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Uses Of Chemistry

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Autor:  anton  13 November 2010
Tags:  Chemistry
Words: 1904   |   Pages: 8
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How has the study of chemistry affected the lives of ordinary people?

Every single day, without even realising it, we use so many things that are brought to us by the discoveries and advances in chemistry. Many of these things we take for granted, and don’t even bother to question how it got there, why it is there, and how it works. Chemistry makes up everything in our lives, from the air that we breathe, to the plastic on the keyboard I’m typing on now, and a in depth study of some of the wonderful things chemistry has done for the modern day world, will help us to appreciate everything we have a great deal more.

For as long as we know, scientists have been creating, and improving new strategies to improve the lives of us humans. One of the most important inventions was that of portable electricity. Yes, batteries. The same thing that you put into your CD player, in your remote control, in your wireless mouse, in your car and the list goes on. Batteries are one of the most widely used forms of electrical energy, and it’s hard to believe that the first battery ever created was way back in 1800.

Alessandro Volta was the inventor of the first ever battery, which consisted of layers of zinc, blotting paper soaked in salt water, and silver. In the 1800’s, the Daniel cell was developed, which is also known as the ‘wet’ cell, as it used liquids for the electrolytes. It consists of copper and zinc plates, and copper and zinc sulphates. Although the Daniel cell worked, it was only suitable for stationary items, such as door bells as it was a wet cell.

From this, modern day scientists have developed a range of different cells to cater to our specific needs. There is the zinc carbon battery, which is relatively inexpensive is very commonly used as AA, C and D cells. Then there is the more powerful alkaline battery, and the lithium photo battery, which is able to supply power surges. The battery used in the car is a lead-acid battery, which has a strong acidic electrolyte. One of the more increasingly common types of battery we see these days are the lithium-ion batteries, which are found in mobile phones, iPods, cameras and laptops. These are popular due to the fact that they are so lightweight, but can produce large amounts of power, and that they are rechargeable.

Although, batteries are found so commonly used in a lot of the electronics we use on a day to day basis, we don’t usually think about the impact that they can have in other areas. One of the very important uses of batteries is the use of a zinc-mercury oxide battery, found in hearing aids, and another is the silver-zinc battery, used in aeronautical applications. So it’s not hard to say, batteries have come along way in technological advancement, and changed our lives a great deal. Portable electricity has become so mainstream, and so universally accepted, it is quite hard to imagine your remote control having a cord right?

So chemistry is all about making out lives better and easier? Sadly enough, not all the time. We know that chemistry can do so many great things for the world, although we haven’t touched on the subject of destruction. Nuclear bombs are one example of the ways in which chemistry has changed and shaped our world in dramatic and disastrous ways.

It was August the 2nd, of 1939, just before the start of World War Two, when Albert Einstein wrote to Franklin D. Roosevelt the President of the USA then, concerning efforts that were being taken place in Germany to purify uranium 235, which can be used to make atomic bombs. From there on, the US government started a serious endeavor into creating a practical atomic bomb, which was known as ‘The Manhattan Project’. There was a quite a number of issues they had to overcome in the making of this bomb, and the most significant problem was the extraction of the uranium 235. This was made so difficult due to a number of reasons, starting with the extraction itself. When it finally was extracted, another problem was the fact that the part that was finally refined was 99% uranium-238, which was basically useless in the making of an atomic bomb. To make their task even more complex, the chemical composition of the worthless uranium-238 and the valuable uranium-235 are almost exactly the same, which led to the development of a huge laboratory in Tennessee to separate the two isotopes.

In the mountains of New Mexico on July the 16th, 1945, six years of hard work, and two billion dollars later, the concept of atomic fission was about to be put to the test. When that bomb was blown into the air, and seeing the affects of what could happen if this was allowed to go on, a few of the participants in creating the bomb signed a petition to stop the construction of any more bombs like this, but these protests were completely ignored, and unleashed was the sort of power that has caused death and destruction beyond belief.

The atomic bomb has only ever been used twice in warfare, and both times has caused horrendous damage to human life. The first time it was used, was in Hiroshima, Japan on the 6th August, 1945. Instantly, 66 000 people were killed, and 69 000 were injured by a ten kiloton atomic explosion. Half a mile diameter in area from where the bomb was dropped was completely vaporized, within one and a half miles diameter, everything was completely destroyed, extreme blast damage was incurred within two miles diameter and within two and a half miles diameter, everything flammable burned. Is this what J. Robert Oppenheimer had in mind when he overlooked the entire creation of the first atomic bomb?

Only three days later, Nagasaki, Japan felt the same kind of terror. 39 000 people were killed in an instant and over 25 000 people were seriously injured. What is even more frightening is that physicists who have studies these two explosions have estimated that only 1/10 of one percent of their explosive capabilities were made use of. While more than enough damage had already been done, the power of the atomic bomb is relentless. The rain that followed the nuclear blasts was overloaded with radiation, and may survivors of the bombing fell victim to radiation poisoning. Also, many generations afterwards are victims of this bombing attack as they have been afflicted with leukemia.

Back when atomic bombs were only new, assumptions were made that they would be used to help in mining industries, which obviously never happened. So, who has the right to be given so much power? Does anyone have right to be given a power source so large that it can wipe out entire cities? This is a highly controversial topic among governments around the world, as to who may, and may not produce weapons with such devastating effects. Many people agree that atomic bombs should never have been made, and shouldn’t ever be created again, whatever the purpose. Well you can’t really blame many people for wanting that since the first thing Robert Lewis, the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb said was "My God, what have we done?"

With all this said, it is not easy to overlook the great advanced in the technology of chemistry that came about with the creation of nuclear bombs, and maybe we wouldn’t have the understanding we of certain aspects of chemistry if bombs like these were not created. So it is clear now that chemistry can have both wonderful and catastrophic effects on the lives of human beings.

On a lighter tone, one of the things we use so can thank chemistry for, and use everyday is plastic. Life without plastics is quite unimaginable, for the times that we live in. We use it everywhere, be it for shopping bags, microwave doors, speakers, almost everything is packaged in a type of plastic, or has plastic integrated into it. The first plastic that was ever made was by Alexander Parkes, which was made from cellulose, which when heated could be molded, but set and kept its shape when cooled. But the cost for the raw materials of making this was too high, and the idea was quickly abolished.

In the 19th Century, celluloid made its debut in the form of billiard balls, as replacement for the ivory that was being used. It then went on to be used as the first photographic film for still images and motion pictures. In 1907, plastics continued to develop, with the manufacturing of Bakelite, which was a standout discovery, as it was the first thermoset plastic that could retain its shape in any circumstance. It could also be added to almost any substance to make it more durable, and in fact, most of the weapons used in WWII were made of Bakelite, as they are so lightweight, in comparison to steel. Bakelite was so effective, that it is actually still used today, as it is electrically resistant, chemically stable, heat-resistant, shatter-proof and neither cracks, fades, creases, nor discolors from exposure to sunlight, dampness or sea salt.

The 1920’s arrived, and with it came a complete overhaul of the plastic industry. Cellophane was being commonly used now, and Nylon was being developed, which was known back then as Fiber 66. In an attempt to bind rubber to metal, Waldo Semon came across PVC. One of the more commonly known types of plastics these days is Teflon, which was created by Roy Plunkett. Teflon is used mainly in kitchenware, as basically, nothing will stick to it. In fact, one of the hardest things they found with Teflon is figuring out how to chemically bind it to the bottom surface of pans.

Polyethylene was discovered too, as an accident, but turned out to be the biggest selling type of plastic in the world. It was first used as an insulating material in the war, and is now used as fizzy drink bottles, milk bottles, grocery bags etc. Another interesting discovery made in plastics was Velcro. It turned out to be so successful as it didn’t rot, mold, or naturally degrade, and was relatively cheap. Plastics have come a long way from where they first started, they have made our homes safer, given us automotive safety, replaced lost limbs in humans, and been able to keep our food fresh for longer than ever imagined. Since 1976, plastic has been the most widely used material in the world.

Of course, with everything that is man made, it’s not all great. There have been major issues with pollution due to plastics, as some of them cannot be broken down or recycled. Overall, chemistry has done some wonderful things for the world, whether it is in the petroleum industry, medicine, to the making of glass and plastics, batteries or even the nuclear bomb, chemistry is always improving, always coming up with new, more advanced ideas, and these ideas are what shape our world, and how we live in it. As long as chemistry is applied to our everyday lives in a positive way, it will continue to grow and develop to the benefit of all humans.

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