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Top 10 Reasons For Why YOU Should Study Chemistry

You might not realize it yet but chemistry is all around us! This post has my Top 10 reasons to answer Mr. Haberer's question: "Why should students study chemistry?" or to put it simply, just "Why chemistry?"

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10. Because you're probably holding chemistry in the palm of your hand right now.

CompoundChem / Via compoundchem.com

You’re probably either using your smartphone to read this or staring at it to “multitask” while assessing my work. If you take a step back and look at your phone from a chemist’s perspective, there are 13 elements that comprise it’s screen, alone. Not to mention the 5 elements that make up the battery, or the 4 elements that are part of the casing. Moreover, a whopping 18 elements are used in the electronic parts of a smartphone. I wasn't kidding when I said chemistry is everywhere! From the plants in your garden to the Brita filter in your fridge, even your home is full of chemistry.

9. Because it can change the world one school child at a time.

Vestergaard Frandsen / Via rebloggy.com

Water is considered one of the three basic needs along with food and shelter. But according to a 2013 study conducted by the United Nations, 783 million people were without access to clean, drinkable water. And that is where chemistry comes in - chemistry and microbiology combined forces in the development of the LifeStraw, a cigar-sized plastic mechanical filtration device that inexpensively creates potable water. When released, the LifeStraw used iodine to kill bacteria, but after 2012 the company switched to using extremely small (0.2 micron) porous fibres for microfiltration. Through this process only clean water is able to pass through, while bacteria, parasites, and potential pathogens like typhoid and cholera are trapped in the fibres. The best thing about LifeStraw? Through the “Follow the Liters” project, each LifeStraw you purchase gives one school child in a developing community safe drinking water for an entire school year.

8. Because it can be absolutely DELICIOUS

theloop.ca / Via npr.org

You do realize that baking is a science, right? When you bake cookies, you’re taking several individual ingredients (i.e. compounds) and combining them to make cookie dough (i.e. a mixture)! As you heat the cookie dough mixture in the oven, the butter begins to melt. At around 212 degrees Fahrenheit, the water in the dough turns into steam, which moves up and through the dough causing the cookie to rise. As the baking soda (or powder) inside the dough breaks down, carbon dioxide is released, causing the cookie to rise further. The reason a cookie may turn out light and flakey is because of the holes left in it from the gases flowing through it! In the final stages of baking, two major chemical reactions occur: caramelization and the Maillard reaction. In caramelization, the sugars in the dough go from solid to a viscous liquid, giving the cookie its chewy texture and sweet flavour. Through the Maillard reaction, the sugars and the proteins from the eggs and flour in the dough combine to give cookies their browned tops. P.S. - Cooking is chemistry, too!

7. Because it is actually SO BEAUTIFUL!

Kristof Hegedüs / Via labphoto.tumblr.com

This is a photoset of the synthesis of Nile Red dye by Kristof Hegedüs. This highly fluorescent dye sells for $1000 USD per gram, and takes a lot of skill to make. The process involves boiling a solution of Nile blue with sulphuric acid, and is used to study various lipids (or fats). In layman's terms, this dye can act as an indicator that fluoresces to show when a specific type of fat compound is present in a mixture. This image set shows the final steps of the synthesis and purification (or cleaning) of the product under a UV light in order to show how fluorescent the dye is, and just goes to show how bright, bold, and beautiful chemistry can be.

6. Because it is literally so cool.

The Bacon Princess Blog / Via spoonuniversity.com

And I don't mean figuratively, I mean literally. You've probably heard of nitrogen seeing as it makes up over 75% of the air we breathe, but have you heard of liquid nitrogen? When cooled to an extremely low temperature (approximately -196 degrees Celsius), nitrogen is a liquid. It can be used for quite a number of things including cooling inside computers and for medicine (to freeze off unwanted skin or warts), but that's not all. If you’re a big fan of the cold or winter, cryogenics is the scientific study of the effect of extremely cold temperatures on different materials. I’m not a big fan of winter, but I am a big fan of ice cream, and you can use liquid nitrogen to make some! Steve Spangler Science has a great guide here, but the basics of it just involve adding twice as much half and half to milk, mixing that with vanilla and sugar to taste, adding in any other liquid mix-ins, then pouring liquid nitrogen on top to induce instant freezing! After allowing the mixture to freeze for a little, stirring with a wooden spoon gets everything combined. The best part is most of the liquid nitrogen evaporates, plus it is odourless, colourless, and tasteless, meaning you won’t even know it’s there! Now you have enough knowledge to try and convince your chemistry teacher to make some ice cream as an experiment. ;)

5. Because it teaches you that lasers aren’t just for pointing.

dhgate / Via http://i01.c.aliimg.com

Did you know that the word laser is actually an ACRONYM?! It stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, and boy oh boy do lasers do a lot. High power lasers like the one above can be used for drilling, cutting, and even in surgery. This laser is a Class 4 1000mW green laser, and as you can see it is clearly strong enough to light a match on fire. The classes are assigned based on the strength of the laser from 1 (being the safest and weakest) to 4 (being the strongest and most dangerous). Fun fact: Lasers in Class 3b and 4 are actually BANNED in Canada! But they may be handled for research purposes in approved laboratory settings. So if you want to play with lasers and call it research, there is a whole field of chemistry called spectroscopy that studies how things interact with electromagnetic radiation (for example, in the form of laser light).

4. Because you learn transferable skills that could make you ~*~*FaMouS*~*~

EllenTube / Via tumblr.com

Not saying you should pull a Heisenberg and go all Breaking Bad on the world with your chemistry skills, but rather that you learn so much more than just pure science when studying chemistry and it can lead to so many opportunities for you in many different fields! Chemistry has connections to all sorts of other areas like math, physics, biology, engineering, and medicine just to name a few. But arguably the best part about the skills you learn from studying chemistry is that you could be famous! Steve Spangler is a resident “Science Guy” on Ellen DeGeneres’ daytime talk show, has his own company called Steve Spangler Science that sells science supplies, kits, and gizmos, and inspired the whole “Diet Coke and Mentos” viral video phenomenon! Here, Steve is demonstrating the classic experiment of “Elephant Toothpaste” on Ellen’s show, which uses yeast, warm water, hydrogen peroxide, food coloring, and dish soap to make enough “toothpaste” (foam) for an elephant! And do you know where it all started? Steve Spangler received his degree in chemistry from the University of Colorado Boulder in 1989. So maybe if you stick to chemistry, you could be the next Spangler (which is probably better than aiming to be the next Walter White, anyways).

3. Because you get to channel your inner pyromaniac.

AMC's Breaking Bad / Via tumblr.com

To be fair, I think everyone suffers from a little pyromania (an obsessive desire to set fire to things) around the campfire, but chemistry lets you do that under the guise of science. Here, you see Walter White spritzing a Bunsen burner to produce some colourful flames in his (previously) natural habitat - the chemistry classroom. When ignited, certain metal salts produce coloured flames. Thus, in order to detect the presence of certain metals chemists may use a flame test. For this test, a piece of the material could be held above a Bunsen burner flame and the resulting colour is an indication of what metal is present. In Walter's experiment, he is probably using a solution with lithium chloride to produce the dark red flame, and borax (sodium borate) to produce the yellowish-green coloured flame. You can safely try this at your next campfire by purchasing a package of metal salts at the park's main office and sprinkling them onto your kindling, or try this experiment in your next chemistry class by making various solutions with some metal salts. If you want a yellow flame, you can just use regular old table salt! For green, copper sulphate (a chemical used in some pools) can be used, while copper chloride produces a blue flame. Potassium chloride, sometimes known as a “lite” salt, produces a purple flame, and magnesium sulphate (i.e. Epsom salt) produces a white flame. In order to make a salt solution, you would need to dissolve the salts in an ignitable fluid, such as alcohol (i.e. isopropyl alcohol, or rubbing alcohol). Sometimes, the salt may also need to be dissolved in a small amount of water prior to adding the alcohol.

2. Because you get to BLOW. SH*T. UP!

i.kinja-img.com / Via io9.gizmodo.com

One of the coolest chemistry experiments that is used to introduce reactions and/or elements is the reaction between sodium and water. Sodium is a highly reactive alkali metal that reacts very vigorously with water to produce sodium hydroxide and hydrogen gas in a spontaneously combusting and EXPLOSIVE reaction! Since this reaction is exothermic (releases heat) in nature, the heat generated from the reaction ignites the hydrogen gas causing explosions. Granted, you have to drop a lot of sodium in a large lake in order to witness this, but you could also do it safely in a classroom on a smaller scale. Dropping a small piece of the metal into a beaker of water will let you see the substitution (or single displacement) reaction up close and personally, where you will probably witness the metal “swim” across the surface, fizz, and release gas. If you’re lucky, you may see a few sparks, too! PSA: Explosions are cool and all, but keep in mind that chemists are always practicing proper safety protocols when completing these kinds of dangerous (read: SUPER FUN AND EXPLOSIVE) experiments.

1. and finally...Because you might meet your best friends.

I chose to study chemistry at the university level and it was both the best and worst decision of my life. When I think back to my post-secondary experiences, the quote from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities that begins with "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." comes to mind. But I wouldn't change it for the world. I received a very expensive piece of paper for all of my hard work, but that wasn't the highlight of my time at Queen's. For me, the highlight of my four year degree was meeting some of the most genuinely amazing people in my entire life, and I would go through all the blood, sweat, and tears again if I had to for them. I didn't know why I chose to pursue further studies in chemistry at 18, but I realize now that I stuck to it because of the wonderful souls that were part of the Queen's Chemistry Class of 2016. If you take anything away from all of this, I hope it's that no matter what you decide to do with your life, it will work out in the end. Stepping out of your comfort zone may be hard but sometimes the people you meet along the way can make it worth it.

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