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Reflecting on Scale and Interconnectivity

June 6, 2016

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“The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched ingredients across our galaxy, billions of years ago. For this reason, we are biologically connected to every other living thing in the world. We are chemically connected to all molecules on Earth. And we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally stardust.”
– Neil deGrasse Tyson

The interactions between the molecules and chemical processes that allow me to write this article connect me to you, with the reflection of photons of light to the photoreceptors in your eyes. Proteins transmit chemical and electrical impulses to your brain where you interpret these characters to words and meaning. So much of the universe and existence as we know it is explained, in part, through chemistry. The general field of chemistry regularly examines the fundamental interactions between individual atoms and electrons, on the scale of angstroms. If we keep our focus at the angstrom scale, a myopic world view can easily be developed and we may overlook the profound impact of chemical processes at larger scales.

Examples of the interconnectivity of the natural world can be found in a common periodic table. In any given column, adjacent elements share significant properties and, as a result, will often appear in adjacent minerals or amalgamations. Failure to consider impacts of scale as well as the interwoven composition can unfortunately result in unexpected consequences. The fundamental interactions that provide pathways for desired toxicological impact to how the ingredients in a product may transition to metabolites through the greater food web are all the result of chemistry. And whether it is a new pesticide, herbicide or chemical with a non-toxic application, the quest for understanding how that compound impacts the rest of the world is never ending.

Each and every day, technology improves and more is known about the physical universe than the day before. Although sectors of science and technology focus research efforts at varying scales, it is through collective critical thinking and watchful eyes that the hazards of this interconnected world can be understood, and avoided where possible. A concerted effort to keep learning, while recognizing the impact of scale and interconnectivity, assures a brighter future for everyone and everything.

Mike Mrozik, Ph.D.
Physical Chemist and Project Scientist