By Keira Havens
Have you ever been curious about where the things you use come from? You’re in good company: the Discovery Science show “How It’s Made” lets people peek behind the scenes at manufacturing and has been going strong for 13 years. Some of the most intriguing episodes are the ones where simple, everyday items – like sandpaper – turn out to be made with a process that’s far more complex than you may have imagined.
The latest challenge at LAUNCH is going even deeper, asking not just “How is this made?” but “Is there a better way to make this?” To get at the heart of that question, we have to go beyond the mesmerizing machines that stamp and press our everyday objects into existence and re-think the materials themselves.
This is where chemistry comes into play. Some people keep asking ‘how it is made’ all the way down to the molecules that make up our world. These are chemists, and while some of them do wear white lab coats and pour liquid from beaker to test tube, today chemists make the building blocks of our world; the shirt you’re wearing, the dye that’s colored it (or the bleach that removed the original color!), the composite of the buttons and the nylon of the tag are all the product of chemistry.
And this goes for everything we use! It might not be cool to say right now, but our world is made up of chemicals, and the people who understand chemicals do a lot of work to make sure they’re safe and effective. The LAUNCH Chemistry challenge is catapulting this work forward, identifying those organizations that will let us learn more, and learn faster, about the chemicals we use and their impact on us and our environment.
This work is critical to the future of chemistry. Imagine if we could design a chemical in the same way we design software applications today. Just like the technologies we use to connect with one another and explore the world, chemistry works better when it’s smarter. Data drives innovation, and the LAUNCH Chemistry Innovation Challenge is setting the stage for a new generation of materials that are developed with chemistry that is always safe, effective and environmentally-friendly.
This is a cause that’s near and dear to my heart. Part of the reason I began studying biochemistry in the first place was because I was fascinated with the way living things use chemicals to do everything from signal one another to build fantastic structures. Chemicals made and used in thoughtful ways can not only perform useful functions, they can actually keep us healthy and improve our lives.
Join LAUNCH in making this future a reality! If you’re an entrepreneur, apply to our challenge here. If you’re a student, do the same – we’re interested in new ideas and fresh thinking. And if you have a favorite pair of sneakers, store food in a tupperware container or drive a car, say ‘thank you’ to chemistry by sharing this post with your friends. Chemistry has taken us to amazing places, and we’re excited to see what the future holds!