2020 Life and Chemical Engineering: Jasbir and Jasmine

Jasbir is a schoolteacher and Jasmine is a chemical engineer on a plant separating gases from the air.  They have three children, twins and another, carefully planned to fit in with their careers. 

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Jasbir has had a lot of work providing some remote teaching but also looking after the children who have still been attending school.  Jasmine’s plant produces medical gases, including oxygen which has been in big demand during the pandemic. 

When Jasmine was at university, a quarter of the class were female, unlike Jack’s day when there were no female chemical engineering students at most universities.  Women managers are now quite common and there are increasing numbers at senior positions.  1970 Jill experienced the beginning of one of the great changes in society produced by the contraceptive pill.  Further developments since then, including safer childbirth and childhood mean that it is well worth a woman getting an education and worth companies investing in them as skilled employees.  More than half of university graduates are now women like Jasmine. 

Their ordinary 1999-built house and its facilities would have seemed luxurious to Jack and Jill, and fairyland to John and Jane.  They have access to a much wider range of foods from all over the world and year-round.  Jasbir cycles to work, while Jasmine uses the car for work, as well as for family use.  With the motorways, she can easily visit other plants, usually within a day.  A business trip to Europe can be done with a single overnight stay, so she is not away from her family for long.  At work she dresses practically, but enjoys dressing up and putting on makeup to go out socially just as much as Jill did.  The choice is even greater for her. 

Much of the changes over the last 50 years have been progressive improvements – newer, better medicines, better and much cheaper household products.  However, a lot of changes are invisible or unnoticed by the users.  Jasmine’s father has a heart stent and an artificial hip, made of high-tech materials produced by chemical engineers, as are the strong lightweight components of Jasbir’s bike and as is the synthetic insulin used by his diabetic mother. 

The substances used in electronic and optical items are now made to purities that would have been considered fantasy in 1970.  The components are made from ever more exotic minerals and chemical compounds.  In 1970 liquid crystals were a laboratory curiosity – most chemists would not have come across them.  By 2020 a whole range are being produced in an increasing variety for the display systems and other optical devices. 

Equipment that would have cost a month’s wages is now available for far less than a day’s.  An effect of this has been the development of a more disposable attitude by purchasers – now called consumers.  Items that would once have been repaired are now replaced.  Even items that still function well are discarded.  Jasbir and Jasmine have outdated mobile phones in their kitchen drawer, and Jasbir has just bought a new laptop because his two-year-old one did not have the performance for the latest software.  They have quite a lot of clothes, including some they have never worn.  Some of Jasmine’s friends will discard cheap clothes after wearing once. 

While Jasbir and Jasmine are careful to sort and recycle their waste, they are concerned at the damage that is continuing to be done to the world.  Jasmine in particular feels a little guilty about the CO2 burden of the foreign holidays she took as a child and a young adult, but finds it hard to deny her own children the same experience.