Modern Marvels Due to Inorganic Chemistry

By Michael Matson, Alvin W. Orbaek

Part of Inorganic Chemistry For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Since the dawn of human kind, materials have played a pivotal role to our existence. The ability to make housing to fend off bad weather and wet conditions, for example, certainly made living much easier, but today these kinds of elementary supports are considered as staple parts of our everyday lives. The materials we use today are far different from what we used in the past. Three elements — carbon, aluminum, and silicon — have helped the modernization process. There are many more elements that have played their part, or course, but these three are indisputable.

Carbon is a versatile element and can be blended with many other materials to make composites and alloys. Carbon is one of the most prolific elements on the periodic table; it’s the stuff of life, the backbone of DNA, and a cornerstone of modern society. All the great big buildings that you see around you in modern-day cities are made possible due to carbon. Metal that’s reinforced and alloyed with carbon is often strong and light, making it easier to use and longer lasting. Graphene, fullerenes, and carbon nanotubes show great promise for future use as additives to reinforce materials, making them even more wear resistant and longer lasting, while also lowering the weight, too. As you learn more about this element you can be sure to find it in more and more everyday appliances as we move forward in time.

Aluminum, on the other hand, is a rather new material. It was not until very recently that aluminum could even be isolated from its very stable and more common oxide form. But since then it has become the go-to material for a number of applications. In terms of space flight, there is a saying: If you want to make a spaceship you can pick any material you want, as long as it is aluminum. It’s been tried and tested to such an extent that it’s hard to replace at this stage, but eventually it will likely be replaced by composite materials that are made of carbon. But in the meantime it would not take much time for you to find examples of aluminum in your everyday experience — it can found in trains, planes, and automobiles, and in kitchens, lunchboxes, and all types of appliances because it’s a durable, strong, lightweight, and weatherproof material.

Silicon is the most studied element on the planet; there is a multi-billion dollar industry that’s borne out because of the properties of this element. It’s a semiconductor that has the potential, when doped, to become more conducting, or less conducting. This property gives silicon the capability for use in electronic materials and devices to make 1s and 0s that translate computer code into electrical impulses. Coupled with the fact that silicon is one of the more abundant elements on the planet, it is set to be in use for the foreseeable future, maybe it will never go out of fashion. The age of information technology could have been made possible without silicon, but it may have taken a lot longer and not be as prominent today as it is.