Better Living Through Chemistry Modern day scientists and engineers have made incredible innovations that are transforming the world as we know it. Inventions like glasses that have software in them that can take a picture whenever you wink, or a car that can drive itself, are transforming this generation into something seemingly futuristic. There no question the world is changing, but are we able to ensure that our world isn’t suffering during these changes?
With much pollution of the hydrosphere, biosphere and atmosphere we may not able to have these technological advances along with a healthy environment. The United States is a big contributor to the global pollution problem that our world is facing right now. We can’t advance technologically when our ecosystems are in danger. The pollution from transportation, food production, and home energy uses represent the biggest sources of pollution, but an understanding of chemistry can help us change.
Agriculture has greatly disturbed the environment; by polluting habitats, and in some cases human drinking water, but these problems can change with an understanding of what is happening chemically. Nitrogen is a chemical used regularly in agriculture, and it’s an essential chemical in all areas of life, but it has been overused in agriculture.
While its helpful for the plants who use it as sustenance, when it leaks into water supplies, it can be harmful. In a
Discover Magazine article by Susan Moran, it is speculated that nitrogen, more specifically nitrate, can be just as harmful as it is helpful:
“This watersoluble form of nitrogen is a source of food for plants, but it makes a
JekyllandHydelike transformation when excess leaks into lakes and streams or groundwater,” (Moran 2013). The atmospheric nitrogen (N
) can be combined with chemical properties to create ammonium, soil microbes then transform that ammonium into nitrate, a water soluble form of nitrogen that feeds plants (Moran 2013).
Unfortunately nitrate also has the ability to leak into bodies of water and deprive it of oxygen, leading to the suffocation of fish. Nitrate can even get into well systems of people, this has the potential of giving them “blue baby syndrome”, a disease that causes an inability in the blood to carry oxygen. Nitrate exposure has also been linked to: “
Thyroid cancer, respiratory tract infections, birth defects and premature births”
an 2013). With this understanding of the detriments of nitrogen, the farmers set up a
system to control how much nitrogen would be released depending on which crops were planted. They experimented to see which crops took in what amount of nitrogen, then took steps to control nitrogen leakage. “
They took their previous research to new depths, literally. They designed instruments that would accurately and continuously measure nitrate concentration and water flow farther down into the soil than what had been measured before” (Moran 2013). An understanding of the chemical reactions taking place helps farmers to reduce environmental harm in the future.
As gas prices and the desperation for oil rise all the time, so do the number of oils spills that threaten the safety of many ecosystems. Oil isn’t the only way to fuel a car however, chemists have figured out how natural substances can replace fossil fuels. More environmental friendly fuels like diesel require a car’s engine design to be changed, but chemists have come up with an even greener, and more convenient fuel. “
Unlike the most common biofuel, ethanol , this new fuel requires no tweaks to a car's engine” (Schirber
This new ecofriendly fuel is composed of wood chips and other plant materials, it produces energy from little metal catalysts in the fuel. “
All this new work involves chemical agents called catalysts, which reformulate plant sugars into the energypacked molecules (called