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Organic, Inorganic & Physical Chemistry

There are three fields of study in chemistry--organic, inorganic, and physical chemistry. Organic chemistry deals with the study of compounds made up from carbon forms, such as those found in living beings. Inorganic chemistry covers compounds not found in plants or animals and therefore classed as inorganic (noncarbon compounds). Physical chemistry addresses the actions of chemistry that are resolved using the laws of physics.

Chemical change can be harnessed in two ways. It can be used to break down materials into their constituent parts and to form new materials from individual elements. Scientists call the former "analysis" and the latter "synthesis." One example in which analysis is invaluable is in the determination of the active ingredients in botanical medicines, which often can then be synthesized commercially, usually at a lower cost and at no danger to vulnerable plant populations, such as in the rain forests.

Initial examination is employed to classify matter into two categories: "heterogeneous" and "homogeneous." Heterogeneous matter has a composition or texture that is not uniform throughout; that is, some parts may not have the same properties as other parts. Homogeneous matter, on the other hand, does not vary in its properties. Yet, both types of matters are mixtures, because it is possible to separate out different components by basic physical (as opposed to chemical) tests. If physical means do not work, than the item is a "substance," on which chemical means must be used (Oxtoby, Nachtrieb and Freeman, 1990, p. 4).

If the substance cannot be broken down further by either chemical or physical means, it is an "element"; if it can, it is a "compound." A binary compound contains two elements, a ternary contains three, a quaternary four, and so on. One very common binary compound is water, which is made up of the elements oxygen and hydrogen. There are currently 109 elements. Some have been known...

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