[VIEWPOINT]Nature’s harmony and beautyFor the past year, my readers and I have viewed the world through the eyes of science. That world spans the period from when the universe was being formed 15 billion years ago to the modern era in which the effects of science and technology are unavoidable. In signing off the past year, let us touch upon the commonalities between the world of man and the world of nature.
There are 88 keys on the piano. Each key makes a single sound, but a combination of several, called a chord, produces a beautiful harmony. Similarly, it is a basic principle of the universe that interaction and compatibility among each and every component creates order. Families, nations, and the international community on earth all find equilibrium between the selfish interests of the individual and the greater good of the larger entity through compromise and interaction.
Nature is no different. Within the solar system, the sun and its nine planets maintain a dynamic relationship adhering to the laws of Newton. The Milky Way galaxy exhibits a spiral formation as a result of the gravitational effects of a billion stars and the prescriptions of Newton’s third law of motion. And within the universe, one hundred billion galaxies continue to move further apart from one another as the cosmos spatially expands.
The human body is a labyrinth of a hundred trillion cells. The DNA molecules in each cell create a double spiral configuration by compounding hydrogen atoms. And within each spiral branch is inscribed complex genetic information written in the language of base, sugar and phosphoric acid, woven together by fusion chemistry. Base, sugar and phosphoric acid are composed of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus, which in turn are chemically connected atoms. Water, the matrix of all life on earth, exists as a molecule formed by the interaction of hydrogen and oxygen atoms.
The phenomena of life occur at the molecular level. Within an atom are the electromagnetic pulls of protons and electrons. The powerful nuclear energy within an atom constrains the protons and neutrons in their respective positions. The components of protons and neutrons are the ultimate building blocks, known as quarks, that interact by exhibiting powerful nuclear bursts of energy.
Just as 88 keys make up a piano, the world of chemistry, the venue of the language of life, knows about the same number of natural elements. Each element resembles a single key. Yet a surprising harmony is produced when several elements interact. The reaction between the hydrogen and oxygen keys creates a harmony we call water. And interestingly enough, just as the piano keys exhibit a cyclical order dubbed “octaves,” the world of elements is regulated by a rule referred to as the periodic table of elements.
Some piano keys are used more often than others. Likewise, of the elements, those such as hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur appear in the building blocks of life with greater frequency than the rest. These elements can arrange themselves to create DNA, the most stunning chemical compound on earth, or rearrange in a manner so as to produce the color of a rose. And surprisingly, the glimmer of a diamond results from the tapping of a single carbon key. The shy and rosy hue of interstellar space so effectively revealed by the Hubble telescope has its origin in the hydrogen spectrum.
Whereas my colleague, Professor Choe Jae-chun, wrote a book titled “All Life is Beautiful,” I would like to draw attention to the beauty of the inanimate objects of the universe. Life is a peculiar phenomenon that occurs between the micro and macro worlds. Molecules and atoms are created from the chords of quarks and reptons, and from the chords of atoms and molecules, life is begun. The breathtaking beauty of the macroscopic world, laid out before our eyes by the magic of the Hubble telescope, incubates the secrets of the history of the universe and the very reasons for our existence.
True, all life is beautiful. Yet despite all its tribulations and discord, the human world harbors beauty as well. The lifeless world is just as beautiful as the living world. And so perhaps we can safely conclude that all of nature is beautiful.
* The writer is a professor at chemistry of Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Hie-joon