Natural and Processed Materials



What's in a Substance?

Atoms, Molecules, Compounds and Elements

Chemical Reactions

The Elements Introduction

Things you need to know about

    Archeological evidence shows that humans have always used the materials they found around them. Over time, by trial and error, they found out 
    • how to use metals to make weapons, tools, musical instruments and jewellery
    • how to make pottery and glass
    • how to extract materials from animals and plants to make medicines and dyes

    Alchemists tried to combine the study of the material world with the study of the mystical side of life.
    Some alchemists are said to have tried to convert common metals into gold, and to find a potion that would give people eternal life. While doing this they made many useful discoveries about natural materials.
    The ancient Greek philosophers were also interested in how the world was put together. Democritus (~ 400 BC) proposed that matter was made of invisible particles that he called atoms. He had no way of testing his theory, and other more popular philosophers disagreed with him.

    During the Renaissance, scholars began to make a systematic study of matter. They found that some substances could be broken down into simple substances that could not be broken down any further. Robert Boyle (1627 - 1691) called these substances elements.

    The study of these elements happened at the same time as our ideas about atoms developed, and eventually it was realised that any particular element was made up of the same kind of atoms. A block of pure gold contains only gold atoms.

Resources that will help you

  • Digging Deeper
  • Updated October 14, 2011


    Hands On Lab

    Virtual Lab