How chemical synthesis plays a fundamental part of our lives

Chemistry is all around us. From the widespread production of global food supplies to the metabolism that fuels the tiniest of microorganisms, everything in our surroundings is produced and controlled by chemistry.

This physical science is fundamental to shaping the world in which we live by influencing how raw materials and natural processes transform constituent elements into essential goods and products. Whether it is the food we consume, the medicines on which our health depends, or the technology we use on a daily basis, chemistry is involved at every possible level.

How chemical synthesis plays a fundamental part of our lives

Image Credit: H.E.L Group

Chemical synthesis, otherwise known as chemical combination, is the branch of chemistry that aims to regulate and direct chemical reactions to create products of interest.

This process requires the assembly of complex large molecules from often simple, smaller units (reagents), a process that presents significant challenges. Overcoming these challenges demands major investment in time and resources to develop new reactions, discover new catalysts, and refine key techniques.

This article covers five examples of how chemical synthesis is an essential part of our lives.

Everyday chemistry

How chemical synthesis plays a fundamental part of our lives

Image Credit: H.E.L Group

In almost every bathroom, you will find an array of shampoo and shower gel bottles, and if you take a closer look, one of the most repeated names commonly found on all of these labels is Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS), also known as Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate (SDS).

This molecule is widely used for its surfactant properties as its chemical structure allows it to create micelles and vesicles in water around fatty molecules, increasing their solubility and making them easy to clean off.

Also, without having to leave the bathroom, take a quick glance into the medicine cabinet. Painkillers like aspirin, paracetamol, or ibuprofen are staple items found in most households worldwide. Whether it is for headaches, joint pains, sore throat, or recovery from surgery, these chemical compounds help us deal with general discomforts we may experience.

Paracetamol is the most used painkiller (acetaminophen) around the world. First synthesized in 1893 by combining p-nitrophenol with tin and glacial acetic, this commonly used pain reliever steadily rose in popularity, eventually becoming the most consumed over-the-counter drug.

Some other commonly found items in the bathroom include cleaning products that contain ammonia, such as most drain and bathroom cleaners, window cleaners, and other household cleaners, including floor and furniture polish.

Ammonia, a fundamental ingredient in fertilizers, occurs naturally in substances like niter or guano. However, to meet the high demand for ammonia-containing nitrogen-based fertilizers, the Haber-Bosch process is utilized. This method involves synthesizing ammonia from hydrogen and nitrogen gas, using an iron metal catalyst under high pressure and temperature.

Although nitrogen gas (N2) is the most prevalent component of air, comprising 78 %, it is easy to incorrectly assume that synthesizing ammonia from it would be relatively straightforward. However, the reality is quite complex. Nitrogen molecules are extremely stable, and their strong triple bond makes it very difficult for them to react with other chemicals, complicating the process significantly.

Vanilla is one of the most popular flavorings in food, prevalent in everything from ice cream to hot drinks and cakes. Originally, vanilla flavor was derived from the pods of various species within the genus Vanilla, native to Mesoamerica.

Today, however, synthetic vanillin is more commonly used. This compound can be synthesized through several methods, but the two most prevalent involve chemically modifying waste from the paper industry or using petrochemical precursors such as guaiacol and glyoxylic acid.

Finally, while we associate the petrochemical industry with fueling our cars, this industry has helped create a variety of products, including those found in the closet, such as polyester. Love it or hate it, polyester is an almost omnipresent fabric in the fashion market, making up 70 % of our clothing.

Patented in 1941 by J.T Dickson and J.R Winfield, polyester is a polymer, also known as polyethylene terephthalate, and is a result of the reaction between ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid.

This product is renowned for its resistance to tearing and waterproof qualities. However, it also carries some significant disadvantages, such as lack of breathability and its association with pollution during synthesis (derived from fossil fuels), as well as during usage (microplastic shedding) and disposal (not biodegradable).

How chemical synthesis plays a fundamental part of our lives

Image Credit: H.E.L Group

Looking ahead without forgetting what is behind

Without even leaving the comfort of our homes, we can see that chemical synthesis extends far beyond the confines of laboratory walls; it is a fundamental pillar of society and is pervasive in nearly every aspect of our daily lives.

From the foam in our shampoo to the painkillers in our medicine cabinet, from our favorite vanilla-flavored treats to the fabrics of our clothes, chemistry is everywhere. The examples in this article highlight the broad applications of chemical synthesis and its significant impact on enhancing and sustaining our quality of life.

As humanity continues to confront global challenges, ranging from climate change to public health crises, the principles of chemical synthesis remain crucial for developing innovative solutions. These solutions not only address immediate problems but also pave the way for future advancements.

Chemical synthesis involves so much more than merely mixing substances in a lab; it is about creating possibilities that enhance every aspect of human life.

Looking ahead, this field will continue to offer innovative solutions to complex challenges. By understanding and appreciating the role of chemical synthesis, we can better recognize its contribution not just as an academic subject but as a vital part of our everyday lives and our collective future.

About H.E.L Group

H.E.L develops and manufactures innovative scientific instruments and software designed to optimize the efficiency, safety and productivity of key processes in chemistry and biology applications.

The H.E.L team of 70 includes highly skilled process and software engineers, based at their extensive research and manufacturing facilities in the UK, as well as sales and support offices around the world.

H.E.L has a long history of solving complex challenges for customers. Since 1987, the Company has worked with businesses and laboratories globally, providing proprietary automated solutions for the pharma, biotechnology, chemical, battery and petrochemical sectors.

We continue to extend the reach of our products and service to support and enable R&D and process optimization further across Europe, the US, China and India.

H.E.L is accredited with ISO 9001: 2015

Our mission

To help create a Healthier, Sustainable, Safer world for everyone.

Our vision

We equip scientists with the right tools and knowledge to develop safe, efficient new processes and molecules that benefit the world and its population.

Our values

Insightful through experience. With over 30 years of in-house expertise and experience, we know how to overcome a challenge.

Collaborative by design. Dedicated to listening, learning, and working closely with industry experts, we empower others to fulfill their potential.

Tenacious in spirit. Always looking for new and innovative solutions, we don’t stand still, instead focused on reaching the next success.

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Last updated: Jun 20, 2024 at 5:03 AM

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