Let's put the theoretical and analytical problems of chemistry aside. Let's forget about the balance of your following equation or the diagram you are supposed to be working on. Let's leave your experiment or calculation to another day and clear your mind of all those essential chemistry terminologies you need to learn.
Rather than thinking about moles, chemical compounds, or transition metals, let's focus on other equally fascinating parts of chemistry, the unique bits, and the reason you chose a course in the chemistry department in the first place. Let's discover those fun facts that arouse your curiosity about this fascinating science!
Chemistry is not all Avogadro, covalent bonds, or functional groups. It is way more inspirational than you can imagine. Let's look at some of the most amazing facts in chemistry that will sweep you off your feet! Trust us, you will be amazed by this incredible science!
What are some accidental chemical inventions that changed the world?
Throughout history, there have been plenty of game-changing chemistry discoveries. Some of them didn't go exactly according to plan, but they turned out to be much more exciting discoveries than expected. Let's discover them together!
The Birth of Fireworks
According to documents dating from the time, the creator of pyrotechnics made the first fireworks in history just by accident. Some two thousand years ago in China, a cook mixed sulfur, potassium nitrate (used as a food preservative), and carbon (in the form of charcoal) in a bamboo cane (perhaps we will never know the accurate version of the story).
But, anyway, when the three chemicals were mixed and heated, they gave off a big bang —as the substance created was essentially what we now call gunpowder, the earliest known chemical explosive! But why did this happen? The pressure exerted on the bamboo cane by the accumulation of gases led to this spontaneous explosion. So, next time you look at fireworks, think of the Chinese cook who accidentally made them two millennia ago!
The Origins of Coca-Cola
After the American Civil War, a wounded soldier called John Pemberton was looking for a way to make some money (and quit his addiction to painkillers). Since he graduated as a pharmacist, he tried several chemical experiments to develop a drug that he could sell. His experiments failed commercially – apart from a "medicine" based on the coca plant that he claimed helped nervousness. In 1885, he formulated a coca wine, a Coca-Cola drink that tested like medication and contained alcohol.
He started distributing samples to the pharmacy, but besides its beneficial properties, the drink had a refreshing taste that people began to like. The use of alcohol was prohibited in 1886, so Pemberton removed it from the beverage that was later renamed Coca-Cola (a non-alcoholic version of the wine coca).
This originally medicinal drink became the famous Coca-Cola we know today. Still, not before Pemberton sold the recipe and died, without being able to witness the massive business it became a few years later.
The revolutionary X-rays discovery
X-rays were discovered in 1895 in Germany, by Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, after incidentally experimenting with a cathode ray tube (used today in television, computer, and video monitors). After covering the tube with black cardboard to eliminate visible light, he observed a glow from a platinum-barium cyanide-coated screen, which disappeared when he turned the tube off.
The first x-ray was obtained after asking his wife to place her hand on a metal plate to "photograph" it. With this outcome, Röntgen determined that the rays created very penetrating radiation invisible to our eyes; however, it was possible to produce visible images using photographic plates or particular detectors. He called them "unknown rays" or "X-rays" because he only knew that they were generated by cathode rays hitting certain materials.
This discovery revolutionized the history of medicine and allowed Röntgen to be the first winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1901.
Want to hear more about outstanding chemists? Check out our piece on history's most renowned chemists!
What are some Incredible Chemistry Facts about the Human Body?
All about the Human Body Composition!
Did you know that almost 99% of our body mass consists of only six elements? That's how it is! Oxygen (O), carbon (C), hydrogen (H), nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and sulfur (S) are the main components of the human body. And oxygen is the most abundant element accounting for approximately 65% of a person's mass. However, in our unique organism, we can also find calcium (Ca), potassium (K), sodium (Na), and even gold! And, we were as shocked as you are now! It's marvelous to know that blood contains about 0.2 milligrams of gold. You are worth much more than you think, baby! —without being metaphorical.
Is it true that Humans are made of Stardust?
You will be amazed to learn that the human body also shares the same elements found in ancient stars that died in the universe's distant past. But how did this happen? Like everything in life, stars are born, live, and die. The birth of a star happens in places called nebulae, which are conglomerates of gas and dust. When these gases and dust collapse due to gravity and pressure, after a nuclear fusion, a star is born. This baby star will be composed mainly of hydrogen, helium, and other heavier elements. Throughout its life cycle (which lasts millions of years), it will reach a point in which our star runs out of hydrogen fuel, provoking its nuclear reactions to stop and begin to die. After millions of years and transformations in our dying star, its life ends in a tremendous explosion, known as a supernova.
Thanks to the force exerted by this incredible explosion, the elements inside our star will be distributed to space. This explosion will form new nebulae and then new stars, galaxies, and planetary systems, such as our Milky Way galaxy, our solar system, and our beloved planet Earth, which would provide the necessary conditions for the existence of life. And this is where the human species and all the flora and fauna that we know take center stage! Although the phrase "We are stardust" sounds surreal, we can now say it is entirely accurate.
Can all Humanity fit in a Sugar Cube?
As you probably remember from your Biology classes, humans are made of atoms —billions and billions of them. An atom is composed of a nucleus and a cortex. On the one hand, the nucleus comprises neutrons (neutral charge) and protons (positive charge). And on the other hand, the cortex is made up of electrons (negative charge). But did you know that atoms are nearly all made of nothing? They are pure empty space!
Apart from the electrons, the protons, and the neutrons, they are 99.9% space. One example suggests that if you took out all of the space in our atoms, the entire human race, all the 7 billion of us (or more), would fit into the volume of a sugar cube! But how does this happen? Since the atoms are held together only by waves and atomic forces, you could accumulate all humanity's atoms together into a single sugar cube if you could somehow remove these atomic forces. Isn't it mind-blowing?!
Can we use Human Carbon to make Pencils?
Carbon is one of the critical ingredients for most life on Earth, with over 1.85 billion tonnes distributed in rocks, the ocean, the atmosphere, plants, soil, and fossil fuels. But not only that. After hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O), carbon (C) is the most common molecule in the human body, playing a substantial metabolic role since it contributes to cellular respiration, for example.
As you can see, carbon plays an essential role in nature and is part of millions of processes outside and inside the human body, such as photosynthesis. But one little thing also seems quite impressive: from the amount of carbon you have in your body, you can make thousands of pencils! Creepy, right?
Let's get down to the explanation. Carbon composes nearly 18% of the human body since it is the main component of sugars, proteins, fats, DNA, and muscle tissue. So we can say that an adult weighing 70 kg has about 13 kilograms of carbon. If we assume that a pencil has about 1.5 grams of graphite, we could recycle that body to make 9,000 pencils!
And wait, we're not done yet! A single pencil can draw a continuous line of about 55 km, so carbon from a 70-kilogram body would be about 495,000 km. That is to say that we could draw the circumference of Earth in its actual size 12 times! Incredible!
What about the Stomach acid?
Our stomach is full of acid – a mixture of hydrochloric acid, sodium chloride, and potassium chloride at different levels of concentration – that helps us break down food by crushing it into tiny fragments to facilitate its digestion. For example, hydrochloric acid provides a highly acidic environment, necessary for enzymes such as pepsin to react and start digesting collagen (a protein present in meat). However, these acid conditions of the stomach not only favor the digestive processes.
The stomach's high acidity also protects against infections since it eliminates most bacteria. The acid is a biological barrier against any pathogenic organism entering your mouth.
It is impressive that inside us, we can find such a powerful acid, as strong as battery acid – between one and three on the pH scale – than even is as powerful enough to melt metal. For instance, if it fell on your skin, it would burn right through.
But then, how is it that this acid does not damage the stomach? The organ produces a mucous substance that protects it from the action of hydrochloric acid, covering the cells of the gastric surface. And although it seems incredible, we have to be very careful since any alteration caused by bacteria or drugs such as acetylsalicylic acid can cause severe injuries resulting in a stomach ulcer. Be careful with this unique and priceless organ!
What are other incredible Chemistry facts?
Is it true that glass is a Liquid?
This is a bit of a classic of chemistry facts. Still, it doesn't get any less impressive. Did you know that glass is a liquid rather than the solid material you might expect? Glass flows exceptionally slowly. If you look at old windows, you will see that the bottom of the pane is noticeably thicker than the top.
But why does this happen? Glass is made by cooling, very quickly, a molten substance. When glass is prepared, it is worked at high temperatures, behaving like a liquid. But when it cools (around 1500 ºC), the viscosity increases so much that the molecules practically lose translational motion. They move so slowly that they never find the proper orientation to form a crystalline solid and maintain an amorphous structure corresponding to a liquid over-cooled.
While it doesn't look like it, then, glass is moving – but it is moving at a speed that would take it years (maybe millions) to do what water can do in a second.
Why does the water feel colder than the air, even at the same temperature?
Ever been surprised when, on a hot day, you jump into what should be a warm swimming pool, and it's actually freezing? Well, there's a scientific reason for this.
Even when it is the same temperature as the air, water will always feel colder. This happens because water is seriously better at conducting heat than air, which is a thermal insulator (that's why we usually have a gap of air between two layers of bricks in our house's walls). Air is much less dense than water, meaning that the atoms in it are further apart. Consequently, the thermal energy cannot pass through it so quickly! Maybe next time to avoid freezing, you can test the water before diving!
Is Bleach Dangerous for our Skin?
You probably use alkalis (or strong bases) more often than you imagine, as they are the primary ingredient for household cleaners – products like bleach, for example – and baking soda.
However, we are almost sure you've probably been told in the past: You should wear gloves while handling bleach. And maybe your teacher also told you not to touch the alkalis in the chemistry lab or during the introduction to chemistry at school. But, do you know why this might be?
Let's further explain why you must avoid skin contact with high concentrations of bleach (or other alkalis) as much as possible. Bleach, for example, can react with fats, splitting off fatty acids. If you get bleach on your hands, it will react with the fats from your skin and make soap and an oily sensation.
But how does this happen? The outermost layer of our skin, or the outer layer of the epidermis, is made of mainly dead cells. Dead cells are composed primarily of proteins and fats. When your skin gets in contact with bleach, it sets a hydrolysis reaction in it. This means that the oily sensation you feel is the top layer of your skin beginning to break down and dissolve. This is terrifying, right?
So the next time you wonder why your skin feels smoother after applying bleach, you will know the answer! When handling substances that could become potentially corrosive or toxic, gloves are always recommended in the laboratory, home, and anywhere.
What are the Benefits of learning Chemistry?
You already realized how chemistry had been part of great discoveries and inventions throughout history that have been a guideline for humanity. As you can notice, chemistry is present in everything surrounding us, but why is it important to learn this fascinating subject?
Learning chemistry will help you develop good analytical skills, highly valued in most fields. We could even say that acquiring these analytical skills is critical, for example, if you want to study natural sciences, applied sciences, and medicine. Do you want to continue surprising yourself even more with this science? Let's discover what you can achieve by studying chemistry!
- It promotes problem-solving using the available resources to detect patterns for you to generate ideas, interpret, and make better decisions. If you thought maths was the only way to put your mind to work, well now you have a great second option!
- It creates the basis for systematic thinking. This means that it helps you think outside the box, understanding how isolated parts work as a whole. Do you want to be a private investigator? Here you have the answer!
- It helps you develop better cognitive functioning. In other words, you will be able to execute intellectual tasks more efficiently, organizing and concentrate better. You could even learn to work much better under pressure.
- It improves your memory skills. Did you know that you can exercise your memory with chemistry? We need to have a great memory to solve any analytical problem. Remember that exercising your memory is very important even to reduce the risk of degenerative diseases.
Did you want to exercise your brain? Learning chemistry is the perfect way to do it! As you can see, all of these skills are essential to our academic, professional, social, and intellectual lives.
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