Chemistry Matters

Last week, I attended a Chemistry Matters symposium, which was held by students in the CHE 131 lab. Each student gave a presentation relating to chemistry, and this symposium lasted ninety minutes. Ninety minutes was not a very long time, but it completely changed my mind about life. I did not realize that chemistry played such an important role in our daily lives. The biggest lesson I learned that day is that chemistry really matters and it is all around us.

One of the excellent presentations that grasped my attention was presented by Muzi. Her topic was ‘Artistic Chemistry,’ and she introduced the relationship between art and chemistry using two examples. During the past eighteen years, I had no idea how art could relate to chemistry. One of the examples that shocked me the most was the process of making pottery. The process of making Raku pottery is described as “fast and furious,” compared to the traditional pottery making process. The redox reaction happens inside the trash can when both oxidation and reduction reactions happen. The glazes which contain metals of either the oxide ion or the carbonate ion support this reaction. The copper oxide which was previously contained in the glaze is completely replaced, and this reaction results in a shiny copper coating on the surface of the pottery. I thought that pottery was made only by physical reactions before, but the beautiful coating was truly made by chemical reactions.



Another excellent presentation was presented by Casey, and his topic was about chocolate. Chocolate is very delicious. I cannot forget the excited feeling when I think about hot fudge drizzling over ice cream and how it raises my spirits. However, I did not know how chocolate creates a happy feeling until Casey talked about it in the presentation. Chocolate contains more than 300 chemicals. Not only caffeine, but also anandamide, which stimulates our brain and blocks out pain and depression. Although they are broken down quickly and cannot have a lasting effect, some chemicals in chocolate help inhibit this natural breakdown and make anandamide stay in our body longer. Also, I thought chocolate was bad for our health because it was very sweet and contained much fat. Casey told us that chocolate might be healthier than we thought before. Polyphenol, a chemical in chocolate, belongs to a special chemical group called ‘antioxidant’. Antioxidants help protect cells against damage from free radicals by blocking their actions, therefore reducing the possibility of disease. I always eat chocolate just for fun, but now, I know more chemical knowledge related to chocolate, such as the reason it creates a happy feeling and that it leads to a heathier life.


The third presentation also shocked me a lot. David talked about hot peppers. The way that I thought before to get rid of the hot feeling after eating them was to drink tons of water. However, David proved that drinking water could not actually relieve the pain in the mouth. Capsaicin, a chemical in hot peppers, is the real compound that makes me feel like my mouth is on fire. Capsaicin has a long hydrocarbon tail which is made of hydrogen and carbon. The hydrocarbon is nonpolar, meaning  it has an even distribution of positive and negative charges. Water, on the other hand, is a polar molecule which contains a distinct region of positive and negative electrons. Due to the principle “like dissolves like,” nonpolar substances have a tendency to dissolve in nonpolar substances. Therefore, drinking water might make your mouth’s pain worse after you eat a hot pepper. Now, I realize that it is not the water which makes me feel better, it is just a psychological relief.

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Chemistry is all around us. It changes the way that I look at art and offers me a new direction to analyze art pieces. It helps me correct my wrong opinion about chocolate, which offers people many good benefits. It tells me that drinking water cannot actually alleviate my pain, but substances with polar molecules, like milk, can help me feel better. Chemistry truly matters. Additionally, I learned some presentational skills from these great presentations. As an international student, I realize how important the ‘delivery’ is. The speaker should maintain good pace, clarity of language, and suitable body language. I always say “umm” in my presentation, and this word cannot really deliver what I want to say. I notice that the best presentation not only imparts knowledge but also causes people to talk about it long after the presentation is done. A good speaker should have the ability to effectively convey his or her idea.


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