What is it made of: Introduction

I think scientific curiosity boils down to two basic questions: “what is it made of?” and “how does it work?” The difference between them is the difference between a child taking something apart, and then having the ability or willingness to put it back together again. There is certainly intersection between the questions, like “how does what it’s made of influence how it works?” or “how would it work if it were made of different things?”. Their answers are also bound to have interplay. I do not believe focus on one of these fundamental questions over the other — simply as a matter of what one is interested in — is uncommon, though.

My question of choice is certainly “what is it made of?” My project is heavily focused on crystallography, a method of analysing chemicals that arguably comes closest of any analytical technique to directly imaging the structure of a compound. I spend a lot of my time looking at the structures of compounds, looking at how they behave in crystalline (ordered) solids. I also really, really like doing what I do, and get very excited when I get a new structure. I think it naturally follows that I am curious about what other things are made of, and what they look like, on a nanometre scale.

Glass full_01

In chemistry, your glass is always full!

To this effect, alongside my “chemistry picture of the week” series, I am planning on starting a series of posts titled “what is it made of?” In this series, I plan to pick an utterly commonplace material thing, find out what it is composed of — by web research and not by physical experiments, unfortunately, since I don’t have the facilities for that kind of thing — and report my findings. This series is a way of sating my own curiosity and that of fellow internet dwellers. It is also a potential way to combat chemophobia by the association of chemical structures and terms with common, harmless things. It also works nicely in tandem with the “picture of the week” series. With the “picture of the week”, I want to delve into the daily life of a young chemist, and expose some of the nitty-gritty that goes into doing science. In other words, I want to bring life into science. The “what is it made of” series will aim to do the opposite: bring science into life.

I repeat a sentiment from my first post: I am infinitely excited by how chemistry makes everything. I am excited by how intricate and beautiful and intelligent it must be to be able to ultimately manifest in all of the things we see around us — and by how cleverly we can manipulate it to make things nature won’t. I hope this series will help me share that enthusiasm a little.

I tweet about everyday chemistry things as @Lady_Beaker. You can also contact me via e-mail at chemistryintersection@gmail.com.

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