3 Chemistry Experiments That Changed the World

Chemistry is the study of matter – stuff, and how it interacts with other stuff. Even though chemistry doesn’t make a lot of news these days, chemists are making discoveries that change lives all the time. If Hank had to narrow down all of chemistry’s flashes of brilliance into the most awesome experiments in history, he would narrow it down to these three.

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References for this episode can be found in the Google document here: http://dft.ba/-2-Xi


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  1. Salicylic acid (the active ingredient in many acme treatments today) is what is found in willow bark and has been proved to be damaging to stomach tissues; acteylsalicylic acid is what we use as aspirin since it has fewer damaging effects in healthy people. People knew of and tried to use synthetic salicylic acid for pain relief before Gerhardt, but the complications were too severe. His invention was to create a form that minimized the consequences while maximizing benefits.

  2. "What's this new gas that I have here? Don't know! I should breathe it in and see what happens!": I don't expect that Chemistry was known for the long lifespans of its students at this point in history.

  3. In India, we have Vedas and Siva Agamas, wherein it has been clearly and logically proved that all the things in the Universe are included in three categories; first The super being with wholesome knowledge, second living beings (all life forms) which can know when informed and third innanimate things (visible forms originated from the invisible matter known as "Mayai"). All the three being boundless, cannot be proved by science, since science with all its inanimate tools can help to analyse inanimate things only ever and ever, and cannot go beyond. Yet I love scientific developments, as it helps to establish what we have been taught.

  4. When he talked about Joseph Priestley puffing the oxygen and breathing easy it made me think of an inhaler (but I've never used one, nor do I know what is in them or how they work or anything about the history of inhales, just that they help people with asthma breath when it gets particularly difficult, so please do forgive any ignorance I might have toward the subject) and that's kind of how I'd imagined an inhaler might make one feel after using it, so maybe he was ahead of his time?

  5. When you describe our bodies as "Just a bunch of chemical reactions that can be set straight", the olden times medical theory of "A balance of humours" actually really makes a lot of sense. Or, at least, you can TOTALLY forgive them for these misled notions. In a strange way, it makes total sense, and when they DID have some positive results, they had no reason to doubt their methods.

  6. There isn't very much that I watch online anymore that actually makes me say "Wow" out loud …
    You guys succeed at that surprisingly often.
    Thanks for all that you people do to make us non-nerds a little bit smarter.

  7. Physics spawned the study of chemistry, no? I think it would be more apt to say that one needs physics to even be able to do chemistry

    I've always visualized it this way anyway: Physics -> Chemistry, (Geology, Astronomy) -> Biology

  8. How about the Haber-Bosch process?

    It allowed Germany to produce synthetic gunpowder/explosives (domnestic supply at onset of WWI would only have lasted for a year). Also, it's a prerequisite for synthetic fertilizer, thus responsible for feedling like 50% of the planet.

    Important discovery, no?

  9. Really no Fritz Haber? Inventor of synthetic fertilizer (which allowed crop production to increase and the human population to increase exponentially, and still hasn't stopped increasing to this day.

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