Stop bullying chemistry!

Think about chemical agents.

What does it come to your mind? A little 007 in black suit? My name is Bond. Chemical Bond. Polluted suburbs with smoky chimneys, black clouds and people walking in the streets wearing masks? Or crazy scientists preparing deadly mixtures in a dark lab under the stairs?

If this is what comes to your mind when you hear someone talking about chemistry, I am not surprised if you are worried, or worse, scared. Let me tell you something: chemistry does not necessarily mean unhealthy. And you can’t live without chemistry. It should sound obvious, but for an alarming high number of people it’s not.

The ground where we walk, the water we drink, the air we breath, the food we eat, the clothes we wear are made of atoms, bound to one another to form molecules. Everything, us included, exists because of chemistry. Our emotions are chemistry too.

That’s why, whenever I read or hear “this soap/food/drug is ntaural and does not contain chemical agents“, I can’t help rolling my eyes. As if nature wasn’t made by atoms and molecules too! We can’t expect that everyone is knowledgeable about scientific issues, the problem is that media often appeal to this lack of information to convey a wrong message.

I hope you don’t find me repetitive, but let me state this again: natural doesn’t necessarily mean good and synthetic doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Here are some examples:

  • Cyanide is natural. It’s an ion formed by a carbon atom triple-bonded to a nitrogen atom. Cyanides (chemical compounds that contain cyanide) are produced by certain bacteria and fungi and can be found in certain seeds and fruit stones. And it’s toxic. If you read at least a few detective stories you may have found someone killed by cyanide.
  • The most common drugs, such as morphin (from which heroin derives) and cocain, can be isolated from plants. They are natural but I don’t have to explain why they are dangerous.
  • Ascorbic acid, also known as Vitamin C, is a natural organic compound that has antioxidant properties, that make it suitable as food additive. It’s so widely used that can’t be obtained from natural sources in such a large quantity. That’s why Vitamin C is synthetized with an industrial process. The molecule obtained is the same that can be naturally found in oranges, has the same properties and the same chemical behaviour. The advantage is that it can be synthetized in large quantity and no food or plants are “wasted” merely to obtain ascorbic acid.  Moreover a controlled industrial synthesis allows to obtain a standardized product, with the minimum possibile amount of impurities.

Are you convinced?

If yes (and I hope so) let me know it! If not, I’ll be glad to discuss this further!

Thank you for reading and visiting my blog!

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