Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Student's Guide to Chemistry in 3 Simple Steps

The Student's Guide is a blog series designed to reflect a certain blogger's snark when confronting school while also imparting useful advice to fellow apocalypse survivors on how to become successful in school without becoming a robot of the education system.

Before we dive in this post, a couple notes on where I've been lately: last Sunday, I wrote on The Fangirl Initiative on why Dr Helen Cho of Avengers: Age of Ultron should stay. I also reviewed A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas and explained why it didn't live up to the hype.

And onwards! Some time ago, I wrote a post on why electrons are smarter than humans. Today, I'm going to use a similar analogy to teach even science-blind people (who are still awesome, btw) the basics of chemistry, and entertain fellow science nerds.

1. Protons are greedy people.

analogy to understand atomic structure
Fig. 1: An atom.
On Fig. 1, because figures are scientific, we can identify the red/brown mass with the greedy, evil face. That is the nucleus, which comprises of the greedy protons and the neutrons. The protons are greedy, or in scientific terms, positively charged.

The neutrons are very lazy and don't do anything—they're dead weight. Protons contribute to both the charge (greediness) and the mass, where neutrons contribute to only the mass.

The gold trails are the orbitals, with the green money as electrons. As you can imagine, money and greed will attract each other, so electrons are negatively charged and attract protons.

The electrons, or money, are stored in 'purses' of eight coins/electrons, also called electron shells. (Actually, the nth electron shell can hold 2*n^2 electrons but prefer to hold 2 or 8.) You will learn in higher level chemistry that these purses are further subdivided, but that's okay. You don't care yet.

So far: greedy protons, money electrons, and purses to hold them. Good so far?

2. Atoms like full purses. 


I mean, we did assume its protons were greedy. But they don't neccesarily want more money, they want full purses. Remember, they have purses that can normally hold 8 coins. But they just can't toss the money on the streets. It's just not allowed. There are two possible situations:

There is one atom which has $7 and another which has $17. If atoms were as weird as people, they'd try to steal all of the other atom's money. Instead, the $17 atom will donate $1 to the $7 atom, hence one of them now has $8 and the other has $16. Now everyone's happy! This is called an ionic bond.

A more complicated scenario is when we have two atoms with $7. Now, you'd think there's no way around it, but protons are creative. What they'll do is sit down around a table and each put $1 on there. So the table has $2 and they have $6 in their purse. Now the protons count their money ... 6 in the pocket, 2 on the desk! VoilĂ ! This is why it's so difficult to engineer atomic bombs; atoms just don't like to fight, okay?

3. I lied. Atoms fight all the time.


Unfortunately, atom fights are like monopoly. There's always that one person who wins and becomes RICHER THAN THE BANK. (Seriously. That happens to me all the time.)

Ahem! As I was saying, all atoms are equal, but some atoms are more equal than others. They have more protons and hence are stronger and greedier; scientists like to call them highly electronegative. A measure of how greedy atoms are is called electronegativity.

Whichever atom is greedier, or more electronegative, can pull the money-electrons on the table (or in a covalent bond) towards itself. The table isn't just a dot; it's at least 1D, or a line, so the electrons can be closer to the greedier atom, which becomes more negatively charged as its greed is satisfied.

Any non-sciency people feel more confident? Any other analogies to contribute?


Takeout isn't funny enough these days. For more humourous takeout like this post, let me write monthly letters to you!

20 comments:

  1. I'm taking Chemistry right now, and it's definitely not the reason I poured saltwater all over my homework yesterday. OH NOOOOO THAT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN. This is pure genius, Alyssa. I'm currently studying for finals, and I think I have a solid hold on the topic of this post specifically, but it's still a wonderful analogy. Right now our class is about three units behind, so we're frantically trying to cram everything in before finals in three weeks. So now we're speeding through a chapter about acids and bases and Bronsted-Lowry and Arrhenius and acidic salts and basic salts and all that fun stuff. :P

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    1. OF COURSE NOT. I mean, that would never happen, even if you built an electrolysis set-up on top of your homework. Oh nooooo.

      I'm glad you enjoy it -- it's not a particularly complicated concept in chemistry, but it is a foaundational topic and particularly easy to play with! We're cramming redox before the exams -- I'm not familiar with acidic and basic salts, but they sound fun. They should attract counterparts out of our eyes XD

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    2. *grins sheepishly*

      Ooh, redox. I remember that being a particular hard topic for me when I first learned it. I don't know why, but I think it was probably because of those pesky half reactions. I understand it much better now. :D

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    3. I just have this tendency to mix up reducing/oxidising agents and positive/negative electrodes, and my teacher is an unforgiving person who trolls us by pretending to doubt our (correct) answers. *weeps* Plus, we're cramming before the exams.

      Thanks for dropping by again -- it means the world!

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  2. Ha--this was awesome, Alyssa! I had Chemistry last year (we're having Physics this year--ick) and absolutely sucked at it, haha.

    I love the first diagram you did. It's fun AND it makes sense, so bonus points! And whoa--so that's why there aren't that many atomic bombs around. ;)

    I can't believe I still semi-remember ionic bonds and electronegativity. Who knew? Awesome post!

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    1. I'm glad you liked it, Aimee! Oh, that's an interesting education system -- here in Hong Kong we normally spend 3 years studying 3 or 4 elective subjects (other than languages and maths). Glad you managed to escape chemistry, though :)

      Congratulations on still remembering! I'm glad you liked the diagram -- it is rather cute, no? GIMP is really fun to play with.

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  3. I haven't taken Chemistry since last year BUT THIS IS STILL HILARIOUS! I mean, finance AND chemistry? Are you suggesting that school gets better? Small confession, though: I was trying to follow you, but your picture of the greedy atom really made me think that it was a rapper atom with a lot of bling and so probably what I need now is for an ionic bond rap battle as they fight over who gets what.

    Really, though. This is the science of sciences. *applauds*

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    1. I'M GLAD IT IS. SCIENCE TAKEOUT SHOULD BE TIMELESS. This is amusing, because I take economics and chemistry and I can confirm economics does not help you come up with this sort of analogy. Daydreaming during econ does.

      Okay, that image is too good that I can't fault you for losing track. :D

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  4. This is a surprisingly good analogy! I knew all this already, I think I started learning it about 3 years ago, but I haven't done all that much on electronegativity. You explained that very well, even though atoms are pretty illogical when it comes to not wanting all the money. You explained this very well though, and I really liked the figure (which was totally scientific, btw) Also I have a question: How do you balance blogging with school? And is your school year almost over?

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    1. Well, humans aren't too logical either, so you can't fault me. RIGHT? I'm glad the image was scientific, because figures are really important. Basically all you will find on this blog is pseudo science.

      I basically schedule all my posts, use tools like Buffer to schedule social media, use Bloglovin' to manage blog post reading, and basically procrastinate in class. You can check out guide to saving time for more details -- I might do an extended blog post on Student's Guide to Blogging as well :)

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  5. I'm actually having a chemistry test coming up soon and I'm almost tempted to print this out and use it as my study guide - LOL. ;) Thank you for the laughs and for sharing this wonderful post!

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    1. Aww, thank you! That's such wonderful praise. I'm glad you enjoyed reading this post!

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  6. Ha! I love this! I haven't needed my college chemistry in a while, and this was a great refresher.

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    1. Subjects do seem to become obsolete rather quickly -- still, humour is never outdated! Thanks for reading, Caryn!

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  7. I haven't taken chemistry yet, but can you be my science teacher??? You can tell me funny analogies of protons and never give me homework ;)

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    1. Hmm, that sounds like a plan. I'll even let you play with sodium, how's that?

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  8. Man, I knew there was a reason why science was my worst subject. Not only was I not good at it, but I HATED it. I mean, I just SEE the word "atom" and my eyes glaze over. I am trying to understand, but really, what I got out of this is that every single speck in the universe is a greedy piece of shit. From tiny atoms all the way to big old humans. Am I anywhere close? Either way, this was fun ;)

    Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight

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    1. Huh. That's actually a pretty accurate way to sum up life, even if it is more with a philosophical bent. I'll have to try harder to make you understand all this science -- but in the meantime, I'm glad it was fun!

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  9. "... to teach even science-blind people (who are still awesome, btw)."

    Aww. It's so good to know we lower folk mean so much to you. ;) Also - WHY could I not have seen this post at the beginning of the school year? It would have made my science class this year far, far easier. :P

    (PS: *adopts Literary Snob Voice* Slightly disgruntled nobody else picked up on the Animal Farm reference. Rest assured, Alyssa, your genius did not go COMPLETELY unnoticed.)

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    1. *hands you takeout* Don't be discouraged. I mean, you're the reason why I wrote this post. And yes, I probably should've written it earlier, but hey, at least it's here for last minute revisions XD

      Hehe, I'm glad you noticed. Besides *whispers behind hand* it's better if only a few people notice. Otherwise we couldn't call ourselves snobs. :P

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