Appreciate Chemistry with Childlike Wonder Through Observation


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solar reaction

In this image, a new sensor’s view of the sun’s lower atmosphere, captured a massive plume of plasma. Image courtesy of NASA.

Many of us can recall with fascination watching a chemistry demonstration for the first time, and how the experiment struck our impressionable minds. Seeing chemicals changing color, bubbles forming, or even a tiny explosion, allowed us to steer clear from the stony silence of ignorance and breach the surface of formal education. Perhaps the learning processes even became transformative—a chemical process!

At any moment of the day, chemistry occurs within our midst. Plants produce carbohydrates and oxygen, water boils, the Sun warms the Earth, and rainstorms produce rainbows. As chemical reactions take place all around us, we can ask ourselves – how do chemical phenomena change our perceptions of daily life?

How or when did you learn to appreciate chemical phenomena?

Chemical Phenomena: Appreciating a Ring of Truth

Of the many answers that we may conceive, there is one answer that has a genuine ring of truth, we had good teachers. Someone helped light the fire and taught us to nurture its flame.

However, chemistry can be a notoriously difficult subject because some chemical phenomena occur under hazardous or poorly-understood conditions. Perhaps, finding chemical phenomena is the first step. So, how do we seek a chemical phenomenon if do not understand its presence?

We understand chemical phenomena when we describe the changing environment: The sun rises in the morning, giving light to the landscape and changing the temperature. Take a look at a landscape full of potential:

  • The sun is powered by fusion energy—it is a chemical reaction that eventually produces elements of the Periodic Table.
  • The light enters our eyes and allows us to notice the colors of day—these chemical reactions that take place within the eye and brain.
  • The warmth of the morning sun evaporates the moist ground’s dew, producing a physico-chemical change.
  •  The sun’s warmth induces insects to come alive by raising their internal body temperature—a biochemical process.

The list does not end there….

However, as adults, we take much for granted, our curious nature is subverted by our adult tendency to be pragmatic and seek satisfaction from pre-formed questions.

The part of ourselves that seeks to understand the physical world resides within us but, at times, it needs the nurturing hand that originally gave way to practicality.

So, it is when we attempt to teach a child to appreciate, observe, and question nature’s cycles we may notice that we’ve lost our own connection to curiosity.

Finding a ‘Teachable Moment’

So, how does one approach the situation? Well, it is learning to observe and subjecting our common intuition to tests. Although we may not have the luxury to act like a precocious toddler (nor should we like to do so), our observations of ordinary life may provide the means to do so.

Most of us have no chemistry lab at home, but observation is an excellent teacher. You can also keep up with the latest advances in chemistry, right here on Decoded Science. We welcome comments and questions; each chemical reaction is an adventure we’re eager to share.

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