Question: why do you make molecules

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  1. Well, molecules make up the world. That’s the first thing. Everything is molecules. Water, air, sand, the ocean, your clothes, your house, your body. All made of atoms, arranged into molecules.

    So if the world is made of these things, then it would be good to be able to control the world. We’d like to have things like soap, or nicer clothes, or computers or medicines, right?

    Now we can grow a lot of stuff. If you grow wheat and make bread, you don’t need to go and make molecules since the wheat takes care of that for you. When you grow yourself, you are making a lot of molecules each second (seriously – it’s amazing how quickly your body makes stuff), but your body takes care of that without you worrying about it.

    But if you want something that’s not in nature, then you have to make it. That’s what chemists like me do.

    So soap, for example. Soap’s nice. Try living a week without any soap or shampoo, then tell me how nice soap is (keep your distance when you tell me). Have you ever eaten some food and got some stuck between your teeth? Do you know how annoying that is? When you have something stuck like that isn’t floss suddenly the greatest invention EVER? The flat screen computer monitor you’re looking at – made of molecules. The last medicine you took. The battery in your iPhone. None of these things occur naturally, so we have to make them. Chemists make them all.

    Basically chemists are the people who can put atoms together any way you want. It’s hard because the molecules are small and you can’t see them, that’s all.

    Now in my case I put atoms together in a certain way to make medicines. Let’s take one example. Breast cancer is a terrible disease. It’s a naturally-occurring disease. To treat people we need medicines. The medicines we need for something like breast cancer just don’t occur in nature. We have to make molecules, give them to people with the cancer, and try to make them better. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but things are getting better as we learn more. We’re making a molecule that we think will change colour (dramatically) when it bumps into a breast cancer cell. We’ve designed it to do that. It doesn’t occur in nature, so we have to design it and make it. If it works, then we will be able to tell if someone has breast cancer earlier, and that means we can treat them better.

    There are loads of similar stories around the world. If we can make molecules, we can do amazing things. It can be difficult, but it’s fundamentally important in science and medicine.