Familiar Letters on Chemistry eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 119 pages of information about Familiar Letters on Chemistry.

As no part of the oxygen taken into the system of an animal is given off in any other form than combined with carbon or hydrogen, and as in a normal condition, or state of health, the carbon and hydrogen so given off are replaced by those elements in the food, it is evident that the amount of nourishment required by an animal for its support must be in a direct ratio with the quantity of oxygen taken in to its system.  Two animals which in equal times take up by means of the lungs and skin unequal quantities of oxygen, consume an amount of food unequal in the same ratio.  The consumption of oxygen in a given time may be expressed by the number of respirations; it is, therefore, obvious that in the same animal the quantity of nourishment required must vary with the force and number of respirations.  A child breathes quicker than an adult, and, consequently, requires food more frequently and proportionably in larger quantity, and bears hunger less easily.  A bird deprived of food dies on the third day, while a serpent, confined under a bell, respires so slowly that the quantity of carbonic acid generated in an hour can scarcely be observed, and it will live three months, or longer, without food.  The number of respirations is fewer in a state of rest than during labour or exercise:  the quantity of food necessary in both cases must be in the same ratio.  An excess of food, a want of a due amount of respired oxygen, or of exercise, as also great exercise (which obliges us to take an increased supply of food), together with weak organs of digestion, are incompatible with health

But the quantity of oxygen received by an animal through the lungs not only depends upon the number of respirations, but also upon the temperature of the respired air.  The size of the thorax of an animal is unchangeable; we may therefore regard the volume of air which enters at every inspiration as uniform.  But its weight, and consequently the amount of oxygen it contains, is not constant.  Air is expanded by heat, and contracted by cold—­an equal volume of hot and cold air contains, therefore, an unequal amount of oxygen.  In summer atmospheric air contains water in the form of vapour, it is nearly deprived of it in winter; the volume of oxygen in the same volume of air is smaller in summer than in winter.  In summer and winter, at the pole and at the equator, we inspire an equal volume of air; the cold air is warmed during respiration and acquires the temperature of the body.  In order, therefore, to introduce into the lungs a given amount of oxygen, less expenditure of force is necessary in winter than in summer, and for the same expenditure of force more oxygen is inspired in winter.  It is also obvious that in an equal number of respirations we consume more oxygen at the level of the sea than on a mountain.

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Familiar Letters on Chemistry from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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