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Stories About Chemistry

INDEX

54. The Sun as a Chemist

Once Stephenson, the inventor of the steam locomotive, was taking a walk with his friend Beckland, a geologist, near the first railway in England. Presently they saw a train passing.

“I say, Beckland,” asked Stephenson, “what do you think makes that train go?”

“Why, the hand of the driver of one of your wonderful locomotives.”

“No.”

“Well then, the steam that moves the machine?”

“No.”

“The fire kindled under the boiler?”

“Wrong again; it is actuated by the Sun which shone in that far-off epoch when the plants were alive that afterwards changed into the coal which the driver is shovelling into the stoker.”

All living things owe their origin to the Sun, especially plants. Try and grow them in the dark, and all you will get is pale thin filaments instead of juicy green stalks. Under the action of solar light chlorophyll (the colouring matter of green leaves) converts the carbon dioxide of the air into complex molecules of organic substances which constitute the bulk of the plant.

Hence, the Sun, or rather its rays, are the chief “chemist” synthesizing all the organic substances in plant? It would seem so. Not in vain has the process of assimilation of carbon dioxide by plants been named photosynthesis.

It is known that many chemical reactions occur under the action of light. There is even a special branch of chemistry which studies them, called photochemistry.

But so far the study of photochemical reactions has not resulted in the creation of either proteins or hydrocarbons in the laboratory. And it is these compounds that are the primary products of photosynthesis in plants.

At the initial stage the plant uses only carbon dioxide, water and solar light for the synthesis of very complex organic molecules.

But maybe there is something else that plays a part in these processes?

Imagine a factory with soda, petroleum, potassium nitrate, etc., being fed through pipes at one end and lorries loaded with bread, sausage, and sugar driving out of its gates at the other end. This is fantasy, of course, but it is just about what happens in plants.

Plants have been found to have their catalysts, called enzymes. Each enzyme makes a reaction proceed only in a definite direction.

It appears that the Sun accomplishes photosynthesis not as the sole “chemist,” but in collaboration with his colleagues, the enzymes (catalysts). The Sun supplies the energy needed for the reaction and the enzymes make the reaction go in the right direction.

Though we cannot as yet deprive nature, and particularly plants, of their “patents” for the production of many substances, but in some cases we can already make them operate in the direction we need.

Of great value to scientists in this respect were their investigations of photosynthesis processes.

It has recently been found that if light of different wavelengths is used to illuminate the plants during photosynthesis, chemically different substances are formed. For instance, illumination with red-yellow rays results in carbohydrates as the main compounds whereas blue rays give proteins.

It may therefore be expected that in the near future people will be able, with the aid of plants, to obtain the complex organic compounds they need, on a considerable scale.

Indeed, instead of building factories, furnishing them with unique equipment and working out complex synthesis technologies, it will only be necessary to build hothouses and to regulate the intensity and spectral composition of the light rays used.

Then the plants themselves will make everything required: from the simplest carbohydrates to the most complex proteins.


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- 100 -
Sophie Germain
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- 90 -
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Andre Ampere
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- 80 -
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Bible
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Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
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- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
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Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
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Lord Kelvin
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Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
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Linus Pauling
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Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
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- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
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Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton



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