Topics for Essay – Chemistry 30a spring 2014



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Topics for Essay – Chemistry 30A Spring 2014

1) Recycling – plastics

2) Pesticides/Herbicides

3) Solar Energy

4) Alternative Liquid Fuels

5) Wind Power

6) Household Products

7) Organic Food

8) Fast Food in the United States

9) Air Quality

10) Water Quality

11) Greenhouse Gases and Global Warming

12) Food Additives

13) Diabetes

14) Drugs

15) Vitamins

16) Paper vs. Plastics

17) Cholesterol and Fats

18) DNA and crime investigation

19) Endorphins and Morphine

20) Organic Gardening

21) Nuclear Waste

22) Mass Transportation

23) Anabolic Steroids

24) Coffee or Tea

25) Vitamin C

26) Aspirin

27) Chemistry of Venus and Mars and Other Planets


READ THESE DIRECTIONS CAREFULLY AND THOROUGHLY SO THAT YOU DO NOT HAVE POINTS DEDUCTED FOR PROCEDURAL MATTERS. THESE GUIDELINES SUPERSEDE THE GUIDELINES FOUND ON THE GREENSHEET.

The essay will be four to six pages (of text). Seven pages is OK but do not exceed this limit. The cover page and reference page does not count as one of the pages. Read the directions on the greensheet (lecture syllabus) and the directions below.



Each student will choose one topic and write a four to six page paper (maximum 7 pages) covering the questions asked about that particular topic. Sign up for one topic by signing your name on one of the sheets that will be provided in the lab by the second week of the semester. Keep track of the topic that you sign up for in the booklet. Each topic has a sign up sheet with a particular number set as the maximum number of students per topic, depending on the topic. For the paper, use size 12 font, double spaced. If you use internet sources you must cite each reference. Use the APA method for citing references. You can go on-line, look up APA citation method and see how to reference your paper. Every time that you use a quote or directly take some piece of information from an article or other source, it must be referenced. Cite the source and write down the original article or source on the reference page at the end of the report. A title page and a reference page do not count as one of the 4 to 6 pages. Each student will write this paper in his/her own words and must include all references. Use at least 5 references. Use original sources such as centers for disease control (CDC), FDA, USDA, EPA, NIH and other government sites.

DO NOT use simple references such as Wikipedia and other encyclopedia sources. Points will be taken off if your use a total of just one, two, three or four references and especially if one of the references is Wikipedia. Go to the library and use various sources that may not be on-line. Use journals such as JAMA, Nature, Science, etc… You may also use Scientific American. Try and find some opinions written by experts in the topic of your choice. Reference magazines, newspapers, journals etc… The title page must include: the title of the paper, your name, date, and below the date type your lab instructor’s name, your lab time and day. Do not write the lecturer’s name and lecture time and day.

YOU MUST TURN IN YOUR PAPER TO turnitin.com. INFORMATION ABOUT TURNITIN.COM WILL BE GIVEN IN THE LAB. The Course ID for chemistry 30A is 3800611 and the password is chem30a This password is all lower case and no spaces. This will be the course name and the password that you need to submit your paper to turnitin.com. The hard copy of the essay is due in lecture. Refer to the greensheet (lecture syllabus) for deadlines. Make sure to use turnitin.com by the night before as the absolute deadline for submission of the paper since you may not be able to access turnitin.com on the day that the paper is due. You can turn in the paper any time before this deadline. Print out the receipt and hand this in with your paper (attach to the back of the paper that you are handing in to me). Points will be taken off if no receipt from turnitin.com. Plagiarism is a form of cheating and papers that have significant copying with no references cited will be given zero points.

Once you have signed up for a topic start to research it. Use the questions that I have written for each topic as a guide for your paper. You don’t have to answer them one after the other but try and organize your paper so that the questions for the most part are answered. Your paper should contain an introduction (a history and general discussion about what the paper will discuss), a section that includes specific material that is current and a conclusion that wraps up the paper (this should include some of your own personal thoughts and comments about the topic). Go back through the questions that I asked and see that your paper has adequately answered most if not all. Please note that the questions for each topic are to serve as a guide as to what is to be covered for each topic. HOWEVER, THE BOLD TYPED QUESTIONS MUST BE ANSWERED somewhere in your essay. The other questions may also be answered but not all of the questions need to be answered in the essay.

Make sure to reference all sections of the paper that you copied from some other source.

Late papers will have significant point deductions for each day late; see the greensheet for point deductions. Plan ahead and check your schedule. If the deadline week is particularly busy for you then hand in your paper to me a week or two early.

THERE IS A WRITING LAB ON CAMPUS THAT WILL ASSIST YOU WITH THE PAPER – their website is: www.sjsu.edu/writingcenter/

1) Recycling - Plastics

1) What is plastic? Is it a man-made product or a natural product?

2) Choose a few types of plastics and discuss how they are made. What is a

polymer? Discuss the recycling symbols used for plastics.



3) Toxicity of plastics, both in manufacturing and waste disposal. Are plastics toxic? Do you drink from a plastic water bottle?

4) How much plastic is recycled in the US, globally (be specific with each type of plastic).



5) Can plastics be burned safely and used as a fuel? What is the BTU content of plastic when burned? Give a definition for BTU.

6) Biodegradable plastics –what structural features make it biodegradable?



7) What is the current status of plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean. What is being done to clean up this mess?

8) How long does it take for plastic to decompose in a landfill? In the ocean?



9) Does this information make you reconsider purchasing things that are contained in a plastic container?

Cite scientific articles that use actual data. Be specific with information and make sure to cite all references.


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2) Pesticides/Herbicides

Select two or three pesticides and/or herbicides that are currently in use today (for example: parathion, malathion, diazinon, DDT, chloropyrifos, atrazine, lindane, aldicarb, roundup). Use the following questions to discuss the pesticides/herbicides that you chose.

1) Discuss the history of the compounds that you have chosen. When were they first synthesized?

2) What are their structures? Be specific – draw them out.

3) For what purpose are they used (be specific)?

4) Discuss current farming practices in this country with respect to pesticide and herbicide usage. Discuss various crops where these pesticides/herbicides are applied.

5) Discuss benefits. How have they impacted crops, animals and humans?

6) Discuss disadvantages, toxicity and health effects (including a discussion about testing these compounds for causing cancer).

7) Stability of these compounds – how long does it take for these compounds to degrade in the environment?

8) Discuss the food chain and bio-magnification of these pesticides

9) Which food crops are the most contaminated with pesticides and herbicides? Would you eat food that has been pesticide/herbicide treated?
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3) Solar Energy (Photovoltaic energy)

1) Discuss a brief history of solar energy as used for electrical production.

2) How is sunlight converted into electrical energy?

3) Discuss photovoltaic systems as used for electrical energy production.



4) What are the Federal and State governments doing to encourage the development of solar voltaic energy?

5) Discuss programs within California and the Bay Area as related to photovoltaic energy production (what is being done currently, PG&E and other companies)

6) What are the short and long-term plans that the City of San Jose has for solar energy development (photovoltaic systems)?
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4) Liquid Fuels for Energy Production
1) Discuss the organic liquid fuels - ethanol and methanol.

2) Include a brief history of these fuels.

3) When were they first used as fuels?

4) How were they produced 100 years ago and how are they produced today? What starting materials are used today for their synthesis (production)?

5) Discuss the energy content of these fuels (use BTU’s when discussing energy content). 6) How efficient are these fuels when used in automobiles? Discuss octane number.

7) What is some of the current research into the production of these fuels?

8) Why aren’t they used more? Can these fuels solve the energy crisis?

9) Discuss the use of these fuels worldwide and at the local level.



10) What is the Federal government currently doing to promote the use of these liquid fuels?

11) How has the use of ethanol affected the price of corn? What is the situation with ethanol subsidies and the Federal government?
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5) Wind Power

1) Discuss a brief history of wind power. How was it produced and how was it used? You may go back into history as far as you want to go.

2) What systems are used today to harness the wind and convert the wind into electrical power? How does wind become electricity?

3) Which countries are leading the way with this form of alternative energy? What are they doing and are the companies in these countries that are doing this work being subsidized by their respective governments?

4) What are we doing in California and in the United States? How much electricity is produced by wind power in California?



5) Can wind power produce a significant amount of electrical power in the California?

6) Can it supply California with all of the electrical needs for the state?
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6) Household Products

1) Select two household products such as laundry soap, hand soap, dishwashing detergent, TSP etc. that contain a significant amount of phosphate.

2) Discuss the chemical formulations (contents) and show chemical structures of the major compounds found in these products. In what chemical form is the phosphate that is found in these products?

3) Write a brief history of how and when these products were made. Which companies produce these products?

4) How do they work? Be specific – are they acids, bases, surfactants, water softeners etc?

5) Discuss the environmental problems with phosphate containing products.

6) Why are phosphates used in these products?



7) Discuss wastewater treatment plants, farms and fertilizers, and the problem with

phosphate run-off into natural waters.

8) Do you use phosphate containing household products? If so, will you continue to use these products or will you try and find an alternative?
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7) Organic Food
1) What is organic food? Provide definitions by FDA and other organizations.

2) Discuss the history of the food industry with respect to organic food classification.

3) Why are these foods usually more expensive?

4) Health benefits; are these foods higher in vitamin, mineral content? Be specific – reference legitimate scientific sources.

5) Cost of production. Consider total cost, pesticide and herbicide usage for most foods.



6) Buying locally produced food vs. food from distant lands. Discuss the cost of production and the cost of shipping. Also, discuss the risks involved with food from other countries. How is the food inspected in these countries?

7) Discuss the benefits of growing your own food. Do you already do this? Are you planning to start to grow your own food? Will you go organic?

8) Does SJSU have an organic garden project currently operating on campus? Report on this and give an update.
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8) Fast Food in the United States

1) Definition of Fast Food. Discuss a brief history of this type of food in the U.S.A. Who came up with this concept?

2) Discuss one or two fast-food organizations. Maybe pick the ones that you frequent. Who, when, where etc. did they start?

3) Discuss the situation today – how much fast food is consumed by Americans?

4) Do these foods have negative effects on your health? Be specific.

5) Discuss the ingredients found in fast food. Which ones are particularly harmful and why? Are preservatives used?



6) Discuss the amount of energy that it takes to produce this food. Start at the farm and follow the energy requirements for each step of production. Include the energy requirements for the packaging of the food and the disposal of the paper/plastic that is used.

7) Discuss the profits made by these fast food companies. Report corporate earnings.

8) Discuss your own eating habits with respect to fast foods.

You may want to refer to some of the current films, books etc. that have been made about this industry and comment on these.

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9) Air Quality
1) History of air quality globally. Select a few regions such as L.A. , New York, San Jose, London or a city in China and discuss their history of air quality.

2) What conditions were/are responsible for the air pollution found in the various regions under discussion?

3) What legislation has been enacted to alleviate the air pollution condition?

4) Discuss the chemistry of photochemical smog. What is smog? What is the origin of this word?

5) What pollutants are found in the air in these regions being discussed?

6) What are the health effects of air pollutants?

7) Does air pollution circulate globally?



8) Can air pollution affect climate? Can it affect crops? How?

9) What legislation has been enacted in California to lessen the impact of air pollution?


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10) Water Quality
1) Select two regions and discuss a history of water pollution. Examples could include regions such as India, East Coast, Great Lakes, China or the Bay Area.

2) Discuss in detail the history of these regions and how water quality has been a problem and what has been done to correct the problem.

3) Discuss the various types of pollutants, their origins, and what steps have been taken to clean them from the water.

4) How do these pollutants affect our health?

5) How is the water tested for various contaminants? Be specific – what chemical methods are used?



6) Compare and contrast well water, bottled water and tap water.

What compounds are found in each? Is bottled water better for you than other water?

7) Discuss hard and soft water. What problems are associated with hard water?



8) Discuss San Jose State’s water. Is it clean? Would you drink it? Why or why not?

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11) Greenhouse Gases and Global Warming

1) Discuss a brief history of global warming. Who first came up with this concept? How fast is the earth heating up? What is causing this heating to occur? Use credible sources as references.

2) Discuss the various gases from man-made sources that are believed to be heating the atmosphere. How have they changed over time?

3) Why do scientists believe the earth is heating up? What field tests are used to determine this heating effect?

4) What is infrared radiation and how is this connected to global warming?

5) How is the Federal government planning and acting to deal with this problem?

6) What is happening with the Antarctic Ice sheets? Could sea levels rise?

7) Is California addressing greenhouse gases? What are they doing?



8) Is this a serious problem in your mind? Discuss this and defend your position using scientific journals, newspaper editorials, government publications etc…

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12) Food Additives
1) Food additives (pick two additives such as nitrites, nitrates, BHT, BHA, sodium benzoate, sulfites, MSG, potassium iodide, calcium propionate, benzoyl peroxide, calcium phosphate, calcium sulfate, ammonium chloride, magnesium carbonate), discuss history, current usage.

2) Discuss chemical structures (draw them) of these compounds and how they work to preserve food.

3) You may want to select a few foods such as bread, meats, fast foods and various packaged foods and discuss the additives found there.

4) What are the negative health effects of these additives?

5) What are the positive effects of using food additives?

6) How is your diet? After researching this subject are you planning to alter your diet? How will you do this?



7) How effective is the federal government (FDA) with respect to keeping us informed about these various additives? Are the FDA and USDA doing their job? What else could they do to improve their performance? Do you think that these government agencies should be shut down and that the food industry should be allowed to regulate itself?
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13) Diabetes
1) Discuss the history of this disease. When was it first identified? Discuss this disease on a global basis. Discuss the current situation in the US with respect to this disease.

2) What causes this disease? Discuss the two major types of diabetes. Be specific with the biochemistry (insulin) and how the cells operate in a diabetic person.

3) What can be done to cure or minimize the impact of this disease?

4) Which age groups are at risk for this disease?



5) How can modification of diet and exercise help with the control of diabetes? Be specific with your discussion. Use credible references such as NIH and CDC. These are government agencies. You may also want to peruse medical publications as well.

6) Which specific foods appear to be most problematic with this disease? Use studies from the literature to support your answer.

7) If you know anyone with this disease, what do they do to keep this disease under control?


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14) Drugs
1) Select a couple of drugs such as morphine, PCP, amphetamines, heroin, ecstasy, marijuana, cocaine, nicotine, peyote, psilocybin, opiates, methadone, prescription drugs… and discuss the history of these substances. Write out the structures of the drugs that you are discussing.

2) How do they work? Be specific with where in our bodies these drugs interact.

3) Discuss abuse of these drugs.

4) Do any of these drugs function in a similar manner to naturally occurring compounds already in our bodies? Discuss endorphins. What are they and when were they discovered? How did the name come about?

5) Discuss the acceptance by the public and the government of these drugs.

6) Are there any benefits by using these drugs?



7) How do these drugs compare with similar “legal” drugs? Why are some drugs legal and others are not? What criteria do the federal and state governments use to decide which drugs are legal?
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15) Vitamins
1) Select two vitamins and discuss their history. When and how were they discovered and purified? Write the structures.

2) What role do they play in nutrition?

3) How do they interact with our bodies? Be specific with the biochemical interactions.

4) Discuss food sources of these vitamins. Give actual vitamin content in each food discussed.



5) How does cooking, freezing, baking affect the stability of these vitamins? Are some vitamins more susceptible to heat degradation and oxidation than others?

6) Discuss vitamin supplements and vitamin uptake in our bodies. Should everyone take vitamin supplements? What is the NIH opinion on this?

7) Discuss vitamin deficiencies and diseases. Present a brief history of some of these diseases.



8) Discuss RDA requirements and can some vitamins be abused by taking too much? Can these vitamin supplements actually be toxic?

9) Compare and contrast taking vitamin supplements with just vitamins from natural food.
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16) Paper vs. Plastics
1) Discuss the history of plastics and paper.

2) Discuss the chemical composition of each. Include some discussion about structure of these substances at a molecular level.

3) How is paper made today in the US? How are plastics made?

4) How much energy is required to make paper and compare this to the energy required in the production of plastic.

5) What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

6) Discuss how each product degrades in the environment. What are some of the products of degradation?

7) Is one more toxic than the other? Cite references that have done studies which show what chemical compounds are formed from biodegradation.

8) Discuss paper vs. plastics choices in local businesses. You may want to ask them if they have eliminated plastic from their stores and why they did so.

9) What choices have you made concerning this problem?
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17) Cholesterol and Fats
1) History of cholesterol, when was it identified? Write out its structure.

2) What are its functions in the body? Why do we need it?

3) What are normal and abnormal levels?

4) What are some of the connections with heart disease?



5) Discuss the drugs that are prescribed to keep cholesterol under control. How do they work?

6) Also discuss omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and how they are connected to cholesterol levels.

7) Discuss the “good” and the “bad” cholesterol (HDL and LDL). Just what does “good” and “bad” mean with cholesterol? Do we need both in our bodies?
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18) DNA and Crime Investigation

1) Discuss the history of DNA. When was it discovered? Who published a paper in 1953 in Nature describing the structure of DNA?

2) What is the structure of DNA? What are the building blocks of the double helix? Write out the structures of these nucleotides.

3) What role does it have in living systems? Where is DNA usually located in the cells?



4) How is it used in crime investigation? Discuss DNA fingerprinting.

5) How accurate is this technique?



6) Discuss some recent court cases where DNA has either upheld or overturned a court decision.

7) Can DNA fingerprinting be used to re-investigate old cases? Give some examples.
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19) Endorphins and morphine
1) What are endorphins and when were they discovered? Write out the structures of some of these compounds.

2) How do they function in our bodies? What are opiate receptor sites?

3) What is morphine and when was it discovered? Is it still cultivated today? Where?

4) How is it similar to endorphins? Do they both work on the same parts of the nervous system? Explain in detail.



5) Discuss other compounds such as heroin, methadone and codeine and their connection with endorphins. When was methadone developed? Why was it developed?

6) Discuss addiction with these compounds. What takes place at the molecular level?
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20) Organic Gardening
1) What is organic gardening? Be specific with definitions citing government sources.

2) Discuss various types of chemical and organic fertilizers. Write out their structures and explain why they are used in farming practices.

3) What kinds of nutrients are needed for healthy soil?

4) What is compost? Discuss composting methods.



5) Discuss how you could change nutrient depleted soil into rich healthy soil.

Include soil amendments and how to adjust the pH of soil. Define pH and discuss acid/base conditions in which crops grow best.

6) Discuss crop rotation and soil management. Include practices that have been used for hundreds of years.

7) Do you have an organic garden? What do you grow?
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21) Nuclear Waste

1) What is nuclear waste? Where does it come from?

2) What are the various types of nuclear waste? Be specific.

3) Where are nuclear wastes stored in this country today?

4) Where is nuclear waste stored in other countries, such as France, India and Japan?

5) What are the problems with long-term storage of nuclear waste?

6) What are some current proposals to deal with this problem of storage?

7) Can some of this waste be recycled and reprocessed?

8) Discuss nuclear waste and weapons grade materials.

9) What international agreements have been made to deal with nuclear waste and nuclear proliferation?

10) How serious is the nuclear situation today?
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22) Mass Transportation
1) Discuss various forms of mass transportation. Pick two systems such as high- speed rail, light rail, subway (underground trains), buses etc…

2) Include in your discussion, various types of fuels and/or energy sources such as methanol, ethanol, fuel cells, solar, hydrogen, magnetic monorails etc. used in mass transportation systems.

3) For each type of mass transportation system, discuss its history, current research, where it is used.

4) What is occurring at the local level, SJSU, City of San Jose, Santa Clara County, etc.?

5) Discuss any Federal projects related to this topic.

6) Discuss mass transportation, such as light rail (trolleys) used in LA in the 1930’s and 1940’s. What happened to these mass transportation systems? Which large companies were responsible for their demise? Can these systems be resurrected in LA?

7) Considering the rapid decrease in fossil fuels, which mass transportation systems appear to be the likely choices for the future? Is California proceeding with the high- speed rail system from northern to southern California? When is it expected to go on-line?
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23) Anabolic Steroids

1) What are they? Discuss chemistry of these substances. Write out the structures.

2) How are they used and abused? Can they be beneficial?

3) How are these detected in the body? Discuss in some detail, the instrumentation used to detect various types of steroids (Gas chromatography, HPLC etc…).

4) Discuss some specific cases and ongoing investigations.

5) Discuss their abuse in Olympic competitions both past and present. What was the outcome of these investigations?

6) What is your opinion about their use in athletics, medical practices, other...?

Are you for or against these drugs? Be convincing with your discussion. Use editorials from reputable newspapers and medical-scientific journals to support your case.
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24) Coffee and/or Tea

1) Discuss the history of Coffee and/or Tea with respect to its cultivation and commerce.

2) Global consumption of coffee and/or tea globally and also in the US.

3) Caffeine content of various teas and coffees. How do chemists determine the amount of caffeine in a tea or coffee sample?



4) Caffeine – discuss various health effects- good and bad of this compound.

5) Green teas vs. black teas, discuss chemical composition and health benefits. Write out the structures of the most important compounds found in coffee and tea.

6) Decaffeinated teas, coffee – describe the process of decaffeination and the health effects (good/bad) of these beverages.



7) Discuss diseases or negative health effects associated with over-consumption of coffee and tea.
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25) Vitamin C

1) Discuss the history of this vitamin.

2) When was it discovered, what disease does it prevent?

3) Does it help to prevent or minimize other diseases? Be specific when referencing this connection between Vitamin C and disease. There are many unsubstantiated claims and therefore, find reputable sources and cite them in your paper.

4) What are antioxidants? How do they work? How does Vitamin C act as an antioxidant?

5) Discuss various sources of vitamin C.

6) Effect of cooking, baking storage, sunlight etc. on stability of vitamin C. Find references that have done studies to show how Vitamin C levels are easily changed by various external factors.

7) How much do we need? Discuss various references.

8) Discuss any controversies regarding this vitamin.

9) Can it cure the common cold or cancer? Who was Linus Pauling?

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26) Aspirin
1) History of this compound. When was it discovered and what were its uses?

2) What is its structure and how does it work in the body?

3) How is it produced today?

4) Discuss aspirin and heart disease prevention. Cite specific studies. How were these studies performed? Has the perception of heart disease prevention by aspirin changed during the last 20 years?

5) Discuss some aspirin alternatives, how they work and why they were developed. Write out the structures of these compounds.

6) If aspirin was discovered today how difficult would it be to get FDA approval for over-the-counter sales of this product?

7) Is aspirin potentially dangerous? Can you overdose on aspirin?
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27) Chemistry of Venus and Mars or Other Planets
1) Discuss the atmospheric chemistry of Mars and Venus or other planets such as Jupiter and Saturn. Be specific with chemical compounds found there.

Include some background as to how the information was obtained about these atmospheric compositions. Just pick two planets other than the Earth.



2) How did the extreme conditions develop on Venus to get to such a hostile environment?

3) Why has the Martian atmosphere effectively vanished over the years?



4) Can Earth have its atmosphere changed and be like Venus or Mars?

Discuss the processes going on in our own atmosphere that are heading us toward a Martian or Venusian atmosphere.

5) Is there something that we can do to slow down this effect?

6) Discuss space flights that have gone to these planets and the information that was obtained from these fly-bys or landings.

7) Discuss the latest NASA Mars landing. What has been found on Mars?


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