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Science        < Previous        Next >

 

M&M's In the Air

 

Today's Snack: Naturally, it's M&M's today. But let's try for a few additions to make this snack at least somewhat healthy. What two other treats could you mix with M&M's that are NOT high-calorie and bad for your teeth? Lots of things would do. How about raisins and unsalted peanuts?

 

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Supplies:

 

At least 100 M&M candies

 

 

The Earth's atmosphere contains 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and for the remaining 1%, more than a dozen other elements.

 

Choose colors of M&Ms to represent these three categories - perhaps 78 brown ones, 21 red ones and 1 yellow one. Count them out in the correct proportion.

 

Does that help you see how significant nitrogen is to our air - our atmosphere? Yet you probably were thinking that oxygen was the major factor. Well, it's not. Nitrogen - like oxygen a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas -- is the biggie, and there's nearly four times as much of it as oxygen in the atmosphere.

 

It's a different story when you look at nitrogen vs. oxygen over the entire Earth itself. Oxygen is many, many times more abundant than nitrogen on the Earth's surface and below. This is because nitrogen's molecules don't mix with the materials that make up the solid earth.

 

We know where nitrogen comes from in the first place - star fusion. In fact, nitrogen is believed to be the seventh most common chemical element in the universe, measured by mass. So why wouldn't a lot of it be in and on the Earth? Because nitrogen is volatile when mixed with the materials that make the solid Earth, yet stable in the presence of the Sun's radiation.

 

Nitrogen is tremendously important in amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, which in turn are the building blocks of plant and animal life. Nitrogen is also important in DNA and RNA.

 

Humans have found many uses for nitrogen in its various forms: it keeps packaged food fresh, makes lightbulbs light up, helps in the production of electronics and stainless steel, and is a fire safety ingredient in military aircraft fuel.

 

One of its most beloved applications is nitrous oxide, which is used by dentists as a painless anesthetic because it makes the patient so silly, he or she doesn't feel any mouth pain during the dental work. Nickname: "laughing gas."

 

By Susan Darst Williams www.AfterSchoolTreats.com Science 04 2008

 

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