Let's put aside your chemistry textbook for a moment. Forget your chemistry equations, your chemistry formula sheet – in fact, forget that you might be trying to get a chemistry degree!
Rather than thinking about chemical compounds, molecules, or transition metals, let’s take a look at why chemistry is actually fun and amazing. Because it’s not all about Avogadro, functional groups, and covalent bonds and it’s important every now and then, to actually remember why you decided to take chemistry in the first place!
The Things Chemists Discovered by Accident
There have been so many world-changing chemistry discoveries, but not all of them came out of the pages of a chemistry textbook! Some of the best chemistry in the world came about by accident. Here are some great stories you may not know.
This story sounds quite far-fetched, but the legend is that around two thousand years ago, a cook was preparing a meal and accidentally combined three very common kitchen ingredients: sulphur, potassium nitrate, and charcoal. In those days potassium nitrate was known as saltpetre and was used as a food preservative.
When the three were mixed together and heated – you guessed it – they gave off an almighty bang and inadvertently created what we now call gunpowder! The intrepid cook was then reported to have pushed the chemical mixture into a tube of hollow bamboo. Add some pressure from gas build-up and you guessed it – an even bigger explosion.
This is really chemistry in the world with huge consequences at its best.
This story is about a wounded soldier called John Pemberton, who after the American Civil War was searching for a way to make a living and quit his painkiller addiction. As a pharmacist, he was always experimenting - no doubt with a chemistry textbook in one hand and a chemistry formula sheet in the other – to try and develop a drug worth selling. Apart from a medicine that the developed from a coca plant intended for anxiety, his experiments failed.
The medicinal drink recipe known as Coca-Cola was sold to an entrepreneur who turned the drink into the business empire that it is today.
Incredible Facts about Chemistry and Your Body
The Body in a Spoon
Astonishingly, humans are made up of billions of atoms and yet atoms are made up of nothing at all – pure emptiness.
Of course, you know from your chemistry textbook that they do have electrons, neutrons, and protons, but really they are 99.9% space.
Did you know that if an atom was the size of a sports stadium, the actual particles would be smaller than the size of tennis balls? And if you are on the way to a chemistry degree, you will also know that they are held together by atomic forces and waves!
Now, if you were to remove the space in between all of these tiny particles within an atom – they would be even tinier. It has actually been said that without all the space between all these atoms that all the atoms in all the world’s people would fit on a spoon!
Your Body’s Worth in Chemicals
The body like everything else on the planet is made up of chemical elements. The most common are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorous. There is less than one percent of the body that is chlorine, potassium, magnesium, sodium, and sulphur combined. It’s quite crazy to think that the elements that appear on your chemical formula sheet and are used in a laboratory appear in the body too!
If the body was broken down into the molecules and atoms of these chemicals, you might be shocked that in monetary value you are not that valuable! Many years a chemist in the 1920’s worked out that these chemicals combined raised a market value of about $0.85 – today, that would less than a dollar!
Bodies and Pencils
Oxygen is the most common molecule in the body, and after that, carbon. This is not surprising as you would know from every chemistry textbook sheet that it is one of the most abundant molecules on the planet and known to scientists for thousands of years.
With millions of uses behind it, from the hydrocarbon found in petrol to the polymer that goes into plastic manufacturing, carbon is everywhere. But here’s a fact that perhaps you have not yet heard – even en route to a chemistry degree: there is so much carbon in your body that you could make about 10 000 pencils!
Mind-Blowing Facts about Atoms
Atoms are so incredibly tiny, that without a microscope, how could you be blamed for thinking that they might be a recent discovery? But atoms were in fact discovered millennia ago by a chap called Democritus who was a philosopher or natural scientist. Not surprisingly he has since been named the ‘father of modern science’!
It must be said however that essentially his work was a lucky hypothesis that only became accepted in the 18th century when John Dalton reiterated the theory.
Glass is a liquid
You may know this chemistry fact, but it is still amazing.
Glass is what is known as an amorphous solid. It is a state of matter that is somewhere between a solid and a liquid!
Glass flows, albeit slowly, but it flows. Here’s another example of chemistry in the world, if you look at old windows, you will notice that the bottom of the actual pane is thicker than the top.
Why? Glass is produced by cooling a molten substance very quickly! Because this happens so quickly it will not crystallise. Chemical bonds within the substance’s molecular structure tighten up so to speak because they lack the thermal energy to move about freely.
So while it doesn’t seem like it, glass is flowing, but at a speed that would take millions of years to accomplish what water can do in a moment.
If this mind-blowing fact doesn’t inspire you to study your chemical formula sheet or put time into your chemistry equations, not much will!
Water vs Air at the Same Temperature
Everyone has experienced the shocking experience that does with jumping into a swimming pool on a hot day to find that it is freezing. This is scientifically explainable!
Water, even at the same temperature as air always feels colder. The reason is that water is better at conducting heat than air which is actually a thermal insulator. And this is another chemistry in the world fact you might not know – it’s why we have a gap of air between layers of brick in the walls of our houses).
Think about it, your chemistry textbook will say this too – air is less dense than water, which means that the atoms in it are further apart, therefore, thermal energy passes through less easily! Simple!
Chess and Atoms
Get ready to have your mind blown!
Physicists agree that in the universe, on the whole, there are about 10⁸⁰ atoms. That equals one hundred quinvigintillion. A large number.
Regardless of just how big that number is, there are actually more possible moves in a game of chess! This is chemistry in the world at its best and it makes both chess and chemistry seem extremely interesting!
Amazing Facts about Acids and Alkalis
Alkali and Soap
Alkalis (or bases) are used far more than you would think as they are the basic ingredient for cleaning agents like bleach and baking soda.
If you are on your way to a chemistry degree, you probably know that you should wear gloves whilst handling bleach. Have you wondered why?
The reason is that alkalis will turn your hands into soap! In a process called saponification, the alkalis reacts with fatty acids present on your hands.
The stomach is full of acid - a mixture of sodium chloride, hydrochloric acid, and potassium chloride all at different levels of concentration that work to kill bacteria and break down food. Think of it as a biological defence against disease that comes into your mouth.
The incredible part is that this acid is actually as strong as battery acid – between a one and three pH on the scale. Can you believe that this acid, powerful enough to actually melt metal could burn right through your skin?
Amazing facts like this might not be in your chemistry textbook or on your chemistry formula sheet but they are certainly inspiring enough to want to pursue a chemistry degree or figure out your chemistry equations.
Bees, Wasps, Acids, and Alkali
The dichotomy between bases and acids is certainly fascinating, but what is also fun is that they truly demonstrate that there is chemistry in the world! And this is remarkably evident in nature.
For example, consider bees and wasps which are chemical opposites. The sting of a wasp is alkali while the sting of a bee is acidic. Technically, the best way to neutralise the pain of a bee sting is to get stung in the same place by a wasp, or vice versa. But we definitely do not recommend that you do either!
These are just some of the wonderful and amazing ways that we find chemistry in the world, but if you are on your way to a chemistry degree, you might need more than this to achieve the results you need.
Chemistry is a complex subject, considering a tutor is a wise move.