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Chemistry in Everyday Life: Exploring the Hidden Science Around Us

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  09-May-2024 | Maitri Singh

Chemistry and Everyday Life

When we think of chemistry, words such as chemicals, test tubes, beakers, burners, solutions etc come to our mind. However, the wonders of chemistry are not limited to laboratories and textbooks, it extends to the food we eat, air we breathe, and products we use in everyday life. Let us explore how chemistry is present all around us. Before delving into details, let us look at what we understand by the word, ‘chemistry’? Chemistry is the study of matter and its interactions with other matter and energy, and matter is anything that has mass and takes up space.

Chemistry and the Human Body

One of the most interesting and unique examples of the role of chemistry in our lives is —our bodies. The human body is a complex amalgamation of millions of chemical compounds. Each compound serves a specific function that is essential to the survival of the human body. For example, elements such as carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, calcium, phosphorus, and sulfur are the building blocks of these chemical compounds that exist in our bodies. They form structures like cell membranes and essential substances like hemoglobin. These compounds and elements interact in intricate ways to maintain bodily functions which shows how indispensable the nature of chemistry is, in our physiological processes.

Along with playing a crucial part in the physiological functions of the human body, chemistry also plays a crucial role in regulating our emotions and mood. Biochemical compounds such as hormones act as messengers in our bodies, which influences our feelings of happiness, sadness, stress, and more. Endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin are examples of such hormones that directly impact our emotional cycle well-being. Knowing how to regulate these hormones can significantly change our mental health both in positive and negative ways. This shows a deep connection between chemistry and human psychology.

Chemistry and Sensory Experiences

Even experiences like shedding tears while cutting onions reveal underlying chemical processes, as onions contain sulphoxide compounds that release sulphenic acid, during slicing. This acid reacts to form propanediol s-oxide, a gas that stimulates tear glands, and leads to tear production, thereby affecting our sensory experiences as well.

Chemistry and Drugs

Chemicals with low molecular masses (~100 – 500u) are known as drugs, which interact with macromolecular targets in the body to elicit a biological response. When these responses are beneficial and therapeutic, these chemicals are referred to as ‘medicines’ and are used in diagnosing, preventing, and treating diseases.

Drugs such as antacids (sodium hydrogen carbonate, aluminium/magnesium hydroxide), histamines (cimetidine, ranitidine), antihistamines, Neurologically Active Drugs (tranquillisers, analgesics), Antibiotics (penicillin, bacteriostatic/bactericidal drugs), Antiseptics (Dettol, iodine), and Antifertility Drugs (progesterone/estrogen pills) are vital medications for acidity, allergies, neurological disorders, infections, wound care, and contraception, that comes handy in our daily life. However, exceeding recommended doses can also negatively affect health and render most medicinal drugs potentially toxic.

Chemistry and Food

Moving beyond our bodies, the food we consume is another area where chemistry exerts a significant influence. From the process of cooking to the preservation of food, chemical reactions and principles are at play. Consider the leavening of bread, for instance. Adding baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to dough leads to the release of carbon dioxide, causing the bread to rise and acquire its fluffy texture. This chemical leavening process is crucial in baking various goods like cakes, muffins, and pancakes. In addition, the preservation of food relies heavily on chemical principles. Natural compounds present in foods such as honey or pickles act as preservatives, inhibiting microbial growth and spoilage. Additionally, modern food preservation techniques involve the use of chemical preservatives to extend the shelf life of packaged foods, ensuring food safety and reducing wastage.

Chemistry and Hygiene

Hygiene practices also showcase the practical applications of chemistry in our daily routines. Soap, which is an important product that maintains our everyday cleanliness, are typically composed of long fatty acids like oleic, palmitic, and stearic acids. Soap formation undergoes a chemical process called saponification. The process of saponification involves heating glyceryl ester of fatty acids with an aqueous sodium hydroxide solution to create soap. Soap molecules form micelles in water, which effectively trap and remove dirt and oils from surfaces upon application. Similarly, alcohol-based sanitizers leverage chemical properties to dissolve and eliminate microbes, which promotes hand hygiene and prevention of diseases.

Chemistry and Cosmetics

Cosmetic products ranging from Sunscreen to fragrances are essential in daily routines. Created in labs through chemical processes, they help in enhancing skin health and appearance regardless of age. Chemical components like thickeners such as cetyl alcohol and stearic acid enhance texture, while preservatives like benzyl alcohol extend product life. Emollients like glycerine and zinc oxide keep skin soft, while emulsifiers such as potassium cetyl sulfate stabilize formulations. Glimmers like mica and bismuth oxychloride provide skin with a radiant shine.

Chemistry and Textile

The textile industry relies on a wide range of raw materials, these materials, including wool, silk, jute, cotton, and synthetic fibers like polyester, acrylic, and nylon, form the foundation for producing a wide variety of functional products such as garments, bags, carpets, linens, and more. Throughout the manufacturing process, these raw materials undergo a series of chemical processes that involve cleansing and refining agents to ensure purification and quality. Additionally, essential procedures such as dyeing, bleaching, scouring, printing, and finishing are crucial elements in the comprehensive production process of textiles. These processes, alongside chemical treatments, contribute to the quality, aesthetics, and functionality of the final textile products.

Chemistry and Material Production

On a larger scale, industries grapple with challenges such as rusting and corrosion, which can result in significant economic losses. Rust, a form of corrosion specific to iron and its alloys, occurs when iron reacts with oxygen and water vapor, which forms iron oxide (rust). However, chemical solutions such as anti-rust coatings and corrosion-resistant alloys resolve these issues as well, which shows the role of chemistry in material science and engineering.

In conclusion, the examples provided underscore the omnipresent nature of chemistry in our daily lives, that not only impacts our biological processes, but also the food preparation, hygiene practices, sensory experiences, and material protection. Understanding these chemical principles enhances our appreciation for the world around us and also empowers us to make informed choices regarding health, safety, and sustainability. Chemistry is not just a subject of study—it is a fundamental aspect of our existence that shapes our experiences and interactions with the world around us.