The Man Who Reverse Engineered a Fart

Way back when, Michael Levitt was told by his fellowship advisor that he should use the new technique of gas chromatography to study farts. When Levitt asked him why, he replied "Because you’re pretty much of an incompetent, and this way if you discover anything, at least it’ll be new, and you’ll be able to publish something."

That started Levitt's journey into becoming the world's foremost expert on flatulence:

Levitt published thirty-four papers on flatus. He identified the three sulfur gases responsible for flatus odor. He showed that it is mainly trapped methane gas, not dietary fiber or fat, that makes the floater float. Most memorably, to this mind anyway, he invented the flatus-trapping Mylar “pantaloon.” [...]

The great variety of flatus smells — from person to person and from meal to meal — presented a quandary for the second phase of the study, the evaluation of various odor-eliminating products. Which — whose — wind should represent the average American’s? No one’s, as it turned out. Using mean amounts from chromatograph readouts as his recipe and commercially synthesized gases as the raw ingredients, Levitt concocted a lab mixture deemed by the judges “to have a distinctly objectionable odour resembling that of flatus.” He reverse-engineered a fart.

Mary Roach of Salon explores the matter in great (and when we say great, we mean it) details, including things like a pill that deodorizes your fart from the inside, the theory of fecal self-poisoning, and more: Link

Image: I'm Not a Cloud, I'm a Fart from the NeatoShop, which carries a surprisingly neat Fart-related items.


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