Our church set us a challenge. Based on the lyrics of the popular Matt Redman song “10,000 Reasons” can we collectively (the whole congregation) list 10,000 reasons why we are grateful to God. To get us started the Sunday School groups came up with 1100 reasons. This got me thinking. Could I come up with 100 reasons which would not cross over with anyone elses? Well taking a chemists perspective – here is how far I’ve got.
Of the 118 elements in the periodic table, 92 are natural and thus created by our God. Of these 70 are a blessing to my life and here is why…
- I’m grateful for H ions because they are the active part of acids which makes lemons tangy
- I’m grateful for He because it’s low boiling point allows it to cool superconducting magnets which enables MRI scanners to work.
- I’m grateful for Li because it is used to make the battery which gives my mobile phone and my camera long battery lives.
- I’m grateful for Be because when included in alloys it makes springs last longer. Great news for my hybrid bike.
- I’m grateful for B because it makes glass stronger so I can have Pyrex dishes which are ovenproof
- I’m grateful for C because it is the building block for all of life on Earth
- I’m grateful for N2 because as part of fertilizers it ensures that higher crop yields are possible which helps feed a growing world population
- I’m grateful for O2 because it allows my muscles to work and my brain to survive.
- I’m grateful for F because incorporating this into a polymer makes drugs more effective and also helps stop my black pudding sticking to my frying pan (Teflon)
- I’m grateful for Ne because it glows red in an electrical discharge tube and enables colourful displays.
- I’m grateful for Na so I can put salt on my chips
- I’m grateful for Mg because when added to aluminium it forms a much stronger more easily worked alloy making stronger bicycle frames
- I’m grateful for Al because it is strong and light and allows large aircraft to be built and carry me to amazing places.
- I’m grateful for Si because synthetic oils allow the engine in my van to run for longer between oil changes.
- I’m grateful for P because it enables matches to ignite
- I’m grateful for S, because sulphites are used to preserve my food.
- I’m grateful for Cl2 because it is used to kills the bugs in my drinking water to make it safe to drink.
- I’m grateful for Ar because it is used in double glazing to keep my home warm.
- I’m grateful for K because it is vital to controlling the electrolyte balance in all my cells.
- I’m grateful for Ca because it is the major building block of my bones
- I’m grateful for Sc because it is used to make ‘daylight bulbs’ to light film studios so I can relax watching a film at the weekend.
- I’m grateful for Y because it is used to make lasers and superconductors. There is a laser in my CD player and I love music.
- I’m grateful for Ti because it’s oxide absorbs UV light and is used in sunscreens to protect my skin
- I’m grateful for V because when added to steel it makes strong tools to work with.
- I’m grateful for Cr because it is what makes rubies red.
- I’m grateful for Mn because it makes railway tracks last longer.
- I’m grateful for Fe because it is the element that carries oxygen from my lungs to my muscles.
- I’m grateful for Co because it is used to make strong magnets that then protect my food from the containing nuts and bolts that fall off from food processing plants.
- I’m grateful for Ni because it is used to make hydrogen from steam which then enables ammonia to be made which is used in fertilizers – this in turn allows us to feed the world.
- I’m grateful for Cu as it is used to stop my fence posts rotting.
- I’m grateful for Zn because it stops the chassis of my van from rusting.
- I’m grateful for Ga because the semiconductors it makes enables my computer to work.
- I’m grateful for Ge which enables the glass of the wide angle lens of my camera to refract light correctly.
- I’m grateful for As because I love murder mystery novels.
- I’m grateful for Se because it helps keep me free of dandruff.
- I’m grateful for Br because it is used in the fire retardant that makes my sofa safer in the event of a fire.
- I’m grateful for Kr because it enables the bulb in my study lamp to last longer.
- I’m grateful for Rb because it gives the purple colour to fireworks. As an inorganic chemist, I love fireworks and purple is my favourite colour.
- I’m grateful for Sr because it produces the brilliant red light in fireworks
- I’m grateful for Y because its compounds form superconductors which enabled the NMR machine I used as part of my Ph.D to work so I could study the mechanism of chemical reactions.
- I’m grateful for Nb because it’s oxide increases the refractive index of glass meaning my wife can have thinner more attractive glasses.
- I am grateful for Mo because when alloyed with Cr and Fe it produces a steel which is strong and flexible and is used to make the Reynolds 541 frame of my touring bike.
- I am grateful for Ru because it is one of the catalysts used to make acetic acid. The household name for this is spirit vinegar and I love this on my chips (alone with the salt, see No. 11)
- I am grateful for Rh because this was the metal on which my Ph.D was based which gave me the skills to carry out all the fascinating jobs I’ve had over the past 19 years.
- I’m grateful for Pd because it is in the catalytic convertor on my van meaning it’s emissions of carbon monoxide are minimized which is good news for our environment.
- I’m grateful for Ag because it is the basis of photographic film and I love photography.
- I’m grateful for Cd because it is used in the rechargeable batteries that power all my gadgets.
- I’m grateful for In because indium tin oxide is a transparent conductor that makes touch screen devices, like my smartphone possible.
- I’m grateful for Sn because it is used to make glass. Sheets of glass are formed on pools of molten Sn and my home and van would be much less pleasant without windows.
- I’m grateful for Sb because it is used in the hard alloy used in printing presses. Without this we could not have books and I love a good novel.
- I’m grateful for Te because it is used to make light sensors such as that in my digital camera
- I’m grateful for I2 because it is essential to the proper operation of my thyroid which regulates my metabolism.
- I’m grateful for Ca because it has a repeatable electronic relaxation time of just the right length to use in very accurate clocks – atomic clocks. These in turn are essential to the operation of GPS systems which I used to guide me when I’m out cycling or walking in the mountains.
- I’m grateful for Ba because Ba sulphate is the least soluble salt known to man and is very dense. This makes it ideal for radiological imaging. I haven’t needed it yet, but one day a barium meal might enable someone to save my life.
- I’m grateful for Hf because it is used for control rods in nuclear reactors. 20% of the electricity I use each day will have come from a nuclear powered power station.
- I’m grateful for Ta for its high resistance to corrosion. This enabled the first chemical plant I ever worked on to handle some very interesting materials – one of which was the catalyst that enables post-it notes to separate from each other.
- I’m grateful for W because the hardness of tungsten carbide allows all the other elements to be readily mined from the earth. It is the key to the most of the other blessings on this list.
- I’m grateful for Re because it makes jet engine turbine blades possible. This facilitates mass air travel and has allowed me to see the world.
- I’m grateful for Os because it gave me the chance to make one of the most significant scientific findings of my time in industrial science. Because potassium osmate is such a distinctive colour I was able to identify a new way to separate Os from Ru. This freed up Ru to make the high density HDD that made Classic iPods possible.
- I’m grateful for Ir because it makes the spark plugs in all my petrol powered garden tools last longer.
- I’m grateful for Pt because it is used to make silicon polymers which keep the flysheet on my tent both light and waterproof.
- I’m grateful for Au because it can be used to make objects of beauty.
- I’m grateful for Hg because it is the only metal which is a liquid at room temperature. This enables it to be used in level switches which enable my tablet computer to know which way up it is. It also enables the fluorescent bulb above my workshop bench to work and thus enable me to enjoy making and fixing things into the evening.
- I’m grateful for Pb because it is soft and resists corrosion and thus is a great material to seal the joins in the roof of our house so we stay dry.
- I’m grateful for Bi because it is used as it’s alloys are used as safety fuses in shops and hotels, meaning that sprinkler systems would kick in and keep my family safe in the event of a fire.
- I’m grateful for Po it is used to power satellites which enables me to know so much more about the world and to easily speak to friends in remote places.
- I’m grateful for Rn because of the role it played in helping Marie and Pierre Curie understand radioactivity. Knowledge we now use for many medical imagine and curative procedures.
- I’m grateful for Ce, because its oxide is what is painted onto the inside of my oven to enable it to be self-cleaning.
- I’m grateful for Nd because it can be used to make very strong magnets. These help my hifi sound great.
- I’m grateful for U because it is the basis of most nuclear power plants and electricity is vital to modern life.
- Finally, I am grateful for the extravagant variety of chemistry that stimulates my thinking, provides my career and enriches my life in so many ways.
Day 5 –Forde to Byrkjelo– 30 miles (rain shortened play!)
Some days on a cycle tour are about getting from A to B, with the ride from B to C what you are really looking forward to. This should have been one of those days but the afternoon turned out to be an unexpected delight. The day started out dry and remained so until our mid-morning break at Vassenden. Here we went into a Spar shop to get some fruit and were invited to sit down in the warm, have some complimentary coffee and use the loo if we needed it. All we bought was two apples and we go this service. This level of courtesy seemed common amongst all the people we met – what a great people the Norwegians are! At very least all those we met. On the way we saw a big waterfall just away from the main road so decided to go and take a look.
Shortly after that it started to rain and the ride became a real slog. We were cycling along next to a large lake with no variation in view and on an almost straight road. It was a case of watching the miles click by and trying to go as fast as possible so as to get to the next stop as soon as possible It was lunchtime when we arrived in Skei and after a little hunt around we managed to find a café whose prices were only ‘very expensive’ and not ‘eye-watering’. It was warm and dry, something that could not be said for life outside. We stretched out lunch, then mooched around the supermarket buying dinner, hoping that by waiting it out that the rain would slow down. It did so we set off again.
We noticed that we were starting to have a revised perspective about the weather from this point onwards. Light rain was fine, if it was not heavy enough to sting your eyes on a descent then we considered ourselves to be just fine and got on with enjoying the view/ride. In fact because we were fortunate to have good Gore-Tex gear and the weather was a little cooler, being fully clad in waterproofs was in fact totally comfortable. Not too warm, and totally dry. When you look at it like that, what’s not to like? At this point I must give a plug for Vaude ‘short gaiters’, simple waterproof shoe covers that do just want you want, keep your shoes and feet bone dry. Affectionately known by us as our ‘booties’, we love them.
Then came the delight of the day and one of the most significant highlights of the whole tour. The valley formed by the river Våtedalselva, whose name translates as ‘Wet Valley’. It certainly lived up to it’s name but it was absolutely stunning none the less. For those who know Glen Coe it was very much like this but with the mountainsides stretching another 200 meters higher. For those not familiar it is a rare example of a v-shaped valley where the mountains climb steeply from the very valley floor, the base of which is totally flat. To add to this, Wet Valley was also 9 miles long (much longer than the impressive section of Glen Coe) and running gently downhill in the direction we were heading. Truly an extended pleasure. We placated ourselves with the truth that you can enjoy somewhere without photographing it, but for those who cannot read my memory, what you see below is an image taken by Tore Larson of the Wet Valley and after that a view showing the context looking back from the end of the valley / the start of day 6.
The campsite and warden in Byrkjelo were excellent and the little kitchen just the place to make toast to enjoy with the remainder of yesterdays smoked salmon.
Day 2 – Manger to Botn – 46 miles
Today was about covering ground to get us to the shore of Sognefjord, but proved a pleasant ride nonetheless. It was Sunday and the roads were really quiet – although another reason for this was that this was, Norway’s ‘Constitution Day’.
There were many flags in evidence and groups of people in traditional dress taking part in celebrations in all the villages we passed through. By lunchtime we had reached the ferry port at Slovag. It was not warm so we enjoyed the heated waiting room for the short time before the ferry arrived. It was a 30 minute crossing, so an excellent time for lunch especially as it had just started to rain. From the main road out of Leirvag we caught occasional glimpses of Eidesfjorden and the mountains on the far side and then it was time to peel off onto a side road to take us up one of only two big climbs of the tour, to get us into the neighbouring ‘valley’ of Sognefjord. As we descended the other side of the rain started in earnest but we were soon in the reception building of Botnen campsite. The sun did emerge again later that evening and revealed a truly magnificent view across the fjord. A foretaste of what we were to enjoy the next day.
Day 1 – Bergen to Nr. Manger – 35 miles
A long long time ago, in a sixth form college far far away a friend of mine introduced me the writing of Douglas Adams. Those familiar with the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (five book) trilogy will know of Slartibartfast. In the story he was part of the team that designed the Earth. Utter fantasy I know, but fun and part of some very thought provoking writing none-the-less. Since I read Slartibartfast’s description of his design for Norway I’ve wanted to go and see the Fjords. This has been a dream over 20 years in the making, in part due to the ultra high cost of almost everything in Norway – two years ago we started planning to make this possible and what better way to see a country but from a bike. To make it affordable we opted to camp along the way. In hindsight however, for anyone that follows after us, we might also have rented a cabin at any of the campsites we stayed at. These cost between £35-65 per night and for this you got four beds. Even for just a couple this would have been OK and provided cooking facilities – another big aid to the budget conscious by avoiding eye watering restaurant / café prices.
Our tour started in Bergen, Noway’s second city and headed North along the coast. The city roads were busy but cycle routes plentiful and where they were absent the drivers the most courteous I known anywhere in the world. The morning was wet, something which turned out the true of all but two mornings of the tour – but we were both physically and mentally prepared for this. It was the West Coast after all. After we cleared the city we crossed a number of rivers and sounds.
We peddled through bucolic countryside serenaded by the sounds of bells hanging from the necks of all the grazing sheep and ended our day in the Vagenes campsite five miles outside of the small town of Manger. Our plot overlooked an island studded sea and was very conducive to a good nights sleep….