Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Other Lifeforms make much of our chemists' compounds and molecules

"We must all learn to live together within Nature: all diners at her common table (commensal) or all learn to die together, frying up in the upcoming global climate meltdown."   (Blog Mission Statement.)
If you believe your High School Chemist teacher, a very unwise thing to do, you might think that chemists spend their days creating things out of atoms and elements.

I won't say it never happens or that it had never happened, but its rare.

Chemists might occasionally work with molecules
of a pure element ,but generally, if atoms and elements were human beings, they'd be described as compulsive 'joiners' .

For simple molecules and compounds, they usually do the joining themselves, assisted by a natural catalyst that just happens to be hanging about combined with geological heat and pressure.

But if what they're joining is something complex and hence useful, it might take millions or billions of years to happen on its own, chemically and geologically.

That is unless a really good catalyst is giving a helping hand , like those biological wonder-workers, the enzymes.

Reactions that have a half-live of billions of years can then take place in milliseconds, at ordinary temperature and pressure.

This is why all those 'Chemistry is Modern Alchemy' ads are really bosh.

They don't actually make nylons out of  pure hydrogen gas, pure oxygen gas and pure carbon atoms - at least not economically - not in a million years.

No, they start with coal tar, (and water and air and many other unnamed chemical reagents) which far from being useless waste, is actually the end product of billions of years of life forms creating complex carbon ringed molecules with enzymes.

To save us massive amounts of capital and energy, we use these biologically-synthesized molecules as starting blocks for human ingenuity to turn into nylons and thousands of other things.

But once coal and petroleum are gone and trees too valuable to burn up to create wood tar, we are going to find chemists will need much more energy and capital ( both in very short supply when coal and petroleum is gone) to create the wonders of chemistry from just simple pure elements and atoms.

Biology is the basement foundation of today's organic chemistry production, we can not - despite economists' claims - 'in effect, get along perfectly well without it'.....

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