Today in class we began Unit 2: Basic Chemistry. Rather than jump right into chemical formulas, atomic mass, and counting electrons, I decided to start with more of a big-picture topic: How can chemistry change the world in which we live?
We began by discussing how chemistry has changed modern medicine. Since 1840, human life expectancy has more than doubled, thanks in large part to developments in chemistry. These have included the invention of anesthesia, the development of chlorine water treatment, the isolation of insulin, and the discovery of penicillin.
Next, we discussed the story of the atomic bomb. In the 1940s, American chemists raced to harness a nuclear fission chain reaction and develop an atomic bomb before the Germans. Ultimately, the fission of Uranium proved to be both an outstanding work of science and a tragedy. The dropping of two atomic bombs ended the war, but also killed thousands of Japanese.
Lastly, we discussed an uplifting future application of chemistry: fusion power. By controlling the fusion of hydrogen atoms (the same basic process that powers the sun), humans could produce an almost unlimited supply of clean, pollution-free energy. It might sound too good to be true, but it’s exactly what scientists at Lockheed Martin are working on right now. Let’s hope they finish soon!