Daydreaming about Stuff! Where did it come from?

As a scientist, I occasional get in my “what’s that made of” mindset. It is like daydreaming about the world around you (when you should be driving, or listening, or working…) and how all the parts came together. In the end everything tangible in our world is made up of the basic elements…. your car, your desk, your iPod, your computer, even your wife and kids. All of this can be traced back to our planet in it’s earliest days.

So come daydream with me! As you look around, pick an item and see if you can figure out where it all began. If you can and have a little bit of chemistry background, try and go right down to the element.

Let’s say you pick your bike, now think of all the steps and parts that were involved in making that bike.

Aluminum or steel frame… elements (Al, Fe) mined from rocks within planet earth. ( thanks earth )

Plastic pedals… petroleum product, recovered from drilling for oil and million year old plants and animals; (thanks Mr. Dinosaur)

Rubber tires… rubber tree grown from soil? unlikely.. more likely petroleum product;

Leather seat… thanks cow, and the grass you ate, and the mineral rich soil that the grass was grown in, and the bright sun, and the organic chains of elements that go into making you.

Sometimes it takes a lot of thinking to get all the way back to the source, but this just extends the daydreaming. I find this exercise to be a very nice mental distraction and stress reliever, but always a wonderful awareness of the source of all our “stuff”. In the end, the vast majority of our “stuff” comes from our planet, it’s mined (steel, aluminum), refined (oil, plastics), or harvested (wood, cotton, with some help from the sun). When we get the final product it is so manufactured that we forget about all the steps and the original source.

We forget to be grateful for what our planet has given us; now no more daydreaming and back to work.