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Chemistry And Quantum Theory

The periodic system nevertheless served as a guide in the emergence of atomic physics, especially for Niels Bohr's (1885–1962) quantum model of the atom. Atoms of successive elements in the periodic system present an additional electron on the outermost shell. When a shell becomes full, a new shell begins to fill. Exceptions to this rule are reflected in the uneven length of periods in the periodic system.

The autonomy of chemistry thus seemed to be deeply questioned in the mid-twentieth century. If individual properties of chemical elements can be deduced from quantum theory, the theoretical foundations of chemistry lie in physics. Chemistry would be a reduced science. Many chemistry teachers struggle against these reductionist tendencies and claim that all the properties of chemical elements and compounds cannot be predicted by quantum calculus, even with the help of computer simulation. The bottom-up approach that prevails in recent materials chemistry and pharmaceutical research places great expectations in the control of individual atoms. However, those nanotechnologies also reveal that the chemist's ability to synthesize new products relies on a good deal of know-how and astute rules as much as on the fundamental laws of nature. Furthermore, recent synthetic strategies are more and more inspired by living organisms. For instance, supramolecular chemistry aims to design chemical processes that mimic the selectivity of biological processes to obtain molecular recognition without the help of genetic code. Thus, chemistry is renewing its old alliance with life science.


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Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Categorical judgement to ChimaeraChemistry - Alchemy In The Scientific Revolution, Eighteenth-century Cultures Of Chemistry, From Phlogiston To Oxygen