What Is the Role of Chemistry in Society?

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Chemistry is a broad scientific field, and its relevance is seen in almost every aspect of society, including medicine, cooking, environmental processes, cleaning and manufacturing goods. Class notes from the Department of Chemistry at Michigan State University state that the Chemical Age is one of the great three ages of the 20th century, the others being the Nuclear Age and the Electronic Age.

The Chemical Age began around 1930, and its effects reach deeply into daily life. Humans rely heavily on a wide array of chemical tools; adhesives, cleaning agents, synthetic fabrics, pesticides, vitamins, plastics and explosives are just a few. In a world without chemistry, explains Science Week, humans would never have invented liquid oxygen, a key component in rocket fuel. The space race would not have happened and the related technologies society gained from it, such as the Internet and satellite TV, would not exist. Humans would still be plagued by illnesses, like smallpox and polio, and penicillin would not be available to fight bacterial infections.

The Chemical Age had negative consequences as well. Pollution, environmental disturbance and effects on human health are problems that manifest as society comes to rely more and more on chemical tools. Careful handling of chemical products and a thorough testing of their effects is an essential step in reaping the benefits of chemistry.