I Shouldn't be Alive …

By Michael Edmonds 02/10/2011

… if it wasn’t for chemistry.

One of the things about science is that the products of science are often taken for granted. While it cannot be argued that some of the products of science have been abused or used carelessly, science has made substantial positive changes to our lives.

Here are a couple of exercises which focus on chemistry’s contribution to our modern world (which can also be extended to other areas of science).

1) Would I be alive if it weren’t for chemistry?

I remember this topic coming up in one of my university classes many years ago. I think we worked out that only one quarter of the class would have been alive without access to modern drugs (a product of chemistry). Asthma attacks, ruptured appendices, severe bronchitis etc would have snuffed out the lives of the majority of my classmates.

Furthermore, if one considers the living conditions of several centuries ago, those remaining would have a good chance of being lice ridden with rotting teeth. Broken limbs would most likely have to mend imperfectly, without painkillers or anaesthetics, while even minor surgery would be accompanied by the risk of life threatening infections.

2) What would the world around you look like without chemistry?

Take a look at the room you are in. Mentally remove all of the items containing plastics, stainless steel and all but the most basic metals and metal alloys. Also remove anything with bright colours – the reds, deep blues, greens and yellows – most of which will be synthetically derived.

Good bye to your computer, DVD’s, all but the most basic electrical devices. So long to those coloured carpets and drapes, modern glassware. Remove all synthetic fabrics; nylons, acrylic, spandex, polyester as well as carbon fibre.

(Extending this to physics – consider the physics behind computers, the many uses of lasers and of course, optics which allows those of us with less to perfect eye sight to read.