Why Is Milk White?: & 200 Other Curious Chemistry Questions (2013)
8. Chemistry in the World
How long has chemistry been around?
About 379,000 years after the universe began in the Big Bang, it had cooled enough for electrons to slow down enough to stick around protons, and the first atoms of hydrogen formed. Since scientists only know when the universe began to within 110 million years, they can’t say exactly when this happened, except to say it was between 13.64 and 13.86 billion years ago.
People first started using techniques of chemistry sometime around 3,000 years ago, when they began extracting metals from ores, making beer and wine, and making pottery and glazes. The first controlled chemical reaction may have been fire.
Early attempts at understanding chemical reactions were largely unsuccessful, although the practice, called alchemy, led to many discoveries, including the production of several important acids, the practice of distillation, and other techniques still in use.
The beginnings of modern chemistry are usually traced back to 1661, with the publication of The Sceptical Chymist by Robert Boyle. Later, when Antoine Lavoisier developed the law of the conservation of mass, chemistry became a science, in which careful measurements allowed mathematical interpretation of the results of experiments.
One of the earliest people to systematize the investigation of chemical reactions was the Persian scientist Abu Musa Jābir ibn Hayyān, known as Geber to Europeans. Born in 721, Geber is credited with the invention of distillation. Much of his writings were deliberately hard to decipher, so that only other alchemists could read it, and this may be the origin of the word gibberish, from the name Geber. His main contribution was his stressing of the importance of experimentation in chemistry.