Familiar Letters on Chemistry eBook

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

The carbon of the food, being converted into carbonic acid within the body, must give out exactly as much heat as if it had been directly burnt in oxygen gas or in common air; the only difference is, the production of the heat is diffused over unequal times.  In oxygen gas the combustion of carbon is rapid and the heat intense; in atmospheric air it burns slower and for a longer time, the temperature being lower; in the animal body the combination is still more gradual, and the heat is lower in proportion.

It is obvious that the amount of heat liberated must increase or diminish with the quantity of oxygen introduced in equal times by respiration.  Those animals, therefore, which respire frequently, and consequently consume much oxygen, possess a higher temperature than others, which, with a body of equal size to be heated, take into the system less oxygen.  The temperature of a child (102 deg) is higher than that of an adult (99 1/2 deg).  That of birds (104 deg to 105.4 deg) is higher than that of quadrupeds (98 1/2 deg to 100.4 deg) or than that of fishes or amphibia, whose proper temperature is from 2.7 to 3.6 deg higher than that of the medium in which they live.  All animals, strictly speaking, are warm-blooded; but in those only which possess lungs is the temperature of the body quite independent of the surrounding medium.

The most trustworthy observations prove that in all climates, in the temperate zones as well as at the equator or the poles, the temperature of the body in man, and in what are commonly called warm-blooded animals, is invariably the same; yet how different are the circumstances under which they live!

The animal body is a heated mass, which bears the same relation to surrounding objects as any other heated mass.  It receives heat when the surrounding objects are hotter, it loses heat when they are colder, than itself.

We know that the rapidity of cooling increases with the difference between the temperature of the heated body and that of the surrounding medium; that is, the colder the surrounding medium the shorter the time required for the cooling of the heated body.

How unequal, then, must be the loss of heat in a man at Palermo, where the external temperature is nearly equal to that of the body, and in the polar regions, where the external temperature is from 70 deg to 90 deg lower!

Yet, notwithstanding this extremely unequal loss of heat, experience has shown that the blood of the inhabitant of the arctic circle has a temperature as high as that of the native of the south, who lives in so different a medium.

This fact, when its true significance is perceived, proves that the heat given off to the surrounding medium is restored within the body with great rapidity.  This compensation must consequently take place more rapidly in winter than in summer, at the pole than at the equator.

Now, in different climates the quantity of oxygen introduced into the system by respiration, as has been already shown, varies according to the temperature of the external air; the quantity of inspired oxygen increases with the loss of heat by external cooling, and the quantity of carbon or hydrogen necessary to combine with this oxygen must be increased in the same ratio.

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Familiar Letters on Chemistry from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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