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Flatus: Chemistry in the Wind

Note: These questions go along with an article in the February 2003 issue of ChemMatters, published by the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Answer the following questions using complete sentences. Rephrase the question as part of your answer.

For example, Question: What is the meaning of life? Answer: The meaning of life is to eat, drink and be merry.

  1. How long have scientists been studying flatus?
  2. What is Boyle’s Law? Give an example of Boyle’s Law in action from your own experience.
  3. Scientists became interested in studying flatus because high-altitude pilots were complaining about painful intestinal cramps. Why was this happening?
  4. What major type of a biological molecule found in beans, cabbage-family vegetables and peas is responsible for the gas production in the intestine?
  5. What does it mean to say that someone is lactose intolerant? What is missing from a lactose intolerant person’s digestive system?
  6. What do you think happens to the undigested lactose in the intestines of lactose intolerant people?
  7. What are the main (odorless!) components of flatus?

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  1. What is it in the human body that is really responsible for producing intestinal gas?
  2. Cows and termites expel enormous amounts of methane. What does this have to do with climate change? Explain.
  3. Some examples of quantitative research into flatus includes the use of such devices as a gas chromatograph and a mass spectrometer. The article mentions another study in which men and women were asked to smell different gases and try to identify them. Is this an example of quantitative or qualitative research? Why?
  4. What are the three main gases that give flatus its odor? Give both the names and the chemical formulas.
  5. Carbohydrates give intestinal bacteria the main source of food in their production of gas. What kinds of food provide the sulfur that makes that gas smell bad?
  6. There are a number of products on the market that promise gas relief. List them and describe what they do including the chemical mechanism they use.
  7. Respond to the new knowledge you gained by reading this article. Did you learn something new that you are very glad to know? Or did you learn a few things you would rather have never learned? Write a few sentences giving your opinion of the article and its topic.
Last updated: Mar 25, 2007       Home