Chemical activity series
“How can we predict if an atom will react with another atom or not?”
If you ever decide to take a chemistry class, you will probably have to solve a lot of chemical reactions sets. However, have you ever wondered whether or not if these sets can be achieved or not? Well, in the natural world, it has been empirically investigated that some elements are more reactive with others. And in fact, this has found to be a linear correlation. To illustrate, let’s say that elements x is more reactive than element y which is more reactive than element z, then element x will also be more reactive with element z. If you put together an entire list of all of the reactivities of the periodic table of elements, you would build something that is called a reactivity series. The most reactive element is fluorine [F], and the least reactive metal is neon[Ne]
“Why are materials electrically insulative, conductive, or semiconductive?”
All materials fall into one of three classifications when it comes to moving an electric current, insulative, conductive, or semiconductive. However, what property determines this? Well, let’s look at the atomic level to find out. When multiples atoms come close together, their possible energy states branch out into multiple bands. The two most important bands are the valence (which holds the outermost electrons) and conduction bands (which holds electrons ready to conduct) These bands will be separated by a valence gap.. If there is no difference, then it takes no extra energy to conduct energy and the material is conductive. If there is a noticeable but surmountable gap then the material is semiconductive. And if it is impossible to reach then it is insulative. You can think of it like the distance to a basketball hoop, the higher the height the more energy is required.
“How can we measure the calories present in food?”
In our modern health obsessed world, we would like to know the calories contained in all foods. However, how can this even be determined in the first place? Well, let’s think back to a bit of prior knowledge. We know that calories are another way of saying energy and that we can measure the energy content of fuels using calorimeters. So what if we were to make a special type of calorimeter to find the energy contained in foods? Well, let’s put our engineering mind to the test.
First, let’s get a big tub of water. Then, let’s take a sample of our food, place it in an insulating case with some oxygen, attach it to an ignition coil, and place everything in the water. When we activate the ignition unit, the ignition coil will cause our sample to explode and raise the temperature of the water. From the measured temperature change, we will be able to measure the calories contained in the sample! This device is known as a bomb calorimeter and is used in food labs all over the world.
“How can we determine the energy composition of a fuel?”
Fuels are one of the most vital pieces of operation for modern transportation. However, how do scientists determine the amount of energy contained in them in the first place? Well, let’s think about it. We know that if we ignite fuel, then we can get a fire. And we also know that this fire can heat objects such a cup of water. And we also know that if we measure the change in temperature of this water, then we can obtain the amount of heat added. So what if we were to combine all of the processes to make an energy measuring device? Well, this is the fundamental idea behind a calorimeter and is used in industrial operations all over this planet.
“Can certain plastics become harder with heat?”
Thermoplastic materials are widely used for their behavioral effects to induced heat. However, is it possible that some materials might become harder with temperature in an irreversible process? Well, let’s use our scientific mindset to find out. We know that when polymers become cross-linked, they become harder and tougher. So it would follow that when heated, they would be stronger when compared to a non-cross-linked material. What more, because these polymer chains are bonded to each other, they will not change shape after reheating! Thermosetting polymers have applications to be found everywhere, from latex gloves to erasers to bicycle tires.
Hydrogen fuel cells
“Is it possible to extract the energy from fuels without an internal combustion engine?”
Fuels are tremendously useful substances for portable energy storage. However, extracting said energy from them is typically a highly pollutive process. But instead of disposing of this technology altogether, could it be possible that we could use our engineering mindsets to create a pollutive free fuel extractive technology? Well, let’s think about it. We know that fuels are typically rich in hydrogen [H2] gas, and we know that the surrounding atmosphere (at least on earth) is filled with a copious amount of oxygen [O2] gas. Furthermore, hydrogen in its ionized state has a positive charge and oxygen has a negative one, and that a current can be created if positive and negative charged states were connected together in a circuit. So what if we were to create a contraption that would separate the hydrogen gas into hydrogen ions and the oxygen gas into oxygen ions, funnel the extra electrons from the hydrogen side into the negative oxygen side, and finally combine then dispose of the surplus hydrogen and oxygen by combining them into water and flushing them out? This is the exact operating principle behind hydrogen fuel cell technology. Hydrogen fuel cells are typically implemented in automobiles and their demand growing at an exponential rate, with a 65% increases in sales from 2014-2015!
However, one must be cautious when using this technology. Because all fuels will be composed of more than hydrogen gas, those chemicals will be released as well, inducing pollution. In addition, these impurities can cause short circuiting. Since we all aspire to be scientific thinkers, we must be remember to be cautious of any new breakthroughs.
“How can we turn solar energy into fuel?”
If humanity wants to survive in the not too distant future, then it must become more reliant on renewable technologies such as solar energy. However, one serious drawback to solar energy when compared to traditional fuel sources is what I like to call its nature-dependent nature, or the fact we can not generate solar power at our will, we need an extraneous phenomenon (the sun being present) to do so. This has lead researchers all over the world to dedicate their careers to building new ways of storing solar energy for later use. One new method of doing so has the potential to seriously challenge traditional fuel source by imitating photosynthesis. This method works by using simple chemistry. Hydrogen gas [H2] and carbon monoxide [CO] can be combined together to create fuel sources. The sun can also be used to change water[H2O] and carbon dioxide [CO2] into hydrogen gas and carbon monoxide. Now let’s put this knowledge into practice. First, let’s build a space containing water and carbon dioxide. Then, let’s use concentrated sunlight to heat up these compounds until they lose their oxygen atoms and become hydrogen gas and carbon monoxide. We can then combine these two chemicals to create a new fuel, solar fuels. Solar fuels relieve stress from the grid and allow for simple integration and consumption any sort of machine, whether it be a small motorcycle or a titanic aircraft carrier.