From Explosions to Cakes: how Chemical Reactions Impact our Lives

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From Explosions to Cakes: how Chemical Reactions Impact our Lives

Isaac Childers, Reporter, Editor in Cheif

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Chemical reactions are all around us, and have been since this world was created- and before that, too!  Everybody uses and depends on them in their everyday lives. From plants to cars, this is how chemical reactions are in our daily lives.

An explosion is a rapid spontaneous reaction.  This means it happens very fast and occurs naturally on its own.  Chemical explosions are almost always exothermic, meaning they produce heat.  They usually produce large quantities of gas. They are also usually dangerous, especially with large quantities of reactants. 

An example of an everyday explosion is the reaction of gasoline and oxygen.  When heated up, they release the energy that makes the wheels on the bus go round and round.  Heptane is the primary ingredient in gasoline. It is made up of 7 Carbon atoms and 16 Hydrogen atoms.  And, by the way, it is extremely flammable, a health hazard, and an environmental hazard. Normally a liquid, it is toxic.  If you get it on your skin, you may experience swelling and pain in the irritated area. When it evaporates, as a gas, if inhaled it causes “cough, incoordination, dizziness, weakness,  nausea, [and] drowsiness” (ILO International Chemical Safety Cards). Bottom line: stay away from this stuff. What does it create? We’ll find that out soon. But let’s see what a student, Luke Zadjal, thinks: Heptane and Oxygen create Carbon Dioxide.  Was he right? Let’s see!

Back to the chemical reaction itself.  At a gas station, you put gasoline into your car.  When you drive it, spark plugs heat up the gasoline and the oxygen around it.  Doing this triggers the explosion. This explosion produces heat and the expanding gases push the piston inside your engine.   The piston is connected to the camshaft that powers your car (or your bus, according to the nursery rhyme).   

This chemical reaction creates, in the words of Mr. Masjak, “Water and Carbon Dioxide.”  If any of the gasoline doesn’t burn completely, it produces carbon monoxide! This is ALSO extremely poisonous, but unlike gasoline, it is a completely odorless gas and can only be detected with machines.  (Or when you suffocate and die from it). This is why car engines should never be run inside.

There are also many other fuels for cars to burn, such as propane and diesel fuel, which also produce carbon monoxide.  However, hydrogen gas is a much safer alternative, as when burned, it simply creates water!  

On a subtler note, there is a chemical reaction necessary to the survival of humans: photosynthesis!  However, this does not have anything to do with cameras. This is the conversion of water and carbon dioxide to oxygen and sugar.  However, our student friend Luke believes that it is the “process of plants growing and reforming.” Close, but no cigar.

This may seem ridiculous, as it would seem impossible for water and CO2 to become sugar!  But here is the chemical equation: “6CO+6H2O = C6H12O6 (sugar) + 602”  (Pg 886 Fourth Edition Chemical Principles).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

If you count, there are 6 carbon atoms, 12 Hydrogen atoms, and  18 oxygen atoms in each side of the equation. (But you CAN count, right?)  To trigger the chemical reaction, it takes the third ingredient you may be questioning if you know what photosynthesis is: sunshine.

With gasoline, the chemical reaction was started by the energy in the form of heat.  This was created by the spark plugs. Here, there is energy created from sunshine!  This, like the spark plugs, triggers a chemical reaction.  

It does this by getting trapped by the chlorophyll in a plant, which then converts it to the energy required to make the chemical reaction happen!  After this, we have- sugar, as food for plants, and oxygen as a waste product. However, this waste product is what we need to breathe.  (Man, this is “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” on a WHOLE new level.)


You may be pretty bored after the last chemical reaction.  Who cares about how plants eat? (A lot of people, but I’ll overlook that).  Anyways, here’s a new subject that is slightly more interesting.

We are going to talk about a very complex chemical equation.  This has multiple steps in it and unrecognizable ingredients. It also tastes good and is used during birthdays.  Have you guessed yet? It’s cake.


Making a cake uses many chemical reactions, some extremely complex. But we’re only going to talk about a simple reaction.

This reaction is endothermic, which means it requires heat to trigger this chemical reaction.   The heat is your oven, where you bake the cake. And the result is a fluffy cake!  What causes this? Is it flour, as Luke said? Or possibly- something else?


The reactants (the “input” of a chemical reaction) are baking soda and an acid.  There are many types of acid that can be used, but they all have one thing in common.  After the chemical reaction with the baking soda, carbon dioxide is produced.

This carbon dioxide is a gas, it bubbles up and causes the dough to rise, making the cake light and fluffy.


Another, slower alternative to this is to have microorganisms (small living things) called, as Masjak stated, “yeast.” yeast feed on the sugars in the cake and fart out the carbon dioxide.  When you warm it up to the right temperature, it activates the yeast to make the dough rise. When you put in the oven, it is too hot and kills the yeast. (Would you want them crawling around in your cake?)


However, these are only SOME examples of the millions of chemical reactions all around us!  As Masjak said, “ there is matter all around us and things are interacting every day.” Another example from science expert Mr. Badham, “The mitochondria in our bodies [convert] chemicals in our food [to energy.]”  This allows our heart to work and keeps us alive! Without chemical reactions, the world wouldn’t be dull. There simply would be no world!