Have you ever questioned the importance of chemistry in daily life? Most students do because we tend to view chemistry as something that belongs to the realm of academia. In reality, chemistry affects all aspects of your life.
Chemistry is a fundamental discipline that studies molecules – the building blocks of all matter – and how these molecules interact to shape everything you see around you. This means that chemistry is crucial to our lives and guides our understanding of ourselves, our health, the food we eat, and the planet we inhabit.
Much of our prosperity is based on the chemical industry, which is supported by chemistry research and brings progress to society.
Everything you see is made of chemicals. You’re made of chemicals just like your dog, your desk, the device you’re using to read this article. The medication you take when you’re sick was also developed through the study of chemicals. The changes you observe around you like food being cooked or spoiling, leaves changing colors, people getting older – they all happen because of chemical reactions.
Gaining a deeper understanding of chemistry can help you make better decisions like what food to buy, how to cook it, what cleaning products to use, what personal care products are safe and how to take better care of your car.
Plus, despite what you may have been led to believe in school, chemistry is a lot of fun. We’re hard-wired to feel curious about how substances change properties when mixed together or when they’re exposed at different temperatures. Once you think of chemistry as the science of why stuff explodes or glows in the dark, it suddenly becomes a lot more interesting, doesn’t it?
Food and Cooking
Chemistry isn’t simply something that happens in a lab. You come across it every day – for example, every time you cook and eat. It explains what happens to your food when you cook it, how and why it spoils, how to keep it from spoiling, how your body processes it, and how the ingredients inside the food interact with each other and your body.
As you probably know already, most of the food products we buy in a supermarket have chemicals added to them to make them last longer, look and taste better, or to increase their nutritional value.
The following are the main categories of food additives:
- Color additive or food coloring
- Sweeteners and flavors
- Fat emulsifiers and stabilizing agents
- Flour improvers – bleaching and antistaling agents
- Nutritional additives like vitamins, minerals, and amino acids
Except for the last category, none of the additives listed above have any nutritional value. Their purpose is to make the food more appealing and last longer.
We mentioned sweeteners and flavors among the additives. Since natural sweeteners like sucrose increase the number of calories a food product has, many people prefer buying products with artificial sweeteners like saccharin.
Saccharin or ortho-sulphobenzimide was discovered in 1879 and was the first widely used artificial sweetener. It’s much sweeter than cane sugar – about 550 times sweeter – but it’s excreted by the body unchanged through urine, which is very useful for people who want to reduce their caloric intake.
However, you should know that sugar is also used to preserve food products alongside salt, vegetable oils, and sodium benzoate, so you’ll find it in a lot of things, not just cookies and soda. For example, there’s sugar added to barbeque sauce, ketchup, spaghetti sauce, salad dressing, premade soup, and bread.
Cosmetics and Personal Care
Cosmetics are basically substances that we use to make ourselves look or smell better. A subset of this category is what we refer to as make-up – products designed to temporarily alter a person’s facial appearance.
The presence of potentially harmful chemicals in these products continues to raise health concerns, so a few chemistry lessons can go a long way in helping you choose the safes and best-quality personal care products for you and your family.
Depending on the purpose of the products, they tend to have the same basic ingredients. For example, lip balms and lipsticks usually have beeswax, oils, and perfumes which make the skin on the lips softer and give it a more intense color. Mascaras are made from beeswax, pigments like iron oxide, volatile solvents, and filmifying polymers – polymers that coat the lashes.
The detergents we use to either wash ourselves or our clothes are designed to enhance water’s capacity to clean. Soaps are a type of detergent humankind has been using for a long time. They’re made from sodium or potassium salts of long-chain fatty acids by heating fat with aqueous sodium hydroxide solution, leading to a chemical reaction called saponification.
Health and Medications
Medicine relies heavily on chemistry, both as a diagnostic and therapy tool. Chemistry departments at hospital medical labs look for proteins, sugars, and other compounds in blood, urine, and other bodily fluids.
The drugs we use to treat various illnesses are low-molecular-mass compounds that interact with macromolecular targets and trigger a biological reaction. If the biological reaction is therapeutic, they’re called medicines. Most medicines can be harmful if taken in higher dosages than prescribed.
Drugs are grouped primarily based on the following criteria:
- Their pharmacological effect – for example, analgesics relieve pain, and antiseptics help to stop the growth of microorganisms and reduce the risk of infection.
- Their mechanism of action – this refers to the effect the drug has on a biochemical process. For example, antihistamines suppress the effect of histamine, which causes inflammation in the body. So antihistamines reduce inflammation by suppressing the effect of histamine.
- Their chemical structure – Drugs with similar structural characteristics and pharmacological activity are generally grouped in this way. For example, sulphonamides are a category of synthetic antimicrobials that can inhibit the microbe’s folic acid pathway and are used to treat bacterial or fungal infections.
- Their molecular targets – Drugs typically interact with biomolecules, including carbohydrates, lipids, protein, and nucleic acids. These are referred to as drug targets or target molecules. Drugs with some shared structural properties may have a similar mechanism of action on their targets. In the field of medicinal chemistry, the most relevant classification is based on molecular targets.