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When I introduce myself as a Ph.D. student in chemistry, I can often spot fear and incomprehension in people's eyes: chemists are often pictured as crazy scientists, like Dr. Maru in Wonder Woman, doing black magic and explosions. It appears that most of the public fears are based on misunderstandings of the science.
And so I'd like to address five of the most common misconceptions about chemistry, and hopefully explain how chemistry contributes to everyday life.
Word - Chemical - Synonym - Matter - Chemical
The word chemical can be considered a synonym of matter; a chemical is anything that has mass. This includes everyday substances like water, caffeine and sugar. Elements featured on the periodic table are chemicals, and so are small molecules like caffeine, large molecules such as deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and almost-infinite chains called polymers, such as plastics.
Elements are the building blocks that create the world surrounding us. Whether they are naturally occurring or man-made, chemicals are everywhere. Chemical-free products do not exist: anything you can touch is matter, and is therefore a chemical. Products advertised as "chemical-free" may suggest that they are free of dangerous chemicals, yet companies take advantage of people's fear of chemistry for their commercials—which lead to increased consumer suspicions.
Chemical - Names - Impression - Names - Chemicals
Chemical names often sound terrifying and give the impression that they are not safe. The names of chemicals does not relate to how hazardous they are or to their origin. Have you ever consumed acetyl salicylic acid or sodium hydrogen carbonate? You might have if you've taken aspirin or eaten anything that required baking soda to prepare.
Did you know that chemists can produce natural products synthetically in their lab? Did you know that gasoline, from a chemistry standpoint, is an organic substance?
Chemist - Antoine - Laurent - Lavoisier - Traité
In 1789, the French chemist Antoine Laurent Lavoisier wrote in Traité élémentaire de chimie that "nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed."...
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