Monday, April 11, 2011

The worth of the human body

In one scene of the novel Dead Poets Society, a character's father says that he must be worth more than "five ninety-eight" - which he explains is the price of the human body, when separated into elements and sold individually. I'm not sure if he meant $5.98 or $598, but I was curious what that cost would be today.

Please note that I am not implying disrespect for the worth of a human; the father is a stupid and abusive character. I'm just curious on a scientific level, and it's an interesting and worthy look at what the human body is made of.

Elemental abundances and total masses in the human body are from Wikipedia; I also borrowed some of the code for the table. Costs are from Chemicool; bulk costs unless only pure cost is given.

Only elements with nonzero cost are given, plus a few prominent ones; the whole list is about three times longer, but most of the trace elements are present in such small concentrations that they're just about worthless.

Element Percent of Mass Mass (kg) Cost per kg Cost
Oxygen 65 43     $0.20     $8.60
Carbon 18 16     $2.40   $38.40
Hydrogen 10 7   $12.00   $84.00
Nitrogen 3 1.8     $4.00     $7.20
Calcium 1.5 1.0 $200.00 $200.00
Phosphorus 1 0.780 $300.00 $234.00
Potassium 0.25 0.140 $650.00   $91.00
Sulfur 0.25 0.140 $500.00   $70.00
Sodium 0.15 0.100 $250.00   $25.00
Chlorine 0.15 0.095     $1.50     $0.14
Magnesium 0.05 0.019     $2.90     $0.22
Iron 0.006 0.0042     $0.20     $0.00
Fluorine 0.0037 0.0026     $4.94     $0.01
Zinc 0.0032 0.0023     $1.80     $0.00
Silicon 0.002 0.0010     $1.40     $0.00
Rubidium 0.00046 0.00068 $12,000   $81.60
Strontium 0.00046 0.00032 $1,000     $0.32
Boron 0.000069 0.000018 $5,000     $0.09
Arsenic 0.000026 0.000007 $3,200     $0.02
Cesium 0.0000021 0.000006 $11,000     $0.07
Gold 0.000014 0.0000002 $47,000     $0.01

And the grand total is...... approximately 840 dollars, over half that for the calcium and phosphorus which are tricky to get in pure amounts.

It's interesting that gold, at $47,000 per kilogram (depending on market prices), is worth a penny despite there being only 0.2 mg in the human body. (The few atoms of radium, despite a value of 2.8 million dollars an ounce, still cost about one billionth of a penny).

1 comment:

celagail said...

huh. very interesting indeed. to think that countries which still have dowries and bride prices only have to follow this formula chart when giving away a woman . . . it makes a person feel so inferior when you think about it that way. that we come to the total of $840. to think we add up to the amount that a typical bed coasts.

-CA