt as used in chemistry?

I have done a number of searches to determine why compounds of acids and bases are known as salts but came up empty. The fact that common salt dominates the word's usage means all my searches bring up ...
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Why is 1413 µS/cm specifically the "standard" conductivity standard?

I'm doing some work on conductivity sensor calibration, and noticed that all the conductivity standard suppliers offer a 1413 µS/cm standard solution. Why is this oddly specific value the "...
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2 votes
0 answers
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What dodecahedral molecule is Linus Pauling likely holding in this photograph? Does it have 40 carbon atoms? [closed]

The video Quasicrystals ; Prof. Daniel Shechtman ; Nobel Prize in Chemistry focuses on Professor Dan Shechtman but happens to include some photos of Linus Pauling who never believed in quasicrystals. ...
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8 votes
1 answer
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Naming of the chemical elements and original sentences by the discoverers

Does anyone recall a printed or an online compilation where the names of all the chemical elements are listed along with the original sentence, from a research paper, containing the name of the ...
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4 votes
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On what basis are the prefixes α and β given to black phosphorus?

My textbook says the following about black phosphorus: α black phosphorus is formed when red phosphorus is heated in a sealed tube at $\pu{803 K}$. β black phosphorous is prepared by heating white ...
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When was the mass of hydrogen known?

During Robert Milikan's time, he uses the charge-to-mass ratio from J.J. Thomson's research of the electron (which is $1.759\cdot10^{11}\ \mathrm{C/kg}$) to calculate the mass of electron. Did he know ...
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2 votes
2 answers
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Why wasn't Lu Jeu Sham awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize with Walter Kohn? [closed]

Reviewing part of the history behind computational chemistry for my thesis I could not understand why only Walter Kohn was awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (with John Pople getting the other ...
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16 votes
3 answers
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Why were quasicrystals initially so controversial?

I am a mathematician. My (limited) understanding is that quasicrystals are structured as parts of aperiodic tilings of $\mathbb{R}^3$. Such tilings were already known when Shechtman first studied his ...
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5 votes
1 answer
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What is/was "uraneous oxide"? Was it an accepted name for a compound or mixed oxides of uranium?

In This National Technical Reports Library page for a 1965 report Method for Coating Actinide Particles in the list of keywords both Uranium compounds and Uraneous oxide are listed. But I don't find ...
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Why do chemists work with common logarithms (base 10)?

In my understanding, every operation we do in $\log_{10}$ can be done in the natural logarithm itself and it should be better because mathematical integrals naturally give out expressions involving ...
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-2 votes
1 answer
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Why are electrons pictured to be revolving around the nucleus in Bohr's model [closed]

Why exactly was it guessed by Bohr that electrons do revolve around nucleus in orbits than stay stationary around it in some discreet locations corresponding to a specific energy, or go around some ...
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Is there a specific historical figure or era that is most responsible for our current definitions of "physical change" and "chemical change"?

I understand that there is a very blurred distinction between the idea of a physical and a chemical change at advanced levels of chemistry, so I'm referring mainly to the definitions provided in most ...
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9 votes
1 answer
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How was pH measured back in the day if you had nothing to calibrate to?

We learn about indicators but these seem awfully useless if you have no clue what pH the color change occurs at. How did early chemists figure this out? I guess more broadly, how was the hydronium ...
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1 vote
1 answer
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Rutherford's Alpha Ray Scattering Experiment & Plum-Pudding Model

My teacher said, "Rutherford thought that all the Alpha particles would directly go through the gold foil without any collision if the plum pudding model was right. Because, as said in plum ...
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1 vote
0 answers
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What common observations in chemistry were unexplainable by an early twentieth century chemistry who had no knowledge of relativity

I was reading quite a well-known paper titled 'Relativistic Effects in Structural Chemistry' by PEKKA PYYKKO, and in it, he states that 'it was not until the 1970s that the full relevance of ...
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Did JJ Thomson know about Eugen Goldstein’s experiment discovering canal rays?

We learn that JJ Thomson discovered the electron in 1897. Several years EARLIER in 1886, Eugen Goldstein performs the same experiment but with the anode and cathode switched to produce positively ...
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1 answer
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Who coined the term "gas evolution reaction"?

I found a paper from 1812 which specifically mentions the evolution of a gas [1]. There is a similar reference from 1808, except it uses the term evolution to speak of green light emitted when a ...
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1 vote
2 answers
243 views

Significance of Law of reciprocal proportions

The laws of conservation of mass, definite proportions multiple proportions makes sense and were definitely useful for chemists in the early days of modern chemistry. The law of reciprocal ...
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32 votes
4 answers
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Why is '-ethane' in 'methane'?

Is there a chemical or historical significance in the fact that 'ethane' is just 'methane' without the 'm'?
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Vital force theory [closed]

What is the vital force theory? The vital force theory of organic compounds was disproved by a scientist Friedrich Wöhler is 1828 as follows: Urea is a organic compound which was thought to be made ...
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1 vote
1 answer
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What does the term 'by mass' mean with respect to different contexts?

I've seen the term 'by mass' being used in various sorts of contexts. Some, while explaining the law of definite proportions say, the 'same proportions by mass', some say 'constant chemical ...
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1 vote
1 answer
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How would someone in 1917 describe elements 43, 61, 72, 75, 84, 85, 87, 89, and 91? [closed]

https://books.google.com/books?id=aaELAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false Notice the list of elements on pages 62–63. It includes a short description of each element's "...
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6 votes
2 answers
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What is the intuition behind 'mol' as a unit 'symbol'

Why are moles written with 'mol' as opposed to something which is easier to write with one character, or even two?
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2 votes
1 answer
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Ambiguity in definition of primary valency in Werner's theory

In Concise Inorganic Chemistry (5th Edition) on page 196 , the primary valency of $\ce{[Co(NH3)5Cl]Cl2}$ is given to be 2. In other textbooks and in the question here, we get the idea that: The ...
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2 votes
0 answers
139 views

What is "activated red phosphorus"?

[WP = white phosphorus ; RP = red phosphorus ; ARP = activated red phosphorus] A YT channel, Extraction & Ire has a video from two years ago (2018) on converting WP to RP by keeping the former in ...
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10 votes
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What is the name origin of ester?

Ester is quite a random nomenclature for a compound derived from a parent acid and parent alcohol. Is there any reasoning behind using the word 'ester' to name such compound (for memorising purpose)? ...
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1 vote
2 answers
169 views

What lab equipment did Marie Curie use to isolate radium?

My experience in growing crystals for condensed matter physics has been sealing grams of material in ampoules which get heated in laboratory furnaces, so I don't have the experience to understand how ...
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0 votes
1 answer
433 views

Who came up with C1V1 = C2V2? [closed]

I was wondering if there is an original scientific publication showing why $C_1V_1 = C_2V_2$ works. Or perhaps, who described/used it first?
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0 answers
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How did Joseph Priestly discover carbon monoxide?

In my readings about the history of chemistry, I've come across the story of the incredible chemist and scientist Joseph Priestly. My question is just about one of his discoveries - the discovery of ...
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2 votes
0 answers
110 views

Does mercury(II) cyanate exist?

Recently, I have answered a question "Comparing explosive properties of mercury(II) cyanate and mercury(II) fulminate" where stability of cyanate vs fulminate was discussed. While I was ...
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1 vote
1 answer
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A theoretical chemistry question about elements and their presence over time [closed]

I'm not a chemist myself, but I can't think of a better place to get some insight about elements and chemistry than from people who live and breathe it here on stackexchange. This is not any kind of ...
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14 votes
1 answer
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How did Mendeleev know elements from compounds or mixtures?

I read that Mendeleev initially thought didymium was an element, but it was actually a mixture. How did he know the rest of the chemicals in the periodic table were elements and not compounds, ...
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8 votes
4 answers
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How were urolithins discovered and named?

Urolithin is a product of the degradation of ellagic acid by gut flora and has significant biological activity. (Wikipedia) I am curious as to how it was discovered but cannot find the story. Although ...
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1 vote
1 answer
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Where to find a comprehensive list of chemical/biochemical etymologies?

I've found lists like this, which explain what different root words mean. But I'm looking for explanations of why those roots mean those things. For example, why does carbonyl refer to a carbon double ...
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5 votes
1 answer
120 views

Who was C.H. Kao?

I am editing a Wikipedia article about the Chen-Kao reaction that is used to identify ephedrine, but I am unable to find biographical info on C. H. Kao: K.K. Chen and C.H. Kao - Ephedrine and ...
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7 votes
0 answers
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Distilling milligram quantities of oil like it's late 1970s

In a currently retracted* manuscript by Tomas Hudlicky [1, Retraction Watch] the following has been noted: Fifty years ago professors took an active part in all laboratory instructions and they ...
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2 votes
1 answer
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Conversion factor for chemical to physical scale of atomic masses

Before the 1960s chemists and physicists used to have different atomic mass tables. The main difference was that the physicists assigned the $^{16}$O as the O=16 from mass spectrometry. Chemists on ...
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20 votes
4 answers
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Why was Avogadro's number chosen to be the value that it is? [closed]

I understand that the mole is an extremely useful way of measuring and understanding atomic quantities. I did find some history of the number in its wikipedia article, but I did not find an answer to ...
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2 votes
1 answer
222 views

What did Richter mean regarding an acid base reaction?

Recently I've been reviewing concepts belonging to the history of chemistry. But I came stuck at trying to understand a passage which I read from wikipedia entry (and which it seems has been mentioned ...
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5 votes
1 answer
665 views

Why aren't Boron and Aluminium assigned to group 3 of periodic table? What determines the group? [closed]

I've been curious about this 3D representation of the periodic table "Mendeleev's Flower" and was trying to study it, wondering if it reveals any regularities that are not obvious from classic ...
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2 votes
1 answer
424 views

How can one determine an atomic mass with high accuracy using gravimetric analysis?

In the Wikipedia article on gravimetric analysis it is said that gravimetric analysis was used to determine the atomic masses of many elements in the periodic table to six figure accuracy. There are, ...
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1 answer
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Who came up with the box and arrow diagrams for electron configurations?

In general chemistry texts, the electron configurations are sometimes shown in boxes with up and down arrows to show the concept of paired spins. My impression for years was that Hund used such ...
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3 votes
1 answer
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How did Thomson calculate the momentum of electron when he didn't know the mass of electron?

This was proven in 1903 by J. J. Thomson who calculated that the momentum of the electrons hitting the paddle wheel would only be sufficient to turn the wheel one revolution per minute. source J. J. ...
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The phlogiston theory [closed]

I have looked this theory up on google and found that the theory is that when metal is burnt calx (metal oxide) and phlogiston is created (metal --> calx + phlogiston). Then I found out that ...
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