How Chemistry and Chemicals Have Advanced The World

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Ask the average person to identify a noteworthy inventor and they’re likely to refer to Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, or any number of other individuals. Those that introduced a revolutionary new product to the world of technology will certainly be trendy and easily recognizable today’s digital world, and while such visionaries are indeed worthy of their reputation; it is also important to pay respects to their counterparts in the realms of chemistry. Innovations in chemistry {including chemical manufacturing/processing} often opened the door and allowed for later technological developments to take place. Here are a few inventions in chemistry that left an indelible mark on society and civilization.

Water Purification

Nothing is more fundamental to life than water. There is plenty of it present on the Earth- the majority of the planet, in fact; is water- but the fact that much of it is inaccessible, saltwater, or contaminated renders it unfit for use without treatment and purification. Tapping into those sources is an absolute necessity. Many chemists have dedicated their lives to unlocking the deposits of water and introducing means of making it useable. The methods of water purification used around the world vary, largely based on the nation’s climate- both the literal climate in terms of weather, as well as the economic state of affairs. Desalinization {removing the salt from saltwater} is a common choice around the Mediterranean and Australia. Solar disinfection is particularly popular in countries with an arid climate and developing economy due to its relatively low cost of operation. It is easy for residents of a first world country to take their ability to fill a glass with cold, pure gas water from the faucet for granted; while millions elsewhere are struggling to get even a minimal amount of drinkable water. Ensuring the availability of fresh water is one of the most problematic global issues in the world today, but scientists are busy discovering new ways to do so. These men and women are owed a great deal of respect and gratitude for their work that truly promotes humanitarian aid and health.

Medicine

So much of history- especially the Middle Ages- were marked by the plagues and epidemics that killed millions of people; leaving the world’s remaining population dwindling and fearful. The problem still exists and lives are still lost each day to many of these menacing diseases, but the mortality rates are much lower than they were in the past. This is due to the development of vaccines, medications that stimulate the human body and the immune system to eliminate the types of cells and organisms that causes illnesses. The origin of vaccines as we know them today can be traced back to the English physician Edward Jenner and his discovery of a smallpox vaccine in the eighteenth century. Between those times and the current day; vaccines have been made available for diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella, and polio- just to name a few. Other vaccines are being developed and there are promising signs of hope in formerly hopeless situations. Billions of people have been vaccinated for the most common diseases, and researchers have suggested that there has been a significant reduction in deaths. Antibiotics are another invention that fall into the same category as vaccines. Pandemics killed countless people; and similarly, infections eliminated innumerable lives as well. Antibiotics can cleanse the body of otherwise terminal infections and save lives around the world.

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Plastics

“I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.”...”Yes, sir?”...”Are you listening?”...”Yes, I am.”...”Plastics”- this is a line from the 1967 comedy-drama film “The Graduate”; starring a young Dustin Hoffman as the protagonist, a college graduate trying to figure out his professional future. Of course, the plot and characters are all purely fictional; but it really is a fact that plastics are one of the most important and profitable inventions of the past century. Often made from sources derived from coal, cellulose, crude oil, and natural gas; plastics represent a much greater purpose than merely holding the PB&J sandwich in your lunch box. They’re usually easy and inexpensive to make, resistant to water, and extremely versatile. Plastics can be found in anything from a fast-food cup to a supersonic spacecraft. Mass production began in around the 1930s-1940s; polyethylene and polypropylene amongst the first forms of manufactured plastics. It would be difficult to adequately communicate just how important plastics are in many different industries, industries that are some of the largest in the world today.

 

Fertilizers

Then there are fertilizers. The biochemistry of nearly any living organism relies on nitrogen for many different functions, and nitrogen is the most abundant gas in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, nitrogen doesn’t really take kindly to reacting with other substance; and both plants and animals are unable to naturally extract it directly from the air in the atmosphere. Consequently, there must be alternative means of acquiring the precious nitrogen. Two chemists named Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch pioneered a new way to accomplish this task, by mixing atmospheric nitrogen with hydrogen and ammonia in what is know known as the Haber-Bosch process. This created the world’s first fertilizer, which helped plants grow; and- in turn- reaches the human body in food. Some even propose that the discovery of the Haber-Bosch process is the single most influential reason behind the population growth of the past century. If that doesn’t qualify as change, then little else would.

 

Conclusion

Chemistry isn’t just something that happens in labs and is completely unrelated to the most significant developments in technology and other industries. It is not merely a minor player in the innovation and invention of the products that are used by millions on a daily basis. Rather, it is an incredibly important discipline that is behind the birth of nearly any major scientific or technological breakthrough. You might not hear about the particular advances in chemistry that enabled electronics companies to design LED/LCD televisions, or pharmaceutical corporations to create life-saving medications; but know that- whether they make the headlines or are mentioned in articles about the next great consumer product or not- chemistry truly pushes society to new heights and is at the heart of innovation around the world.

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Sources

http://breakingenergy.com/2014/02/06/chemical-engineers-vote-on-modern-eras-top-10-best-inventions-energy-dominates/

http://www.essentialchemicalindustry.org/the-chemical-industry/the-chemical-industry.html

http://theconversation.com/five-chemistry-inventions-that-enabled-the-modern-world-42452

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061722/quotes

 

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