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Soil Chemistry

The large-scale deforestation of tropical rainforest has had a great impact towards the environment, from the loss of habitats, to driving climate change. However what one often neglects is destruction of soil as a result of deforestation. Recently while watching a documentary about the deforestation in the Amazon I’ve noticed that the deforested areas were like deserts, which strongly contrasted with the lush lives among the rainforest floors. This is seen in the image below taken by John Michael Fay of National Geographic.

Figure 1: Deforested Amazon Rainforest (Fay, J.M., n.d. )

This led me to my question, what is the main factor(s) which determine the health of the soil or the extent of soil degradation?

Rainforest soil have little or no nutrients as they are rapidly used up by the flourishing plant life (Sayre, 1994). However a tropical rainforest has its own nutrient cycle, where it recycles the nutrients released by the decomposition of the organic matter on the forest floor. The Nitrogen cycle and Water cycles within the Tropical Rainforest, are the 2 major cycles which allows the rich existence of life among the forest (Witherick, M.E., 2010).

As learned from GCSE Biology, Nitrogen is a essential element for all living things. This is because the enzymes in and living organism which facilitates all kinds of reaction and processes is a form of protein. And from IB Chemistry we know that a protein molecule is identified by the functional group of an amine.

Figure 2: A Protein Molecule (University of New Mexico, n.d.)

Although the air is composed of 79% Nitrogen gas, but it is in a chemical form which is inaccessible to the  majority of living organisms. (Kiera, S., 2009). This form of Nitrogen can be converted to the usable form of nitrates and nitrites through Nitrogen Fixation, a process limited to some microorganisms. (Nitrogen Cycle, n.d.). The nitrogen fixation mechanism is undergone exclusively with prokaryotes using the complex enzyme of nitrogenase and can be seen from the following equation (Deacon, J., n.d.):

N2 + 8H+ + 8e + 16 ATP ↔ 2NH3 + H2 + 16ADP + 16 Pi

As seen with the visible layer of humus and rotting leaves of the rainforest floor,the hot and humid climate of the rainforest, this creates an ideal condition for decomposition. The decaying leaves, animal and insect droppings are decomposed by fungi and bacteria, which releases Ammonium (NH4+). Then through the process of Nitrification by bacteria, nitrate and nitrite compounds can be formed and assimilated into plants. This cycle is represented in the following diagram by Sierra Kiera, 2009:

Figure 3: The Nitrogen Cycle (Sierra Kiera, 2009).

Water is also an essential substance for all living organism as it is a component of aerobic respiration. The water cycle consist of the processes of: evaporation, precipitation, transpiration, through flow, surface runoff. In the diagram below by BBC Bitesize, it shows the uniqueness of the water cycle and the features that help the rainforest retain and store the precious water.

Figure 4: The Rainforest Water Cycle (BBC, n.d.)

These cycles are examples of close systems. As we have just learned in Chemistry, the closed system allows the rainforest to sustain a natural occurring equilibrium of its nutrient usage and creation and water storage and transfer. By removing the trees from the cycle, we are in fact “opening” the system, creating an imbalance in nature, interfering with the equilibrium. Since the trees are a large store of water in the cycle and prevent direct rainfall, the removal of the trees will cause the rain to wash away any nutrients and physically erode the soil. Since there are no more decaying roots and leaves from trees, there will be a lack of supply to nitrogen, which inhibits the growth of other organism. Also the lack of decomposition of these organic substances, will cause problems with water retention. Water plays a vital role not just in aerobic respiration but assimilating important dissolved minerals such as calcium and magnesium into plants. Due to the copious amount of rain in a tropical climate, the remaining nutrients in the soil is quickly washed away, leaving a sheet of bare land with no capability of plant growth.

In conclusion, the ratio of organic matter in soil is a major factor in determining the fertility of the soil. The decomposers (fungi and bacteria), the amount of nutrients, the decaying matter, and the water retention rate are all necessities in soil for the growth of plants. (Lewandowski, A., 2002). With the lack of either component, the soil can be easily susceptible to erosion, degrading the soil, in the long-run causing desertification. This poses a threat to the available arable land available for crops and other agricultural use, which directly affects our supply of food.


Sayre, April Pulley. Exploring Earth’s Biomes: Tropical Rainforest. New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc, 1994, pp.1-56

Nitrogen Cycle. (n.d.). Microbiology The Beginning. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from

Kiera, S. (2009, October 13). Nitrogen Cycle in the Rainforest. Biology of Tropical Rainforest. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from

ACEER. (n.d.). Water Cycle. West Chester University. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from

Lewandowski, A. (2002). Organic Matter Management – Soil Scientist. University of Minnesota Extension. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from

BBC. (n.d.). BBC – GCSE Bitesize: Rainforest water and nutrient cycles. BBC – Homepage. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from

Deacon, Jim. “The Microbial World: The Nitrogen cycle and Nitrogen fixation.” Biology. The University of Edinburgh, n.d. Web. 5 Sept. 2013. <>.

Witherick, M. E., & Milner, S. (2010). Edexcel IGCSE geography. Harlow: Edexcel.

BBC – GCSE Bitesize: What are enzymes?. (n.d.). BBC – Homepage. Retrieved September 10, 2013, from

Image Citations:

“Biological Macromolecules.” UNM Biology Department Home Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Sept. 2013. <>.

Fay, J.M., n.d. Retrieved from:

Syria’s Chemical Weapon

August 21st, was just another ordinary day for me to go home early. No baseball practice, no after school activities no nothing. It was great. I got back home and as usual opened my laptop to read some up-to-date headlines on my Korean portal website. The most viewed news was called Syrian Chemical attack. So, I was interested because I knew that chemical weapons are banned internationally. The situation was devastating. It killed thousands of people and apparently they used forbidden chemical weapons. This fact would not have put much impact in my thought until I saw that most of them were innocent civilians. Now, to look at more detailed account of this situation, I browsed BBC. “US secretary of State John Kerry says the US knows the Assad regime was behind the chemical attack in Damascus, which he says killed 1429 people”. Here “the dead included 426 children” (Kerry, 2013). This attack is still full of ambiguity. “The debate continues over exactly what happened and who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Syrians in the early hours of 21 August.” America including other Western nations claims the regime as culprit, but the regime it self is denying and is saying it was the rebels. Now I thought, chemicals can be a serious trauma, so I decided to look at this critical chemical that ruined the lives of many.

(Ya Libnan) Syria Chemical Attack
(Ya Libnan) Syria Chemical Attack

So what kind of chemical weapon is used in Syria specifically and why are they so devastating to human health? Because, nobody was at the place of chemical attack, it is hard to articulate what chemical was used, but “the supply could include sarin, mustard, and VX gases” (Yan, 2012) one can estimate by the magnitude of death, these chemical gases were used.

(Britannica Image Quest)
(Britannica Image Quest)

What is Sarin? “Sarin is a human-made chemical warfare agent classified as a nerve agent. Nerve agents are the most toxic and rapidly acting of the known chemical warfare agents. They are similar to certain kinds of insecticides (insect killers) called organophosphates in terms of how they work and what kind of harmful effects they cause. However, nerve agents are much more potent than organophosphate pesticides.” (CDC). It is composed of C4H10FO2P and how does it effect is by blocking enzyme acetyl cholinesterase, found in synapse and nerve endings. It breaks hydrolyses the neurotransmitter so that the never impulse is only passed down once attained. When enzyme is inhibited acetylcholine accumulates at nerve endings giving one to be paralyzed and to asphyxiation. (CDC). Sarin is danger because it is like “fly like a butterfly, but sting like a bee”, it is colorless and odor less. So one must look for the symptoms to detect whether they are exposed to Sarin or not. However, there is a step called a decontamination, which neutralizes the contaminated air by Sarin or other chemically dangerous gas. Hydrolysis reaction is used. Here it is a reaction with water. How does this reaction decontaminate? Because Sarin hydrolyzes with water readily and half-life in water is known as 5.4 hours using alkaline solutions would decontaminate way faster. (cbwinfo). Therefore, towelettes moistened with NaOH dissolved in water, phenol, and ammonia would be a good way to decontaminate (CDC).


Economic implication is deadly. Some say the chemicals are easy to acquire, but it will be hard to make it. However, all one need to make these deadly chemical is just a chemistry lab in schools. Moreover, how to make it is not available on any website, and this shows how governments and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is taking a great care to prevent terrorism. As it happened in Japan twice in 1994 and 1995, one cannot be always sure that one is safe as long as one has a handkerchief with NaOH to prevent themselves from these attacks.

Works Cited:

Sarin Nerve Gas Molecule. [Photograph]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica Image Quest.

CBWInfo. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Yan, H. (2012, 12 7). Syria’s chemical weapon potential: What is it, and what are the health risks? . Retrieved from

Hanna, J. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Kerry, J. (2013, August 30). Kerry: Syria chemical weapons attack killed 1,429. Retrieved from

CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved from

How sustainable are recycled plastics?

We’ve always been intrigued by environmentally friendly ideas, but are we all so caught up with the ideas that we sometimes disregard some of their drawbacks? Recently, my dad, who works in the garment industry, talked about his visit to the recycled fabric factory, where plastics are recycled to make a type of fabric called PET fabric. I was instantly fascinated by it and I wanted to learn more, so I began my little research. I found out that the concept of recycled plastics to make fabrics is not new, so I decided that I wanted to know to what extent this process of recycled plastics are really sustainable. I began by looking at the nature of PET.

PET stands for Polyethylene terephthalate, a type of strong and transparent polyester primarily used for plastic bottles and jars (Napcor, 2013). This is one of the most manufactured polymers in the world (Derry, Clark, Ellis, Jeffrey, & Jordan, 2009). PET consists of ethylene glycol, extracted from petroleum, and terephtalic acid. Both are linked together to form a polymer chain (PET Resin Association, 2012). As can be seen from the image shown below, PET has a large molecular structure, thus the name “polyethylene” to describe the many ethylene parts. The large structure also contributes to the fact that PET is a strong material. Strands of PET are cut into little balls and are melted so it can be molded into different types of products. This type of structure is known to be “chemically inert”, meaning that they do not readily react with other chemicals. (How Stuff Works, 2007). This makes plastics like PET unable to decompose, in other words, not biodegradable, posing a threat to our environment.

Today, many PET fabrics are made from recycled plastic bottles. This is a very good way of recycling plastic, rather than stacking more of them in the landfill. The plastics are re-melted and made into clothing fibers that are later used to manufacture PET garments. From this perspective, recycling PET can be very energy efficient. Because ethylene is extracted from petroleum, recycling PET will reduce dependence on the scarce raw material. The material is heat and electricity resistant, making PET great insulators. All of this is great, but what if these do not end up getting recycled? What if no one wanted your PET garments, and you had no choice but to toss these clothes out?

Another disadvantage of PET manufacturing is its inevitable toxic emissions detrimental to the environment. Although recycling polymers is environmentally friendly, ironically its production releases carcinogens like CFCs that deplete the ozone layer (Derry, Clark, Ellis, Jeffrey, & Jordan, 2009). Can we now say that recycling plastics is sustainable in the long run?

Scientists have been working towards biopolymers and biodegradable plastics to reduce these environmental issues. Cellulose, starches, and soy protein polyesters from plants and bacteria can be used to make biodegradable plastics. Perhaps this can one day reduce the amount poured into those filthy and toxic landfills. Although it is still expensive to produce bio plastics, research and development has been advancing, and hopefully it can serve as a more economical and sustainable alternative to the current plastics we use.

Works Cited:

Derry, L., Clark, F., Ellis, J., Jeffrey, F., & Jordan, C. (2009). Chemistry for use with the IB Diploma Programme Options: Standard and Higher Level. Melbourne, Victoria: Pearson Heinemann.

Freudenrich (2007), How Plastics Work. How Stuff Works. Retrieved from

PET Resin Association (2012), An Introduction to PET, PET Resin Association. Retrieved from

Napcor (2013), PET Sustainability. National Association for PET Container Resources. Retrieved from

Polyethylene_terephthalate [image]. (2007). Retrieved from

What is air pollution doing to you?

Living in the United States for eleven years, pollution was never a huge concern.  Upon moving to China, it became evident to me that pollution is actually a huge health concern and it has long lasting impacts on the body.  Air pollution has always interested me because I’ve always wanted to know ‘how’ it works and I’ve always wanted to help improve pollution levels in any way possible.  Even using cars less, and walking or using a bike can significantly drop the amount of pollution you are producing.


Pollution increases the probability of asthma, heart disease, lung disease, learning and memory problems, high blood pressure, and many other health issues.  Even though pollutants aren’t as severe as smoking, high cholesterol, etc., even being exposed to higher rates of pollution cause changes in your body that can eventually lead to heart disease (Layton, n.d).

Everyday, we take in secondhand smoke, exhaust, and many other pollutants in the air such as ozone, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, and others.  These all have substantial effects on the body.  Ozone is a very good example.  Since it is corrosive, when it’s inhaled, it damages the alveoli and bronchioles in the lungs.  These are vital for gas exchange in the lungs and thus cause lung problems (How Ozone Pollution Works, n.d.).

To make a simple explanation of how you breathe could go as follows: When you breathe in, you take in oxygen.  Blood from your heart gets pumped into the lungs so that your heart can take back oxygenated blood.  Once it’s taken in oxygenated blood, it pumps it throughout the rest of the body.  Basically, pollutants slow down the amount of oxygen in the blood that travels throughout the body. When CO (carbon monoxide) gets inhaled, the amount of oxygen to the heart is constricted .  Many pollutants fall back to earths surface through acid rain.  Acid rain is formed when SO3 is dissolved in H20 (SO3 + H20 –> H2SO4).

Other pollutants, actual solids (or particulates), lodge themselves into the lungs, and eventually they can even travel into the bloodstream.  If they don’t get into the bloodstream, they can clog arteries and eventually lead to a heart attack.  Particles that are small enough, smaller than PM10 (particulate matter) usually, can penetrate the lungs and they damage alveoli and bronchioles.  PM10 means that the particles are 10 micrometers in diameter. Usually PM10 particles are from mole, dust, etc. while PM2.5 (much more common in countries such as china), are usually things such as combustion particles, metals, or organic compounds (About Air Toxics, n.d). To put this all in perspective, a human hair is usually about 70 micrometers in diameter; these are exponentially smaller than that (Particulate Matter, n.d).

To conclude, air pollution can and does affect our health.  Being exposed to air pollution increases probability of having health problems in the near future and even further in life.  Steps such as regulating the amount of pollution factories can produce, utilizing fuels that are renewable and reusable can help to reduce the amount pollution created and help to increase health.

Works Cited

“A Picture is Worth… Air Pollution in China.” Tree Hugger. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2013. <>.

“ATSDR – Toxic Substances – Vinyl Chloride.” ATSDR Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2013. <>.

“About Air Toxics | Toxic Air Pollutants | Air and Radiation | US EPA.” US Environmental Protection Agency. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <>.

“Air Pollution Damages More Than Lungs: Heart And Blood Vessels Suffer Too.” Science Daily. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <>.

“Air Pollution and Cardiovascular Disease .” Circulation . N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <>.

“Basic Information | Particulate Matter | Air & Radiation | US EPA.” US Environmental Protection Agency. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <>.

“Diesel Fumes Pose Risk to Heart as Well as Lungs, Study Shows.” Science Daily. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2013. <>.

“Health | Particulate Matter | Air & Radiation | US EPA.” US Environmental Protection Agency. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <>.

Layton, Julia. “HowStuffWorks “Particulate Matter and the Heart”.” HowStuffWorks “Science”. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <>.

Why Nanotechnology is so important

I have been aware about the concept of “nanotechnology” but I’ve never been sure what it was all about and how it benefits us both economically and technologically. I remember Ms. Jordan bringing up something about nanotechnology, but I was never quite sure what it really is. To me, it sounded very interesting and so I decided to find out more about it and perhaps share it with others who are at the same boat as me. I do know that nano means a billionth of a certain unit. As I recall from my physics classes, nanosecond simply means a billionth of a second, and a nano meter means a billionth of a meter. Nanotechnology involves dealing with or creating technology at the nanoscale. This means that scientists can build tools almost at an atomic level. But why are scientists building such small tools? Some particles that are not conductors on a “macro-scale” can actually be conductors at their “micro-scale.” This implies that nanotechnology help electronic developers create lighter and faster devices. The particles that have been widely used in nanotechnology are the carbon nanotubes. When we studied Periodicity in Chemistry, we learned that carbons form strong covalent bonds and that the delocalized electrons allow them to conduct electricity. Nanotubes, we can say, are the “cousins” of the buckyball or the fullerenes. Imagine obtaining a layer of graphite and rolling it into a cylinder. You have created a nanotube!

Nanotubes have a width of about 1.3 nanometers (Derry, Clark, Ellis, Jeffrey, & Jordan, 2009), slightly larger than the buckyball which is about 1 nanometer. Other than the fact that they are made of strong covalent bonds, nanotubes can be used in computer chips to spread out the heat created by the silicon chips because of their high thermal conductivity. Nanotubes can also be used for medical purposes. Because of the strong covalent molecules, spinning threads from them is possible. Artificial muscles made from yarn can be woven with nanotubes. These artificial muscles were found to be stronger than normal human muscles in terms of its ability to lift heavy weights. Furthermore, nanotubes have the ability to store energy to power devices. For instance, they can “act as test tubes” for storing the hydrogen in hydrogen fueled cars. It just seems that the possibilities for these nanotubes are pretty much endless!

Remember when we used to have heavier phones and heavier computers? Notice how they’ve all become so much lighter. A great example of this is the Macbook air. Apple has been creating devices that just seem to get lighter and lighter and it is all because of these wonderful nanotubes. Electronic companies are utilizing these nanotubes ,more and more efficiently, as digital storages to build lighter, stronger, and faster devices. This makes devices ever more portable and accessible, which are why technology is such a huge part of our lives today.

In the medical world, scientists are still researching some of the things that nanotubes can contribute to our health and wellbeing. Earlier I’ve mention that nanotubes can be used to create artificial muscles. In the long run, nanotubes also play a role in increasing the human life expectancy. So not only devices get more powerful and strong, but also us humans.

It is important to know that even the most advanced technologies may have drawbacks. Regardless of how amazing this might be, the risks of nanotechnology are not yet fully understood. Some research has found that nanotechnology can be hazardous when exposed (, 2012). Earlier I have mentioned that in nanotechnology, some macro particles may be behave or have different properties at the micro scale. This implies that even though nanotechnology has been widely used in devices, it is still working its way through the medical world. We can only hope that the risks are minimal so that it can prosper into our very world of developing high speed, powerful, and efficient technology.


Bonsor and Strickland (2007), How Nanotechnology Works. How Stuff Works. Retrieved from

Saxl (2012), Making the Most of Carbon Nanotubes. Institute of Nanotechnology. Retrieved from

Derry, L., Clark, F., Ellis, J., Jeffrey, F., & Jordan, C. (2009). Chemistry for use with the IB Diploma Programme Options: Standard and Higher Level. Melbourne, Victoria: Pearson Heinemann.


Nanotube [image]. (2007). Retrieved from

A Day With Teflon

Cooking is one of my favorite hobbies. Being in the kitchen, I have used different types of cooking ware made out of different materials. I knew that Teflon pans and pots require much less oil than stainless steel- another material used for cooking. I wanted to investigate more on this material, Teflon, and to see other ways in which it is used and its implications. My assumption was that Teflon was some sort of chemical product that has been applied to objects in a form of film coating and eventually could have certain risk if exposed.

Figure 1
Figure 1

First, I wanted to look into the chemical composition to learn more about the structure and composition of Teflon. After acquiring some research, I found out that Teflon is a polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE. This means that it is a number of fluorinated polymers with repeating chains of –(CF2-CF2)- in it. (Teflon @3D Chem, 2005) The molecular structure of Teflon is based on a chain of carbon atoms, just like all polymers. The chemically structured chain of Teflon is completely surrounded by fluorine atoms. The bond between the carbon atoms and fluorine atoms is very strong. Surrounding the carbon atoms, fluorine atoms shield the carbon chain. I wondered what the melting point of the substance would be, and from reading at Lenntech, it is 342C, suggesting strong intermolecular forces since a lot of heat energy is required to break these forces apart. This structure allows Teflon to develop unique properties. One property includes the fact that Teflon is immobile to nearly every known chemical, as well as it having extreme slipperiness. This product is also highly unreactive, and is so used in containers for reactive chemicals. (Lenntech, Teflon, 2012)

Figure 2
Figure 2

I wanted to look deeper into how this product came about to be used in cooking ware, so I decided to do more research. I found out that Teflon has excellent properties of transmitting electric force without conduction. As well as having a high melting point, “Teflon marks for the material of choice as a high-performance substitute for the weaker and lower melting point polyethylene that is commonly used in low-cost applications.” (Mercola, Educate Yourself, 2001) I still wished to learn more about the health implications of a Teflon pan when associated with cooking, so I did further research. According to Dr. Mercola, researchers in Canada have discovered that heating Teflon, as is done when used in cooking, releases potentially harmful chemicals. This includes some associated with the destruction of the ozone layer and others that may stay in the environment for many years to come. There has been research developed and scientists have acquired relevant results. The ozone reducing compounds called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) have been replaced with other chemicals called hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Scientists began to notice an increase in levels of trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) in the atmosphere. From the research acquired, it has become apparent that as the alternatives to CFC debase in the atmosphere, they produce TFA, (Heise Health Clinic, Teflon, 2001) which remains in the environment over time and can be harmful to plants. This particular investigation relates to Teflon in cooking ware since Mabury’s researching team in Canada have noticed that some of the extra TFA in the environment may be produced when Teflon and other fluoropolymers are exposed to high temperatures. The implications are that these TFAs destroy the ozone, which may contribute to global warming by acting as “greenhouse” gases. Furthermore, these chemicals can travel down the food chain, as Marbury noted, meaning that it is possible for compound made up of TFA work its way up through other species and harm them. For example, as Marbury explains, it is possible for fish to absorb these chemicals from water. How can one stop this? A simple way of making a change to the environment would include not heating Teflon to high temperatures.

I wanted to see more ways in which this material is used and I found out that Teflon can also be used in electrical insulating tape; combustion engines; chemical apparatus and tubing designed to resist attack from most chemicals, and in non-stick frying pans and other cookware. It has been noted that caged birds in kitchens have died after fires involving Teflon cookware, suggesting the emissions of toxic gases when this polymer is heated. (Heise Health Clinic, Teflon, 2001) This interested me since it shows that Teflon did not have to be burned, yet just heated to cause such a significance effect in air pollution for these birds. This suggests that the products I bought for cooking, an everyday activity, perceive the material into being good natured, not making the consumers aware of the significant indoor and outdoor air pollution created from using Teflon pans. I came across and thought about why we still use this material so much if it has so many negative implications. I wondered that Teflon must have some quality characteristics that make the material useful in industrial and domestic applications in our daily life. After more research, I found various positive characteristics, which allow Teflon to be used daily, including in the kitchen. This material is resistant to many chemicals, including various strong acids; it is weather and UV resistant, as it is non-stick, which permits substances, for example in cooking, to adhere to Teflon coating, as well as its ability of outstanding performances at high temperatures (up to 260C). Teflon also has low friction, allowing for low resistance and smooth operation. I thought about this, and linked it back to when I cook or watch my mom using Teflon pans, and its true! These qualities such as non-stick and its ability to undergo such high temperatures with high performance makes the Teflon cooking ware attractive and able to be used commercially. (Lenntech, Teflon, 2012)

I wanted to see more external links of Teflon based products apart from kitchen ware, so I did further investigation. I came across ways in which this material is used in market applications. Apart from being used as a coating for products, it is also used as films, resins and additives. (Lenntech, Teflon, 2012) It is applied in the electrical industry as a semi conductor, as well as being used as a wire and cable for outstanding electrical performance. Wow, a material that is applied in the cooking ware I use at home is also applied to larger markets and manufacturing! This shows how useful this material, polytetrafluoroethylene, really is, despite its negative implications to the environment and why it is still used! It is used in optical devices as well and automobiles in break systems, oil filters or even airbag systems (Lenntech, Teflon, 2012), where a major criteria is high temperature and insulation.

Works Cited:

Heise Health Clinic, Teflon Non-Stick Pans. (2012). Potential adverse health effects. Retrieved from Heise Health Clinic website:

Lenntech, Water Treatment Solutions. (2012) Teflon. Retrieved from Lenntech website:

Mercola, D. (2001) Avoid Teflon Pans: Your Teflon Frying Pan May Be Causing Problems, Educate Yourself. Retrieved from:

Teflon, 3D Chem. (2005) Teflon: Molecule of the Month for March 2005. Retrieved from:

Images Cited:

Hiskey, D. (2011). Teflon Was Invented By Accident. [Web Graphic] Retrieved from:

Lenntech, Water Treatment Solutions. (2012) Teflon. [Web Graphic] Retrieved from Lenntech website:

Teeth Nightmare: Cavities

Figure 1: Tooth structure (Gordon, n.d.)

I must admit that I have a lot of teeth cavities. Needless to say, going to the dentist has been – and still is – a nightmare for me. Perhaps my tendency of getting tooth cavity is inherent (Fotek, 2012), or perhaps it is simply due to my lack of care when I brush my teeth. Either way, I am curious about how cavities actually form, so I’ve decided to explore tooth decay in hope of finding a way to keep my teeth healthy.

Simply put, cavity – also known as dental caries (Gordon, n.d.) – is a teeth infection that is related to bacteria and causes the decay of the tooth enamel. The enamel is the outermost layer of the teeth and the hardest and most mineralized substance in the body (Gordon, n.d.) (see figure 1). However, despite its hardness, the enamel can be damaged when interacting with bacteria and food, typically the carbohydrates. While the mouth has many different types of bacteria, only few, such as Streptococcus mutans, Lactobacillus casei, and acidophilus, are associated with cavities (Gordon, n.d.). These bacteria stick to the surface of the teeth and form a sticky film called dental plaque (National Maternal & Child Oral Health Resource Center, n.d.). When carbohydrate-containing food is consumed, these bacteria eat the carbohydrates and release acids, attacking the teeth enamel, usually within 20 minutes of eating (Briseno, n.d.). Normally, the pH in the mouth is about 6.2 to 7.0, but it drops after eating. When the pH reaches 5.2 or below, the acid begins to dissolve the enamel (Gordon, n.d.). Continuous acid attacks result in cavities, which, if not treated, can extend into the living pulp tissues (see figure 1), where the bacterial infection can spread to other parts of the face and body (National Maternal & Child Oral Health Resource Center, n.d.).

Here, acid’s reaction with the tooth links into our study in IB Chemistry of acid’s corrosive property. The enamel, or calcium-deficient carbonated hydroxyapatite (, is composed of mineral, protein, lipid, and water that form a crystal lattice (Lussi, 2006). The hydrogen ions, released by the acid in the mouth’s aqueous environment, react with carbonate and phosphate ions in the enamel, causing the mineral ions to be etched away and hence demineralizing the tooth, as illustrated below (Lussi, 2006):

Ca10xNax(PO4)6y(CO3)z(OH)2uFu + 3H+ →  (10-x)Ca2+ + xNa+ + (6-y)(HPO42) + z(HCO3) + H2O + uF

(note: Ca10xNax(PO4)6y(CO3)z(OH)2uFu + 3H+ is the enamel)

As a result, the enamel surface is reduced and softened (British Dental Association, 2004), which can cause toothaches (Fotek, 2012). Fortunately though, our body has a way of combating tooth decay. Through minerals in the saliva that act as buffers, our body is able to remineralize and repair the damaged enamel automatically (British Dental Association, 2004). Similarly, the fluoride in toothpastes also has the same effect (British Dental Association, 2004).

Essentially, the culprit for teeth decay is the acid and not the sugar. In fact, acid can also erode the teeth when consumed directly. Acidic drinks, such as soft drinks and lemon juice, double the damage to the teeth, because these drinks are high in both acid and sugar. Interestingly, yogurt is low in pH yet it doesn’t have erosive potential due to its high content in calcium and phosphate (Lussi, 2006). Therefore, the erosive potential of acidic drinks depends on a variety of factors, including their pH, mineral content, type of acid, and adhesion to the teeth (Lussi, 2006).

After knowing acid’s pernicious effects to the teeth, I can now understand why dentists ask us to brush our teeth regularly. As mundane as it may sound, brushing the teeth is the easiest way we can maintain our dental health. In addition, fluoride toothpaste should also be used, because study has shown that regular brushing by itself doesn’t prevent teeth decay while brushing with fluoride toothpaste does (British Dental Association, 2004). As a general rule of thumb, eating starch-based food with acidic drinks should be minimalized if not avoided.

In my research, I also came across physical factors that cause tooth wear, but I’ve decided not to go further as my focus was on teeth decay. However, for further exploration, an interesting area to go into could be gum diseases, because they are also caused by plaque buildup but involve studies of the bones and tissues that support the teeth (National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 2012).

You may ask, after reading all this, so what – what’s the big deal with dental awareness? Many of us take our teeth for granted, and perhaps don’t realize just how crucial a role they play. Without a set of healthy teeth, we will not be able to enjoy the scrumptious dishes we consume everyday. In short, our teeth are a fundamental if not indispensable link to our dietary health. It is, therefore, important to understand the nature of tooth decay to help us prevent it. Hopefully, after the short reading from above, you’ll think twice before you eat sugar-rich food and soft drinks the next time.


Briseno, T. (n.d.). What wears down tooth enamel, and how can you prevent it?.Discovery Fit & Health. Retrieved March 2, 2013, from

Fotek, P. (2012, February 22). Toothaches. Medline Plus. Retrieved March 2, 2013, from

Gordon, J. (n.d.). Cavities and Fillings 101. Discovery Fit & Health. Retrieved March 2, 2013, from

Lussi, A. (2006). Dental Erosion. Basel: Karger.

Periodontal (Gum) Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments. (2012, August). National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Retrieved March 2, 2013, from

Tools. (2004). British Dental Association. Retrieved March 2, 2013, from

Tooth Decay. (n.d.). British Dental Association. Retrieved March 2, 2013, from

What is Tooth Decay. (n.d.). National Maternal & Child Oral Health Resource Center. Retrieved March 2, 2013, from


Gordon, J. (n.d.). Cavities and Fillings 101. Discovery Fit & Health. Retrieved March 2, 2013, from

Lussi, A. (2006). Dental Erosion. Basel: Karger.

Nano-Coating: Invisible Shield that Repels Water

The other day I was watching a youtube video of these europeans running on water. At first I was intrigued and excited, I mean something like that sound absolutely impossible, the creators even made a name for it called “Liquid Mountaineering”. It is based on the idea that by simply buying liquid repellent running shoes, one can run with the top speed placing every step at such an angle that the foot could skim the surface of the water and essentially walk on top of it. Unfortunately, the believable youtube clip has been revealed to be a “viral ad” for Hi-Tec, which is the company responsible for making these shoes. (O’Neill, 2010) Although deeply disappointed, it sparked an interest and I did inevitably check out their website and shoe brand. Although liquid mountaineering is not exactly possible, the technology behind the shoes did truly repel water. With further curiosity, I further researched the technology behind these shoes.

Figure 1: Liquid Mountaineering
Figure 1: Liquid Mountaineering

These shoes featured the technology instituted by the company called P2i. This company is one of the biggest companies famous for its liquid repellent nano-coatings technology. Nanotechnology is the application of the study of unique properties of matter that occur at nanoscale (Adams, n.d.). I further researched on the process of how this coating is applied and exactly what is a nano coating. Is there a special surface or material? Is it simply just a thin piece of protective covering that I can buy and put it on myself? It turns out there are many other everyday devices other than shoes that can be covered with nano coating. The company’s uses technology originally carried out by it’s Chief Technology Officer Dr Stephen Coulson. The technology attaches a nano-thin polymer that actually becomes part of the surface of the material that it is attached to (Fenlon, 2013). These waterproof nano coatings are 1000 times thinner than a human hair (Glass, 2013). According to the P2i website, this technology employs plasma enhanced vapor deposition processing to apply an ultra thin polymer layer onto all surfaces of a product. This process takes place under low pressure within a vacuum chamber at room temperature (Wikipedia, n.d.). Essentially, nanometer-thin coating is applied to the object as a gas, this penetrates inside the surface. The coating is introduced as vapor and ionized. This allows for development of a polymer layer, which forms a covalent bond with the product’s surface, making it extremely durable. This nano-coating has the effect of lowering surface energy, which imparts hydrophobic properties. This makes it so that when liquids come in contact with it, they form beads and run off. This technology has already been placed in many devices such as cell phones, gloves and hats. There are many other nano coating technology that performs similar functions such as liquid glass spray that contains a nanoscale of SiO2 to be sprayed on food while cooking that also has hydrophobic properties allowing surfaces to be easier to clean and resistant to stains and chemicals (Edwards, 2010). In an article “Superomniphobic Surfaces for Effective Chemical Shielding”, researcher Anish Tuteja and his team discover nanoscale coating that is approximately 95 percent air that also has hydrophobic properties, saying that it imbues a small positive or negative charge when liquid comes in contact with the solid surface (Air Force office of Scientific Research (2013).

Figure 2: Shoe Put in Nano-Coating Machine
Figure 2: Shoe Put in Nano-Coating Machine
Figure 3: Hydrophobic Properties
Figure 3: Hydrophobic Properties

Dr. Stephen Coulson says that “We see the future as everything being treated with P2i’s technology.” While P2i has manufactured some interesting products, I feel like the technology will have much more prominent effect on the future, specifically on the environment besides making water bounce of the surface. The implication of discovering nano coating technologies is great in that it can provide self-cleaning surfaces, protection against chemical and biological agents, and fuel leaks.  One does not have to worry about everyday food stains and the fear of accidentally dropping your phone in the toilet. I believe this technology is especially important in places like China, where pollution is everywhere that is due to the accumulation of harmful industrial methods. Nano-coating technology can enhance systems such as water and air purification systems and can generally enhance the hygiene of the population to improve environmental and human health. Perhaps even creating masks with a coating that actually blocks the harmful particles in the air. One can also argue that if nanotechnology is used so frequently, eventual health effects would be large scale and potentially very dangerous (Adams, 2013). Nanotechnology is still a young science that has a potential in changing the world for better and worse.

Work Cited:

P2i Ltd, (2013). The Process. P2i Limited. Retrieved February 19, 2013, from

Glass, N., Webster, G. (2013, January 18).  Nano-Coating Provides Watertight Solution. Cable News Network. Retrieved February 20, 2013, from

Fenlon, W. (2013, January 19). How Waterproof Nanocoating Works to Shield Your Smartphone from Splashes and Submersion. Jamie & Adam Tested. Technology Featured. Retrieved February 20, 2013, from

Konica Minolta, (2011-2013). Material Field: Nano-coating Technology. Konica Minolta Holdings, Inc. Retrieved February 20, 2013, form

Air Force office of Scientific Research (2013, January 31), A possible answer for protection against chemical/biological agents, fuel leaks, and coffee stains. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 18, 2013, from

Adams. S, (n.d.) The Potential Disadvantages of Nanotechnology, Introduction to Nanotechnology.Retrieved February 21, 2013, from

Edwards, L. (2010, February 2). Spray-on Liquid Glass Is about to Revolutionize Almost Retrieved February 21, 2013, from

Wikipedia. (n.d.). P2i. Wikipedia. Retrieved February 21, 2013, from

Pictures Cited:

P2i Liquid Repllent [Image]. Retrieved February 21, 2013, from:

Nanotechnology Now [Image]. Retrieved February 21, 2013, from

Liquid Mountaineering [Image]. Retrieved February 21, 2013, from

The Air that we breath

Being a swimmer, lung health is one of the most important assets that a swimmer can have. If our lungs are weak or damaged, we can’t perform at the level we want to. In a few days I’m going to Beijing on a swim tournament, however, going to Beijing at this time can be detrimental to lung health. As you may know, over the course of the last few weeks, Beijing and other cities in china (including Shanghai) have had critically high air pollution levels. The Beijing government has even advised civilians to stay indoors when possible, and to avoid strenuous activity. (BBC, 2013) Now, we all know that pollution is bad for the lungs, but this got me thinking. How does air pollution damage our lungs and what is air pollutions impact on society? Due to my personal experiences in Shanghai, the form of pollutant I will investigate will be smog.

Before we can assess how air pollution damages our lungs, knowing how the lungs work is essential. The lungs work as a part of our respiratory system, According to the Cleveland clinic (2010), we breathe air in through our nose and mouth, which travel down the throat and pass through the voice box and into our trachea. The trachea is divided into two air passages called the bronchial tubes, one leading to the slightly larger right lung and the other to the left lung. Further down the bronchial tubes, the tubes divide into three lobes in the right lung and into two lobes in the left lung. These lobes go under further division into bronchi and then to bronchioles. The bronchioles end in tiny air sacs called alveoli where oxygen is transferred from the air to the blood. This transfer is a process known as “gas exchange” which is the process of which oxygen is transferred into the blood and carbon dioxide being expelled from our system caused by diffusion across the alveolar membrane and the pulmonary capillary that the alveoli are attached to. (Fruedenrich. n.d.). In order for oxygen to be the only gas that enters our blood, our lungs have three main forms of defense against dangerous objects: Cilia are small hairs in our nose that filter out harmful and large particles. In our trachea and bronchial tubes, mucus is created to keep air passages moist and aid in intercepting dust, bacteria and other particles. And lastly the sweeping motion of the cilia helps keep air passages clean. (Cleveland Clinic. 2010)

Human Respiratory system

Picture 1: A diagram of the human respiratory system

Now that we know how our lungs function, it is time to know what air pollution really is. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) (2013), “Air pollution is contamination of the indoor or outdoor environment by any chemical, physical or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere.” In other words, our air is mainly comprised of nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen, but pollutants are other “particles” or “gases” that are in the air, which damage our health. Some common air pollutants are sulfur dioxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, cigarette smoke and ozone (O3), which are mainly generated by industry. Each of these different particles have different effects on our lungs and our bodies as a whole, numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of different health problems. (US EPA.2013) Air pollution is measured in ppm or “particles per million”, the higher the ppm the denser the air particles in the air and the more polluted it is. However, the smaller the particle, the more hazardous it is to humans, because small particles can penetrate deep into our lungs and either damage our alveoli or enter our bloodstream causing all sorts of damage to tissue and blood cells alike. (US EPA. 2013)

Currently in Shanghai, the haze that I have been seeing over the past couple days is undoubtedly “smog”. A term coined by the residents living in London during the early 1900’s describing a mixture of smoke and fog. (DEQ Louisiana. 2013)  Scientifically speaking, smog is actually a mixture of different pollutants such as ozone, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides. The effects of such substances are varied given the time exposed to them, how often you are exposed and how hard you are breathing (e.g. the amount of air you breath while running as opposed to walking). Just these three pollutants alone will damage the lining of the lungs and respiratory tract and destroy our body’s defenses against bacteria, making us more prone to air-borne sicknesses, enter our bloodstream and disrupt the supply of oxygen to our body’s tissues and give us respiratory diseases and physical lung damage. (EPA. 2013) Smog has many different forms and so these three examples don’t fully describe the full danger of smog. However, they are the three most commonly found substances in smog, ozone being the foundation of smog forming.

Beijing Smog

Picture 2: A picture of thick beijing smog in recent days

I had always assumed that smog was just pollution and fog; however, now knowing what smog really is and how it affects us gives me a sense of the gravity of the implications that smog has on our society. In Shanghai alone, there are 12.21 million people living in urban areas, who are currently experiencing heavy smog. (Shanghaihighlights. 2013). According to WHO, 5% of all cardiopulmonary deaths worldwide are related to outdoor air pollution. In the year 2008 alone China had over 470,000 deaths related to outdoor air pollution. Due to my studies in economics class, discussing how pollution is a “cost” to society, I think that it is due to these reasons that countries governments are starting to tax businesses (mainly energy producing firms) on the amount of tons of pollutants released into the air as a result of these high pollution rates and its hazardous effect on society’s health. This will also affect the economy, as nothing in industry can be produced without generating electricity, the methods of which give off pollution. In my opinion this also accounts for a greater backing of clean energy sources, which in the future could power our cities and decrease the amount of pollution we give off through generating clean energy. I hope that this post has given you a better understanding of the dangers of pollution and that you will take the necessary steps to safeguard your lungs and those of the people around you!

Reference list:

Cleveland Clinic. (2010). How your Lungs Work. Diseases and Conditions. Retrieved January 23 from:

American Lung Association. (2013). The respiratory system. How your Lungs Work. Retrieved January 23 from:

Montana State Education. (n.d). How your Lungs Work. Retrieved January 27 from:

BBC. (2013). Beijing’s hazardous pollution sparks Chinese media anger. News China. Retrieved January 27 from:

EPA Victoria. (n.d). Table of main air pollutants. What is Air Pollution. Retrieved January 27 from:

WHO. (2013). Air Pollution. Health Topics. Retrieved January 27 from:

United States EPA. (2013). Health. Particulate matter. Retrieved January 28 from:

DEQ Louisiana. (2013). What is smog?. Ozone facts and experiments. Retrieved January 28 from:

Shanghai Highlights. (2013). Shanghai Facts. Retrived January 28 from:

WHO. (2013). Mortality and Burden of disease from outdoor air pollution. Global Health Observatory. Retrieved January 28 from:

Cleveland Clinic. (2013). (picture to show anatomy of respiratory system). Retrieved January 28 from:

BBC. (2013). (picture of thick Beijing smog in recent days). Retrieved January 28 from:

H2O: Simple Molecule, Complex Impact

The first thing I noted when I heard that NASA had landed another rover on Mars was that they were looking for evidence of water. Where there is water, they said, there is potential for life. Water is a substance so common to us humans today that we seldom stop and think about its sheer importance in our lives. It’s so important, in fact, that scientists are going out of their way to find it in other places in the universe; what appears to be abundant here seems to be relatively scarce out there. While it’s common knowledge that our bodies need water to function properly, we use this tiny molecule for much more than just health sustenance. Heating, fire extinction, agriculture, and industrial use are just a few of its many applications (MyHydros, n.d.). In this post, I will focus on the lattermost one because of its very high relevance to both the modern age and to myself, living in a modernized city like Shanghai.

In days gone by, humans generally settled near convenient sources of water (Richards, n.d.). Most of the great ancient civilizations depended on a particular source of water. For example, the Egyptian empire expanded from the Nile River banks, and the majority of the Chinese empire expanded from the Huang He (Yellow River) and Yangtze River basins (Richards, n.d.) Water also facilitated relatively rapid transportation during the era of exploration (15th century) until around the mid 19th century. Any nation(s) that controlled the waters had great power and influence over the rest of the word. (Richards, n.d.) The same appears to be true today.  Modern industrial factories are huge consumers of water, accounting for “…around 88% of water consumption worldwide,” (MyHydros, n.d.), and, in a modernized city like Shanghai, it can seem like one of these behemoths is always just around the corner.

Before getting into the various ways they apply water, however, it is important to have a general understanding of what water is. Most water is made up of tiny molecules composed of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, and is represented with the molecular formula H2O (Granger, n.d.).  Water is formed when two hydrogen atoms each join to the same oxygen atom with strong, single covalent bonds (i.e. the oxygen and hydrogen atoms are “sharing” electrons). (Granger, n.d.) The shape of this molecule is bent (with a 104.5˚ bond angle) because of the repulsion two lone pairs (i.e. non-bonding pairs) of electrons and the two bonding pairs of electrons (negative charges repel each other) . This bent shape is what gives water some of its unique properties, such as its high heat capacity (Granger, n.d.).


The Specific Heat Capacities of Different Substances Compared to that of Water

More specifically, water molecules have this high heat capacity due to a property known as hydrogen bonding (Granger, n.d.). Since the element oxygen is more electronegative than the element hydrogen (i.e. it has a greater affinity for electrons than hydrogen), it “hogs” the bonding electrons slightly, giving it a slight negative charge and the hydrogen atoms a slight positive charge (Granger, n.d.). These slightly positive hydrogen atoms are then attracted to the slightly negative oxygen atoms on other water molecules by a relatively strong intermolecular force known as a hydrogen bond. The hydrogen bond is one of the hardest intermolecular bonds to break (i.e. requires the most energy), which is why water can absorb so much heat before evaporating into steam (Granger, n.d.).


A Diagram Depicting how Hydrogen Bonding Works in Water

Three major water-using companies that rely on these properties include thermoelectric power companies, petroleum refinement companies, and, of course, manufacturing companies (MyHydros, n.d.). Thermoelectric power companies take advantage of water’s gaseous state. They use steam to power the generators to create the electricity that they send out to customers. It is estimated that they use an average of 201,000 million gallons of water a day (MyHydros, n.d.). Other power plants, such as solar and nuclear power plants, also need to use large amounts of water for, “manufacturing, maintenance, and cooling.“ (MyHydros, n.d.) The petroleum industry also takes advantage of superheated steam when refining oil (Freudenrich, n.d.), using over one billion gallons a day. Finally, manufacturing industries rely on water’s high heat capacity. (MyHydros, n.d.) Typically, manufacturing processes generate, “large amounts of heat” (MyHydros, n.d.) due to friction and chemical reactions. When this happens, about 18.2 million gallons of water a day is used to cool down the heated machinery and equipment, presumably to prevent them from ‘burning out.’ These industries use so much water overall that it is said that, “every manufactured product at some point requires water.” (MyHydros, n.d.)


Example of Industrial Water Usage (Steam is Being Released from the Chimneys)

Water is ubiquitous, so we take it for granted. From our earliest history all the way through to the modern era, water has been the molecular key that allowed us to open the doors of progress, and will continue to be so in the future. In fact, as this is being written, NASA’s Curiosity Rover is sitting over what is possibly a jackpot of evidence that Mars was, in fact, much more aqueous than it appears to be today. This discovery opens up a Pandora’s box of possibilities. Is there actually life on other planets? Could we possibly live on Mars sometime in the future? What else could this discovery lead us too? All of these questions and more have been speculated for many years, and now, thanks to water, it looks like we’re about to find out.


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Granger, J. (n.d.). The Chemistry of Water: Properties. Retrieved from

Granger, J. (n.d.). The Chemistry of Water: Structure. Retrieved from

Kremer, K. (2013, January 19th). ‘Jackpot’: Evidence of Water on Mars found by NASA rover Curiosity. Alaska Dispatch. Retrieved from

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Richards, M. (n.d.). Water in History. Retrieved from