Imagine a life without chemistry . . .
Now see your life with chemistry . . .
Maintaining health is a balancing act: it can be lost or gained, or remain in a steady state. It is affected by both the world outside and the world inside our bodies. Progress affects our health in complicated ways: we use radioactive substances in medicine when the benefits outweigh the dangers; cars bring convenience but create molecules hazardous to our health; and plastics, accused of potentially undermining health, save lives in hospitals. Even metals can play an ambiguous role in health.
Birds, bees, and people do it: every living thing talks. If we pay attention, even the inanimate world has something to tell us. The drive to communicate spans oceans and created the 19th-century version of the Internet. In the harsh conditions of desert isolation insects and snakes use chemical communications across distances great and small. And even that painful academic rite of high school—the periodic table—will speak to us if we are prepared to listen.
How and what we eat is driven by more than individual choice. Global climate, poverty, safety, consumer culture, all influence or limit our food and water choices. Creating adequate global food supplies will rely more and more on genetic engineering. The way we store our food today grows out of an ongoing plastics revolution. A minor lab accident, wars, and a diet culture drove the popularity of artificial sweeteners. Even modern baking would not be possible without the rise of industrial chemistry and its intersection with consumer culture.
Our bodies and the world we built with them require energy to survive. The origins and the history of the energy we use are often hidden from us: scientists created the concept of calories to study the energy use of human and mechanical machines before weight loss became a pastime; engineers who extracted gas from coal to light our cities now pull gas directly from the ground. Perhaps best hidden of all is the war-to-peace story of the miniature battery.
This is your life