Chemistry in everyday life


“Chemistry is technically the study of matter, but I prefer to see it as the study of Change. Now just think about this: Electrons change their energy levels, molecules change their bonds, elements combine and change their compounds. Well, that’s all of life; right? It’s the constant, it’s the cycle. It’s solution, then dissolution, over and over and over. It is growth, then decay, then transformation! It is fascinating, really.”Read this article to get a hang of Chemistry in everyday life.Rings a bell? Yes, you are right. Walter White gives this amazing lecture to his class in the first season of Breaking Bad.

Chemistry is indeed in our everyday. You yourself are a big bag of chemicals! What is astonishing is the amount of applications we make of the gruelling formulae from our chemistry class in our everyday life. You find chemistry in daily life in the foods you eat, the air you breathe, cleaning chemicals, your emotions and literally every object you can see or touch. While some may be obvious, some other might surprise you. Let’s find out the Chemistry in our everyday life:

    • Your body- Your body is mostly water which is hydrogen and oxygen. Almost 99% of the mass of the human body is made up of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. Only about 0.85% is composed of another five elements: potassium, sulphur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. All are necessary to life.
    • Your emotions- The emotions that you feel are a result of chemical messengers, primarily neurotransmitters.  Love, jealousy, envy, infatuation and infidelity all share a basis in chemistry. The sweaty palms and pounding heart of infatuation are caused by higher than normal levels of norepinepherine. Meanwhile, the ‘high’ of being in love is due to a rush of phenylethylamine and dopamine.
    • Soaps and detergents- Everyday while washing our clothes we use soaps and detergents. These soaps and detergents are made of chemical ingredients. Soaps are sodium or potassium fatty acids salts, produced from the hydrolysis of fats in a chemical reaction called saponification. Each soap molecule has a long hydrocarbon chain, sometimes called its ‘tail’, with a carboxylate ‘head’. In water, the sodium or potassium ions float free, leaving a negatively-charged head. Soap is an excellent cleanser because of its ability to act as an emulsifying agent.An emulsifier is capable of dispersing one liquid into another immiscible liquid. This means that while oil (which attracts dirt) doesn’t naturally mix with water, soap can suspend oil/dirt in such a way that it can be removed.
    • Onions- As harmless as they look, these when cut can make you cry rivers. There is a chemical reason behind this water. When you cut an onion, you break cells, releasing their contents. Amino acid sulfoxides form sulfenic acids. Enzymes that were kept separate now are free to mix with the sulfenic acids to produce propanethiol S-oxide, a volatile sulfur compound that wafts upward toward your eyes. This gas reacts with the water in your tears to form sulfuric acid. The sulfuric acid burns, stimulating your eyes to release more tears to wash the irritant away. Apparently, this water helps the dirt from your eye to wash away. One useful tip you can probably pass on to your mother is that if onion is cut under running water, most of the chemicals that make your eyes water get washed away. Voila!
    • Ice floats on water-  If ice wouldn’t float, imagine the water of a lake freezing from the bottom! Chemistry holds the explanation for why ice floats, while most substances sink when they freeze. A water molecule is made from one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms, strongly joined to each other with covalent bonds. Water molecules are also attracted to each other by weaker chemical bonds (hydrogen bonds) between the positively-charged hydrogen atoms and the negatively-charged oxygen atoms of neighboring water molecules. As water cools below 4°C, the hydrogen bonds adjust to hold the negatively charged oxygen atoms apart. This produces a crystal lattice, which is commonly known as ‘ice’.
      Ice floats because it is about 9% less dense than liquid water. In other words, ice takes up about 9% more space than water, so a liter of ice weighs less than a liter water. The heavier water displaces the lighter ice, so ice floats to the top. One consequence of this is that lakes and rivers freeze from top to bottom, allowing fish to survive even when the surface of a lake has frozen over.
    • Sunscreen- We use sunscreen while going out in sun. Sunscreen uses chemistry to filter or block the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays to protect you from a sunburn, skin cancer, or both. Do you know how sunscreen works or what an SPF rating really means? Sunscreen combines organic and inorganic chemicals to filter the light from the sun so that less of it reaches the deeper layers of your skin. Like a screen door, some light penetrates, but not as much as if the door wasn’t present. Sunblock, on the other hand, reflects or scatters the light away so that it doesn’t reach the skin at all.
      The reflective particles in sunblocks usually consist of zinc oxide or titanium oxide. In the past, you could tell who was using a sunblock just by looking, because the sunblock whited out the skin. Not all modern sunblocks are visible because the oxide particles are smaller, though you can still find the traditional white zinc oxide. Sunscreens usually include sunblocks as part of their active ingredients. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor.It’s a number that you can use to help determine how long you can stay in the sun before getting a sunburn. Since sunburns are caused by UV-B radiation, SPF does not indicate protection from UV-A, which can cause cancer and premature aging of the skin. Your skin has a natural SPF, partially determined by how much melanin you have, or how darkly pigmented your skin is. The SPF is a multiplication factor. If you can stay out in the sun 15 minutes before burning,using a sunscreen with an SPF of 10 would allow you to resist the burn for 10x longer or 150 minutes. Although the SPF only applies to UV-B, the labels of most products indicate if they offer broad spectrum protection, which is some indication of whether or not they work against UV-A radiation. The particles in sunblock reflect both UV-A and UV-B.
    • Bottled Water- Although bottled water has an expiration date, it doesn’t actually go bad. Why is there an expiration date on a product that doesn’t go bad? This is because all food and beverages, including water, have to carry an expiration date on its packaging to make it easier to standardize packaging. Some bottled water only carries its bottling date or a ‘best by’ date. These dates are helpful because the flavor of the water will change over time as it absorbs chemicals from its packaging. The flavour will not necessarily be bad, but it may be noticeable. Leaching of chemicals from packaging is a health concern, but as far as toxic chemicals go, you can get exposure to most of those chemicals from freshly bottled water as well as bottled water that has been on the shelf a while. A ‘plastic’ taste is not necessarily an indicator that the water is bad; absence of an unpleasant flavor does not mean the water is free from contaminants. While algae and bacteria will not grow in sealed bottled water, the situation changes once the seal has been broken. You should consume or discard water within 2 weeks after opening it.These are just some examples of how chemistry is almost in everything we are surrounded by. Imagine how intriguing it will be to divulge the chemistry that happens in the real world everyday instead of just the labs. Try to find some more chemistry behind the real world; you might surprise yourself.

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