December 5, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

This Peter Atkins' book tells readers they don't have to go to a lab to see chemistry in action, chemistry is all around us ...

What is Chemistry?

Peter Atkins’ new book accompanies the reader into a fascinating tour of chemistry: its core concepts (atoms, ions, molecules, bonds…), its instruments and its numerous applications. Atkins encourages the reader to see the world through the chemist’s eyes. He shows that chemistry is not something secluded in labs (far away from the “real world”), but that it is actually all around us, from the changing colours of autumn leaves to cutting-edge materials, like self-cleaning glass and smart fabrics. Atkins’s mission is to “show that even a little chemistry will add to your daily pleasure”.

Atkins did a good job in using as few formulas as possible and keeping the explanations very concise. A really wide range of topics is briefly discussed in slightly over 100 pages, including how MRIworks, how water is chlorinated and how plastics are formed. The curious reader might use this book as a starting point for exploring someof chemistry’s achievements. The nasty environmental impact of some chemical reactions is also mentioned alongside the hopes for green chemistry and new technologies. The book also shows how chemistry fits at the border between biology and physics, and how all topics have become very interdisciplinary.

Atkins wrote in the preface that his target audience consists of those people that studied chemistry at school, but have only unpleasant memories of it. He hopes to make readers appreciate this subject and relieve chemistry of its bad reputation. On the other hand, I think that this book is a bit too basic for readers with a strong chemistry background and maybe too elaborate for the totally uninitiated.

If you are a bit scared of chemistry but you want to understand more this is the book for you!


IMAGE: Wikicommons