Ewww, That Science is Gross!
Humans burp, pass gas, make snot, and sometimes drool. Our bodies do all sorts of fascinating things that are, well, kinda gross! Let’s take a closer look at some wild and fascinating things our bodies do!
Science of Snot
What’s in a Name? That which we call mucus by any other name…
Full disclosure: this blog isn’t poetic like Shakespeare describing the sweet smell of roses. It is unpleasant, wicked, and wildly intriguing. We begin by exploring the science of snot. To fully understand snot, you need to appreciate and understand mucus — that sticky, slimy stuff that lines your airways, nose, and even digestive tract. Mucus in our nose is called snot and mucus in our lungs is called phlegm.
Phlegm, snot, boogers, mucus, although gross, are very important! Mucus is mostly water, made up of proteins, antibodies, and dissolved salts. Its main function is to keep the lining of our noses moist and to help warm and clean the air that we breathe.
Let’s explore this further. When you take in a big breath of air, the air travels from your nose all the way down to your lungs. Go ahead, take in a deep breath. Did you feel your chest expand? That was air travelling from your nose all the way to your lungs! Everyone loves to breathe fresh air, but even fresh air is laden with pollutants: dust, dirt, and pollen. These pollutants are irritants and should not be inhaled.
So, your body has a fantastic defense mechanism that cleans the air that we breathe–snot! Snot actually has a job to do! Its duty is to act like sticky flypaper trapping all the unwanted dust and allergens so that they do not enter your lungs. Sounds like a big job, doesn’t? It is! In order for snot to do its job, it needs to produce about a cup of snot a day, enough snot to line your airways, keep things moist, and trap dirt. A cup of snot sounds like a lot. You may be wondering, “Where does it all the snot go?” Well, as distasteful as it may sound, most of the mucus produced flows back down into your stomach. Ewww, gross!
Gross fact: When you have a cold, your body responds by producing even more mucus!!!
To trap all these nasty irritants, snot has an accomplice named, cilia. Cilia are small hairs found in your nose that also act as filters, trapping germs and dirt. Cilia are super sensitive and when they’re tickled or disturbed, they can cause you to sneeze out the unwanted intruders. Sneezing is a protective reflex response. Sneezes can travel at an astonishing speed of 50 to 100 km an hour! That is about the speed of a wildebeest!
All this trapped dirt and dust mixed with mucus is a recipe for boogers. Boogers come in all shapes and sizes – they can be hard, slimy, and even crumbly! In order to avoid the spreading of germs, best to avoid fingers in noses and clean your sniffer by blowing in a tissue!
When you’re feeling kinda funny,
and your nose is kinda runny,
and people think it’s funny,
but it’s Snot
Up, Up, and Away
Our bodies produce a lot of solids, like poop and snot, but we also produce gas…a lot of it!
Gas can be found throughout our digestive tract – in our stomach, small intestine, colon, and rectum. This gas needs to escape our bodies – it can escape from our mouth (burp) or our bottom (flatulence).
You may be wondering why our bodies have such a buildup of gas. Quite simply, we swallow a lot of air throughout the day. We swallow gas when we drink carbonated beverages; we swallow air when we chew. Swallowed air contains gases like nitrogen and oxygen.
We also eat foods that create gas – some more than others. Foods that are rich in raffinose (a trisaccharide composed of galactose, fructose, and glucose) end up causing a build-up of gas in our bodies. Humans do not have the enzyme to digest raffinose in their intestines so instead is digested by bacteria. When bacteria in your gut try to process it, they release a lot of gas. You can find raffinose in beans, whole grains, asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage. Gases like hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane are produced when food is broken down in the large intestine.
And of course, some of these gases can be very smelly indeed.
Everyone passes gas. It is all very normal, nothing at all to worry about! In fact, the average person farts 14 times every single day, enough to fill a party balloon!
Note: Filling a party balloon with helium or air is preferred at all times!
Looking for some gross but awesome party ideas? Here are some great activities that explore the science of gross.
Scientists in School’s new virtual hands-on workshop Ewww, That Science is Gross, explores awesome but gross things in nature! This workshop is ideal for birthday parties, Family Science Nights, and community centres like libraries or after-school programmes.
Discover the science behind things that make you go…ewww! Make “snot” and sneeze it while exploring viscosity, identify various animals from their scat (i.e. poop) and learn about digestion while producing a burp in a bag. Join us on a gross but fun-filled science adventure!
Gross Trivia Game
Download our FREE educational resource guide, Ewww, That Science is Gross Trivia Game. A game perfect for curious scientists ages 5 and up.
Watch Spotlight with Scientists in School with special guest Justine Hudson. Hudson is a mammal biologist and a Professional Snot Collector! She collects snot from beluga whales in Churchill, Manitoba and measures cortisol levels, an indicator of stress. Watch full interview on our YouTube channel for all the scoop on snot!