In everyday life, the word “chemical” gets a bad rap. It’s associated with harmful synthetic compounds and words most people can’t pronounce. Yet, isn’t everything a chemical? Technically, the answer is no. However, anything you can smell or taste is a chemical, as are most things you can touch. Here’s a look at what is and is not a chemical.
Chemicals and Matter
A chemical is anything that consists of matter. Matter, in turn, is anything that has mass and takes up space. So, chemicals (and matter) include solids, liquids, gases, and plasma (the states of matter). Anything made of particles is a chemical, including subatomic particles, atoms, compounds, and more complex things, like humans and computers.
More Examples of Chemicals
Anything you can touch, taste, or pick up consists of chemicals. Chemicals include both natural and synthetic materials. For example, things that are chemical or else consist of them include:
- Elements (e.g., hydrogen, gold, carbon)
- Red Dye #40
Examples of Things That Are Not Chemicals
Two broad categories of things that are not chemicals include energy and abstract concepts. Energy relates to matter in that matter can be converted to energy and vice versa. However, energy does not have mass or occupy volume. Abstract concepts include thoughts, emotions, and the like.
Here are examples of things that are not chemicals:
- Forces (like gravity or magnetism)
- Kinetic energy
- Potential energy
So, Is Everything a Chemical?
In summary, every thing or physical object is a chemical. However, phenomena made only of energy or without a physical form are not chemicals.
- Hill, J. W.; Petrucci, R. H.; McCreary, T. W.; Perry, S. S. (2005). General Chemistry (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.
- Hunter, Lawrence E. (2012). The Processes of Life: An Introduction to Molecular Biology. MIT Press. ISBN 9780262299947.
- IUPAC (1997). “Chemical substance”. Compendium of Chemical Terminology (2nd ed.) (the “Gold Book”). Blackwell Scientific Publications. doi:10.1351/goldbook.C01039