The Molecular Level

When chemists view the world they perceive more than they sense. Sight, touch, smell and taste all bring the human organism into contact with physical matter. All physical matter is made up of tiny particles called atoms.

When a chemist sees his computer screen he sometimes thinks about how atoms absorb and emit light, making sight possible. When a chemist touches ice she may think about how the heat of her hand flows into it, making the molecules of the ice shiver faster and faster until they flow away from their rigid crystalline arrangement as liquid water. When a chemist smells the familiar and yet always attractive smell of vanilla he may reflect on the complex and chaotic pathway the molecules of vanilla took on their way from the bottle to the olfactory nerve. Or she may consider the still mysterious way in which the cells of that nerve can recognize (by touch!) the thousands of molecules she can recognize by smell. When a chemist tastes salt he often considers the positive and negative ions that make up salts and how they are so strongly bound in their solid crystals and yet so easily part ways to flow seamlessly with water.

Perception of these things requires thinking on the Molecular Level. Understanding how atoms and molecules behave and how their behavior leads to the world we sense through sight, touch, smell and taste is the goal of chemical education. Perceiving on the Molecular Level deepens one’s appreciation of the intricacy and beauty of the world. It broadens the mind and can even move the spirit.

There is an activity associated with this text: Modeling the Molecular Level
Last updated: Sep 12, 2010       Home
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