Questions tagged [history-of-chemistry]

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

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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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32 votes
5 answers
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Where did amino acids get their one-letter codes?

Some amino acids have a one-letter code that's just the first letter of the name of the amino acid. This makes sense and obviously, since there is more than one amino acid that begins with the same ...
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28 votes
3 answers
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What makes a radical 'free'?

The qualifier 'free' seems to be ubiquitously attached to discussion of radicals as highly reactive species with unpaired spins. What, precisely (or imprecisely, as the case may be) does 'free' really ...
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26 votes
2 answers
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Why are the rare earths erbium (Er), terbium (Tb), yttrium (Y) and ytterbium (Yb) named like that?

I know the history of the discovery of the rare earth elements, that they were discovered near the village Ytterby in Sweden in the 19th century. Four elements are directly named after that village: ...
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25 votes
1 answer
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How were old style stereographic structures produced?

Old papers on chemical structures often contained "3D" renderings of the molecule by using 2 2D images and requiring the reader to go cross-eyed to get the 3D image. A good example I recently found ...
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24 votes
2 answers
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Storing hydrofluoric acid before the invention of plastics

The first person to synthesize hydrofluoric acid in large quantities was Carl Wilhelm Scheele in 1771. This acid is known for its ability to corrode glass and metals. What materials were the ...
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23 votes
11 answers
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Help me identify this glassware!

I'm a freshly graduated physics and math teacher moved into a small school from the late 1920s. The equipment here is old and confusing, at the very least. I have found many things which I have ...
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22 votes
2 answers
8k views

Usage of ammine vs amine in nomenclature

In the nomenclature of complex salts we use ammine for NH3 instead of amine. I thought this was to differentiate between ammine ligand and amine in organic ligand (like en). However, Wikipedia ...
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21 votes
2 answers
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How were elements and molecular formulæ determined in the old days?

Before modern chemical techniques, say in the 19th century and earlier, how did (al)chemists determine whether a substance was an element or a compound? If it was a compound, how did they determine ...
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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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20 votes
4 answers
3k views

What is the origin of the "positive-to-negative" convention concerning dipole moments in chemistry?

I'm a physics professor who often teaches students who have taken a lot of chemistry (read: pre-meds). In physics, the dipole moment of a charge configuration is defined as pointing from ...
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19 votes
2 answers
2k views

Do the names of some elements have anything to do with planets?

There are elements like neptunium and plutonium in the periodic table. Did their discovery have anything to do with Neptune and Pluto? Or are they randomly assigned with such names?
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18 votes
3 answers
891 views

Any false chemical element in history of chemistry?

Was there any false chemical element introduced in history of chemistry? I mean a substance that after a while proved that it was not an element.
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16 votes
3 answers
589 views

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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15 votes
3 answers
2k views

When did the atom theory become indisputable?

We know that the Greeks were the first scientists (or better, philosophers) to introduce the idea that matter is made up of little “chunks”, and they named these chunks “atoms”. This idea that matter ...
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14 votes
7 answers
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Why lanthanides and actinides are shown separate from standard Periodic Table layout?

In the standard Periodic Table layout , all the elements up to 56 are in order i.e are in the same layout table. However, lanthanides and actinides are always shown separately from the layout like in ...
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  • 251
14 votes
3 answers
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Why is Potassium in French and English not called Kalium?

The symbol from the periodic table for Potassium is "K". This fits my native language (dutch), where Potassium is called "Kalium". The same question applies to Sodium (Na), which again in Dutch is ...
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  • 243
14 votes
1 answer
555 views

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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14 votes
2 answers
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Effect of enatiomers in pharmaceuticals [closed]

Often (or always?) one enantiomer of a certain drug will be effective and the other ineffective or harmful. The famous example is thalidomide, where one enantiomer caused mutilation of the unborn ...
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14 votes
1 answer
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Receiving milk for working in harmful environment

I just got a job in a chemical/biological lab (post-Soviet Country). Chemists here receive milk for "harmfulness of the work" (i .e. their work involves working with all kind of substances/reactives). ...
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13 votes
1 answer
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Why do some element symbols contain a single letter while others contain two letters?

As the title says, why do some element symbols contain a single letter while others contain two letters?
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12 votes
2 answers
847 views

Regarding logic behind Organic Chemistry [closed]

Was there any logic or thinking behind the experiments performed by Cannizzaro, Beckmann, Gattermann, Koch etc.? Did they thoughtfully perform experiments or just add any two reactants and luckily ...
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  • 239
12 votes
2 answers
734 views

Identification of Sir Raman's handheld scope

I read an article somewhere around 5-10 years ago that talked a little bit about the life of Sir C. V. Raman. The focus was on the effect of Raman spectroscopy but included an interesting little ...
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12 votes
2 answers
972 views

Misleading features of Lewis Dot Representation

Today I had an embarrassing experience when I sat to help my nephew learn Lewis' Dot Representation and realized that I actually don't get it at all. I have a physics background and always thought ...
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12 votes
1 answer
6k views

What are actually the differences between Sidgwick & Powell theory and Nyholm & Gillespie Theory?

The famous VSEPR theory was proposed by first Sidgwick & Powell. It was modified then by Nyholm & Gillespie. I was reading Inorganic Chemistry by J.D.Lee where he discusses very briefly the ...
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11 votes
2 answers
493 views

What organizational methods pre-date the Periodic Table?

Dmitri Mendeleev noticed patterns in elements which allowed him to design the periodic table which ultimately led to the modern periodic table. How were elements organized before this? Was there any ...
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11 votes
2 answers
679 views

Do Faraday's gold colloidal solutions still exist?

The Royal Institution seems to claim that they still possess some of Faraday's original gold colloids: "These liquids are some of the first examples of metallic gold colloids, made by Michael Faraday ...
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11 votes
1 answer
160 views

Anthracine blue composition

In 1873 a German chemist named Springmühl announced a derivative of alizarin which acted as a blue dye and he sold this dye for a high price. The dye was sometimes called "anthracine blue" and ...
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11 votes
1 answer
309 views

Etymology of "normality"

Why the concentration of a solution expressed in gram equivalent weights of solute per litre of solution is termed as "normality" ? Does it have anything to do with the word "normal" ?
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10 votes
2 answers
1k views

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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10 votes
3 answers
441 views

Historically, how was the connection between NMR peaks and hydrogen atoms made?

A large part of the basis of this question may be due to the student who didn’t pay attention in the history section of the NMR course (and not during the technical details bit either) but I find the ...
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10 votes
1 answer
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Why was a Plimsoll symbol chosen to indicate standard state?

Historically, the Plimsoll symbol (aka Plimsoll line) was created as hull mark that would serve as a ready indicator of whether a ship was overloaded and thus running too low in the water. It was ...
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10 votes
1 answer
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Why can't light pass through a gold foil, but alpha particles can?

Rutherfords experiment showed that most of the alpha particles passed through a thin gold foil undeflected. So why can't light pass through the foil, which is supposedly thinner than the heavy alpha ...
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10 votes
1 answer
244 views

What chemical available in 18th century would explosively react with phosphorus?

For fictional use, I'd like to "construct" a clockwork device featuring phosphorus which could reasonably be expected to: A) glow consistently. B) explode upon some trigger (e.g., influx of air, ...
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10 votes
1 answer
178 views

Before the CIP system was created, how did chemists ensure that the D/L system matched the R/S assignments?

The ᴅ/ʟ system I have referred to is the one chemists used before the Cahn-Ingold-Prelog (R/S) system where they arbitrarily assigned the (+) and (-) isomers of glyceraldehyde, 'ᴅ' and 'ʟ' ...
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  • 177
10 votes
1 answer
365 views

What "physical method" does Feynman refer to in The Feynman Lectures on Physics (Vol 1)

In the introductory chapter, Atoms in Motion, of the Feynman Lectures on Physics (Volume One), Feynman alludes to a certain "physical method", which can be used to determine the structure of ...
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10 votes
1 answer
360 views

Were gold(II) complexes synthesized for the first time in 2017?

Recently in the Google news feed, I discovered this news: Gold stabilized in very rare oxidation state +II Missing golden link found: Divalent gold complex isolated for the first time in a ...
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10 votes
1 answer
8k views

Why are there 3 columns in Group VIII of the Periodic Table?

I'm currently reading in-depth about the layout of the Periodic Table, and I wondered why the table has 3 columns in its Group VIII: As I understand, this is an old notation of the table, now ...
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  • 3,108
9 votes
1 answer
2k views

Why are Erlenmeyer flasks shaped the way they are?

The title says it all. We could conceive a good number of other possibilities. Why did Erlenmeyer arrive at this design?
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  • 2,675
9 votes
1 answer
622 views

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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9 votes
1 answer
12k views

Democritus vs John Dalton atomic theory

What is the difference between atomic theory given by Democritus and John Dalton? Because I have read in many books and figured out that both theories explain the same i.e atom is an indivisible ...
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9 votes
1 answer
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When did the realistic typesetting of chemical structures start?

In many old chemistry books there were limitations on how chemical structures could be represented driven, presumably, by the desire to use available typesetting methods to save costs. For example, ...
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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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8 votes
4 answers
13k views

How were the elements discovered before modern technology?

I recently was in need of zinc for an experiment. So I resorted to obtain it from some dry cell. But I wondered if it was pure zinc or was it $\ce{ZnO2}$ or any other compound of $\ce{Zn}$. It then ...
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8 votes
2 answers
338 views

How did Joseph-Louis Proust know what gases weighed?

Proust's work led him to conclude that compounds always contain the same ratio, by weight, of their constituent elements. How did he know (or deduce?) what gases weighed? Precise answers appreciated ...
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8 votes
1 answer
400 views

Pople Basis Set Abnormality: 3rd row 6-311G

I noticed when looking through the Basis set exchange website that the 6-311 Pople basis sets don't at all match their formulation once you go past the 2nd row of the periodic table. For example, ...
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8 votes
1 answer
9k views

Origin of "ortho", "meta", "para"

Definition The ortho position refers to the two adjacent positions on a benzene ring. The meta position refers to the positions separated by one carbon atom on a benzene ring. The para position ...
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8 votes
1 answer
650 views

How chemists find out the electronic properties of elements (atomic numbers)

How did chemists find how many electrons, neutrons, and protons each element had? I mean I can understand the Mendeleev's table but without really knowing how you make one...
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  • 191
8 votes
1 answer
429 views

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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8 votes
1 answer
153 views

What is "physicist's water"?

There is a statement on page 60 of this dissertation: the "physicist's water molecule" ($\ce{O-H = 1.1 \mathrm{\mathring{A}}, \angle HOH = 104^\circ}$) I understand it to be a model similar to the ...
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