Let me tell you a secret: everything in the universe, including medicine, is made from chemicals. Even the air we breathe is a mixture of chemicals: nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and carbon dioxide. Since chemicals are everywhere and make everything, it would be impossible to make medicine that didn’t contain chemicals!

The practice of making medicine for people has been around for as long as humans have existed. In the past, eating certain types of plants (or drinking tea made with the plant’s leaves) would be prescribed to a sick person. Now, the chemical component within the plant might be extracted and put into a pill. People today might take a pill instead of drinking an herbal tea.

A perfect example of this is aspirin, a common medicine that eases inflammation and pain. Aspirin is made up of a chemical called salicylic acid. This acid is primarily found in willow trees. In the past, people would make tea from willow bark to ease pain. Now, scientists extract the salicylic acid to make aspirin. If it weren’t for chemicals, medicine wouldn’t exist — and neither would the universe.

Fun fact: at the end of the movie "Pocahontas," Pocahontas gives the injured John Smith medicine made of bark taken from Grandmother Willow to ease his pain.

Zachary (Zeke) Elkins is a Ph.D. student in the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri.