Faculty of Science

Interesting facts in chemistry

1. What is nano-technology and nano-chemistry?

Nano-technology is the science of creating structures and devices that are so small they are comparable in size to large molecules. Their dimensions are measured in nano-metres (a nano-metre is one billionth of a metre).

Nano-chemistry is an integral part of nano-technology, covering the synthesis of these structures, which in some cases are single molecules. The organisation of material at the nano-metre level has emerged as an important area of scientific endeavour, because of the unique phenomena observed at such dimensions. Nano-chemistry will be the basis for important new technologies in this decade and beyond.

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2. Can sunscreen be clear?

Using nano-technology, chemists have made reflective particles small enough to allow visible light to pass through, but not harmful UV. Use of these particles now enables clear sunscreen to be produced.

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3. Can plants talk to animals?

Maybe not, but they do send chemical messages to repel insect invaders. Chemical analysis of these compounds could provide us with new ways to deter insect pests.

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4. What triggers germination in native plants after a fire?

In many cases, it is chemicals released from the smoke. Chemists in collaboration with other scientists are identifying these triggers, which will be of benefit to conservation efforts and the plant nursery business.

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5. Is our water safe to drink?

Chemical analysis of water supplies can determine if they contain poisonous heavy metals, excessive levels of salt or other chemicals. Sophisticated instruments and extensive knowledge of analytical chemistry are required to carry out this analysis.

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6. How do mining companies know where to dig?

Chemists can tell geologists what minerals and what levels of those minerals occur in ores, enabling them to make decisions on whether or not to mine.

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7. What molecule has the same shape as a soccer ball?

Carbon exists in its elemental form in diamonds and graphite as continuous structures. It also exists in a molecule form, the simplest of these being buckminsterfullerene, more commonly known as fullerene, and which has 60 carbon atoms arranged in the shape of a soccer ball.

These, and another form of carbon - where the atoms are arranged in cylinders (nano-tubes) - feature in nano-technology.

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