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History

The ancient Egyptians began gathering knowledge about matter and organizing it into systems, developing what is now known as alchemy, which mixed science with metaphysics. This was the beginning of chemistry. Alchemists concentrated their efforts on trying to convert lead and other common metals into gold. Alchemy dominated the European chemical scene until modern chemistry started to replace it in the 18th century.

In the late 1700s, Antoine Lavoisier discovered that the weight of the products of a chemical reaction always equaled the combined weight of the original reactants. This discovery became known as the law of the conservation of matter. In the 1800s, the work of scientists such as John Dalton, Humphrey Davy, Michael Faraday, Amadeo Avogadro, Dmitri Mendeleyev, and Julius Meyer laid the foundations for modern chemistry. The latter two men independently established the periodic law and periodic table of elements, making chemistry a rational, predictable science. The technological advances of the Industrial Revolution provided both the necessity and the incentive to get rid of alchemy and make chemistry the science it is today.

In the past few decades, research by environmental scientists has spotlighted the damaging effects of industrial processes (many of which involve the use of chemicals) on the environment. As a result, the field of green chemistry has emerged in which chemists seek to create more environmentally friendly production processes and end products in order to better protect the environment. To encourage chemical and other companies to develop sustainable production practices, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency introduced the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award in 1996. Recent winners include Dow Chemical Company, Koehler Paper Group, Merck & Co, and Dow AgroSciences.

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