Haber-Bosch Process

Nitrogen plays a critical role in the biochemistry of every living thing. It is needed by animals as amino acids, proteins, and many components of life machinery such as enzymes, DNA, RNA, etc. and plants require it for chlorophyll.

Though it is the most common gas in our atmosphere, it exists as highly non-reactive N2 gas which is metabolically useless to almost all organisms. It is by biological nitrogen fixation that N2 can be converted into ammonia, which is metabolized by most organisms. And only Diazotrophs that include bacteria such as Azotobacter and archaea can under nitrogen fixation. Consequently, a major limiting factor in agriculture has been the availability of nitrogen in its consumable form.

In 1910, German chemists Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch changed all this when the former came up with Haber-Bosch process. The process converts atmospheric nitrogen (N2) to ammonia (NH3) by a reaction with hydrogen (H2) using a metal catalyst under high temperatures and pressures. This played a pivotal role when it was turned into a crop fertilizer, giving plants the ability to intake nitrogen. This created a snowball effect with more and more plants being produced because of the process, creating a rapid growth in the food chain. Overall, the process has posed many benefits and detriments over the past century.

Polythene

From hard hats to plastic bags, Polythene is the most common plastic found in many products today. Its discovery goes back to 1898, when Hans von Pechmann discovered something waxy at the bottom of his tube. The funny thing is that he was studying something completely different, making the discovery accidental. He and his fellow scientists studied the substance and found out that it was composed of very long molecular chains. These chains were later termed polymethylene.

Like penicillin, the study of the new substance was put to a halt until 1933. At Imperial Chemical Industries, multiple chemists discovered an entirely new way to produce the plastic. They, like Hans von Pechmann, found this waxy substance at the bottom of a tube. Two years later, they were able to find a practical method to produce this accidental substance and make plastic products out of it. Look around and I bet you can spot something that contains polythene.

Anesthetic

Once upon a time, if someone needed medical surgery, the only feasible way to ease the pain was to ply them with alcohol and hope for the best. It wasn’t until the middle of the nineteenth century that this really changed when William Morton – a dentist and amateur chemist – discovered that animals passed out after inhaling sulfuric ether. In 1846, Morton led an ostentatious show, when he performed dental surgery on an anaesthetized patient in front of an applauding crowd.

Penicillin

Back in 1928, Alexander Fleming, the Scottish doctor, pharmacologist, and bacteriologist, was running some experiments in his lab. He had been growing a certain bacteria in a petri dish when he noticed that one of his samples had contracted a mold. However, this wasn’t just any mold; it was killing the bacteria in his experiment. The mold came to be known as penicillin and became one of the most important medical discoveries ever made.