Chemistry is more than a skillset that you use in a lab for research and scientific purposes. It’s also a way of understanding why the world around you works the way it does. Sure, this is not it’s primary function. Plenty of people go through their entire lives without ever learning any chemistry, and it doesn’t hinder them in the slightest bit. It is however a primary side effect that can be quite beneficial in many ways. Once you start understanding how chemistry works, you can see it in action in almost everything you do.
It’s kind of like knowing a language. Say for example you have spent time learning and understanding Spanish. If you happen to be out in public and someone is having a conversation in Spanish you will likely be able to understand some or all of what they are saying. It’s not essential that you understand them at all, it’s just a fun benefit of having studied the language. Here are some things I’ve noticed in my everyday life that I probably would not have noticed without my background in chemistry.
Understanding Heat Flow
When studying thermodynamics one of the main principals that you learn is that in the presence of heat gradients, heat always flows from high to low. This is not actually limited to heat, but all forms of energy flow whether it is pressure, salt concentration, you name it. But that’s getting away from the point at had a little bit.
As it relates to your home this concept has helped me understand my heating and cooling systems and some of the anomalies that go along with it. Why are home with cathedral ceilings often cold? Well, the heat elements are located in the living area and that is where the heat is produced. As for the ceiling? Its in contact with the outside, so the air up there is closer to the outdoor temperature. Guess what? All of the air from the living room has a tendency to migrate upward and eventually diffuse out. Voila, this is why houses with cathedral ceilings are often a bit chilly.
Be Careful With Your Chemicals
When you’ve spent any time in the lab you will quickly learn that chemicals can behave in odd and often violent ways. It’s really important to know the materials you’re working with and how they may interact. Mixing acid with base for example is sure to cause a violent eruption. You have to be careful out there.
The scary thing is that these interactions aren’t limited to the lab, they can happen right in your house as well. One common one that comes up is with cleaning chemicals – particularly the two most ubiquitous compounds ammonia and bleach. Everyone knows that each of these compounds are invaluable for cleaning purposes – ammonia for glass and similar surfaces and bleach for disinfecting in areas like the bathroom and the kitchen sink.
What may be less known however is that when you mix these two chemicals chlorine gas is silently released. This can be incredibly toxic and even fatal if handled improperly. Never mix these cleaning compounds, and if for some reason they happen to mix make sure to vacate and ventilate the area thoroughly.
Fire Inside Just Isn’t Necessary
I know, I know. I’ll probably catch some flack for this one, mostly because there are so many forms of fire that are used in the household. There are obvious fire hazards associated with flames, but that’s not my main concern. As we learn in the lab you can work with hazards as long as proper safety precautions are taken.
The real concern is with dirty burning flames and the emissions that they can cause. Burning wood in a fireplace for example is an incredibly dirty flame. Not only is it bad for the atmosphere, but some of this smoke backs up into your house and it’s just not something you want to breath on an ongoing basis – especially where there are so many clean burning or non-burning alternatives. A gas fireplace burns very cleanly and an electric fireplace doesn’t burn at all. They look great too, you can check out this guide by BEFR to see what’s out there. Similarly, candles and incense are great for aromatic reasons, but again they put off harmful smoke and smog. You’re better off going with an essential oil diffuser for these purposes.
What ways has your knowledge of chemistry made you think differently about the world around you? This is just a subset of many that I’ve experienced. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please let me know in the comments!