What facts should everyone in chemistry know

Chemistry in everyday life

Chemistry in the body: digestion and hormones

Even our body is a versatile chemistry laboratory: Chemical processes take place here all the time. In the saliva of the mouth, for example, there is the enzyme alpha-amylase: It breaks down the carbohydrates in bread into its sugar molecules - this is why bread tastes sweet after prolonged chewing.

In the duodenum, bile breaks down fats from ingested food. In addition, many body functions are controlled by hormones, and they are ultimately only chemical substances. For example, insulin lowers blood sugar levels, the growth hormone somatotropin elongates bones, and estrogen allows egg cells to mature.

Chemistry in the kitchen: cheese and fruit-juice caviar

But even before we start digesting, there is a lot of chemistry involved in the kitchen: The breakfast egg only gets hard because the boiling water allows the protein to coagulate.

The cheese on the breakfast roll is the end product of numerous chemical processes from pasteurizing the original milk to the work of lactic acid bacteria or molds to the salt bath, maturing and preserving.

And when many a hobby cook tries to serve a touch of nothing for dinner, then he is a real chemist: The molecular kitchen brought pipettes and Petri dishes from the laboratories to the luxury restaurants of the world and from there to the kitchens at home.

The image of chemistry is improving

So why is chemistry's image so bad? "Images of major chemical accidents shape people. The dioxin accident in Seveso, Italy in 1976 or the Sandoz accident, which poisoned the Rhine in 1986, are not easily forgotten," says Renate Hoer from the "Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker". "However, the reputation of chemistry has been changing for a few years."

In 1983 and 1998, chemistry didactics had students paint what they imagined as chemistry: dead mice, the skull symbol and factories with black-smoking chimneys could be seen.

When Renate Hoer held a painting competition in Munich in 2003, the motifs were friendlier: Chemistry and nature were artistically combined and oversized molecule models were painted.

There are several reasons for the change in image, says Hoer. There have been no major chemical accidents recently. And chemistry is increasingly perceived by the public as a problem solver.

"We cannot solve future global problems such as energy supply without chemistry. Solar cells, fuel cells, more efficient use of crude oil - all of this can only be achieved with chemistry," said Hoer.

She also got the impression that chemistry classes have improved. The teachers went to more advanced training courses and had more freedom in structuring their lessons. "The fact that more students are enthusiastic about the subject can be seen in the fact that more and more advanced courses are being offered."

There are also numerous campaigns and projects that aim to bring chemistry closer to school children. The former hate subject is one of the so-called MINT subjects (mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology) that have been promoted for years. Numerous universities offer project days or a trial course.

German successes at the Chemistry Olympiad

The "International Chemistry Olympiad" is also attracting attention. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research is funding the selection for the German team. Hundreds of young chemists from Germany's schools take part in the first round of the chemistry student competition every year.