Chemical reactions influence the stuff around us and there are numerous instances where chemicals and chemistry helps us live a better life. The cooking of food, the clothes we wear, fertilizers that we use for crops, cement used for building our houses, the power plants that generate electricity, and many other processes depend on chemistry. The human dependence on this natural science is increasing and to understand this, here are a few examples that highlight the importance of chemistry around us.

1. Photosynthesis. Photosynthesis involves energy transformation and is a chemical process wherein plants, algae and some bacteria produce their own food. It is the synthesis of glucose using carbon dioxide and water in presence of sunlight trapped by chlorophyll present in the leaves. The reaction which occurs is depicted as: 6CO2 + 6H2O + Light Energy = C6H12O6 + 6O2. Photosynthesis is the reverse process of respiration. They both are inter-dependent. We get an uninterrupted supply of oxygen, and plants get the carbon dioxide they need. Thus, photosynthesis plays a significant role in our day-to-day life.

2. Color of Meat. There are two types of meat: red and white. Red meat contains a highly pigmented protein called myoglobin that stores oxygen in the muscle cells. More the myoglobin in the cells, the redder is the meat. However, as meat is heated, the proteins break down and shrink in size. When the interior of the meat reaches 170° F, hemichrome (a tan colored compound) levels rise, and the myoglobin becomes metmyoglobin, which gives well-done meat its brown-gray shade. White meat contains glycogen, which has a translucent "glassy" quality when it is raw. When it's cooked, the proteins recombine, or coagulate, and the meat becomes opaque and whitish.

3. Apples Turning Brown. Apples contain an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase (PPO), also known as tyrosinase. Cutting an apple exposes its cells to the atmospheric oxygen and oxidizes the phenolic compounds present in apples. This is called the enzymatic browning that turns a cut apple brown. In addition to apples, enzymatic browning is also evident in bananas, pears, avocados and even potatoes.

4. Crying and Onions. When you cut an onion you break the cells that form the layers in an onion, thus releasing an enzyme alliinase that reacts with a sulfur-containing compound known as 'prensco', which is also released while cutting. This reaction results in the formation of 1-propenyl sulfenic acid. This acid is further converted to propanethiol S-oxide, a volatile sulfur compound, by the enzyme LF-synthase (meaning lachrymatory factor synthesizing enzyme). This gas, known as the lachrymatory factor (crying factor), reacts with the water in our eyes to form sulfuric acid causing a burning sensation in your eyes and indicating the tear gland to secrete tears.

5. Stain Removers. Soap is formed by the reaction between an alkali and a fatty acid. This produces a molecule with one hydrophilic (water-loving) and one lipophilic (fat-loving) ends. The lipophilic ends stick to oil, grease or dirt. These get engulfed in the soap and are washed away with a fresh stream of water, leaving a clean surface behind. This is just a physical reaction that takes place. Soap and stain removers act as emulsifiers which allow oil and water to mix and so the oily mixtures and difficult stains on body and clothes can be removed after application of soap, stain removers and water.

6. Ripening of Fruits. A simple hydrocarbon gas ethylene switches on the necessary genes that stimulate the secretion of the ripening enzymes which catalyze reactions to change the properties of the fruit. Ethylene channelizes the action of several other chemicals called hydrolase, amylase, kinase and pectinase. These enzymes convert starch to sugar, alter the cell walls to make them softer, neutralize acids and cause the fruit to emit an aroma.
7. Fermentation. Fermentation is the conversion of complex substances to simpler ones under anaerobic conditions. The specific product from fermentation is driven by the type of micro-organisms acting on the substance in which the fermentation occurs. The products of fermentation are alcohols or acids and the release of carbon dioxide. For example, wine produced from fruit juice is an alcohol as a result of fermentation by yeast, whereas beer is the result of yeast fermentation of grain. Antibiotics are obtained through fermentation by molds and some bacteria. Yogurt, cheese and vinegar are products of bacterial fermentation. Leavened bread is obtained by yeast fermentation.

8. Sunscreens. Sunscreens are a combination of organic and inorganic compounds. Inorganic chemicals like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide form a physical barrier that reflects or scatters UV waves. Organic components like octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC) or oxybenzone absorb UV rays and release their energy as heat. This protects our skin from sunburns and detrimental effects like cancer.

9. Nail Paint Removers. Nail paint consists of three types of ingredients which are organic solvents and drying agents, thickeners and hardening agents along with coloring agents. The remover is actually an organic solvent that is used as an ingredient in nail paint which may be acetone or ethyl acetate. So when you apply the remover you are just bringing it back to its original state. The solvent molecules get in between the chains of polymers and separate them, making it easy to wipe it off with a ball of cotton.

10. Static Shocks. All materials are made up of electrical charges in the atoms of the material. There are equal quantities of electrons (negative charges) and protons (positive charges) that try to balance each other in the universe. Friction between two materials causes these charges to redistribute. The electrons from one atom are transferred to the other. As we know, like charges repel each other and unlike charges attract each other. Whenever you touch anything that is a good conductor of electricity, the transfer of the extra electrons that have accumulated takes place, and it gives you the static shock. For example, generally in winters, you get a shock when you get out of the car or when you touch the door knob or filing cabinet.



Enzymes are macromolecular biological catalysts. They are responsible for thousands of metabolic processes that sustain life. Enzymes are highly selective catalysts, greatly accelerating both the rate and specificity of metabolic chemical reactions, from the digestion of food to the synthesis of DNA. Most enzymes are proteins, although some catalytic RNA molecules have been identified. Enzymes adopt a specific three-dimensional structure, and may employ organic (e.g. biotin) and inorganic (e.g. magnesium ion) cofactors to assist in catalysis.

Enzymes act by converting starting molecules (substrates) into different molecules (products). Almost all chemical reactions in a biological cell need enzymes in order to occur at rates sufficient for life. Since enzymes are selective for their substrates and speed up only a few reactions from among many possibilities, the set of enzymes made in a cell determines which metabolic pathways occur in that cell, tissue and organ. Organelles are also differentially enriched in sets of enzymes to compartmentalize function within the cell.

Like all catalysts, enzymes increase the rate of a reaction by lowering its activation energy (Ea). As a result, products are formed faster and reactions reach their equilibrium state more rapidly. Most enzyme reaction rates are millions of times faster than those of comparable un-catalyzed reactions and some are so fast that they are diffusion limited. As with all catalysts, enzymes are not consumed by the reactions they catalyze, nor do they alter the equilibrium of these reactions. However, enzymes do differ from most other catalysts in that they are highly specific for their substrates. Enzymes are known to catalyze about 4,000 biochemical reactions. A few RNA molecules called ribozymes also catalyze reactions, with an important example being some parts of the ribosome. Synthetic molecules called artificial enzymes also display enzyme-like catalysis.

Enzyme activity can be affected by other molecules: decreased by inhibitors or increased by activators. Many drugs and poisons are enzyme inhibitors. Activity is also affected by temperature, pressure, chemical environment (e.g., pH), and the concentration of substrate. Some enzymes are used commercially, for example, in the synthesis of antibiotics. In addition, some household products use enzymes to speed up biochemical reactions (e.g., enzymes in biological washing powders break down protein or fat stains on clothes; enzymes in meat tenderizers break down proteins into smaller molecules, making the meat easier to chew). The study of enzymes is called enzymology.

The term enzyme comes from zymosis, the Greek word for fermentation, a process accomplished by yeast cells and long known to the brewing industry, which occupied the attention of many 19th-century chemists.

Louis Pasteur recognized in 1860 that enzymes were essential to fermentation but assumed that their catalytic action was inextricably linked with the structure and life of the yeast cell. Not until 1897 was it shown by German chemist Edward Büchner that cell-free extracts of yeast could ferment sugars to alcohol and carbon dioxide; Büchner denoted his preparation zymase. This important achievement was the first indication that enzymes could function independently of the cell.

The first enzyme molecule to be isolated in pure crystalline form was urease, prepared from the jack bean in 1926 by American biochemist J. B. Sumner, who suggested, contrary to prevailing opinion, that the molecule was a protein. In the period from 1930 to 1936, pepsin, chymotrypsin, and trypsin were successfully crystallized; it was confirmed that the crystals were protein, and the protein nature of enzymes was thereby firmly established.



A vitamin is an organic compound and a vital nutrient that an organism requires in limited amounts. An organic chemical compound (or related set of compounds) is called a vitamin when the organism cannot synthesize the compound in sufficient quantities, and must be obtained through the diet; thus, the term "vitamin" is conditional upon the circumstances and the particular organism. For example, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is a vitamin for humans, but not for most other animal organisms. Supplementation is important for the treatment of certain health problems, but there is little evidence of nutritional benefit when used by otherwise healthy people.

By convention, the term vitamin includes neither other essential nutrients, such as dietary minerals, essential fatty acids, or essential amino acids (which are needed in greater amounts than vitamins) nor the great number of other nutrients that promote health, and are required less often to maintain the health of the organism. Thirteen vitamins are universally recognized at present. Vitamins are classified by their biological and chemical activity, not their structure. Thus, each "vitamin" refers to a number of vitamer compounds that all show the biological activity associated with a particular vitamin. Such a set of chemicals is grouped under an alphabetized vitamin "generic descriptor" title, such as "vitamin A", which includes the compounds retinal, retinol, and four known carotenoids. Vitamers by definition are convertible to the active form of the vitamin in the body, and are sometimes inter-convertible to one another, as well.

Vitamins have diverse biochemical functions. Some, such as vitamin D, have hormone-like functions as regulators of mineral metabolism, or regulators of cell and tissue growth and differentiation (such as some forms of vitamin A). Others function as antioxidants (e.g., vitamin E and sometimes vitamin C). The largest number of vitamins, the B complex vitamins, function as precursors for enzyme cofactors that help enzymes in their work as catalysts in metabolism. In this role, vitamins may be tightly bound to enzymes as part of prosthetic groups: For example, biotin is part of enzymes involved in making fatty acids. They may also be less tightly bound to enzyme catalysts as coenzymes, detachable molecules that function to carry chemical groups or electrons between molecules. For example, folic acid may carry methyl, formyl, and methylene groups in the cell. Although these roles in assisting enzyme-substrate reactions are vitamins' best-known function, the other vitamin functions are equally important.

Until the mid-1930s, when the first commercial yeast-extract vitamin B complex and semi-synthetic vitamin C supplement tablets were sold, vitamins were obtained solely through food intake, and changes in diet (which, for example, could occur during a particular growing season) usually greatly altered the types and amounts of vitamins ingested. However, vitamins have been produced as commodity chemicals and made widely available as inexpensive semisynthetic and synthetic-source multivitamin dietary and food supplements and additives, since the middle of the 20th century.

Vitamins are classified as either water-soluble or fat-soluble. In humans there are 13 vitamins: 4 fat-soluble (A, D, E, and K) and 9 water-soluble (8 B vitamins and vitamin C). Water-soluble vitamins dissolve easily in water and, in general, are readily excreted from the body, to the degree that urinary output is a strong predictor of vitamin consumption. Because they are not as readily stored, more consistent intake is important. Many types of water-soluble vitamins are synthesized by bacteria. Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed through the intestinal tract with the help of lipids (fats). Because they are more likely to accumulate in the body, they are more likely to lead to hypervitaminosis than are water-soluble vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamin regulation is of particular significance in cystic fibrosis.

The term vitamin was derived from "vitamine," a compound word coined in 1912 by the Polish biochemist Kazimierz Funk when working at the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine. The name is from vital and amine, meaning amine of life, because it was suggested in 1912 that the organic micronutrient food factors that prevent beriberi and perhaps other similar dietary-deficiency diseases might be chemical amines. This was true of thiamine, but after it was found that other such micronutrients were not amines the word was shortened to vitamin in English.




A micelle or micella (plural micelles or micellae, respectively) is an aggregate of surfactant molecules dispersed in a liquid colloid. A typical micelle in aqueous solution forms an aggregate with the hydrophilic "head" regions in contact with surrounding solvent, sequestering the hydrophobic single-tail regions in the micelle centre. This phase is caused by the packing behavior of single-tail lipids in a bilayer. The difficulty filling all the volume of the interior of a bilayer, while accommodating the area per head group forced on the molecule by the hydration of the lipid head group, leads to the formation of the micelle. This type of micelle is known as a normal-phase micelle (oil-in-water micelle). Inverse micelles have the head groups at the centre with the tails extending out (water-in-oil micelle). Micelles are approximately spherical in shape. Other phases, including shapes such as ellipsoids, cylinders, and bilayers, are also possible. The shape and size of a micelle are a function of the molecular geometry of its surfactant molecules and solution conditions such as surfactant concentration, temperature, pH, and ionic strength. The process of forming micelles is known as micellisation and forms part of the phase behaviour of many lipids according to their polymorphism.

The ability of a soapy solution to act as a detergent has been recognized for centuries. However, it is only at the beginning of the twentieth century that the constitution of such solutions was scientifically studied. Pioneering work in this area was carried out by James William McBain at the University of Bristol. As early as 1913, he postulated the existence of “colloidal ions” to explain the good electrolytic conductivity of sodium palmitate solutions. These highly mobile, spontaneously formed clusters came to be called micelles, a term borrowed from biology and popularized by G.S. Hartley in his classic book Paraffin Chain Salts: A Study in Micelle Formation.

Individual surfactant molecules that are in the system but are not part of a micelle are called "monomers". Lipid micelles represent a molecular assembly, in which the individual components are thermodynamically in equilibrium with monomers of the same species in the surrounding medium. In water, the hydrophilic "heads" of surfactant molecules are always in contact with the solvent, regardless of whether the surfactants exist as monomers or as part of a micelle. However, the lipophilic "tails" of surfactant molecules have less contact with water when they are part of a micelle—this being the basis for the energetic drive for micelle formation. In a micelle, the hydrophobic tails of several surfactant molecules assemble into an oil-like core, the most stable form of which having no contact with water. By contrast, surfactant monomers are surrounded by water molecules that create a "cage" of molecules connected by hydrogen bonds. This water cage is similar to a clathrate and has an ice-like crystal structure and can be characterized according to the hydrophobic effect. The extent of lipid solubility is determined by the unfavorable entropy contribution due to the ordering of the water structure according to the hydrophobic effect.

Micelles composed of ionic surfactants have an electrostatic attraction to the ions that surround them in solution, the latter known as counterions. Although the closest counterions partially mask a charged micelle (by up to 90%), the effects of micelle charge affect the structure of the surrounding solvent at appreciable distances from the micelle. Ionic micelles influence many properties of the mixture, including its electrical conductivity. Adding salts to a colloid containing micelles can decrease the strength of electrostatic interactions and lead to the formation of larger ionic micelles. This is more accurately seen from the point of view of an effective charge in hydration of the system.

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