Learning About Chemistry In Our Everyday Life
It’s finally the weekend, time for some relaxation. You brush your teeth and bathe with your most luscious soap. After you get dressed, you are headed to your favorite diner to have brunch with your buddy. You order a cheeseburger and fries. You are feeling relaxed and happy.
The feelings you are feeling and everything else you did prior to meeting your friend, all involve chemistry. Chemistry is happening all around us even if we do not notice it. Chemical processes dictate much of our daily interactions. Right at this moment, there are chemical reactions that are happening inside the cells of our very own bodies.
The Chemistry Behind Your Toothpaste
You got up this morning, and one can only hope that you brushed your teeth with toothpaste. The active chemical ingredient of toothpaste is sodium fluoride and it has the molecular formula NaF.
How does toothpaste work? As your tooth surface becomes acidic from everything you eat and drink, it causes your tooth enamel to become demineralized which can cause cavities. In order to stop that, we have to remineralize the tooth enamel by using your own saliva and a boost from fluoride. The fluoride ion is remineralized to form a substance called apatite, which protects the enamels from cavities.
Toothpaste also contains other chemicals called abrasives. They are small gritty molecules that help in the removal of plaque and polishes your teeth. Also present in your toothpaste is a surfactant with the chemical name, sodium lauryl sulfate (C12H25NaO4S). Surfactant works like a detergent for your tooth. (But please don’t use Tide detergent instead of toothpaste). This specific surfactant for your teeth attaches it’s one side to the food and plaque. It is then washed away when you rinse your mouth with water, taking away all the attached gunk on the opposite side, with it.
The Chemistry Behind Soaps
Thank goodness for soaps. It makes the world cleaner and easier to approach others! Soap is also known to be a surfactant. True soap is a combination of an acid and a base. The acid is fatty acids and triglycerides and the base is Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH). When the acid and base combine in a process called saponification, the fatty acids separate from the triglycerides and fuse with hydroxide ions to form the salt we call soap.
When you are washing your hands the soap is doing 2 things. First, it is binding to dirt, oil, bacteria, and water. Then it is decreasing the surface tension of the water.
In the soap there is a chain made up of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon atoms. One end of this chain loves water (hydrophilic) and the other end loves oil (hydrophobic). As you lather up your soap, the ‘oil loving side’ of the chain attaches to bacteria, oil and grease. When you rinse your hands, the ‘water loving side’ of the chain follows the water molecules down the drain. As you wash away your soap, you are also rinsing away the oil and germs attached to the ‘oil loving side’ of the chain. Water alone can’t remove the gross oily stuff. It needs the chemical properties of soap to rinse out all the unwanted oil and germs.
The Chemistry Behind Your Emotions
You are feeling happy as you enjoy eating brunch with your friend. There are moments you get a little angry when she talks about her ex! All these ups and downs in your emotions are happening because of brain chemicals! Your feelings of happiness, stress, relaxation, and anger all fluctuate throughout the day due to the chemical messengers called neurotransmitters.
The chemicals help different parts of your brain communicate with each other. When you do something enjoyable, your brain processes that and interacts with the appropriate neurotransmitters. Examples of neurotransmitter chemicals naturally formed and released by your brain responsible for emotions are dopamine (C8H12ClNO2) and serotonin(5-HT). Dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure. Serotonin is associated with memory and learning. These can also be man-made in a lab!
The Chemistry Behind Cooking And The Delicious Food You Are Eating
As you bite into your delicious cheeseburger, you see the waiter frantically running back and forth to the chef’s kitchen. There is a lot happening in the back kitchen. Everything we eat is made up of chemicals and cooking itself is chemistry. So, when someone says,” I prefer no chemicals in my food,” just smile because everything we eat is composed of chemicals.
The salt in your burger is the molecule sodium chloride ( NaCl) and the water you are drinking is dihydrogen monoxide ( H20). In most of our food, we have macronutrients called proteins, lipids (such as fats), and carbohydrates. From these, we get our daily energy needs. The macronutrients contain the elements carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen.
In the proteins that we eat such as the meat in your burger, the chemicals called amino acids link up together to form proteins. As things cook, lots of chemical and physical processes transform the ingredients into the food that we enjoy.
For example, when cooking a piece of meat, the proteins start to denature as the temperature inside it goes up from the heat. This results in color and other changes. You will notice that the meat is getting drier as you cook it. This is happening as the collagen starts to shrink and push the water out.
Most people enjoy a wide variety of flavors when we eat. There is a reaction called the Maillard reaction, which is responsible for the basis of the flavoring industry. In this process, reducing sugar (sugar with an additional molecule OH that can reduce other molecules) and amino acids react together with the addition of heat-producing hundreds of compounds of flavors. All our foods have a unique set of flavors due to the compounds produced by this Maillard reaction.
Onions And Tears
If you love cooking as much as you love dining out, you have undoubtedly had the experience of tears falling while cutting onions. This happens due to a complex process that results in releasing a compound called propanethial-S-oxide. This is an irritant of the lacrimal glands, which causes the release of tears.
As you cut your onion, an enzyme called lachrymatory-factor synthase is produced and released. As a result sulfoxides (SO) present in the onion changes into sulfenic acid (RSOH).
This newly formed sulfenic acid gets spontaneously rearranged to form propanethial-S-oxide (C3H6OS). This travels through the air and goes into your eyes. Which then irritates your lacrimal glands.
These are just a few examples of chemistry in our daily lives. Chemistry is fascinating, to say the least. It goes beyond the classroom laboratories and into our daily living and existence. Chemistry must be greatly appreciated for all the wonderful things it offers us in the modern world.
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