Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why Pee is Cool - entry #4 - "PeePee Portal to Phosphorus" or "What the Alchemists Did Right"

Travel with me back in time, when humans were first beginning to wonder things like "What the hell is the world around me made of anyhow!?"  Picture yourself as an ancient alchemist, repeatedly trying in vain to figure out a way to turn anything into gold.  You pretty much suck at doing science, but as a result of all your fool-hearty work you do know how to do things like mix, heat, and distill stuff.  The first problem you face as an alchemist is that you need some substance to do experiments on.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why Pee is Cool - entry #3 - "Explosive Urination" or "Gunpowder Comes from Pee!!!"

So far we have learned what gives pee its color and smell, and now we will delve into the explosive way pee has changed the course of history.  That's right, pee can be turned into an explosive!

To find out how we have to travel in our minds back to the beginning of human civilization--specifically, the domestication of animals.  One thing that large domesticated animals like horses and cows produce in bulk is urine (pee pee!).  When these animals are kept inside some sort of shelter, their pee seeps into the dry plant-less ground beneath their feet, where microorganisms turn urea into ammonia.  The little pee-digesting organisms don't stop there though, they combine the ammonia with oxygen, eventually giving rise to the nitrate ion, in a process known as nitrification.

Ammonia + Oxygen →  Nitrates
NH3 + 2 O2   NO3- + H+ + H2O
Nitrification of Ammonia.  Note: animals pee out urea, but  microbes turn urea into ammonia, which then undergoes nitrification.