Combustion (Encyclopedia of Science)
Combustion is the chemical term for a process known more commonly as burning. It is one of the earliest chemical changes noted by humans, due at least in part to the dramatic effects it has on materials. Early humans were probably amazed and frightened by the devastation resulting from huge forest fires or by the horror of seeing their homes catch fire and burn. But fire (combustion)hen controlled and used correctlyas equally important to their survival, providing a way to keep warm and to cook their meals.
Today, the mechanism by which combustion takes place is well understood and is more correctly defined as a form of oxidation. This oxidation occurs so rapidly that noticeable heat and light are produced. In general, the term "oxidation" refers to any chemical reaction in which a substance reacts with oxygen. For example, when iron is exposed to air, it combines with oxygen in the air. That form of oxidation is known as rust. Combustion differs from rust in that the oxidation occurs much more rapidly, giving off heat in the process.
Probably the earliest scientific attempt to explain combustion was made by Johann Baptista van Helmont, a Flemish physician and alchemist who lived from 1580 to 1644. Van Helmont observed the relationship between a burning material and the resulting smoke and flame it produced. He concluded that combustion...
(The entire section is 1557 words.)
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