Our second speaker at this week’s satellite event, Reactive, is Dr. David Nagib. Dr. Nagib received his B.S. in chemistry from Boston College, and then went on to earn his PhD from Princeton University in 2011. He was also a an NIH Postdoctoral Scholar with Prof. F. Dean Toste at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Nagib has worked as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry at The Ohio State University since 2014.

We asked him to write up a short introduction of his talk to share on the blog:

“Dave was a family man. He had a loving wife, three kids, and a stable job. His kids were going to go on to college, and the Nicholson crew was on its way to becoming the quintessential American family. That is, of course, until Dave drank his house’s tap water on a fateful Saturday afternoon. Tragically, that tap water was tainted with dihydrogen monoxide, a chemical that has been in the water for years. The government, time and time again, had refused to acknowledge this tainting of the water supply, and that afternoon, the dihydrogen monoxide filtered through Dave’s blood supply, and killed him in his seat at his kitchen table. What is wrong with this story?

You see, dihydrogen monoxide is actually the chemical formula for water itself (H2O), but if you had never heard that joke before, you may have been scared about chemicals tainting the water. This obsession and intense fear about chemicals is the subject of Dr. David Nagib’s TEDxOhioStateUniversity talk at the October 7th Satellite Event: “Reactive”. Dr. Nagib explores the disconnect between society’s emotions about certain chemicals, and the chemical reality of these molecules in the human body. Sometimes, society thinks that a chemical is bad, when really it is good. Saying the three letters ‘MSG’ may make your heart jump in your chest, but really, monosodium glutamate is very similar chemically to glutamate, a critical neurotransmitter in our body. Without glutamate, our nervous system could not function properly. Other times, society thinks that a drug is good, when in fact it is bad. A harmless-looking plant can actually contain poisonous chemicals.

This mix of emotions vs. chemical realities is complicated even more by a chemical that can switch categories based on its origin. Vanillin, a common flavoring chemical in food, can either be extracted from the vanilla bean, or made synthetically from chemicals used to make petroleum (gasp). Either way, the chemical is the exact same, and tastes exactly the same. However, society thinks that a synthetic chemical is unhealthy, when compared to a chemical from a natural source.

When deciding whether or not a chemical is healthy for you to ingest, look at the chemical reactions it induces in the body. Do not let someone tell you what emotions to have about a chemical. Many times, the emotion about a chemical is based in half-truths and exaggerations.

We hope to see you at our event on Friday! Check out our Facebook page for updates, and see more details about the event here.

This post was written by Sanajana Chidambaram of our Outreach and Development Committee.