Remarkable Contributions of Chemistry with a Human Touch

by B.H.S. Thimmappa

The Essentiality of Chemistry-Improving the Lives of All

Highlighting the nature, beauty and economic and environmental relevance of chemistry in the modern world makes immense sense. Increasing chemistry awareness in the public consciousness helps change the public perception. The focus of this article is to highlight the immense contributions of chemistry and underline its importance in the modern world to create prosperity and employment. Chemistry is the central molecular scientific discipline that investigates the composition, properties, and transformations of matter from one form to another (Fig 1). It involves the study of the structure, bonding, properties, composition, mechanisms, and reactions of inorganic/organic compounds. Good knowledge of chemistry helps us to understand how many things work in everyday life, enhance analytical thinking, develop complex problem-solving skills, and apply fundamental chemical concepts and principles. Therefore, we can appreciate little mysteries of life, make better-informed decisions for society, use it as a tool for solving complex problems, and become knowledgeable professionals for teaching, research, and practice. Realizing the value of chemistry is vital to achieving the united nations millennium goals such as environmental sustainability, combating corona, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases, and developing a global partnership for development.

Chemistry is a subject of many colors/flavors/fragrances involving bond breaking and bond making resulting in various products, processes, or systems. It is important in biotechnology, biomedical engineering, geosciences, physics, agriculture, and biological/environmental/engineering/forensic/pharmaceutical/medical/materials sciences. It is an enabling science of the 21st century involving visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory chemistry to find the molecular basis of the different basic human senses. The other branches of chemistry include combinatorial chemistry, medicinal chemistry, nanochemistry, solid-state chemistry, food chemistry, forensic chemistry, and astrochemistry. The chemistry in daily life includes plastics, rubber, fertilizer, ceramics, glass, soaps, steel, detergents, paper, paints, and coatings. The applications of chemistry in everyday life can be summed up in five Fs- food, fodder, fuel, fiber, and fertilizer. From the time of getting up in the morning to use a toothbrush to sleeping time to hit the pillow, we use many products of chemistry. Chemical changes are a part of our everyday lives, including baking a cake, eating food, bleaching clothes, driving a car, and rusting metal. Doctors use it to fight diseases, farmers use it to increase crop yields, chefs use it to cook food, and forensic experts use it to detect and control crime. Better living through chemistry is possible by converting raw materials such as air, oil, water, coal, metal ores, limestone, and plants into new/useful finished products used globally every day like packaged foods, neutraceuticals, metals, alloys, clothing, coatings, medicine, self-care products, pesticides, paints, dyes, soaps, detergents, plastics, glassware, paper, rubber, construction materials, petroleum, and coal products (Fig 2). The Nobel prize is awarded in chemistry every year for outstanding research with the greatest benefit to humankind. There is unlimited potential to create and deliver valuable products tomorrow. Futuristic chemistry education will attract youngsters to pursue a career in different subfields of chemistry. The people are the driving force for the development of chemistry which makes chemistry incredibly exciting and interesting!

 Chemistry for Life-Imparting Valuable Lessons to Society

Chemistry is important in everyday life because everything is made of chemicals and the many changes we observe around us are caused by chemical reactions. The chemistry of life includes the main elements of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous, and sulfur. The chemical changes involving energy-giving foods (carbohydrates, fats) body-building foods (proteins), and protective foods (vitamins, minerals) are a part of our everyday life. Chemical reactions keep us alive and life depends on chemistry. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) serves as the fuel for the chemical processes of life. Chemical activity is the principal mode of human life. Body chemistry at the individual level from illness to wellness depends on diet and exercise and a paradigm shift from laziness to a more active lifestyle. Psychobiological studies indicate that hormones like testosterone, estrogen, dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin, vasopressin, endorphin, and serotonin make people feel better and help them relax, reboot, and rejuvenate, triggered by positive emotional responses. Many common chemicals extracted from nature include piperine from black pepper, capsaicin from green chilly, zingiberene from ginger, allicin from garlic, caffeine from coffee, tannin from tea, lycopene from tomato, eugenol from clove, eucalyptol and α-terpineol from eucalyptus, curcumin from turmeric, and arecoline from areca nut. Chemical industry product types include industrial inorganic/organic products, petrochemicals, agrochemicals, polymers, elastomers,   fragrances, flavors,  explosives, and industrial gases. Other multi-billion dollar commercial products/processes involve specialty and bulk chemical products, beverages and food products, metals and alloys, wood and paper products, rubber and plastic products, textile and consumer goods, mining and metallurgy, and printing and publishing industries. Fifty million different chemicals have been found or made on Earth and new chemicals are produced at a rate of 10 million per year (1,000/hour). The chemical industry contributes 5.7 trillion dollars to the global GDP and supports 120 million jobs. The chemical industry would move toward new business models that combine products and services enabled by technology driven by digital ecosystems.

There are 118 elements in the periodic table, out of which only 94 are naturally occurring ones. Our life is too short to play with different permutations and combinations of these various elements to make and break different bonds to produce new products/processes. We have to stay tuned with chemistry in exploring new materials such as advanced ceramics, synthetic diamonds, silicon microchips, liquid crystals, carbon fibers, shape-memory alloys, amorphous metals, photosensitive resins, anti-rubber, and smart fabrics/catalysts. Supermaterials of the future include aerogel, carbon nanotube, transparent alumina, amorphous metal, e-textiles, nanodiamond, and metamaterials. Sustainable chemical production and use systems should be economically feasible (products/processes/systems), socially desirable (green chemistry/clean processes/waste management), and ecologically viable (sustainable agriculture/forestry). Chemistry is an integral and essential part of comprehensive solutions for the physical (body), psychological (mind), and spiritual (soul) problems of every human being. It is crucial to the developments and innovations that we need to make in energy, medicine, sustainability, and security while minimizing environmental impact. It can increase the creativity quotient scores required for leadership competency, by creating new products, processes, and systems. Thus the essentiality of chemistry in improving the lives of all is quite clear and loud in realizing sustainable development of the nation. Our understanding of the fundamental nature of the universe is grounded in chemistry. Molecular transformations are necessary for the production of foodstuffs, medicines, fuels, and materials, essentially all manufactured and extracted products. Further, we will rely on this science to maintain a sustainable, wholesome environment for all of the earth, considering the needs of current and future generations. Understanding basic chemistry is essential to know the effects of chemicals on the environment.

 Increased Wingspan – Innovations and New Technologies

It is important to share the story of the past (penicillin, Haber-Bosch process, polythene), present (cryo-electron microscopy, molecular machines, DNA repair mechanism, liquid biopsy), future (artificial photosynthesis, synthetic blood, drug discovery, fuel cells) of chemistry as it can change the world. The top ten chemical contributions of humanity include medicines, pure water, plastic, DNA, oxygen, radioactivity, synthetics, fertilizers, cosmetics, and fullerenes. Chemical science is important to us all because of its monumental contributions and shapes our future. The dynamic nature of the discipline provides educational/consultancy/research opportunities to send the right signals to people and chemical science is shaping our future in the following areas; designing inexpensive catalysts that harness sunlight to efficiently split water, developing technology for renewably producing hydrogen gas, inventing processes that convert non-food crops to fuels and chemicals, developing new drugs that effectively combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria, creating biocompatible peptide-based effective drug delivery systems using peptide nanostructures, and creating designer viruses for strategic applications. We can conclude that the exploration, extrapolation, and exploitation of chemistry-related studies in higher education institutions, and research and development laboratories can result in creation, innovation, and incubation. Multiple challenges ahead include fostering chemical technology development and breakthrough innovation, intellectual property protection, enhancing chemical manufacturing competitiveness by building an industrial ecosystem, maintaining transparent execution processes and economic growth prospects, and technical skill development, learning, and research. Chemistry provides the basis for much of what goes on in our world and building a bond with chemistry is essential for better problem-solving as it plays a vital role in life in projecting images and values that are pertinent universally. It touches the mind, body, and heart. The recent developments include a miracle pill for cancer (Gleevec, Ipilimumab), detecting TNT with greater sensitivity using nanomaterials in the form of a fly bag or quantum dots (CdTe crystals), self-cleaning anodes for fuel cells, stain-free clothing using nanoparticles, and hard or soft material at the touch of a button. Other innovations involve a marriage of metal and water, smarter production of H2O2 using Pd and Au nanoparticles, and energy-saving smart windows consisting of vanadium oxide nanomaterial. Some of the emerging trends in chemistry research include artificial intelligence applied to chemistry, high-pressure inorganic chemistry, microbiome and bioactive compounds, nanosensors/nanozymes, next-gen active materials, thermochemical waste and biomass processing, tuberculosis drug discovery, catalysis and energy, neglected tropical diseases, rational vaccines development with spherical nucleic acid (SNA)/RNA vaccines, aerogels, fiber/sodium-ion/duel-ion batteries, aggregation-induced emission, liquid gating technology, rapid diagnostics for testing, a virtual reality enabled interactive modeling, and macromonomers for better plastic recycling. The true value of chemistry is clear in the enormous benefits it can bring to the common good. Chemistry can make people laugh using nitrous oxide gas without the feeling of happiness and produce tears with a lachrymator like benzyl chloride without the sense of sadness. It is essential to promote the fundamental role of chemistry in protecting society and the planet. The most significant appreciation of chemistry is practicing it!

Placement Possibilities – Opportunities for Progress

An undergraduate, postgraduate, and tertiary degree in chemistry could open up placement opportunities in quality control, manufacturing, marketing, and support staff positions in the pharmaceutical, metallurgy, glass, beverage, textile, oil, and gasoline industries (junior-, mid- and senior-level positions). Other career options include different jobs in technical communication, forensic science, agrochemistry, biotechnology, environmental protection, research and development sectors and teaching and research in various sub-disciplines, academic professional, and basic research (assistant-professor, associate-professor, and professor-positions). Thus chemistry professionals have ample opportunities in academia, government, industry, and entrepreneurship sectors. An environment to nurture entrepreneurial strength is necessary to support the creativity of aspiring millionaires to make sure of what the future holds and provide direction to reap the rich dividends. The exciting employment opportunities across multiple fields in both the private and public sectors include different designations such as chemist, quality control analyst, production supervisor, senior research associate, laboratory technologist, research analyst, research officer, agricultural chemist, biotechnologist, chemical product officer, clinical specialist, food and flavor chemist, forensic assistant, quality controller, safety and health inspector, science writer, water quality chemist, pharmacy assistant, and scientific data entry specialist. Many of these jobs offer excellent salaries, fringe benefits, and scope for growth, and unlimited possibilities in academia and industrial chemistry positions are very attractive with exciting prospects. We can develop new materials, useful products/processes, eco-friendly energy, new cancer treatment methods, and technological innovations in different interdisciplinary areas to make our lives easier and to make sure our planet remains an excellent place to live for future generations.


Figure 1. Chemistry – the central molecular science.


Figure 2. The different products and dimensions of chemistry.















About the Author:

B.H.S. Thimmappa is a writer from Udupi, India

Comments are closed.