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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 103 pages of information about Familiar Letters on Chemistry.

The observations of physiologists have demonstrated that the body of an adult man supplied abundantly with food, neither increases nor diminishes in weight during twenty-four hours, and yet the quantity of oxygen absorbed into his system, in that period, is very considerable.  According to the experiments of Lavoisier, an adult man takes into his system from the atmosphere, in one year, no less than 746 pounds weight of oxygen; the calculations of Menzies make the quantity amount even to 837 pounds; but we find his weight at the end of the year either exactly the same or different one way or the other by at most a few pounds.  What, it may be asked, has become of the enormous amount of oxygen thus introduced into the human system in the course of one year?  We can answer this question satisfactorily.  No part of the oxygen remains in the body, but is given out again, combined with carbon and hydrogen.  The carbon and hydrogen of certain parts of the animal body combine with the oxygen introduced through the lungs and skin, and pass off in the forms of carbonic acid and vapour of water.  At every expiration and every moment of life, a certain amount of its elements are separated from the animal organism, having entered into combination with the oxygen of the atmosphere.

In order to obtain a basis for the approximate calculation, we may assume, with Lavoisier and Seguin, that an adult man absorbs into his system 32 1/2 ounces of oxygen daily,—­that is, 46,037 cubic inches = 15,661 grains, French weight; and further, that the weight of the whole mass of his blood is 24 pounds, of which 80 per cent. is water.  Now, from the known composition of the blood, we know that in order to convert its whole amount of carbon and hydrogen into carbonic acid and water, 64.102 grains of oxygen are required.  This quantity will be taken into the system in four days and five hours.  Whether the oxygen enters into combination directly with the elements of the blood, or with the carbon and hydrogen of other parts of the body, it follows inevitably—­the weight of the body remaining unchanged and in a normal condition—­that as much of these elements as will suffice to supply 24 pounds of blood, must be taken into the system in four days and five hours; and this necessary amount is furnished by the food.

We have not, however, remained satisfied with mere approximation:  we have determined accurately, in certain cases, the quantity of carbon taken daily in the food, and of that which passes out of the body in the faeces and urine combined—­that is, uncombined with oxygen; and from these investigations it appears that an adult man taking moderate exercise consumes 13.9 ounces of carbon, which pass off through the skin and lungs as carbonic acid gas. [1]

It requires 37 ounces of oxygen to convert 13 9/10 of carbon into carbonic acid.  Again; according to the analysis of Boussingault, (Annales de Chim. et de Phys., lxx. i. p.136), a horse consumes 79 1/10 ounces of carbon in twenty-four hours, a milch cow 70 3/4 ounces; so that the horse requires 13 pounds 3 1/2 ounces, and the cow 11 pounds 10 3/4 ounces of oxygen. [2]

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