MadSci Network: Chemistry

Re: how is Chemistry used in making /producing a range of useful substances?

Date: Thu Aug 22 15:52:31 2013
Posted By: Martin Smith, Engineering, B.E., M.EngSc., Uni of Qld / airline pilot
Area of science: Chemistry
ID: 1376700385.Ch

Chemistry really is one of the very basic sciences when it comes to manufacturing. It is essential for a whole range of products.

Firstly, chemistry is really about the interaction of matter, its structure, composition and reactivity. So whether it is needing a better material for your application, needing to transform a material (whether it be clean it, get rid of it, make it stronger or weather better, etc.) or simply want a reaction to take place (concrete setting, paint drying, pharmaceuticals having a physiological effect) chemistry is the science you need to understand.

There are some obvious applications, for instance what is broadly known as "material science".

Want to make a chair for the outdoors? Years ago they used cast iron. It is very heavy and brittle, and will rust. Well, by mixing a little carbon into your iron you get steel, which is stronger and lighter, but will still rust. Mix in some chromium and you get stainless steel, which won't rust. Chemistry also came up with a range of plastics. These are lighter still and easily moulded to shape. Some plastics degrade in the sun, some are UV resistant.

The whole area of "alloys" (mixtures of metals) is vitally important for providing materials for specific applications -- from alloy wheels to parts for the space station.

Then we have the composite materials -- rom fibreglass (glass fibres in a resin matrix), to the more exotic carbon fibre materials.

Plastics are everywhere. From food containers to clothing to building materials.

Ceramics - from coffee cups to engine parts.

All these materials where developed using chemistry and involve chemical reactions to produce.

Moving out of materials we have things like pharmaceuticals. Here we are really just talking about the way chemicals interact within the body. It is a massive industry and vital to our modern life. From aspirin to DNA, it is all about chemistry.

Things like oil refineries are really just massive chemical factories that are run most often by chemical engineers. Distillation, fraking, etc. are all chemical reactions.

Then we have applications in the home that involve chemical reactions. People often talk about glue, paint or concrete drying. In fact they are actually chemical reactions. They don't "dry"; they in fact "set".

Finally we have the everyday activities activities like cooking. Cooking is all about chemical reactions. The transformations that occur when you fry and egg, bake a cake or cook a steak are all chemical reactions.

Even dissolving sugar into your coffee is a chemical reaction.

Chemistry really is ubiquitous. It would be difficult to find an industry that is not heavily reliant upon the science of chemistry.

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