National Chemistry Week (NCW) is a public awareness campaign that promotes the value of chemistry in everyday life Celebrate National Chemistry Week 2020 October 18–24, 2020 with the theme, “Sticking with Chemistry.”
In celebration of the National Chemistry Week, I invite my readers to explore Matter, Chemical Elements, and Chemical Compounds that are important for understanding Life and Spirituality.
MATTER – CHEMICAL ELEMENTS AND CHEMICAL COMPOUNDS:
HENNING BRAND(c. 1630-c. 1710), GERMAN ALCHEMIST WHO DISCOVERED PHOSPHORUS DURING c.1669 or 1674. I WOULD DESCRIBE CHEMISTRY AS THE SCIENCE OF SPIRITUAL INTERACTIONS.
ROBERT BOYLE (1627-1691)THE FATHER OF MODERN CHEMISTRY. Anglo-Irish Physicist and Chemist who separated the Science of Chemistry from Alchemy. He gave the first precise definitions of a Chemical Element, a Chemical Reaction, and Chemical Analysis. He discovered Boyle’s Law (Gas Laws).
All ‘Matter’ is composed of fundamental materials called Chemical Elements. A substance that cannot be decomposed into simpler substances by ordinary chemical processes is by definition an Element. There are about 88 ‘naturally’ occurring Elements, and about 20 Elements are used in measurable amounts by most living organisms. Phosphorus is an essential Element to all Life as it is a component of DNA and RNA that make up the genetic material of all cells and control reproduction of both the cell and the organism. Phosphorus is part of the energy storage and utilization system at the cellular level. In addition, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Iron, Calcium, Potassium, Magnesium, Cobalt, Cadmium, Copper, Manganese, Zinc, Molybdenum, Boron, Sodium, Chlorine, Fluorine, Iodine, Sulfur, and Chromium are all essential to one form of life or another. Elements can combine with one another to form a wide variety of more complex substances called Chemical Compounds. A Chemical Compound is a substance in which two or more Elements are joined by Chemical Bonds. A Chemical Compound can be created or broken down by means of a Chemical Reaction but not by mechanical or physical separation techniques. It helps to make the distinction between Mixture and Compound. Most naturally occurring Matter represents Physical Mixtures of Chemical Compounds that could be separated using simple physical techniques. While the number of known Elements is small, the number of possible Compounds is almost ‘infinite’; perhaps a million or more Chemical Compounds are known to exist. When two or more Elements combine to form a Compound, they lose their separate identities, and the product called Chemical Compound has characteristics quite different from those of the constituent Elements. For example, the Common Salt or Sodium Chloride is a combination of the highly reactive metallic element Sodium(Na) and the poisonous gas Chlorine(Cl). The unique taste and flavor imparted by Salt cannot be discovered by studying the physical and chemical properties of Sodium or Chlorine. Elements in Compounds always are combined in a definite proportion. For instance, a molecule of Water is always made up of two Hydrogen(H) atoms and one Oxygen(O) atom. Again, I would like to pay attention to the fact of two gaseous elements, Hydrogen, and Oxygen with quite different physical and chemical properties can combine to form the Compound Water which has altogether different properties from either Hydrogen or Oxygen. The simple, pure, original, and sweet taste imparted by Fresh Water cannot be discovered in its constituent Elements. I have mentioned that the Element Phosphorus is basic to all Life. Phosphorus is discovered in c.1674 by Hennig Brand. It is an extremely poisonous, yellow to white, waxy, solid substance. When exposed to air, Phosphorus ignites spontaneously. Some of the commercial uses of Phosphorus include the making of detergents, toxic nerve gases and explosives. We have to learn to make the distinction between Chemical Elements and Chemical Compounds and apply this understanding to know the nature of the relationship between things. Calcium Phosphate is the principal material found in bones and teeth. Adenosine Triphosphate or ATP is the fundamental energy source in living things. It is very understandable that all Matter is composed of units called Atoms and the physical structure of Atom is well-known. We have to be very careful and avoid deriving understanding about Life and Living Matter from the descriptive knowledge derived from Quantum Physics. To understand the nature of living experience, we need Chemical Molecules and Chemical Compounds whose qualities and characteristics may not be discovered from the study of Nuclear Physics. The phenomenon of creating and breaking down Chemical Compounds in living organisms is known as Metabolism. A Chemical Compound’s smallest units are Molecules and Ions. A Molecule can exist in the free state and still retain the characteristics of the Element or Compound; a Molecule can be formed by an Element when it consists of one Atom, or two, or more similar Atoms; a Molecule can be formed by a Compound when it consists of two or more different Atoms. The term ‘Ion’ is used to describe an Atom or Molecule bearing an electric charge as a result of having a number of negative electrons unequal to the number of positive protons in its nuclei. ‘Ionization’ is the process that describes the formation of ‘Ions’ from neutral Atoms or Molecules. ‘Ions’ that are positively charged are known as ‘Cations’, and that are negatively charged are known as ‘Anions’. Simple ‘Ions’ consist of a single charged Atom; double, triple, or even higher positive or negative charges are possible. Oxidation of Hydrogen removes its single electron and gives H+ or cationic Hydrogen which contains no electrons and it has a nucleus which is composed of one proton. This cationic Hydrogen plays a particularly important role in the Acid-Base Chemistry of the human organism with many reactions exchanging protons between soluble molecules. The internal environment of a living cell includes Hydrogen, Potassium, Sodium, Magnesium, Calcium, Chloride, Sulfate, Phosphate and several organic acid ‘Ions’. The chemical events collectively called ‘Metabolism’ require the concentration of Hydrogen Ions and electrolytes to remain within narrow limits in the tissue cells and in the fluid which bathes them. The term ‘pH’ or ‘Acidity’ is a measure of the Hydrogen Ion concentration and a reading level of 7 indicates ‘Neutral’. Human life is possible only if the Hydrogen Ion concentration of body fluid is kept within a narrow range. In health, a blood Hydrogen Ion concentration of 36 – 44 nmol/Liter or pH level of 7.37 – 7.45 is maintained by several closely integrated but widely differing mechanisms.
THE CHEMICAL ELEMENTS AND CHEMICAL COMPOUNDS OF LIFE:
HENRY CAVENDISH(1731-1810), British Chemist and Physicist noted for his discovery of Hydrogen, a gaseous Element during 1766. French Chemist Lavoisier named the gas Hydrogen in 1783. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and it is the major fuel in fusion reactions of the Sun. However, this gas in its free state is very rare in our planet Earth.
Hydrogen, the most abundant Element in the universe is present in its diatomic, molecular form. Hydrogen is important for the formation of Stars. In this photo image, NGC 604, a giant region of ionized Hydrogen in the Triangulum Galaxy is seen.
Hydrogen makes up most of the mass( over 90%)of the universe and about 75 % of natural Matter by number of Atoms. Naturally occurring atomic Hydrogen is rare on Earth because Hydrogen readily forms covalent Compounds with most Elements. Hydrogen is present in the Water Molecule and in most Organic Compounds found in living organisms. Hydrogen forms a vast variety of Compounds with Carbon that are called Hydrocarbons.
To understand Life, we have to know about Hydrogen as it is the fuel that Sun expends in its role as the Cosmic source of Energy that supports the biological existence of all terrestrial organisms. Man exists on the surface of planet Earth, not on account of the merit of his physical, or mental work and effort. The man has no direct access to this source of energy produced from Hydrogen fuel. If Hydrogen is important to support the existence of Life, we have to understand the nature of ‘Spiritual Interactions’. Secondly, Hydrogen is important as it is required to form the Water Molecule. However, Oxygen, a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, is the most abundant Element at the surface of the Earth. In the terrestrial environment, Oxygen accounts for about half of the mass of the Earth’s crust, 89% of the mass of the oceans, and 23% of the mass of the atmosphere or 21% of its volume. Oxygen makes up about two-thirds of the human body. It is a vital substance which supports vital functions. Among Chemical Elements used by the human body, Oxygen has the highest electronegativity and electron affinity. Oxygen can form ‘Anion’ with a double negative charge by accepting electrons from a donor like Hydrogen. Most of the Earth’s rocks and soils are principally compounds of Oxygen with Silicon and other metals. It is well understood that most organisms depend on Oxygen to sustain their biological processes. Biological Oxidation-Reduction Reactions are ultimately the sources of energy for the higher plants and animals. While speaking about the importance of Oxygen in the biosphere, we must recognize that Oxygen is responsible for natural decomposition of all organic material. Waste products from the activity of the living organisms, dead plants and animals decompose or oxidized through the agency of microorganisms. Thus, Oxygen plays a key role both in its support of important processes of Life and Death. Organic decay and decomposition are of fundamental importance for Life to renew itself and to be reborn and to cause rebirth. The study of ‘Spiritual Interactions’ must include the study of Life and Death.
Joseph Priestley and Karl Scheel were the first to isolate the gaseous Element during 1773-74 which was named by Antoine Laurent Lavoisier as Oxygen. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, and is the most abundant Element found on planet Earth.
Oxygen makes up about 90% of Water, two-thirds of the human body, and 20% by volume of Air. Normal atmospheric Oxygen is a diatomic Molecule.
The common Chemical Reaction in which Oxygen unites with another substance is called Oxidation. Combustion or rapid oxidation, the burning of s substance may generate light and heat. The process called Oxidation need not involve the generation of light and heat. Oxygen itself does not burn. The Respiration of plants and animals is a form of Oxidation that is essential to the liberation of the energy stored in such food materials as Carbohydrates, Fats, and Proteins. Oxygen is necessary to sustain Metabolism which primarily involves the Oxidation-Reduction Chemical Reactions. If the Oxygen concentration were to drop to about half its value in the atmosphere, humans could no longer survive. The loss of Oxygen is critical as the human body has no means of storing Oxygen. Because the human body stores no Oxygen, any interference with breathing and ventilation that lasts more than a few minutes can cause Death.
Dr Daniel Rutherford(1749-1819), Professor of Medicine & Botany, Edinburgh University, Scotland, discovered Nitrogen in 1772. Joseph Priestley and Henry Cavendish in England, and Carl W. Scheele in Sweden also get credit for the discovery of Nitrogen. The French Chemist Antoine Lavoisier proved that it is an Element.
On planet Earth, Nitrogen, the most abundant uncombined Element occurs as the diatomic molecule. Atmospheric air is 78.06% Nitrogen gas by volume. Nitrogen is an important component of Protoplasm or Living Matter. It is very remarkable to note that one type of organic molecule with a nitrogenous base plays a variety of roles in support of living functions.
Adenosine Triphosphate or ATP is a Nucleotide; the monomeric unit of Nucleic Acid, contains a Purine or Nitrogenous base called Adenosine, a Sugar called Ribose and three Phosphate groups. In most Chemical Reactions of all cells in which transfer of energy occurs, the nucleotide ATP is involved. It functions as a Coenzyme in many enzyme-catalyzed reactions and helps in the performance of chemical, electrical, and osmotic work in animals, plants, and microorganisms.
Cyclic Adenosine Monophosphate or cAMP is formed from ATP by the catalytic action of the enzyme Adenyl Cyclase. It controls many important functions in the cell including the ability of the cell to generate electrical impulses and is called “Second Messenger.” It is responsible for the intracellular mediation of hormonal effects on various cellular processes; e.g., Lipid Metabolism, Membrane Transport by opening Ion Channels, and Cell Reproduction.
All living organisms need organic nitrogen compounds such as Proteins, Vitamins like Thiamine and Riboflavin. In nature, Nitrogen from the air is ‘fixed’ by some bacteria and plants. It is then made available to all organisms through ‘Nitrogen Cycle’.
The nonmetallic Element, Carbon is known to man since ancient times. Organic Chemistry is the study of Carbon Compounds. All living organisms contain Carbon Compounds and hence Carbon is the central Element in the Compounds of which organisms are composed. The Carbon Element found in all living organisms is primarily derived from Carbon Dioxide found in atmospheric air or dissolved in water. It occurs both free and combined form in nature and makes up about 1% of the volume of dry air. Carbon Dioxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas. It is the raw material for Photosynthesis in green plants and is a product of animal respiration and of the decay of organic matter. It can cause Death by suffocation if inhaled in large amounts. If this Chemical Compound Carbon Dioxide, a gas that has the potential to cause Death, can impart ‘SWEETNESS’ to a substance that we recognize as ‘SUGAR’, it speaks about the potency that I describe as ‘Spiritual Interaction’ between the Elements of Life.
Plants incorporate Carbon into Carbohydrates and other complex organic molecules by means of Photosynthesis. During Respiration or Cellular Oxidation, living organisms combine Oxygen with portions of Carbohydrate molecule, releasing Carbon in the form of Carbon dioxide and water.
Water Molecules are the simplest and most abundant of all the Molecules found in the living cell. The simplest forms of Life such as the Virus particles may exist as Molecules of Nucleic Acids and need living cells for their replication. Most Chemical Reactions inside the living cell require the aqueous medium. Cells contain 70 to 80% Water. Cell Chemistry involves the study of Reactions in aqueous solutions. But, much of the Water in Cells is not ordinary Water; it is found ‘structured’ in shells surrounding macromolecules, especially proteins. The activities inside the Cell are separated and take place inside compartments that are regulated. It is important to know that most of the Water inside the living Cell is structured and the Chemistry of the living Cell demands separation of events at Molecular level.
ANTOINE LAURENT LAVOISIER(1743-1794), French Chemist and Physicist. He discovered the Composition of Water Molecule and of various other Organic Compounds.
Water Molecule looks very simple and yet it plays a mysterious role inside all living cells. It is essential to Life and its propagation. Its Spiritual nature is revealed by its pure, original, and sweet taste it imparts apart from its role as a Chemical Compound. It is the main mode of transport of many Elements that are needed by the living organisms. Water is the Agent that leaches Nutrient Elements and Compounds from rocks and soils and makes them available for use by plants, and animals.
THE CYCLICAL FLOW OF TIME:
SUN, THE COSMIC SOURCE OF ENERGY SHINES ALL THE TIME. IT IS APPARENTLY AN UNCHANGING EVENT. HOW DOES THE MAN MEASURE HIS TIME?
The Flow of Time is measured as the duration of the interval between two events; Time exists for man and other living organisms as the measure of the period of duration from Sunrise to Sunset that causes an environmental change; the alternating periods of Light(DAY) and Darkness(NIGHT). Earth’s Rotational Spin transforms the instant called ‘FUTURE’ into an instant called ‘PAST’ without giving the man any choice to know the instant called ‘PRESENT’. Earth’s Revolution brings Seasons that man experiences at regular and constant intervals of Time while the man simply exists on the surface of planet Earth with no physical experience of Earth’s Motions through Space.
Things in Nature change with Time. Does Time exert a ‘FORCE’ entirely of its own to change things in Nature? If Time is viewed as a ‘FORCE’, or ‘POWER’, who controls this Force or Power and what are the Laws that operate this Force or Power? The Clocks and Calendars that man has invented create the illusion that we live in a world of mathematically measured segments of Time. Sir Isaac Newton(1687) stated that the flow of Time is absolute. Time is looked upon as a flow like a river: It “flows equably without relation to anything external.” Herman Minkowski, a Mathematician, added Time as the Fourth Dimension of three-dimensional Space. Time is seen as a dimension like Height and Width and it gives meaning to events and the order in which they occur. In 1905, while postulating the Theory of Relativity, Albert Einstein had observed that the measurement of Time is affected by the motion of the observer and hence it is not absolute. Gravity affects both Time and Light. The measurement of Time is affected by the gravitational field of each celestial body. The experience of Time on this planet is an illusionary experience and it may not be an absolute experience. Physicists tend to describe Time and Space as the building blocks of this universe. In the context of understanding the relationship between Time and Life, we will be forced to see Time in the internal Biological Clocks that keep all living entities in ‘sync’ with Nature.
The Biological Clock: Every Living System behaves as if it contains a highly dependable ‘CLOCK’. It is a self-sustained internal timing mechanism that controls the ability of an organism to synchronize its existence with events in its internal and external environment. Such Time-Dependent variability in Function is called a Biological Rhythm.
All living things have in their nature a plan for their own dissolution and have the ability to use some unique Time-Dependent biological mechanism that is indissociable from life itself. Biological Rhythms represent the periodic biological fluctuation in an organism that corresponds to and is in response to periodic environmental change. Biological Clock in man measures Time as the Solar Day, the period of Earth’s Rotational Spin relative to the Sun. Such Biological Rhythms that occur once a Day are called Circadian( Latin Circa: About, Di: Day ), Solar Day, Diel, Daily, or Diurnal(Day-Active) Rhythm. The Rhythm is synchronized with an external Time-giving stimulus. Within the 24-Hour Cycle, a person usually sleeps approximately 8 hours and is awake 16 hours. For the health and the well-being of man, the daily alteration of Sleep and Wakefulness is important to maintain optimal physiological functions. Man is conditioned to exist under the influence of Time which is operated on planet Earth by its Rotation on its own axis.
THE CYCLICAL FLOW OF LIFE, MATTER, AND ENERGY:
All living organisms depend upon about 20 naturally occurring Chemical Elements. In order for Life to survive, these Elements must be constantly recycled in forms that plants and animals can use. Nutrient Cycle is the term used to describe the natural processes that keep all the Chemical Elements needed to support Life circulating within the Biosphere or Ecosphere. The far-reaching nature of Nutrient Cycles reveal the Interactions between Time, Life, Death, and Rebirth. Life continues using the process called Rebirth. Death is an important requirement to regenerate Life. The dissolution of individual living entities under the influence of Time is a prerequisite for Renewal of Life and the propagation of Life over the limits imposed by Time.
THE WATER OR HYDROLOGIC CYCLE:
The Water Cycle or Hydrologic Cycle is necessary to the operation of all Nutrient Cycles. The energy for the transportation of Water Molecules is provided by the Sun and it is the Fundamental Basis for all other Time-Life Spiritual Interactions.
Water is important to all life forms for its role in the control of environmental conditions and as it is the main mode of transport of many nutrients; it is the agent that leaches nutrients from rocks and soils and make them available for further use by living organisms.
THE CARBON CYCLE:
The Carbon Cycle clearly illustrates the complexity of relationships involved in the processes of Recycling Nutrient Elements in Nature. Life depends on the interwoven and interdependent relationships of green plants and animals, supplemented by the activities of bacteria, and the constant transport of nutrients within the Ecosystem and within organisms.
The Carbon Cycle describes the exchange of Carbon between living organisms and non-living environment. To maintain Life, an organism not only repairs or replaces( or both ) its structures by a constant supply of the materials of which it is composed but also keep its life processes in operation by a steady supply of energy. Living Systems must be supplied energy on a continual basis. Once spent, the energy for Life cannot be replenished except by further exposure of green plants to Sunlight. The Chemical Elements of Life are continually recycled by such processes as Photosynthesis and Respiration.
THE OXYGEN CYCLE:
Photosynthesis and Respiration are complementary functions and drive the Oxygen Cycle. Oxygen is necessary to sustain Metabolism. Oxygen is also important and is responsible for natural decomposition of organic material, waste products of Metabolism, oxidative decomposition of dead plants and animals through the agency of microorganisms.
Oxygen is equally important for Life and Death as Death must be accompanied by decay and decomposition of organic material to release the Nutrient Elements for further use by other living organisms.
THE NITROGEN CYCLE:
All living organisms participate in the Nitrogen Cycle. It includes the processes and Chemical Reactions involved in producing organic Nitrogen from inorganic Nitrogen and subsequently breaking down organic Nitrogen back to the inorganic form.
The Nitrogen Cycle begins when atmospheric Nitrogen and Hydrogen combine to form Ammonia in a process called Ammonification. The Nitrogen Compounds are made available to plants which combine them with the products of Photosynthesis to form Amino Acids, which are the basic components of Plant Proteins. Animals eat plant Proteins, break them down into Amino Acids during the process of digestion, and recombine them to form their own particular forms of Proteins in order to build tissues and organs of their bodies. A thorough breakdown of waste products, death and decay, help organic Nitrogen compounds to reenter environment.
THE PHOSPHORUS CYCLE:
Phosphorus recycles more slowly than other Nutrient Elements. Phosphates are taken up by the roots of green plants and used in organic synthesis. They are passed to animals through ‘Food Chains’. Ultimately, Phosphates are released to the soil through bacterial and fungal decomposition after the death of an animal.
We need to make the distinction between the Chemical Element Phosphorus and Phosphate the Chemical Compound that supports Life. The Phosphate mineral found in the rocks may have taken millions of years before it became available to plant Life.
ECOLOGY – LIFE AND DEATH SPIRITUAL INTERACTIONS:
Life depends on the interwoven and interdependent relationships between living organisms and the environment. No organism leads a truly independent existence of its own. Each organism lives by either consuming other organisms or the products from other organisms. In a Biological Community, Life and Death have a relationship which has a Spiritual Basis.
Ecology describes the movement of Chemical Elements and Chemical Molecules in nature because of the interrelationships and interconnectedness of organisms that form the ‘Food Chains’. This flow has a cyclical pattern and Life and Death could be described as two stages in this exchange of material and energy between the living and non-living environment. Greek philosopher Heraclitus( c. 535 B.C. – c. 475 B.C.) held that there is no permanent Reality except the Reality of Change. His famous maxim: “You cannot step twice in the same River.” I beg to differ from his view. The permanent Reality describes the unchanging Spiritual Nature of a Chemical Molecule that supports Life and Existence. Water Molecule came into its existence billions of years ago and it still retains its unique and distinctive properties and is entirely unaffected by the influence of Time while it undergoes both physical and chemical changes in its Interactions. I seek to describe Spirituality in the unchanging nature of Chemical Molecules that operate the dynamic events of both Life and Death. If Life involves a series of Chemical Reactions such as the Redox or Oxidation-Reduction Chemical Reactions, the same dynamic process continues into Death causing changes to promote Regeneration, Rejuvenation, Renewal, and Rebirth. Spirit could be defined as the Dynamic Force that promotes Peace, Harmony, and Tranquility in the material transformations of Life and Death.
Dr R. Rudranarasimham, B.Sc., M.B.B.S.,
Kurnool Medical College, Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, India,
M.B.B.S. Class of April 1970.