Chemistry by Nature

Nature is a great chemist. It synthesizes millions of compounds every moment ranging from simple molecules like methane to very complex molecules like carbohydrates, cellulose and proteins. Most of these compounds are synthesized by plants. From the plants they are passed on to animals because the animals cannot synthesize their food by themselves. But there are many chemical reactions occurring inside the cells like breaking down the complex molecules and unlocking the energy which is stored in them.

Where does all the energy locked inside the different molecules come from? Most of it is derived from the Sun light. In many cultures like Hindus and Egyptians, Sun is worshiped as the harbinger of life. They may not be knowing the scientific facts behind it. Energy tries to dissipate and some storage is required to held it at one place and use it whenever required. Cells are the prime example.

How do the plants get hold of the energy. They carry out a reaction called photosynthesis in which they combine carbon dioxide and water in the presence of sunlight. All this work is done with the help of a big organic molecule called Chlorophyll. The products of this reaction are sugar and oxygen. When human beings consume the sugar, they break it down again to carbon dioxide and water and energy absorbed from the sun is unlocked and nourishes our bodies.

This reaction is a fuel burning reaction. But unlike the burning of fuels it happens at a very low temperature (body temperature) in our bodies although both reactions are exothermic in nature. How is this achieved? First of all, only those reactions are possible which results in products having lower energy than the reactants. But to initiate the reaction, the system has to cross a energy hill called energy of activation.

Catalysts are capable of making the reactions occur at low temperatures because they lower the energy of activation. In our bodies there are specialized proteins which are called enzymes which act as catalysts. These are very specific and one enzyme is specialized for only one task.

Catalysts also determine the kind of product that is synthesized. For example, the hydrogenation of unsaturated oils can be carried out by reaction with hydrogen. In the case of using a catalyst, only cis addition to the double bond is allowed whereas without catalyst in addition to elevated temperature and pressure conditions, the product formed is a mixture of both cis and trans products.

Since in the nature most of the reactions are carried out at ambient conditions, enzymes are generally utilized by the nature. In the case of molecules having asymmetric carbon centres a mixture of 50:50 ratio is produced without enzymes. These are called stereo-isomers and rotate the light in left and right direction. But in nature only one of these forms is synthesized. After all animals consume only one form of stereoisomers.

So nature is a great chemist.

Strange Man

The building of Senior Secondary School. There is a playground on the left side of building entrance and a path leading to main gate of the school. Outside the periphery runs a road lined with beautiful trees.

The children enter the school through main gate. In the morning when school is about to start, there is great crowd of children, parents and teachers. Most of the children live in the colony where the school is located. Even then the parents drop the children in the cars. Besides many students come from outside in buses and with parents in cars and motorcycles. They all are in the tearing hurry and cars and other vehicles jostle with one another.

Then gradually students gather in the ground for morning assembly in which teachers impart sermons to the bleary eyed students who are by now lined up. Many of the students are restless and can be seen falling out of steps in the physical activity. Some of the teachers mind them. There is a podium from which the assembly is conducted. There is a recital of national anthem which has become a fetish with the students as well as teachers. Then a child reads the news headlines although as for as as my experience goes, none of the children is interested in the news at home. Whatever time they get, they tend to watch cartoon shows or play games on the computers.

Many parents especially women who come to drop their children stand along the boundary watching the proceedings.Some morning walkers like me also sometime stand there. Most irritating part of the proceedings seems to be the interminable pedagogic speeches of the school principal. He seems to taking full advantage of the free large audience. An audience so good that no one ever questions his theories.

During all this time, there is a young man, very good looking, well dressed, who goes on walking to and fro from one corner of the outside road to another. He has his cellphone in his hand. He walks then stops and looks intently towards the assembly. This goes on till the assembly is dispersed and children file into their classes leaving the ground empty. Then he goes away.

This all seems unusual. Why if a person has come for a walk, he should take longer path as the others do. I thought he may be having some affair with some teacher and goes on taking a look at her till school begins. This I guessed because once I saw him coming along a teacher and accompanying her to the gate.

But there is nothing like this. The man is married to the teacher and also have children. They live inside the colony in the accommodation provided to teachers. Why does he do all this?

Someone said that he is doubting his wife. Or may be he has a fear that some teacher may be coming closer to his wife. God knows.

Brain uses Backup Libraries

In computer programming, there is a kind of programming called modular programming. In this a giant program is broken up in independent smaller units each in itself a complete program to achieve a sub goal. These units are called “Modules“. All these modules are archived in the libraries like math and header libraries in C++. These modules can be used in any other program where they can accomplish the same task.

These modules are very handy and only additional programming lines are added to expand their capabilities. For example, suppose you want to write a program to draw a colored circle  and we already have a module to draw a black lined circle, only additional code required to be written is the coloring code. This saves the time and money. This technique is called reusability of code. The integrated code again is archived and becomes available to reuse in future. The library gradually builds up.

I think human brain also works this way to become efficient and draw only those inputs as are absolutely necessary. As we grow library of event builds up and less and less inputs are required to conceive a situation at hand. Brain does not want to cram its limited space with copies of events which have some portions common to each other. Only newer details are added. Brain receives inputs through sensory organs like eyes, ears, touch, smell etc. Eyes are visual organs and have receptors which are made up of cones and rods. But most of the cones are concentrated in the 10% area around the center. This is the reason we have to move our eyes to bring he object of interest into the focus of center. Eyes scan too much information but the brain does not use it in the entirety. Suppose, we see a dog, the brain which have already has a picture of general features of dog in its library and it only seeks the newer traits like color, size and what the dog is about to do.

Exceptional Brains

Human beings are endowed with power of thinking. All this is possible due to highly evolved brain. But some of us humans are exceptional. Do they see visions? They can predict the events of future. Following are such incidences from the science field.

Sir P.A.M Dirac is considered as the greatest physicist in Britain after Newton. A stern father made him the man of few words. But this trait turned on an intense internal energy which manifested in the form of beautiful equations when he married Einstein’s relativity with quantum mechanism. On the basis of his research, he envisaged sub atomic particles which have equal and opposite electrical charge and equal mass to particles like electrons. His equations yielded two solutions like quadratic equations. Proof came soon when in a experiment in cloud chamber, a particle, hitherto, unknown was observed following mirror trajectory to the electrons emitted from a radioactive particle. It is clear that in a magnetic field, the particles follow a circular trajectory. So this particle was opposite of electron with equal mass. So his prediction was borne true. This particle is called anti-electron or positron. Soon, it became known that there is antimatter to every type of matter. In fact, now scientists believe that there exist space with antimatter and efforts are on to exploit their potential.

Another such great person was a Russian chemist. His name was Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev. At the time when he was on the scene, the concept of atomic number of elements was unknown. Only few elements were known to chemists. The physical parameter which was considered important for distinguishing the elements from each other was atomic weight. He was the first man to arrange the elements in groups based on their properties. His insight of the nature was so great that he left many blank places for elements which were not known then. He gave them names prefixed by eka, dvi and tri added to the element preceding the one with eka prefix. For example, ekaboron was the name of element which occupied next place to Boron. It was later discovered and is called Scandium. He had predicted all the properties of the element to be discovered and they matched almost exactly to the element when discovered. His periodic table is the forerunner of the modern periodic table which has evolved over time and is based on the atomic number concept. It is based on the premise that elements in a group have similar electronic configuration and all the elements fall in periods with elements in group having similar properties but increasing atomic numbers. Each element has an added shell of electrons to the previous one. Incidentally, prefixes eka, dvi and tri have been adapted from Sanskrit and mean one, two and three. This love for Sanskrit is said to be due to the influence from a friend who was a Sanskrit scholar.

Kekule, an organic chemist was another exception. He dreamed dreams about atoms and their arrangement. He did it another way around. To explain the unusual properties of a chemical compound and its strange molecular weight, he was so much involved in the thoughts that he was always lost in the reverie. Even while travelling in bus from his laboratory to his home he was so absorbed in the thoughts of figuring out the formula that will explain the observed properties that he had to be reminded by the conductor about the end of his journey. And one day, he saw a dream in which atoms were dancing. Then heavier of them turned into snakes which were joined to each other as each snake has the tail of other one in his mouth. He woke up and rest of night worked out the formula of the first of the aromatic compounds called Benzene.

Exceptional Brains

Sir P.A.M Dirac is considered as the greatest physicist in Britain after Newton. A stern father made him the man of few words. But this trait turned on an intense internal energy which manifested in the form of beautiful equations when he married Einstein’s relativity with quantum mechanism. On the basis of his research, he envisaged sub atomic particles which have equal and opposite electrical charge and equal mass to particles like electrons. His equations yielded two solutions like quadratic equations. Proof came soon when in a experiment in cloud chamber, a particle, hitherto, unknown was observed following mirror trajectory to the electrons emitted from a radioactive particle. It is clear that in a magnetic field, the particles follow a circular trajectory. So this particle was opposite of electron with equal mass. So his prediction was borne true. This particle is called anti-electron or positron. Soon, it became known that there is antimatter to every type of matter. In fact, now scientists believe that there exist space with antimatter and efforts are on to exploit their potential.

Another such great person was a Russian chemist. His name was Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev. At the time when he was on the scene, the concept of atomic number of elements was unknown. Only few elements were known to chemists. The physical parameter which was considered important for distinguishing the elements from each other was atomic weight. He was the first man to arrange the elements in groups based on their properties. His insight of the nature was so great that he left many blank places for elements which were not known then. He gave them names prefixed by eka, dvi and tri added to the element preceding the one with eka prefix. For example, ekaboron was the name of element which occupied next place to Boron. It was later discovered and is called Scandium. He had predicted all the properties of the element to be discovered and they matched almost exactly to the element when discovered. His periodic table is the forerunner of the modern periodic table which has evolved over time and is based on the atomic number concept. It is based on the premise that elements in a group have similar electronic configuration and all the elements fall in periods with elements in group having similar properties but increasing atomic numbers. Each element has an added shell of electrons to the previous one. Incidentally, prefixes eka, dvi and tri have been adapted from Sanskrit and mean one, two and three. This love for Sanskrit is said to be due to one of his friends being an Sanskrit scholar.