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Isn't chemistry just applied algebra/pre-calculus?

  1. Oct 5, 2015 #1
    The more I'm in my chemistry class, the more I feel like this is true. I'm doing all these calculations, plugging in all the appropriate values for numbers and what-not, and this has crossed my mind many times. I'm just cancelling and rearranging numbers out, in addition to units, now. I'm not saying that chemistry is purely applied math, though. I still have to learn the concepts and how they relate to these equations. What do you guys think? What about physics? Will it be sort of like applied calculus?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 5, 2015 #2
    I think your algebra/pre-calculus classes are just applied chemistry.
  4. Oct 5, 2015 #3
    Why do you say that?
  5. Oct 6, 2015 #4


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    There's lots of (applied) mathematics involved in chemistry. You'll find this true not just of chemistry, but with any hard science; some other examples of which are physics, astronomy and geology. Even softer sciences such as psychology, biology* and sociology require a formidable understanding of statistics (e.g., chi squared distributions), and there's a lot of mathematics involved in that.

    There's a reason why those math classes are required in school: it's not just for kicks and giggles. Mathematics has applications in real-world science. (Although there's nothing wrong with pursuing mathematics simply for the love of mathematics.)

    On a different note, in the vein of the application of one discipline onto another, one might say that chemistry is really just applied quantum mechanics. But that's not entirely a good picture since (a) you don't need to know quantum mechanics to learn chemistry, (b) quantum mechanics and chemistry originally had separate origins, even though they did eventually meet in the middle, and (c) most of quantum mechanics is greatly approximated in chemistry.

    But there is some truth to it in that the "electron shells" of atoms and the bonds that form between atoms -- things which are dealt with all the time in chemistry -- have their modern explanations rooted in quantum mechanics.

    *(Biology is somewhere in the middle of hard and soft science depending on one's definitions.)
  6. Oct 6, 2015 #5


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    Oh, and yes. There can be a lot of calculus in physics.

    Some physics classes are taught without using calculus and without the need to know calculus. But if you're like most people I've encountered, you'll find that having calculus in your tool belt makes learning physics quite a bit easier. And you'll have a better understanding of what's really going on in the physics.

    On that note I encourage you to research the history of classical physics and also the history of calculus. You'll find that physics and calculus have been hand-in-hand since their beginnings.
  7. Oct 6, 2015 #6


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    and biology is just really complicated chemistry
  8. Oct 6, 2015 #7


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    If you are talking about elementary chemistry you could say it reduces more specifically not to just math which is varied, but specifically to arithmetic and in particular to SIMPLE PROPORTION.
    Checking my posts I see that I have often said this but let this stand for several https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/finding-the-mass-with-c1v1-c2v2.829438/#post-5211596 . And I have inveighed against the fact that when simple proportions were in classes called arithmetic students could do them but when it is called chenistry they can't.

    If ever you stop doing this sort of calculation in some areas of chemical theory, when you get in the lab doing anything in those areas you will find yourself having to do that sort of calculation again.

    In somewhat more advanced chemistry I know the same problem of inability to transfer math to chemistry comes again for simple algebra.

    Possibly part of the cause of mystification is chemical notation - formulae like Na2SO4 looks rather like a weird type of math. Dalton originally symbolised the atoms of elements by pictures
    but printers for two centuries would not have put up with it. It could be done now without much difficulty, but conventions are almost impossible to change. However teachers could make their own discs with symbol and atomic mass written on them, perhaps straight edges for the valencies, perhaps differently coloured when these are multiple, then students could easily put them together for doing the stoichiometric calculations till they grow up.
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