by Diyaco Shwany, Year 11, King Ecgbert School, Sheffield.
Many people around the world do not know the significance, impacts and importance of science in everyday life. Almost every product we use in our life is developed through the knowledge of scientific discovery that even includes some of the foods we eat. Let’s take a simple everyday product and explain the scientific influence behind its creation: an umbrella. This object can be so important in everyday life; it is used to block out rain and wind which are a common phenomenon and without the umbrella you would most certainly get soaked. It is also used commonly for photographic purposes.
It is with the knowledge of chemistry and physics we are capable of creating an umbrella. If we start to break it down to its basic components we start to understand the involvement of science. The runner and cage are made from stainless steel or fibreglass. Steel is an alloy so that means it is made up of different types of metal and also carbon. How it works is the different sized carbon atoms disrupt the regular lattice shape of iron; as a result that causes the iron atoms to no longer be able to slide over each other making the new material less malleable, more durable and stronger. Without chemistry we wouldn’t even be able to extract iron because we wouldn’t know melting iron ore with carbon would actually remove the iron from the iron ore and give us metallic iron.
Fibreglass is made mostly of silica sand, limestone, and soda ash; silica sand is used because it is what allows the glass to form and the limestone and soda ash are used to reduce the melting point making the process more efficient and sustainable. The main basis of fibreglass is SiO2, which in its purest form is a polymer similar to nylon. It also doesn’t have a melting point because it only softens up at 2000°C. Silicon dioxide’s structure makes it really hard and strong which is why it can be so useful as an umbrella cage or runner. Fibreglass can be an alternative to steel because it also has the durability and strength of steel to withstand the strong wind and hold up the umbrella. Again, without chemistry we wouldn’t have been able to discover fibreglass.
Thinking about the most important aspect of the umbrella: the canopy. Nowadays all umbrella canopies are made of synthetic polymers such as nylon. Nylon is made up of repeating chains of monomers which are carbon and hydrogen and it is artificially made by chemists. Nylon can made molded into absolutely anything which allows us to make any shape we desire; chemistry has allowed us to make the appropriate umbrella “U” shape (which is the smooth all round bend that exists around an umbrella’s canopy) very quickly and cheaply. Furthermore due to nylon being so lightweight and durable it allows the umbrella to be used easily by anyone and that’s all down to its chemical composition. The history of nylon started in the 1930s by DuPont chemists led by Wallace Carothers by getting a substance that bonded to acids and a type of acid they reacted then and created nylon threads and started weaving them. Without these great chemists and their knowledge we wouldn’t be able to have an umbrella today that is lightweight, durable, withstands wind, and protects us from the rain and sun.
Lastly the formation of the umbrella is done with the help of physics. By using geometry and trigonometry physics is able to create a design that allows the umbrella to keep the u shape which blocks rain from all sides. Also the opening and closing of umbrellas can be done easily and efficiently due to an effective design made with physics.
In conclusion we now know that with even a cheap and standard product like an umbrella; an immense amount of scientific discovery in the past was needed so that we reach the effective umbrella we have. However it still can’t be used in high winds so there is further scientific work to be done, to improve it even more.