What Exactly Is A Chemical?

Jessica Clifton

by Jessica Clifton

18th December 2019

Our world is made up of many different kinds of substances that we call chemicals. All matter, including us and everything around us, is made up of tiny particles called atoms. So, what is a chemical? A chemical by definition is any substance consisting of matter; this includes solids, liquids, and gas. Chemicals can either be of a pure substance or a mixture of substances. A chemical substance such as water (H2O) is a pure chemical because it has the same molecules and combination throughout its structure.

Chemical elements and compounds

A chemical substance made up of only one atom is called an element. There are 118 known elements, but only 98 of them are found naturally on Earth. Each of these elements is represented by a chemical symbol and can be found in the periodic table of elements.

The periodic table of chemical elements

A chemical compound is a pure substance that is made up of two elements that are chemically combined. Compounds are chemicals made up of more than one kind of atom. Water is an example of a chemical compound of hydrogen and oxygen. This means that every particle or molecule of water has hydrogen and oxygen atoms that are bonded together.

Elements and compounds are often found in mixtures. A mixture is a combination of two or more substances where each substance has its own identity. In general, these combinations can be separated into their component substances. An example of a mixture is soil and air.

Artificial chemicals

Humans have been combining chemicals for thousands of years. In the past, humans combined copper and tin to create bronze. This was then crafted into new tools, weapons, and armour.  Bronze is an alloy that has been the staple of construction and trade. As new combinations of elements have been created, we now have materials like stainless steel, lightweight aluminium, and other useful products that we now use today.

Artificial chemical compounds have been useful to many industries. In the pharmaceutical industry, chemical compounds have played a major role in creating various types of medicine. By combining active and inactive chemicals into pills, pharmacists can provide us with treatment for different disorders or illnesses.

Chemicals in our daily lives

MSG - monosodium glutamate - is an example of an artificial chemical

Chemical compounds are found everywhere, from the food we eat to the air we breathe. Artificial chemicals in food help it to remain fresh and preserve its flavour. Some chemical compounds are even used to enhance food textures, making them crunchy, chewy, or smooth. However, not all chemical compounds can be good for us. MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a chemical compound that is added to food to improve the flavour. Using MSG can have negative effects on our health which may cause headaches and other negative reactions.


All content published on the ReAgent.ie blog is for information only. The blog, its authors, and affiliates cannot be held responsible for any accident, injury or damage caused in part or directly from using the information provided. Additionally, we do not recommend using any chemical without reading the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), which can be obtained from the manufacturer. You should also follow any safety advice and precautions listed on the product label. If you have health and safety related questions, visit HSE.gov.uk.