63 votes
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Why is '-ethane' in 'methane'?

meth vs eth [OP] Why is '-ethane' in 'methane'? This is a coincidence. Methyl is ultimately from Greek methy "wine" + hylē "wood. Source: https://www.etymonline.com. The terminology ...
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37 votes

Storing hydrofluoric acid before the invention of plastics

In the original 1771 experiment, Scheele used a very simple setup consisting of a glass retort with a glass receiver (round-bottom flask). Yes, the glass was etched to some degree by the fumes, but ...
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35 votes

Why was Avogadro's number chosen to be the value that it is?

Why was Avogadro's number chosen to be the value that it is? Your question implies that you already know that it was a choice rather than something derived from first principle. There are some ...
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27 votes
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Where did amino acids get their one-letter codes?

Tryptophan For instance, is there a reason 'W' specifically was chosen for tryptophan (other than the fact that 'T' was taken)? Once you have assigned the other 19 amino acids, there are only 7 ...
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25 votes

Why is '-ethane' in 'methane'?

It’s worth pointing out how much of a coincidence it is that the modern ethyl and methyl are identical but for one letter. While Karsten already outlined the general bits of etymology behind these two ...
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21 votes
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Why are the rare earths erbium (Er), terbium (Tb), yttrium (Y) and ytterbium (Yb) named like that?

The links provided below are to the website "Elementymology & Elements Multidict". It is a fascinating site with information on the discovery, naming and various other facts for each element. ...
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19 votes
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What is the intuition behind 'mol' as a unit 'symbol'

The symbol mol is due to Ostwald who was a very influential and respected physical chemist more than a century ago. In German, "mole" is "Mol". It is a shortform of Molekül. I ...
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17 votes

Usage of ammine vs amine in nomenclature

(Will do more research into ammines come February.) Premise Ammonia is spelled with two 'm's. The more natural derivative of the word in a linguistic sense would also have the same number 'm's. Thus ...
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17 votes

Where did amino acids get their one-letter codes?

Some single letter codes that aren’t the amino acid’s starting letter actually make sense when viewed from certain angles. Here’s the list starting with the bloomin’ obvious: G — Glycine A — Alanine ...
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16 votes

How did Mendeleev know elements from compounds or mixtures?

Please do not underestimate the scientists of 19th century. They were as creative, intelligent and perhaps more genuinely dedicated to science than the scientists of the 21st century. Spectroscopy was ...
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15 votes
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Storing hydrofluoric acid before the invention of plastics

Based on research inspired by andselisk's answer, chemists stored it in glass vessels coated in wax (similar to the receiver setup Scheele used to prove the silicon dioxide precipitate was from the ...
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15 votes
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What is the name origin of ester?

The term "Essigäther" is actually the German name for ethyl acetate i.e Essig = "vinegar" + Äther = "ether". "vinegar" becomes acetic, hence ethyl acetate ...
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14 votes
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Why are Erlenmeyer flasks shaped the way they are?

Imagine a time when magnetic stirrers were unknown. You, or your lab assistant, would mix solutions in suitable glassware, shake manually, put it aside and then observe a change. An Erlenmeyer flask ...
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14 votes

Why do chemists work with common logarithms (base 10)?

All fields of science (biology, chemistry, physics, and geology) use both natural and base-10 logarithms. Is there a distinguishing characteristic that (typically) determines when one is used vs. the ...
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14 votes

Why were quasicrystals initially so controversial?

The basic problem was that chemists assumed that crystals had to be periodic. It is probably easier to understand than you think. The chemistry of crystallography and the mathematics of symmetry are ...
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13 votes
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Why is Potassium in French and English not called Kalium?

(with thanks to @NilayGhosh, who provided the key source for much of this answer) Short answer: Potassium was called Potassium (and Sodium Sodium) by Humphry Davy, who first isolated both; it was ...
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13 votes
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What is the need for so many theories of acids and bases?

First came the Arrhenius theory. It defines an acid as a species that dissociates to produce $\ce{H+}$ in solution, and a base as a species that dissociates to produce $\ce{OH-}$ in solution. (...
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13 votes

Why was Avogadro's number chosen to be the value that it is?

From the practical historical perspective chemists and physicists needed a number to use as a conversion factor from Daltons to grams to perform stoichiometric reactions. In the beginning, Dalton ...
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13 votes
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Why do chemists work with common logarithms (base 10)?

I am sure you are mathematically gifted, and that's why you sensed this trend in an experimental science like chemistry. It seems that your textbook author(s) put an unnecessary emphasis on avoiding ...
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12 votes

How were the elements discovered before modern technology?

Modern day scientists rely on technology and advanced nuclear physics. But in absence of these advances, how were ancient scientists able to discover them? In many cases, they weren't - the ancient......
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12 votes
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How were old style stereographic structures produced?

Created in FORTRAN by Carroll K. Johnson, of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and first released in 1965, ORTEP (Oak Ridge Thermal-Ellipsoid Plot Program) rapidly became a favorite of ...
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12 votes
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Effect of enatiomers in pharmaceuticals

In pharmaceutical industries, $56\%$ of the drugs currently in use are chiral molecules and $88\%$ of the last ones are marketed as racemates (or racemic mixtures), consisting of an equimolar mixture ...
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12 votes
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Can molecular structure be determined without modern characterization methods?

Structure elucidation via degradative studies and decomposition chemistry has sadly all but passed from the chemists' toolbox, but this was the method once used to determine molecular structures up ...
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12 votes
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What is the origin of the "positive-to-negative" convention concerning dipole moments in chemistry?

Some sources point out the direction of the dipole moment is convention dependent. Since both conventions are mathematically correct it seems important when solving a problem to identify the ...
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12 votes

How to determine the structure of organic molecules without spectroscopy

One thing that was well known, even in the early days, was elemental analysis. It is Justus von Liebig’s contribution to have worked out the sum formulae of hundreds of natural compounds. This ...
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11 votes

Why are the rare earths erbium (Er), terbium (Tb), yttrium (Y) and ytterbium (Yb) named like that?

Found a source here with some of the history and explanation, Named after Ytterby, a village in Sweden near Vauxholm. Yttria – earth containing yttrium – was discovered by Gadolin in 1794. Ytterby is ...
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11 votes

Origin of Azide's Name

Nitrogen was originally called 'azote' by Lavoisier. This name persists in many nitrogen containing species such as azide, hydrazine, diazonium etc. The '-ide' ending is the standard ending for ...
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11 votes

Where did amino acids get their one-letter codes?

See IUPAC-IUB Commission on Biochemical Nomenclature A One-Letter Notation for Amino Acid Sequences The Journal of Biological Chemistry Vol. 243, No. 13, pp. 3557-3559, 10 July 1968. : The ...
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11 votes
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Why is UuX used as a symbol for unnamed elements on the periodic table?

In 1978, the IUPAC Commission on the Nomenclature of Inorganic Chemistry decided that it would be necessary to have a systematic naming for the elements with atomic number greater than 100, even for ...
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