Role of Chemistry in our day to day life

Role of Chemistry in our day to day life

Abdul Hamid Mir

For a while let us de-intensify our mindset from the intricacies & rigidity of theoritical text and chemical reactions as perceived by most of the people, especially beginners. The chemistry students should breathe effortlessly as here I am not going to stir their mental scenario by imposing formal definitions or complexities of chemical reactions. I shall just try to remind the readers, not even greater than an iota, of applications of chemistry in our day to day life. Although it is not possible to count applications of chemistry in our daily life, so let us enjoy a quick tour through the colourful and interesting world of chemistry from a layman’s point of view by having a preliminary glimpse on some widely observable facts as to know how come chemistry is incorporated in our day to lives. Chemistry is as old as human civilization.Every time people encounter with chemicals (both beneficial and harmful) in and around them whether knowingly or unknowingly, consciously or unconsciously.

Human life is inseparable from Chemistry. Everything whether living or non-living, solid, liquid or gas, from the softest mineral (Talc) to hardest material (diamond), is made up of basic building blocks called chemical elements.These elements may occur in the form of simple atoms, molecules or compounds. Just as 26 alphabets make millions of libraries in the similar fashion Nature has created millions of compounds roughly from just a hundred elements. Everything in the physical world around us, including its inhabitants and life supporting resources, are made up of these chemical elements, to which we generally ascribe the importance of just classifying them and displaying it on the walls in the form of periodic table.Ranging from life supporting material (air) to the clothes we wear, Chemistry is involved everywhere. From using toothpaste in the morning till a sound sleep in the late night, there is involvement of chemistry in the life of a human being. Most of the human body is made up of water (almost 70% by weight) which consists of the elements Hydrogen and Oxygen. Interestingly, about 99% of human body mass is made up of just 6 elements, i.e., Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Calcium and Phosphorus! They exist in the form of Proteins, Carbohydrates, Nucleic Acids, Fats, and Enzymes etc.

A number of other elements like Copper, Zinc, Molybdenum, Iodine, Fluorine, Iron, Magnesium, Sodium, Sulphur etc exist in trace quantities. Thus, a human being may be considered as a ‘moving periodic table’ as most of the vital elements form our structural and functional part! Pharmaceuticals, Textiles, Fuels, Bimolecules, Nutrients etc which are incorporated in our day to day life, are the products of Chemistry.Cosmetics, soaps, creams, jells, toothpastes, ointments, lotions, hair oils, edible oils all comprise of chemical compounds. In the winter months of freezing cold, the most known chemical among people – sodium chloride is sprinkled on roads and streets as it is the best possible de-icing method, in order to make the surface of roads safe for pedestrians and vehicular traffic. This involves a simple principle of chemistry as on addition of a solid non volatile salt the freezing point of a liquid is decreased, in this way the salt prevents freezing of water at 0C thus facilitating traffic to a great extent on highways and minimizes the incidence of accidents. In the current whirlpool of corruption, chemistry plays a significant role in nabbing out the culprits.In this technique a white powdery substance called Phenolphthalein is used. Phenolphthalein is a weak organic acid. Its unionized molecules are colourless while on ionization, it gives a distinct pink color and this ionization or dissociation (i.e., breaking apart into positive and negative ions) is greatly facilitated by the addition of another substance called base/alkali. Phenolphthalein powder, is applied in a small quantity on the objects that are most likely to come in contact with the hands of culprit (e.g., currency notes etc) resulting in its transfer onto hands.The hands are washed with the colourless solution of a base like sodium carbonate or lime which becomes immediately pink confirming the touching of currency notes transferred off phenolphthalein by the ‘guilty’ hands and these washings are carefully collected in a clean glass container or a beaker. These washings are then sent to Forensic Laboratories for further analysis.

Therefore it is obvious that chemistry is helpful in tackling the problems related to society as well. The peculiar nature of a chemical element called Mercury (Hg) makes it an appropriate material for use in thermometers. Mercury thermometers are the most widely used scales for measuring daily temperatures. Mercury (Hg) is a metal and is peculiar in its nature as it exists in liquid state under normal conditions. Chloride tablets are used as a disinfectant for drinking water. Fuel cell, a non conventional, economical and eco friendly battery, makes use of pure chemistry principles for obtaining energy. The overall process involves combination of the elements of water (Hydrogen and Oxygen) to give water with the release of energy. Dry Cells are in service of mankind since ages now; these again are based on a simple electrochemical phenomenon.

Dilute solution of Hydrogen Peroxide is a common recommended mouthwash (antiseptic) for maintaining dental hygiene. Another compound Chloroform has been used as an anesthetic agent in Surgery since a long time, though now a day it is being replaced by more versatile chemicals. Flourine rich toothpastes keep our teeth shining and healthy. Optimum levels of Iodine in our diet protect us from a serious disease called goiter. Iron (Fe) plays a pivotal role in the structure of hemoglobin in blood. From basic needs for construction purposes (Iron, Cement, steel) to luxurious aspects of living, e.g., use of ornaments (Gold, silver) , chemistry plays important role in human life. Modern life is not possible without drugs. Chemistry has given us life saving drugs ranging from antibiotics to analgesics. Our agricultural production is regulated and enhanced by the use of chemical fertilizers like Diammonium phosphate (DAP), Potash, Urea etc which are pure chemical compounds.

We use a number of pesticides in our orchards and crop fields for protecting them against diseases. The colourful world of clothes we wear is impossible to realize without dyes. In kitchen we use table salt, soda, vinegar, yoghurt, glycerin, yeast and a lot of other chemicals. Every household kitchen may be considered as a minuscule chemistry lab. Because the processes of fermentation, curdling of milk, cooking of food, processing of beverages etc all involve chemistry in one or the other way. Chemistry also finds its application in the highly sophisticated techniques like Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) and Electrophoresis which are generally used in medical diagnosis, research and analysis. We enjoy soft drinks, but we should also know that the pH inside the bottle is maintained by carbonic acid which is formed as a result of chemical reaction between carbon dioxide and water. Chemistry has given us cheap fire extinguishers. A sealed bottle of an acid is immersed in another container containing solution of a base (bicarbonate), when the stopper/lid on the extinguisher is struck, the bottle bursts allowing acid and bicarbonate to mix, carbon dioxide is given off (effervescence) which helps in extinguishing fires. Chemistry students should undertake such small but interesting ventures only under the proper vigil of a skillful teacher.

We can never ignore the role of alloys (mixture of metals), like nichrome, steel, stainless steel, bronze, brass etc in our day to day life at domestic and industrial scale. Alloys are also extensively used in the manufacture of vital aircraft parts, surgical instruments in medical field and others. The electrical bulbs hanging from the ceiling glow due to presence of a high melting point metal called Tungsten. Electroplating and Galvanization have been used from decades now in order to protect copper and iron articles from corrosion. Catalysts have multiplied the industrial output by saving a lot of time and energy and thus the efficiency because in industries time means money.

The silicon industry has revolutionized modern world and facilitated its landing into the current information technology era. We cherish the greenery of plants around us which is an attribute of a green pigment chlorophyll containing Magnesium (Mg) as the central metal ion, though the rest of the contents of these vital macromolecules are also composed of different elements like carbon, hydrogen, oxygen etc. in varied proportions.

Metallurgy techniques, again the output of chemistry, are used in the extraction, processing of useful minerals and ores from the earth. It is possible to study ancient culture, fossils and archeological facts with the aid of a chemistry technique- Carbon Dating wherein an isotope of carbon is used (C-14). A number of isotopes like Cobalt-60 is now a days used in cancer treatment. Cis-Platin an inorganic compound is also used as an effective remedy for cancer. Even Xerox machines are also based on chemistry technique as amorphous selenium (Se) is used in photocopying process.

Polymer industry is growing day by day with widening of its spectrum from household needs to their usage in aircrafts. While halogen lamps illuminate our houses, Neon lights decorate our streets during night hours. Borax and Washing Soda are used in removing hardness of water obtained from tube wells. Zinc Sulphide is used in personal care (protector against sunburn on skin) , Copper doped ZnS is used in electroluminescent panels.

Silver Bromide, another chemical is used in photography. Liquid Nitrogen is used in cryopreservation of blood, reproductive cells (sperms/eggs) and biological samples. It is also used in cryotherapy for removing malignant skin lesions. Tetraethyl Lead (TEL) is used as anti knocking agent in vehicles thus minimizing noise pollution. Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) which contains mostly methane has been developed as a cleaner and reliable fuel than petrol or diesel.

Ethylene Glycol (commonly known as coolant) is used in automobiles as Anti freeze liquid during winters. Sulphuric Acid (commonly called Tezaab) as electrolyte in batteries (vehicles). Dry Ice (Solid Carbon dioxide) is used as a cooling agent for preservation of foods, for packaged items that need to remain frozen such as ice cream or biological samples. Ethyl Mercaptran is a well known chemical that is mixed with cooking gas , Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) for detecting gas leakage, thus minimizing the incidence of accidental fire; since LPG (mainly containing hydrocarbons Butane and Propane) is an odourless gas. Tear gases which are used to control mobs are pure chemical compounds , while as phenacyl chloride is a harmless tear gas yet chloropicrin is having some harmful affects also. The potential of atomic power (in the form of nuclear energy) has been explored by the scientists using the knowledge and principles that form subject matter of nuclear chemistry. Like every other scientific discipline, Chemistry is also having its dark side. As American screenwriter Adam Sandler puts it; “Chemistry can be good and bad thing. Chemistry is good when you love it. Chemistry is bad when you make crack with it.” Ranging from manufacture of polythene to development of explosives, though chemistry has served man in times of war and peace but it has also proved disastrous due to its ill usage. No one can forget the dreadful event of 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy that resulted due to carelessness of the technical staff of Union Carbide Plant.
Those who believe in and promote rote-learning, perceive Chemistry as a boring subject. However, the world of chemicals and chemistry is so beautiful, fascinating and magnificent that one cannot resist in developing a passion for this field. At the initial stage, model based learning should be encouraged for beginners in Chemistry. They need inspiration instead of imitation. At the secondary stage, project work may facilitate chemistry learning besides inculcating a scientific temper. At higher level, our researchers should choose applied and interesting topics/areas for research instead of the prevailing trend of selecting far unrelated and uninteresting topics. New areas like Green Chemistry should be exploited for ensuring sustainable development. Our researchers should work on development of alternative and clean sources of energy so that world may be made more beautiful place to live in. Chemistry teachers should not create wedge between society and chemistry since the two are interlinked. Applicability of chemistry and chemical compounds in our day to day life is vast.

So there is a need to impart quality chemistry education with regard to its direct and indirect applications in our lives. In this way the learner may develop enthusiasm in knowing more about chemistry rather than being fed up with the theoretical chemical equations and the huge text he/she is usually compelled to memories for examination purposes only. Although a great deal of work has been done by scientists to exploit the applicability chemistry for the benefit of mankind, yet a lot more needs to be explored in future for getting best out of the applied knowledge, phenomena, principles and techniques of of this multidimensional subject.

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