Chapter 6- Silk and Nylon

Silk Molecules and their Chemistry

       Silk and Nylon have been around for ages, but no one of their time period questioned what made them soft and stretchable. Silk is considered a protein, which means it is made up of amino acids; twenty-two to be exact. Each amino acid group contains an amino group (NH2), and an organic acid group (COOH). The three most common amino acids that form silk are glycine, alanine, and serine. In each amino acid structure their is a different compound attached to CH, H2N, and COOH. In glycine, hydrogen is attached; Alanine, CH3 is attached; and in serine, CH2OH is attached. All of these amino acids contribute to smoothness of the silk. It is estimated that these three amino acids make up eighty to eighty-five percent of silk in a repeating sequence. The rest of the amino acids that make up silk, about fifteen to twenty percent, are side groups that can chemically bond with dye molecules, causing the beautiful colors of silk that make it famous. In Nylon, a synthetic version of silk, consists of two different monomer units-one that consists of two acid groups and the other with two amine groups. Each structure comes together in an alternating chain, diaminohexane and adipic acid strain.

History of Silk and Nylon

The history of silk goes back to around 2640 B.C, when Princess His-ling-shih concluded that a piece of thread could be unwound from an insect cocoon that had fallen in her tea. Thus observation thrust the silk business into full gear in China. The Chinese gathered the silkworms from the mulberry bush, upon which they fed, and began producing silk like crazy. The method of obtaining the magnificent silk thread spread rapidly across China. Usually, silk was saved for more prominent people in Chinese society, but over the course of time, common people were allowed to wear clothing made of silk. It was so high valued that it was even used as a form of currency! Over the years, silk had spread slowly by trade, so not many other countries could receive; mainly only the ones near China and Japan. Even in North America, the United States had tried to cultivate a method to create silk. Even though it failed, the U.S. could still weave and spin silk causing them to be one the largest manufacturers of silk goods in the twentieth century. Nylon had got its start when a different type of artificial silk was needed. Organic chemist, Wallace Carothers, was hired by the Du Pont company to do independent research. He wanted to work with polymers and thus creating nylon. When nylon made its debut in 1938 as toothbrush bristles, Carothers knew nylon would be a big success. After toothbrushes came nylon stockings in 1939. They were so popular with women that it was mass produced.

My Opinion

       I feel like silk isn’t used as much as it was once. Most uses for silk, in today’s society, are mainly for like prom, homecoming, and even silk robes. It isn’t has prominent as it used to be. Nylon, on the other hand I feel is still prominent in today’s society because a lot of women work office and desk jobs where they are required to dress professionally, meaning that they wear hosiery.

 

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Wonder Drugs

What Are Wonder Drugs?

In simple terms, wonder drugs are molecules known as antibiotics that had a hand in changing the lives of thousands of people over the last century. They were introduced in the 20th century and proved that there was a future in the business of pharmaceuticals. Medicines such as Aspirin, Sulfa drugs, and penicillin fall under the “wonder drug” category.

Their Chemistry and Historical Impact:

One of the first wonder drugs introduced was Aspirin. in 1893, Felix Hofmann, an employee at Bayer, began researching the properties of compounds related salicylic acid, which is a pain relieving molecule found in  both the tree bark of the willow genus and in the flowers of meadow-sweet. Even though the molecule has a glucose ring, the rest of its structure allows it to taste bitter and not sweet. Salicylic acid is the most active part of the salicin molecule and has the ability to reduce fever, relieve pain, and act as an anti-inflammatory. While it is more potent than salicin, it irritates the stomach lining, which contradicts its medicinal value. To take away the corrosive aspects, Hofmann used acetyl salicylic acid, or ASA. In ASA, CH3Co replaces the H of the phenolic OH group, which indeed does take away the corrosive properties. As a result, the Bayer company began the marketing of Aspirin in 1899, and it has since become the most widely used of all drugs for treating illness and injury.

In the early 1930’s, Gehard Dogmark discovered the use of prontosil red dye as an antibacterial agent. When prontosil red enters the body, it breaks down into sulfanilamide, which was the active bacteria fighting ingredient of the prontosil red molecule. Once it was discovered that sulfanilamide was the molecule responsible for the anti bacterium properties, the structure of this molecule was changed many times in hopes that it would make the drug more effective. The resulting molecules are all part of the family of antibiotics that came to be known as sulfanilamides of sulfa drugs.

In 1877, Louis Pasteur discovered penicillin, which is a type of mold. This mold was so effective because it was nontoxic, nonirritating, and could be applied directly to the tissue. This is because of the shape of its molecule. Penicillin’s structure contains a four member ring, which is usually not common, in which the bonds form a square. When the penicillin encounters bacteria, the four membered ring opens and effectively deactivates the enzyme that creates the cell wall. Without the ability to grow cell walls,  the growth of new bacteria is severely inhibited.

Historically, these wonder drugs have been the most helpful in expanding life expectancy and decreasing the mortality rates. The leading causes of death in the 1900s in the United States were mostly bacterial diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gastritis, and diphtheria, and they do not even make the list today with the production of these drugs.

Personal Opinion:

I believe that the impact of these drugs have on the modern world are more prominent than they were when first introduced. The vast majority of middle-aged and senior citizens are being put on an Aspirin regimens by their doctors to help prevent heart attacks, strokes, and deep vein thrombosis. Also, the United States produces over 40,000,000 pounds of Aspirin annually! Another example of how it is more prominent now is the fact that new antibiotics, or new “wonder drugs”, are constantly being tested and put on the market, like a never-ending cycle.

Author’s Argument:

The author was not only able to effectively connect the wonder drugs with one another and show how they evolved into what they are today, but also connect these drugs to molecules that were previously discussed, such as dyes and phenol. They also put it into perspective that science really is an ever-improving process by showing how these drugs were improved upon until they were able to be in their most effective and potent form; it was also shown how science progresses and how one molecule can lead to another molecule , and so and so forth.

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Chapter 13: Morphine, Nicotine, Caffeine

What are Morphine, Nicotine, and Caffeine?

Morphine, nicotine and caffeine can all bring some type of enjoyment to humans but they can also be dangerous and addictive. Morphine product of the opium poppy plant and is most commonly known as a painkiller that numbs the senses and induces sleep. Variations of the morphine compound, are heroin and methadone. Unfortunately it is very addicting and is abused often. Nicotine is a addicting depressant in large doses and is  most commonly found in tobacco plants and later used in cigarettes. Caffeine is naturally found in tea leaves, coffee beans, cacao pods, and cola nuts and is a white crystalline powder that tastes very bitter in its pure form. Caffeine have several of the same traits as other drugs such as heroin.

History and Chemistry of Morphine:

Morphine has generally been prescribed throughout history as a cure for many different symptoms such as coughing, headaches, asthma, emphysema, and tuberculosis. It is a natural painkiller that is still used today in many surgical operations. Morphine wasn’t recognized as a dangerous drug until 1914 when The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act was passed that stated that the possession of morphine was crime. Morphine is a benzylisoquinoline alkaloid and  is the most abundant of opium’s 24 alkaloids. It’s chemical formula is  C17H19NO3, It contains 5 rings, one of them being a methyl group and another one being an aromatic ring.

History and Chemistry of Nicotine:

Morphine has 10 different alkaloids, with the most common alkaloid being obviously nicotine. Nicotine is used in tobacco and was first discovered in Latin America and was brought back to Europe by Christopher Columbus. Due to it’s addictive qualities, it was a big hit in Europe. King James I of England, however, hated tobacco and banned in in churches and other places in England. In Russia during the 17th century, the punishment for smoking tobacco was having their lips slitted. But people could resist the addictive qualities of  Nicotine. When someone inhales Nicotine, whether it be tobacco dip or cigarettes, the nicotine quickly is absorbed in the lungs and transferred into the bloodstream, all in a matter of 10 seconds. Once nicotine gets to the brain, it stimulates the release of neurotransmitters, and also the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a “feel good”  chemical and explains the addictive effects of Nicotine on the body.  Nicotine’s effect on the brain is due to its ability to bind strongly to the brain’s ACh receptors. Besides being a harm to your body, Nicotine is also used as an insecticide since the 18th Century. But Nicotine is 1000 times more potent when it is absorbed through the skin, and this was discovered after farmer sat in tobacco and it soaked through this pants and absorbed into his skin. He was very lucky to have survived.

History and Chemistry of Caffeine:

Caffeine a naturally occurring chemical stimulant called trimethylxanthine.  It works by blocking the effects of adenosine. Adenosine helps to slow down the nervous system. Caffeine also causes the brain’s blood vessels to constrict, because it blocks adenosine ability to open them up Caffeine is usually recognized in dark liquids like coffee, tea, and a variety of sodas. But caffeine’s pure form is actually a white powder that tastes very bitter. It was discovered in the 1820s by a German Scientist named Friedrich Ferdinand Runge. While caffeine can be seen as a lifesaver, it is very toxic and highly addicting. It is estimated that 80g-100g is the lethal dose for an adult. Fortunately, this is physically impossible for anyone to do.

Opinion:

I was really intrigued during this chapter and was very impressed with the details given in the chapter to each separate subject matter. They had a good balance of history and chemistry and I was overall very happy with this chapter.

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Chapter 15: Salt

Salt has been, is, and will be an important compound with countless uses. It can act as a food preservative, can enhance flavor, and it keeps our bodies functioning properly. Without this common compound the world may be a very different place. This “white gold” has had worldly impacts on both economical and industrial aspects, helping society to grow and improve.

One of the first uses of salt was as a food preservative. It was placed on fish and other raw meats to ‘absorb’ moisture from the meat and create an uninhabitable environment for the growth of germs. This technique works because of the structure of NaCl. This compound consists of a positively charged sodium ion and a negatively charged chloride ion, forming a bond. Water molecules are also partially charged; the oxygen a partial negative and the hydrogens are partial positive. These charges are attracted to the opposite charges of salt (oxygen to sodium and hydrogen to chloride). The compounds are pulled towards each other until the salt is completely surrounded by water, allowing it to dissolve. This brings the water out of raw meats and preserves them for a longer amount of time.

Salt can be collected in three different ways, the first is by evaporating sea water. This is the most common way to extract salt and is very effective in tropical climates. This process is very slow, but is also cheap. The second method for collecting salt is by boiling solutions from underground brine springs. This process is more costly, however brine salt is about ten times more concentrated than sea salt. This compound can also be extracted from underground salt mines as rock salt; which is essentially just the dried remains of old oceans or seas. In fact, towns were formed around these mines, funded by the mined rock salt and its trade for other goods.

The increasing need for salt has lead to imposed taxes upon it. These taxes, which gave governmental profit, caused the price of salt to rise beyond an affordable price for citizens. In turn, salt began to be smuggled, which was a death sentence if caught in the act. Eventually, refrigerants were invented which replaced salt as a food preservative. This lowered its demand which allowed for a lowering of its price, making it more affordable again. Today, salt is cheap, as it is used mainly as a flavor enhancement.

I agree with the authors entirely that salt is one of the most important compounds in that it has helped our society grow and improve both economically and industrially.  Salt can be used as a food preserver, a flavor enhancer, and its earnings were used to profit towns. Today, salt still has a major impact in that it is a necessity for healthy body functions. It maintains the body’s electrolyte balance, generating electrical impulses of neurons. It is also used in the body to produce hydrochloric acid; needed as a digestive juice to break down food. Presently, salt is also commonly used on roads to prevent ice formation for safe driving. I believe that the great impact of salt in the past and present is very clear, and that it will continue to impact our lives in the future in many different ways. This simple compound, sitting on most everyone’s kitchen table, greatly influenced the way we live our life today.

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The Pill

Like a swift kick to the testes, the pill is an effective (less painful) way of not having unexpected children.  For centuries women have been doing a number of things to prevent conception.  In the year 1929 researchers took the first step in the right direction, by extracting and isolating the female sex hormone estrone (which was then metabolized into the more potent estradiol) from a pregnant women’s urine.  Since there is such a small amount of estrone contained in the body, more than four tons of pig ovaries had to be used to obtain only 12 milligrams of estradiol.  On a molecular basis the molecules of testosterone and estradiol only differ by one less CH3, an OH instead of a double-bonded O, and a few more C=C bonds; but there effects they have on maturing body are completely different.  Progesterone was the hormone that would become key in producing a safe, cheap, and reliable contraceptive.  Progesterone is used in the body to signal the uterus to be ready to for the fertilized egg; furthermore when there is a lot of it, like after the egg was been fertilized, it prevents any more eggs from being fertilized in the woman.  When Dr. John Rock learned about this hormone he used it to produce a pill that would be used to promote fertility.  He thought that when you give a woman butt loads of progesterone that when you finally take her off it she would be better able to conceive, which he used the term “rebound effect” for.  Though this molecule would not work as a pill or in the small doses required for a pill.  Dr. Rock began looking for a better suited, artificial replacement.  That is when a pharmaceutical company had patented a called norethynodrel.   Norethynodrel only differed from another molecule called norethindrone ( the first molecule used in place of progesterone) by the different position of a double bond.  Dr. John started testing the uses of norethynodrel, which had been given the name Enovid, on his patients.  Though he was testing for the increased fertility at the end of the experiment, which seemed to only work occasionally, he found out that Enovid was 100% effective at blocking conception.  With the new power of not having to settle down due to children women now had a new role in the world.  They could now not have to stay home and take care of their new born child and could instead go out into the world.  They began to get more of an education and started to enter the job market in massive numbers: they got jobs in politics, business, and in trade.  With the ability now to chose when they want children women have been given new possibilities, rights, and powers that previous generations could not have.  Although with issues  of morality, family values, possible health problems, long-term effects, and other concerns made it difficult for woman to feel comfortable being able to take the pill;  however, by 1965 nearly four million women were taking the pill.

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Nitro Compounds

Nitro Compounds

Casey Kowalski

History

            Nitro compounds have had a huge impact on history. They are behind almost everything that goes “bang” or “boom.” This includes everything from gunpowder to TNT to bombs. They have been used to wage war, make explosive displays in the night sky, and move mountains.

            Nitro compounds have been around for thousands of years, originally in the form of gunpowder in ancient China, Arabia, and India. It was first used in fireworks and was not used as a weapon until the middle of the eleventh century. Eventually, the compound nitroglycerin was invented and was heavily used in the mining industry. Unfortunately, it was also extremely unstable, and would explode if heated or even just struck with a hammer. A man by the name of Alfred Noble sought to solve this problem. His solution was known as dynamite. His invention revolutionized the modern mining industry.

Chemistry

            Explosives go boom because of a group known as a nitro group (NO2) that is present in a compound. These groups are critical because in order for an explosion to occur, the combustion reaction needs to be extremely rapid. The nitro groups provide the oxygen needed because the oxygen in the air is not available quickly enough. When the reaction happens, a shockwave is produced by the gases that are produced expanding outwards. This shockwave can travel as fast as six thousand meters per second and is what gives explosives their devastating effects. However, the arrangement of the nitro group in the molecule is what really determines how it will act. For instance, p-nitrotoluene and p-aminobenzoic acid have the exact formula of C7H7NO2, but the placement of the nitrogen and oxygen atoms in the molecule are different, resulting in p-nitrotoluene being explosive, while p-aminobenzoic acid is not explosive and often used is sunscreens.

Opinions

            I think that the authors did an exceptional job on this chapter. The historical connections and facts were well-founded and made sense. This chapter also intrigued me more than the others, and I was fascinated about how it works. I especially agreed with the point they made on the importance of nitro compounds in World War I. The authors did an overall very solid job on this chapter.

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Wonder Drugs Chapter 10

What are Wonder Drugs?

The wonder drugs are a series of antibiotics that were discovered and have saved many lives. They were all discovered by trial and error or accident. They were discovered in the 19th and early 20th century. The main ones are aspirin, sulfa drugs, and penicillin. They were able to cure infections rather than other treatments the just helped prevent infections. The cure to infections before them was amputation.

Key History and Chemistry

In the late 19th century Felix Hoffman decided to investigate the properties of compounds related to salicylic acid.It is a pain relieving molecule that was originally isolated from the bark of a willow tree.Even though the salicin molecule contains a glucose it tastes bitter from the rest of the molecule. Salicin can break down into 2 parts which are glucose and salicyl alcohol. Then the salicyl alcohol can be oxidized into salicylic acid. They are both classified as phenols because they have an OH group directly attached to the benzene ring. Salicylic acid reduces fever, relieves pain, and acts as an anti-inflammatory. The problem is it can be very irritating to the lining of the stomach. Felix Hoffman was interested in these compounds because his dad had rheumatoid arthritis.  he cured his father by giving him acetyl salicylic acid, a derivative of salicylic acid. Its great properties caused the Bayer company to market it in 1899. They called it aspirin. When the demand for aspirin increased there wasn’t enough natural sources to satisfy the demand. The Bayer company then bought a lot of phenol but the problem was that this was during World War 1 so that phenol couldn’t be used to make the explosives for the war which could have affected the outcome some. Today aspirin is the most popular drug with over 40 million pounds being produced every year in the U.S.

Personal Opinion

Aspirin has been a very prominent and potent drug in the history and development of this country. I think it will continue to be one of the most important and most common household drug. The majority of medicines will eventually be replaced but aspirin is here to stay for the little problems.

Author’s Argument

The authors did a great job explaining the chemistry and historical effects of wonder drugs. They showed the evolution of the wonder drugs and how they’re related to other compounds. They showed how these drugs have saved people’s lives and how they are better than the previous drug or method. The advancement from amputation to penicillin is gigantic and has been crucial in the lives of people. They also show how drugs aren’t always planned and are sometimes discovered by accident. They showed the impact of these drugs on people’s lives everyday.

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Chapter 17 – Molecules Versus Malaria

Chemistry of Molecules Against Malaria

Malaria is one of the most devestating diseases known to man. It’s name means “bad air” as it was thought to be a result from poisonous mists and evil vapors. The disease is actually cuased by a microscopic parasites and kills two to three million people a year. The four different species of the parasite that infects humans include P. vivax, P. falciparum, P. malarie, and P. ovale. They all cause the symptoms of intense fever, chills, terrible headaches, and muscle pain. The most lethal type is falciparum as the other types are considered benign although they are anything but that. Malaria is transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. The first idea of a cure camethe molecule quinine which was foundin the upper parts of the Andes Mountains where trees with bark that contained an alkaloid molecule resided. This bark was known by the natives to be an effective fever cure. There are even stories where the bark had saved people from what was thought to be malaria. Still the identity of the plant was unknown to the people who searched for the curing bark. This was until Joseph de Jussieu discovered the source of the bark when exploring the higher elevations in South America. The demand for the bark was extensive and by the eighteenth century 25,000 quina trees were cut down every year. After much research of what exactly was in the tree bark almost thirty alkaloids were foung to be inside the bark. Quinine was quickly found as the active ingredent and attempts to synthesize were in place. however the structure was unknown so these attempts to extract it were unsuccesful One chemist, William Perkin, thought that by combined two molecules of allyltoluidine with three oxygen atoms that  quinine and water would form. While he failed his work payed of for making mauve for the dye industry and helping us realize that quinine was more complicated than before preceived. After many attempts to smuggle and grow there own trees the plantations in Java struck gold producing trees with 13 percent levels of quinine. This declined the export of bark from South America. Intense research on anti-malarial drus during World War II led to the discovery of a 4-aminoquinoline derivative. This molecule known as chloroquine contains a chlorine atom and for forty years was a safe anti-malarial drug. Sadly the chloroquine-resist strains have spread making it a less effective cure. The quest to succesfully synthesize quinine was tried many more times with the same unsuccesful result. The best the chemist could come up with for an attack against the disease was to kill it from the source, the mosquito. They then created an insecticide and the most effective, DDT, interferred with the nervous systems of the mosquito effectively killing them. Thanks to a variety of factors having to do with the improvment of living condidtions, the incidence of malaria has greatly decreased. DDT was the final stage to eliminate malraia in developed countries.

History of Malaria

The first records of malaria were recorded thousands of years ago in countries such as China, Egypt, and India. Later on the disease was found to occur often in the low-lying coastal regions of England and the Netherands. Extremely developed places like northern United States and Canada were even known the be effected by malaria. Rome and other places near the Black and Mediterranean Seas were known in history for its deadly fevers and cardinals who attended papal conclaves near the area were known to die from malaria contracted from the nearby area. It even effected the Greeks as they would move thier livestock to high hills during the summer to hide from the disease.Many famous  people were thought to die from malaria including Alexander the Great and troops all over the world have been effected by this disease. Troops are most prone because they are known to sleep outside or in tents leaving them susceptible to mosquitos at night. Malaria, until recent times, was a problem in countries even as advanced as the United States. Though it has been mostly eraticated, malaria still effects under developed countries such as those in Africa.

Opinion on the Matter and Author’s Arguement

Malaria and the cure for it still is apart of the modern world. Even though the disease has been eliminated in advanced countries there are still many third-world countries that are effected by malaria everyday. Places like Africa are effected everyday by the deadly disease. Commericals on television even beg for you to donate so the people in Africa can have mosquito repellent beds or something along the lines of vaccines to help prevent or cure malaria. However the research and discovery of DDT has greatly inhanced the capability of eraticating malraia. I beleive until the disease has been completely destroyed malaria will be apart of our modern world. The author’s opinion on how different the world would be without the quest to cure this disease is absolutley true. The search for a cure made exporting tree bark from South America a necessity. Also the effect it has had on armies have caused wars to be lost and won in many different situations. Just imagined if the spread of malaria was never stopped? Many people would have died and our population could have even been driven to extinction. Our world would be quite different- for better or for worse- without the substitutions produced through the tireless research and inginuity of those who create molecules.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Blog 2: Peppers, Nutmeg, and Cloves

Pepper, nutmeg, and cloves are common spices known to most people, and most likely they aren’t thought of as anything too important. However, these spices have each made an impact on the world in their own special way. The chemical make up of a common spice can change how many things are done and benefit or hurt society as a whole.

Pepper originated in India from the vine Piper nigrum, and it is the most popular of spices. By the fifth century BC, pepper was being used in Greece for medicinal purposes, such as an antidote to poison. On the contrary, the Romans used pepper as spice for their food as it is commonly used today. As time went on, pepper was used as a preservative and flavor enhancer, and it would disguise the taste of rotted food. Pepper’s ability to help give character to tasteless helped push the Venetian traders who transported it into prosperity. This prosperity is what led other nation to want to compete aggressively to find new routes to India. Portuguese explorers made it to India and expanded their countries empire through it during their search for peppercorns. Christopher Colombus was supposedly on his way to finding a  new route to India when he discovered the unknown continents of North and South America. So what was the all the buzz about? What gave pepper the hot sensation everyone was craving? It is actually a response by pain nerves to a chemical stimulus that is due to the shape of the piperine molecule. Back to Colombus, since he wasn’t quite in India, he found a different type of pepper, the chili pepper. It has several different species that are all apart of the Capsicum genus. The pungent, intense flavor of chili peppers comes from the chemical capsaicin, which has similarities to piperine of pepper. The satisfaction that is sometimes felt after a fiery meal may be caused by endorphins. Colombus’s chili pepper’s didn’t get as popular in Europe as it did in Asia, and the East India Trading Company traded it frequently.

In addition to peppers, nutmeg and cloves are two spices with influential backgrounds. They originally only grew on the Banda Islands before the Portuguese found the source and began to trade the spices. Nutmeg and cloves are two very aromatic spices that chemically differ in only in the position of one double bond. They are also natural pesticides, and humans can consume small amounts of them due to the effectiveness of the liver’s detoxification process. In Asia, nutmeg is used medicinally to treat rheumatism, stomach pains and dysentery or colic. It also used to be used as protection against the Black Death by being tied in a pouch around the neck. Unfortunately, it became marked as “the spice of madness” due to its hallucinogenic properties that came from the molecule myristicin and elemicin. When consumed in certain amounts, nutmeg causes nausea, sweats, heart palpitations, elevated blood pressures, and days of hallucinations. Very similar to myristicin is safrole which is the starting material for MDMA, or ecstasy. The clove trade was monopolized by the Portuguese throughout the 16th century, but as it turned over into the next century the Dutch had the ability to take control of the Banda Islands. After many battles between the Dutch and the English, the Treaty of Breda was signed in which the Dutch got to keep the clove and nutmeg islands and the British got the island of Manhattan. Without those spice trees, New York might have still been New Amsterdam.

I think that the authors made a very valid argument about the importance of the three spices in this chapter. Each one made some sort of impact, large or small, that had an outstanding effect on either the course of history or the way things are used in present day. Each of these spices are still a part of the world today as they are all used quite often in cooking and baking throughout the world. Their chemical make up has helped them help us create tasty masterpieces out of any foods.

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Chapter 6- Silk and Nylon

Silk has been a coveted commodity ever since 2640 B.C., according to legend. But even if silk’s history isn’t as long as believed, its unique properties and historical influence are still remarkable. The effects of the production of silk include the opening of trade routes, the development of cities, and the blossoming of industries such as dyeing and weaving. Also, a search for a cheap alternative to silk caused major inventions as well, like hosiery and parachutes. Silk and its artificial relative nylon have actually made a larger impact on history and economics than one might think, and it’s all due to the chemical structure of silk.

Silk is a protein produced by the silkworm in the form of a cocoon, originally found in China, where the silkworm is common. The production of silk thread involves raising the silkworms in controlled temperatures with plenty of mulberry leaves to eat, heating cocoons made by the silkworms until the chrysalis inside is killed, and putting the cocoon in boiling water to remove the silkworm’s secretion that holds the silk together. One cocoon can make 400 to 3,000 yards of thread, which would be sold mostly to nobility and the imperial family for a high price. When the selling and trade of silk took off, a network of trade routes throughout central Asia was established as the Silk Road, which stretched into the Mediterranean, India, and present-day Turkey. Despite China’s efforts to retain a monopoly over silk, including punishing smuggling attempts with death, the production of silk, known as sericulture, spread to other countries. In fact, there is a legend that in 552 the first recorded incident of industrial espionage occurred when two monks managed to smuggle silkworm eggs in their hollow canes to Constantinople, enabling the West to begin producing silk. Once this act of smuggling was performed, western countries quickly began producing silk. By the 1300’s, Italy had established a booming sericulture industry, thought to be one of the financial foundations for the Renaissance to occur. From Italy, sericulture spread to France, England, and eventually the United States. There has always been a high demand for silk, yet it has always been expensive, so, starting in the late nineteenth century, a search for an artificial substitute began. After many trials and errors, nylon arrived on the scene in 1938, with characteristics most similar to silk than any other attempt before it. While Wallace Carothers was researching polymers for the Du Pont Fibersilk Company, he helped add evidence to the theory about giant molecules of polymers that Staudinger received the Nobel Prize for in 1953. After four years of research, Carothers created nylon, the first synthesized molecule to have the most properties similar to silk, such as sag and wrinkle resistance. Nylon was also much cheaper than silk. In 1938, nylon was first used for toothbrush bristles, but then it got its big break in 1939 when nylon hosiery was introduced. From there, nylon began to be used for fishing lines, tennis racket strings, surgical sutures, electrical wire coatings, and more, because it was strong, durable, and light. With World War II, production of nylon changed to be coarser than the thread used for hosiery so nylon could be used in military products such as weather balloons, mosquito netting, rope, and parachutes. After World War II, nylon production went back to domesticity, nylon being found in clothing, skiwear, carpets, furnishings, and more in the 1950’s. Nylon was also the first compound that could be used as a replacement for metal. Both silk and nylon had a great historical impact throughout the world. Silk opened trade routes, caused the development of big silk-producing cities, and helped establish other industries like dyeing, spinning, and weaving. Nylon impacted the modern world by becoming the base of many artificially made products and leading the way to other man-made manufactures.

The desirable properties of silk that caused its high price and association with the upper class can be attributed all to silk’s chemical structure. Silk is a protein and a polymer, which means it is composed of repeating molecules. Proteins consist of an amino group (NH2) attached to a carbon atom next to an organic acid group (COOH), with a side group or chain composed of one of 22 groups that code for a different amino acid. Glycine, with a side group of H, alaine (with CH3), and serine (with CH2OH) compose about 85% of silk. These three amino acids have the smallest side groups possible, which is responsible for silk’s smooth texture. The repeating molecules in silk differ from those of other fabrics because not all the molecules have the same side groups, which means they are different amino acids. Theoretically, each amino acid could be one of the 22 possible, but it has been estimated that 80-85% of the amino acids in silk follow the pattern of glycine-serine-slycine-alanine-flycine-alanine. Amino acids bond with each other by removing a water molecule between two, the H of one’s NH2 group and the OH of the other’s COOH, and forming an amide group. These chains of amino acids are in zigzag form and line up parallel with other chains going in the opposite direction. The two chains have cross attractions between molecules that cause them to stay together in a pleated structure, that is, with side groups on one chain facing up while side groups on the other face down. This pleated structure causes many of silk’s desired characteristics, like its stretch resistance, smoothness, its luster, and its “sparkle” (which is caused by irregularities in the pleated structure that break up reflected light). The remaining 15-20% of silk that isn’t made of the three main amino acids can easily absorb dyes and color. Nylon’s chemical structure is very similar to silk, which is why it has such similar characteristics that led to its fame. Silk is made of amino acid units with an acid on one end and an amine on the other, but nylon has two acid groups on the ends of one monomer unit and two amine groups on the ends of the other. The unit with two acids is known as adipic acid and has COOH at both ends, and the other unit, known as 1,6-diaminohexane, has NH2 on both ends. These two monomers still remove a water molecule between the two to make an amide bond, which is responsible for nylon’s properties similar to silk.

Today the uses of nylon is just as important as it was in the past, I think the only difference is that it has become so commonplace it is no longer a big deal in our minds. Silk has never lost its value since its beginning. Although today it isn’t making history like it did in the past, it is still a hot commodity associated with the wealthy. Nylon opened the world to synthesized molecules and man made products, but now that more molecules have been synthesized and used to make artificial commodities that once were strictly natural-made, nylon has died down a bit. It is still used for many products such as hosiery and parachutes, but it is no longer the hot new thing of the century. I agree with the authors’ statement that silk and nylon have a great significance to our past and our present. One can use many other examples in history to know that anything that creates jobs will have striking effects on the economy, such as World War II or the Industrial Revolution. Both the production of silk and, later on, nylon created jobs and in silk’s case, created large trade routes and manufacturing cities. Also, nylon’s convenient timing of being created just before World War II allowed it to be used for military items, which could possibly be interpreted as helping the technology of the military to help the soldiers’ performance. Both silk and nylon have such desirable characteristics for fabric and clothing, they both shaped the idea of fashion and the fashion industry. Despite the slight decline in fame for both silk and nylon, they both play an important role in our culture and economy, by shaping fashion trends and creating jobs for manufacture. And both have always played an important role since each was found or created, and both have made huge impacts on our world.

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