“CHEMISTRY! CHEMISTRY! CHEMISTRY!”
The crowd chants as the June sun sets on the western horizon. The emcee, DJ “Atom” Mick Orbitals, takes the stage to thunderous applause.
“Ladies and gentlemen…
ARE YOU READY TO ROCK?”
The crowd explodes with a roar like an alkali metal added to water.
“Welcome to the Chemistry Rocks Summer World Tour 2019! Let’s rock!”
STEM Tuesday fans, sit back, relax with your favorite chemically enhanced or brewed beverage and enjoy the show.
It really does. Qualitative, quantitative, organic, bio, physical, whatever or whichever, they all rock the scene. From the twitch of a muscle to the Fourth of July fireworks display to the explosion of the LH2 (liquid hydrogen) fuel that propels a rocket into space toward Mars, chemistry is there. Reaction after reaction after reaction occurring all around us every microsecond of every day. Sight, smell, taste, touch (If you think about it, we can also technically go with sound when we consider the neurochemistry involved in processing a sound wave) are all affected by chemistry.
Don’t throw your shoe at me! I realize not everyone has had a positive experience with chemistry. I understand. I’ve been there. The struggle was real. I was only able to dig myself out of a “D” hole in high school chemistry because of the additions I was able to add to my science teacher’s herpetological and ichthyological collections for extra credit on the biology side of his classroom. I washed out of Chemistry 101 as an immature, baseball-playing freshman in college and it took three full semesters to dig out of that hole in my transcript.
Chemistry is hard. It’s one of those sciences that is like a completely foreign language. Like the Tower of Babel, one can be confused, frustrated, and want to throw a shoe at that one person who tries to tell you that chemistry is fun. As with language, once you learn the basics, begin to understand the meanings of the words, and learn to navigate those foreign roads, a whole new world opens up. With chemistry comes a new understanding of the world around us and how it operates. We are able to drive our existence toward a better life.
And where else can you perform experiments where colors change, states of matter are shifted, and there’s a potential for explosions?
Celebrate the Periodic Table!
In 1869 Mendeleev proposed the first periodic table of elements. That makes the periodic table 150 years old! In my opinion, it looks just a fresh and vibrant at 150 as it did in it’s 20s. Maybe even better! I guess some things get better with age, right? I’ve always marveled at the beauty of the periodic table. Well, I marveled when I finally gave in, buckled down and learned the basics of the periodic table. The periodic table is a masterpiece. Just as The Beatles had Sgt. Pepper’s, DaVinci the Mona Lisa, Michaelangelo his sculpture of David, chemistry has the periodic table.
Happy Birthday, Periodic Table!
Chemistry has made life better.
I’m sitting on my back patio as I write this section. It’s a beautiful early June Saturday morning. Chemistry surrounds me.
- I see the cat eating his store-bought cat food, which has been optimized through a blend of macro and micronutrients. In other words, chemistry.
- There’s the gardener table I built from my kids’ old wooden swingset that both got a recent coat of water sealant. Chemistry.
- The house paint. Chemistry.
- The cement of the patio. Chemistry.
- The flowers and vegetables in pots and in the garden which were recently fertilized with BR-61. Chemistry.
- I just ate a bowl of rice cereal made from a chemistry-based recipe. The peanut butter on my toast is loaded with chemistry. Heck, even the toasting of the bread by electrical heating elements in a closed chamber is chemistry.
- I’m working at a steel patio table painted with a rust deterrent coating while typing on a laptop that relies on rare earth metals. Tell me that’s not some amazing chemistry!
I could go on and on but the point is this:
We are surrounded by chemical marvels every second of every day.
Chemistry makes our lives better.
There’s little argument as to the benefits chemistry brings to society. But to everything good, there’s always a dark side. The dark side of chemistry often is a result of our attempts to develop a fix to one particular problem without consideration of the entire ramification spectrum. Pesticides that are also potent carcinogens. Pharmaceutical chemicals with side effects that almost override the positive effects or cause addiction. Chemical weapons.
I could go on with examples of chemistry gone wrong but the point remains we need to be more vigilant with the power of chemistry. The current and future generations of chemists need to design chemical solutions with an eye to the long-term effects and cost-benefit of the solution. This particular solution may work to solve the issue BUT what else does it do?
Writing With Chemistry
I was going to title this section, Writing Chemically, but had second thoughts about the unintended connotations associated with that title. Most writers would classify chemistry as something on the opposite end of the creative spectrum than writing. I understand but hear me out before launching the other shoe at my head.
An ionic bond forms between two oppositely charged atoms when an atom with the weaker force donates an electron to the atom with a stronger force. Covalent bonds form between two atoms when they share electrons to fill their outer orbitals. Hydrogen bonds are weaker bonds that form when the partial positive charge of the hydrogen is attracted to a negatively charged atom. When thinking about the interactions between story elements or characters, chemistry provides three good ways to explore these interactions and reactions.
Or how about using the principals of exothermic (heat released) and endothermic (heat absorbed) reactions to move the plot forward in your story? You can also think about character development in the structural terms of chemistry, primary structure, secondary structure, tertiary structure, and quaternary structure. All four structures contain the same basic bits; it’s a matter of increasing the complexity of the model.
See? The principles of chemistry can help out the writer as well as the chemist. Another win for science!
Bottom line: Give chemistry a chance because it really does rock.
The benefits far outweigh the detriments.
The rewards in understanding the fundamentals of chemistry are well worth the failures, false starts, and frustrations of the learning process.
We are all a whole lot better off with chemistry than without (and it doesn’t even matter if we don’t understand a lick of the science behind it).
Now go enjoy the show.
Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training related topics at www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.com. Two of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101, are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.
The O.O.L.F Files
The Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) Files this month take a look at close look at chemistry from all angles, from industry to academics to studying for med school. Plus, what’s a look at how Chemistry ROCKS! without a look at the chemistry of rocks?
- IUPAC, The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.
- The final word on all things chemistry, from naming molecules to determining accurate molecular weights.
- “What Chemistry Is and What Chemists Do.”
- An article from ThoughtCo. about chemistry in practice.
- 5 Best Chemistry Courses & Classes Online
- Want to learn some basic or advanced chemistry while sitting in your PJs? Here’s a list of online courses.
- Chemistry Rocks! Exploring the Chemistry of Rocks and Minerals.
- This looks like a really cool classroom program from the American Chemical Society to study the chemistry of rocks.
- Chemistry ROCKS!
- A geologists view of chemical modeling/
- Nichols State Chemistry of Life lecture notes
- Electronic Structure and Periodic Table from the MCAT Review