Chemistry Explains Why Opposites Attract

Chemistry Explains Why Opposites Attract

By Anjali Gaur


Opposites and Attraction

Chemistry is one of the sciences that help us understand, make models and predictions about our reality. The Periodic Table, which we take for granted now, is a result of thousands of years of getting to know all the different complexities in the world. We often think of ourselves as made of cells.  But what are cells made up of? Atoms. Basically we are made up of atoms. As a matter of fact, the number of cells in the human body is estimated to be about the same as the number of atoms in a human cell.

Let’s delve on two revelations made by chemists in the past which not only help us understand the complex world around us, but also understand ourselves and our natural needs of finding a balance in relationships and attraction to other people.

First phenomenon: Strong undeniable attraction between positive and negative aspects of an Atom.

Atoms are comprised of subatomic particles called protons, electrons and neutrons. In an atom, electrons are jumping around the nucleus. Unlike charges attract each other; hence electrons are attracted to protons (positively charged in the nucleus). Electrons are attached to the nucleus vibrating at high velocity but since the attraction is so strong, electrons are constantly trying not to fall into the nucleus.

This sheds light on how often we are attracted to people who are completely contrary to us. Even though such an experience can leave scars, we simply cannot deny the inevitable attraction. It is not because we prefer to inflict pain on ourselves or because we chose to play with fire and should therefore reap the consequences. It is simply because this attraction between opposites is part of us, part of the most subatomic level of us. It is the most intrinsic aspect of our being. It is not a cruel joke of nature, but nature itself.

Second phenomenon: Buffer: finding a balance between two extremes such as Acids & bases.

During the era of Ancient Greeks, acids and bases were vaguely understood with properties not clearly defined.  Greeks attempted to categorize substances trying to find balance, harmony & perfection to the universe by trying several tests to distinguish compounds.  Taste was used as a general test in the beginning and subdivided into: sour, bitter, salty or sweet.  After waning of Greek influences and transfer of knowledge to the Romans, they began to refer to sour substances as ‘acids’. The words ‘acid’ & ‘acetic’ are both derived from the Latin word for ‘sour-tasting’. Bases, not studied well, were recognized as substances to neutralize acids and fitted well with the desire of the ancients to find balance and harmony.

Acidic and basic are two extremes. Mixing acids and bases can cancel out or neutralize their extreme effects. A substance that is neither acidic nor basic is neutral. Antoine Lavoisier (26 August 1743 – 8 May 1794), a brilliant French chemist later contributed to the classification of elements and defined bases as substances that could neutralize acids to form water and a salt. A buffer in chemistry is defined is a solution which resists changes in pH when acid or alkali is added to it. In layman’s term buffer means a person or thing that reduces a shock or that forms a barrier between incompatible or antagonistic people or things.

Building on the previous phenomenon, two people at extreme ends of a spectrum just like acids and bases are attracted but need to find a balance, a buffer, to keep them together and neutralize the differences. So if we find ourselves in a situation of being helplessly attracted to people very much unlike us, we must not think of it as a cruel joke of nature. It does seem a lot more convenient and less messy to be drawn to personalities like our own rather polar opposites of us. But psychologists say that couples who are very similar to each other are more likely to fall apart sooner or later. The differences which we often find problematic are in fact key ingredients to add spice to a relationship. “Tensions of the opposites” produces passion that deeps and sustains relationships. These differences are something to work on or thrive to find a balance between two personalities which are at opposite ends of a spectrum. The two phenomenon’s discussed explain why we are so naturally and undeniably drawn to others out of desires and needs that are unfulfilled in our lives.

Anjali Gaur is a Researcher living in Pavia, Italy. She studied biomedical sciences in Australia and the UK. Her current work involves research on ‘Red Blood Cell Ageing” funded by the European Commission. Prior to this she worked in Hong Kong and Sweden, where she developed ‘Phage Display Antibodies’.

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