Chemistry: Top 10 Questions

November 2009

Thanks to Henry Charlier, Associate Director of Chemistry, Boise State University; and Daniel Stelck, University of Idaho for the answers.

1: How many different kinds of chemicals are there?

There are 20 million chemicals known to mankind and that number increases substantially every year. Everything that you see is a chemical. (From Kaylee in Mrs. Little's class at Ross Elementary School in Kuna)

2: Do atoms change when matter changes?

Atoms can combine differently with other chemicals to make compounds, but for the most part, an atom is not going to change and is always an atom. Only if you split it apart with nuclear fission will you create new atoms. (From Kristopher in Mrs. Chaffee's class at Valley View Elementary School in Boise)

3: What is the Periodic Table of Elements?

The Periodic Table is a way to organize and list the different elements. All elements have atomic structures - the number of electrons and protons. The table lets us see how many electrons are in a certain atomic orbital. By looking at it, we can understand trends and predict the behaviors of several of the elements. (From Marie in Mrs. Childer's class at Hayden Meadows Elementary School in Hayden)

4: Why is chemistry important for everyday life?

Everything we do in life is chemistry. When we breathe, we change oxygen to carbon dioxide and give ourselves energy. When we eat, we digest food. This also gives us energy. Biochemists try to make drugs work better to treat illnesses and cancers. All of these things involve chemistry. It's important in everything we do. (From Allyssa in Miss Miller's class at Caldwell Adventist Elementary School in Caldwell)

5: How many chemicals are in the human body?

There are many types of chemicals in your body. There are proteins, fats, sugars, and DNA. All of these are chemicals and there are thousands and thousands of them. (From Molly in the Idaho Virtual Academy from Emmett)

6: Why does baking soda sizzle when it hits vinegar?

When baking soda and vinegar are combined, carbon dioxide, a gas, is created. The gas is trapped in the liquid and when it fizzles out, it creates a fizzling (sizzling) sound. (From Miles in Mrs. McCoy's third grade class at Donnelly Elementary School in Donnelly)

7: What is the most dangerous chemical?

There are all sorts of dangerous, or toxic, chemicals. Some examples are cyanide and radioactive chemicals, like uranium. Even water can be as dangerous as any toxic chemical because people drown in water. Depending on the concentration of the chemical, all of them could be dangerous. (From Megan in Mrs. Hunt's class at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise)

8: If everything is made from atoms, are atoms different?

Atoms are different because they have a different number of protons or neutrons (different combinations). Most living things are made up of the same types of atoms. It's how they are combined that makes them different. (From Caleb in Ms. Miller's class at Caldwell Adventist Elementary School in Caldwell)

9: How do you find new chemicals?

To find new chemicals, scientists and chemists combine different numbers of atoms and/or different types of atoms and see if they connect correctly. If they connect together correctly, they try to determine if this is a new structure. It's like putting tinker toys together. We combine atoms in different ways to see if they have different physical and chemical properties. When they do, we have a new chemical. (From Karie in Mrs. Rice's class at Purple Sage Elementary School in Caldwell)

10: Are there different kinds of chemistry or only one kind?

There are several different types of chemistry. Some examples are biochemistry, organic chemistry, forensic chemistry, physical chemistry, medicinal chemistry and many more. (From Stuart in Mrs. Amber's class at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise)

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