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Chemistry is all around

Dr Stephen H. Ashworth, lead educator of the University of East Anglia’s free online course, ‘Kitchen chemistry’, talks about the chemistry in your life.

Kitchen-chemistry-image-resizedEverywhere one looks there are chemicals. We are made of chemicals, we wear them, build with them, eat them, we even breathe chemicals. Everything around us is made up of atoms and molecules. The science that deals with these, how to control them, change them and make new chemicals is chemistry.

However, chemistry is not just confined to a laboratory, it has come to be extremely important in our lives. Of course we are all doing some chemistry when we cook, which is very important to all of us, but chemistry dominates our lives even if we do not notice it. Everything we interact with is the product of a chemical process which might be natural or synthetic.

Consider leaping out of bed at the start of the day. Perhaps you go into the bathroom where there are likely to be ceramic tiles and perhaps a fibreglass bath – both products of chemistry. The water in the taps has been through a number of chemical processes to make sure it is safe to drink and the glass in the window is also the product of some neat chemistry.

Pull on some clothes which, if they do not contain synthetic fibres, will have used chemistry to ensure the dye does not wash out immediately, and head to the kitchen for breakfast. Perhaps just some toast – chemistry and biochemistry made your bread – and butter or margarine – some interesting chemistry goes into those to stabilise the fats and make them spreadable from the fridge. If you drink instant coffee you have some more chemistry to extract it from the beans and produce the coffee. If you use ground coffee or tea then you have to do the extraction yourself – more chemistry. The water you might have boiled in a kettle which has metal and plastic parts – more chemistry is required to produce these.

That is before we have even considered soaps and detergents, anti-perspirants and cosmetics, medicines, fuels, paints, acid rain, silicon chips, batteries, mobile phones and concrete. Plastics are an obvious result of chemical processes, but nearly all our metals are chemically recovered from ores, even wood is produced using chemistry. Everywhere we look chemistry is at the heart of every single material that we touch or use.

Which just goes to show that chemistry actually is… all around.

If you would like to learn more about the chemicals that you come into contact with almost every minute of every day, why not join me in this free ‘Kitchen chemistry’ course on FutureLearn – turn your kitchen into a laboratory and carry out experiments using materials found in your home.

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