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Like all ideas, chemical ideas started somewhere back in time and typically developed detail and complexity over time  (to right in this diagram).  Often ideas became intertwined so successful explanations for one idea were extended as they applied to other areas of chemistry.  Like a view of the roots of a tree where the smallest, most distant root eventually expands and joins to form the much larger, more massive body of the complete root system, so too do the ideas of chemistry.


The early ideas people had about materials likely involved the ponderable, roughly life sized objects they dealt with in their everyday lives.  But today chemistry studies everything, from the smallest possible subunits (quarks and possibly strings) to the largest entities in the universe.  In general we first learned about those things closer to our own size.  An exception was when high energy accelerators allowed for testing ideas about star chemistry before we started investigating our moon and neighbor planets.

current understanding

Note our current understanding is not flat.  For most people it is a challenge to read on first glance.  While any particular letter is clear, it takes some initial study before a return glance brings instant recognition.  Likewise real chemistry involves many parts, each relatively easy to understand alone.  But grasping a more complete understanding requires studying each part.  While early impressions may suggest that our current understanding is nearly complete, it is likely that much remains to understand.  The future understanding probably will be a more consistent (flatter) view of our material universe.

the icons

Element synthesis: glowing gases thrown off by an exploded star which in successive stages made atoms.
Planetary: Saturn with its pronounced ring structure of varied composition.
Environment: sunset over Puget Sound at the home of the author's parents.
Live Size: deVinci's famous proportions of man.
Colloidal: Many of our foods are colloids.
Biochemical: a short section of the famous DNA double helix structural formula.
Organic: Materials such as in candles were originally thought to require life for manufacture.
Molecular: Here water symbolizes the study of how explanations of the tiny explain properties detectable by our senses.
Atomic: The blurry electron clouds remind us that the uncertainty principle limits what we can know.
Nuclear: a Uranium powered submarine carrying nuclear weapons (30 mi. from Sequim) nearing its Hood's Canal home port.
Quark: symbols for quarks in a neutron and proton.
Strings: computer representation of a proposed string.


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created 30 August 2005
revised 5 November 2006
by D Trapp
Mac made