Scientific Method and Chemistry Help

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Aug 28, 2011

Introduction to Scientific Method

Long ago, the first humans stood upright, used tools, and discovered that lightning produced fire. They found that the differences between medicinal extracts and plant toxins were slim and sometimes had very different effects. Everyday life included the drying of fish and meat with salt, the concentration of liquids into dyes, and the melting of metal ores to make tools. Scientific testing was sketchy. Trial and error provided clues to how elements, compounds, atoms, gases, and the like made up the world. What worked was carried over to the next generation; what didn’t was discarded.

Aristotle (384–322 ), a student at the Greek Academy, believed that matter was composed of four elements, fire, water, air, and earth. He did not think they were pure substances, but the solid, liquid, and gaseous forms of proto hyle , or primary matter . Aristotle wrote that neither matter nor form existed alone, but in combinations of hot, moist, dry, and cold, which united to form the elements. This explanation of the world was accepted for nearly 1800 years.

The main source of learning for much of the Western world until that time came from the Greeks and Romans. The strong desire to find out how the world worked kept classic philosophers pondering the mysteries of nature. However, during the Dark Ages ( 500–1600), the growing knowledge of the time slowed quite a bit. Nomadic groups and barbarians from the cold north swept through Europe and England seeking conquest. People got busy protecting their homes and trying to stay alive.

Chemistry suddenly became very important.


Aristotle’s four-element theory along with the formation of metals became the basis of early chemistry or alchemy as it was known then. A mixture of trickery and art, alchemy promised amazing things to those who held its power.

Alchemists were divided into two groups, adepts and puffers . Adepts considered themselves the true alchemists who could only produce gold through spiritual perfection. They called their attempts the Magnum Opus or Great Work.

In order to gain more prestige in the eyes of the rulers, adepts were initiated in stages. They had to move from one holy place to another seeking new methods and becoming enlightened. In order to move up the ladder of acclaim, they had to travel to the Chartres Cathedral in France or the Cathedral of St. James of Compostela in Spain. There they could feel the vibrations of the earth and experience spiritual transformation allowing them to achieve perfection and the power to create gold.

Puffers, on the other hand, pursued riches through the technique of transmutation and leaned toward showy, seemingly magical methods. Puffers got their name through the constant use of bellows in their practices. They used different types of furnaces and the ever-present bellows along with special fuels of oil, wax, pitch, peat, and animal dung. The common thought was that the hotter the fire, the quicker the transmutation.

The alchemists’ two different paths led to widely different kinds of testing, but in the end, lots of ideas came from their efforts.

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