As a software engineer, I always loved the notion that humans invented engineering when they stopped believing in magic: they still wanted to experience that magic but they just found out that creating it is the best way to see something that doesn’t exist yet. 

That’s why “every new, advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” (as famously put by Arthur C. Clarke in his Three Laws).

Think about that for a minute: all new technologies always feel a bit amazing and magic.

I never liked chemistry in school though. But I now suspect that it was not my fault. Here’s a fun perspective that doesn’t care about chemical groups, periods or atomic weights; a perspective that is, in my opinion, just amazing:

No one told me that hydrogen and helium were the only elements present in the first moments after the big bang. And no one told me that every other element happens by combining these 2 elements with a lot of energy. A LOT! 

It doesn’t make a lot of sense that iron, lithium, gold, uranium or whatever else comes solely from hydrogen and helium. Super novae, cosmic rays, small stars and large stars are basically factories in an expanding universe where absurds amounts of energy and collisions create and spew elements across the universe. This stuff slowly clumps and forms into planets that we later living in.

Those are called nucleogenic reactions, a fascinating topic because they are the force behind all of this magic.

Carbon, for instance is the 4th element most abundant in the universe and it came from the 2 most abundant ones (Helium, Hidrogen). Plus lots of energy.  And because carbon is more abundant than, for instance, zinc, we know that zinc is less abundant in the universe and we know that zinc was formed later. Some elements are so complex so they need more extreme forces to happen. The complex elements are linked to the occurrence of those more extreme forces 

90 elements are found in nature. But humans are able to create 22 others by controlling big amounts of energy. A good example is the man-made plutonium that is created from uranium. So we know how the recipe works to make crazy complex stuff. 

Now why is chemistry more interesting than just H+H+O = water?

For the same reason that may turn the 2030’s and 2040’s into a a defining moment for humankind.  This week was an eventful one with multiple news around advancements that show that fusion is getting closer. And with the fusion, come immense energy. 

Once we control fusion, we will stop worrying about radiation from nuclear/fission. But fusion is extremely hard and we’ve only been able to create it by spending more energy than it creates. There’s a threshold when we can start creating energy without having to expend as much to get the process started, and we’re not there yet.

So why is anything more exciting than that? Because free energy can create every single element in the periodic table from water and air. Imagine that.

We wouldn’t need to exploit earth anymore or emit CO2 because we’d control a process that creates anything that we need (lithium, iron, zinc, gold…). Anything that we will ever need are built from basic chemical elements that we see in the periodic table. So..

A burger is just water + air + energy

A plane is just water + air + energy

Gold is just water + air + energy

Everything could become incredibly cheap since it’d be abundant. We’d stop fighting for water, oil or riches just because they’d be available and instead focus on pushing our dreams even further.

A world unbound by anything but dreams.. Just like magic..