The Quixotic History of Chemistry
S 2020


From a historical perspective, chemistry is probably the most neglected science.  In this SDG we will attempt to make up for that deficit.  We will explore the fascinating history of chemistry from its earliest philosophical roots and technical knowledge during the Greek period, through the Medieval alchemists attempting to produce gold, the early chemists (as we now think of the science) through the brilliant chemist Dmitri Mendeleyev, the creator of the Periodic Table.  Along the way, we will encounter numerous scientists and pseudo-scientists (known and not so well known), their interesting lives, their success and missteps along with an understanding of the derivation of the words that make up chemistry.  Definitely geared to the non-scientist, our engaging core book provides an easy to read 2,500 year history of chemistry.  At the conclusion of the SDG you should have a better knowledge and appreciation as to how chemistry got to where it is today.

Weekly Topics

1.    The Greeks and the beginning of Alchemy (Chapters 1 and 2)    

2.    The Dark Ages and Medieval times, Paracelsus  (Chapters 3 and 4)

3.    Copernicus, Bruno, Galileo, Descartes and Bacon (Chapters 5 and 6)

4.    Boyle, Newton, Van Helmont, and Scheele (Chapters 7 and 8)

5.    Phlogiston and the work of Becher, Stahl, Priestley, Cavendish and Lavoisier(Chapters 9 and 10)

6.    Dalton and the Atom, Chemistry in the late 18th and early 19th Century (Chapters 11 and 12)

7.    Mendeleyev and the development of the PeriodicTable (Chapters 13 and 14)

8.    Elements and overview of the periodic table

9.    Atomic weights, trains, and Prout

10.  Steps toward the table by the genius, Mendeleyev

11.  Physics, electronic structure, and quantum mechanics invade the Table

12.  Modern alchemy, missing and synthetic elements complete the Table


Strathern, Paul, Mendeleyev's Dream:  The Quest for the Elements, Thomas Dunne Books, 2001 

Additional Reading

Scerri, Eric, The Periodic Table:  Its story and Its Significance, 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2019