Friday, December 12, 2014

This Is How Much Of Beyoncé's Breath You Inhale Every Time You Breathe

Here is a classic problem given to students in statistics classes: "How many molecules of Caesar's last breath do you inhale every time you breathe?" according to

To answer the query, no scientific testing is required. Instead, students are asked to use mathematics in an effort to work their way to a guesstimation. This type of question is called a "Fermi problem," where answers are found to seemingly impossible questions based on setting out clear approximations and assumptions. With this sort of analysis, you can get answers to questions even as crazy-seeming as, "How many molecules of Beyoncé's breath do you inhale every time you breathe?"

Before going any further, let's note that Beyoncé's breathing is particularly notable. In the 2004 Destiny's Child single "Lose My Breath," Beyoncé -- along with Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams -- sings, "Can you keep up? / Baby boy, make me lose my breath / Bring the noise, make me lose my breath / Hit me hard, make me lose my..." Then they all breathe heavily. Aren't you at least a little bit curious how much of these Queen B exhales end up making it into your own plebeian lungs?

To answer that Beyoncé-related Fermi Problem, The Huffington Post reached out to Professor Lawrence Weinstein of the Old Dominion University Department of Physics and co-author of Guesstimation: Solving the World's Problems on the Back of a Cocktail Napkin. Professor Weinstein was game to take on this pop culture Fermi problem quite thoroughly, this despite its ridiculous nature and Professor Weinstein certainly having more important things to do than humor us about Beyoncé.

All text below has been written by Professor Lawrence Weinstein and formatted/illustrated by The Huffington Post.
 Photo: Huffington Post

How much of the air you just breathed was once breathed out by Beyoncé?
Let’s start with an easier question: How much air did Beyoncé just exhale? When you exhale you can certainly fill a 1-liter soda bottle, but not a lot more than that. However, that 1-liter of breath contains 3´1022 air molecules (this comes from high school chemistry where one mole of gas contains 6´1023 molecules and occupies 22 L of volume at standard temperature and pressure).