The roots of chemistry go back deep in time. It was almost 4000 years back that activities like metal extraction and purification had started. The groundwork in these areas was done by the ancient Egyptian civilizations. Chemistry found immediate applications in the making of beers and wines, metallic articles and glass works. These primitive civilizations also experimented with extracts from plants, thus opening the gates of the branch of pharmacy. The application of burning and combustion was the sole tool that powered the chemical research and development in the ancient times.
The inhabitants of all the civilizations incessantly manipulated the available metals by transforming them from one form to another through chemical changes. The craze and crave for gold followed this period, and researchers all over the world wide were in pursuit of a mystical ‘philosopher’s stone’ that was said to have the power to transform any metal to the precious gold just with a slight touch. This is precisely how the field of alchemy spread across the globe. Ogdoad is one of the most ancient works known as regards the ‘elemental theory’ of chemistry and it came up around the peak time of Egyptian alchemy, i.e., the age between 3000 BC to 400 BC. The Greeks ruled the field to some extent in the following period of 330 BC and afterwards. This was largely due to the conquests of Alexander the Great who founded Alexandria which housed the world’s largest library.
Extensive and far reaching research was carried out in the premises of this library. The development of chemistry gained a lot of momentum due to the contributions of the Arab alchemists who were active between 642 CE and the year 1200. Alhazen and Jabir ibn Hayyan were two stalwarts of this golden age and they are held in high esteem even today as they introduced a scientific methodology towards the chemical experimentations. Also, another scholar Jabir brushed up the ideas of Aristotle and contributed immensely in strengthening the knowledge base. Bait al-Hikma, or the House of Wisdom and Alexandria became temples of sorts for chemistry enthusiast and all of them transcended their regional and cultural barriers to contribute to the field of chemistry.
Such widespread participation resulted in the terming of this age as the golden age. Arabs and Persians also revolutionized the laboratory expeditions by introducing scientifically designed chemical apparatus. The European scholars made their mark from the fifteenth century onwards. In 1661, Boyle published ‘The Sceptical Chymist,’ a landmark chemistry text, followed by Lavosier’s ‘Elements of Chemistry.’ However, Dalton’s ‘Atomic Theory’ is the cornerstone around which the modern chemistry revolves.