Written By:Chowdhary Rabiya Shafiq
Chemists find toxic chemicals in our drinking water. A deadly neurotoxin (nerve poison) is released in a chemical spill. Death- dealing chemicals are stock piled as weapons. Cancer causing chemicals (carcinogens) are detected in the air we breathe and in the food we eat. Lives are diminished and destroyed through chemical abuse.
Chemicals are used a pain reliever. Chemicals kill bacteria and viruses that cause disease and death. Chemicals increase our food supply and improve our nutrition. Chemicals clothe us (polymer chemistry) and provide us with cheaper and better housing. Chemicals fuel the machines that relieve us of back- breaking labour, and transport us rapidly to the far reaches of the world. Chemical increase our wealth and improve our leisure time. Chemical provide us with luxuries unavailable even to the mightiest kings of the past ages.
Perhaps a better understanding of chemistry would enable us to control the use of chemicals so that we could maximize their benefits and minimize the risk involved in their use.
If we consider the basic definition of chemistry we find that it is a science used to study matter and the changes it undergoes. Matter is the stuff of which all material things are made. We change matter to make it more useful. Most changes in matter are accompanied by changes in energy. We change some matter to extract a part of its energy. E.g; when we burn gasoline (a hydrocarbon) to get energy to propel our automobiles.
Chemistry is not just something we hear or read about. But we practice chemistry every day. Chemistry is practiced in the bathroom when we bathe and apply cosmetics. It is applied in the kitchen when we cook our food. It is applied when we clean our houses, wash our clothes, wash our cars or paint a fence. We practice chemistry when we take medicine or treat an injury. Indeed, some remarkable chemistry occurs when we breathe or eat and even when we sleep.
Our body is the most miraculous of all the chemical factories on the earth. It takes the food we eat and turns it into muscles, blood, skin, bones and a myriad of other marvelous things. Our body takes oxygen from the air and combines it with part of the food we eat to provide us with energy for every activity we undertake.
Thus chemistry is a science that touches our life every moment. It deals with matter from the tiniest parts of atoms to the minutest materials of the complex human body. It goes beyond the individual to affect society as a whole and it shapes our civilization. It is considered as the crown of all sciences because it has central role to play.
CHEMISTRY: ITS CENTRAL ROLE
Chemistry is not only useful in itself but also fundamental to other scientific disciplines. Biology has been revolutionized by the application of chemical principles. Psychology too has been profoundly influenced by chemistry and stands to be even more radically altered as the chemistry of the nervous system is unraveled. The social goals of better health and more and better food, housing and clothing are dependent to a large extent on the knowledge and techniques of chemistry.
The recycling of basic materials like paper, glass and metal is primarily a matter of chemical processes. Devising new more scientific pesticides that entail less risk to useful organisms will require the application of chemical principles and skill. There is hardly a single area of our daily lives that is not affected by chemistry.
Chemistry is also important to the economy of the industrial nations. In the United States the chemical industry employs over a million people in more than 2,000 plants. The chemical industry helps to keep the US international trade deficit from being even worse than it is now. According to National Safety Council, the chemical industry ranked either 1st or 2nd throughout the 1980’s in the worker safety among 42 other basic industries.
An understanding of chemistry is essential to an understanding of many of the problems facing society. If we want to understand how a drug or pesticide acts, how to clean up a pollution problem or how to avoid consumer rip-offs in cosmetics, we must know some chemistry. Thus chemistry calls for our attention for better survival. Chemistry is used to preserve food stuffs by adding food additives. These chemicals are also used to increase the nutritional value of foods. Food additives are not a recent development. Salt has been used to preserve meat and fish since the time when people lived in caves. Spices have been used since earliest recorded history to flavor and preserve foods. Other additives have been used throughout the centuries. The movement of the population from farms to cities (rural areas to urban areas) in recent years has increased the necessity of using additives to preserve foods. An increased desire for convenience foods also led to greater use of additives.
There are 2 major categories of food additives:
- International additives which are added to food so as to perform a specific function.
- Incidental additives: These additives get in accidentally during production, processing, packing or storage.
- Pesticide residues, insect parts and antibiotic added to animal feeds are examples of incidental additives that sometimes get into our food too. There are more than 3,000 intentional addictives and more than 10,000 incidental additives.
Additives which improve nutritional value of foods are discussed below:
- A small amount of Iodine is necessary for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland.
- The Vitamin B (thiamine) is added to polished rice to overcome a disease known as beriberi.
- Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is added frequently to fruit juices flavored drinks and beverages to prevent the effect of scurvy.
- Vitamin D is added to milk in the developing countries for virtual elimination of rickets.
- Vitamin A usually occurs in butter and is added to margarine so that its nutritional value increases.
- Prop Ionic acid and its sodium and potassium salts are added to bread and cheese to prevent the growth of molds (fungi) or bacteria in them.
- Sodium nitrite (NaN2) is used in curing meat.
- Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is used as disinfectant and preservative particularly for dried fruits such as peaches, apricots etc.
All this is tip of the iceberg so far the use and applications of chemistry in our daily life is concerned. It will be right to say that there is hardly any area of human life or any sphere of human activity where chemistry does not find direct or indirect application. The uses of chemistry are overwhelming, stupendous and baffling. We simply cannot think of life and matter without chemistry. It is involved everywhere, in every process and in every field. That is why chemistry occupies a proud place among all sciences.