Does chemistry owe its existence to physics or is chemistry an independent discipline to itself? Many physicists believe that all the other sciences can be derived from Physics. To some chemists, physics and chemistry are distinct from one another— but question does not have a complete resolution. To the late physicist, Richard Feynman, all of the sciences are derived from physics. And, if one ever gets to listen to any of his lectures, he can be rather convincing! However, there are a good four decades since his lectures were recorded. And, chemistry continues to develop.
While physics and chemistry are rightfully a quantitative and an investigative sciences, chemistry is recognized for its creative and inventive ways. And, yes chemistry does have quite a bit in common with physics. However, it is argued that object of chemistry is the creative, craftsmanship of changing and combining of elements and molecules. It is the correct combinations that eventually lead to life and many of the molecules that we see on Earth.
Just like the alchemists, modern chemistry continues searching for a proverbial philosopher’s stone. This stone could be argued as being the commonality that links all combinations of molecules, atoms, and elements that allows for reactions to occur.
The Evidence Supporting Chemistry to be a Fundamental Science?
If there is any argument to be made for why chemistry fundamentally differs from physics— it would be mathematics and the experimentation behind it. And, it is here that we find reasons for constructing a mathematical edifice for its reactivity.
Understanding and utilizing reactivity hinges on knowing what kinds of chemicals will react to form ‘what different types of molecules.’ That descriptive aspect of chemistry is known as chemical kinetics. It utilizes a classification scheme for reactivity, its basis is how mechanistic descriptions are utilized.
Mechanistic descriptions utilize the manner by which molecules and reacting molecules orient themselves to give the most likely products. These mechanistic descriptions finally bore scientific results when experimental evidence was shown in many cases to match theoretically derived hypotheses. However, it is in the creative craft of reactions and synthesis where we may attempt to find resolution to the conundrum.
Thus, the fundamental problem of chemistry is to understand chemical changes.
Where do we find a fundamental ways to describe chemistry without physics? –It isn’t easy…
Quantum mechanics famously explains chemistry. And to the bane of some physicists, the Uncertainty Principle asserts that electrons are a slippery slope to pin down. Finding the position of an electron does not allow one to find it’s velocity. Chemists, on the other hand, describe chemical reactions in terms of electron pushing.
And therein lies the potential solution. Describing chemical reactivity in the fundamental terms of quantum mechanics is the means to develop chemistry (without fundamental physics — mechanics, ). Don’t measure the immeasurable electron, measure atom movement spectrally.
In the early 1980s to 1990s, experimental evidence accumulated by physical chemists showed that reaction dynamics could be pinned down with femtosecond spectroscopy. The primary developer was Dr. Ahmed Zewail
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1999. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB 2019. Thu. 9 May 2019. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/chemistry/1999/summary/>
The recognition that atoms or reacting molecules can be measured with spectral results is now a foundation by which chemistry is fundamental.
Knowing chemical reactivity without classical physics to aid ihe descriptions is half the battle-
While it may take several generations of scientists to move the chemical sciences further into a foundational grounding without physics, it is moving slowly in that direction.