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Ingenious: The Strange Chemistry Behind Why You Get Sick on Planes Video Questions Mark as Favorite (2 Favorites)

ACTIVITY in Molecular Structure, Catalysts. Last updated October 01, 2021.


In this activity, students will answer questions while watching the video, The Strange Chemistry Behind Why You Get Sick on Planes, from the Ingenious series produced by the American Chemical Society. Each episode investigates a different topic related to how leading-edge chemistry is taking on the world’s most urgent issues to advance everyone’s quality of life and secure our shared future. This episode investigates the compound ozone and why it might be responsible for some of the discomforts associated with air travel.   

Grade Level

High School


By the end of this activity, students should be able to:

  • Describe the purpose of a catalytic converter.  
  • Define ozone as a compound, and also briefly explain the effect of the ozone layer.
  • Give a basic explanation for why ozone can be associated with discomforts of air travel.
  • Understand how research and development at the molecular level can make an impact in the world.

Chemistry Topics

This activity supports students’ understanding of:

  • Molecules and Bonding
  • Molecular Structure
  • Chemical Reactions
  • Catalysts


Teacher Preparation: minimal
Lesson: 10-20 minutes



  • No specific safety precautions need to be observed for this activity.

Teacher Notes

  • The Ingenious video series spotlights stories from the frontlines of chemistry research and development, where passionate innovators are stepping up to confront problems like pollution, overfishing, sustainability and personal safety.
  • This video, The Strange Chemistry Behind Why You Get Sick on Planes, the compound ozone, a known respiratory irritant, exists in high concentrations at flight altitudes, making the “fresh air” sucked in by air conditioners at those heights, not so fresh. In fact, ozone exposure may be responsible for many of the short-term discomforts we associate with air travel. What’s more, ozone can react with other compounds in the air—even the oils on our skin—to produce other toxic compounds like aldehydes and ketones. Some planes have catalytic converters, like the ones in cars which use transition metals to turn ozone into breathable oxygen. But not every plane has one!  
  • The running time of this video is about 6 minutes and 30 seconds minutes. As it is a short video and it moves quickly, you may want to show it twice, or instruct students to pause the video as needed on their own devices to ensure that they can record answers to all of the questions.
  • The student questions/answers are presented in sequential order in the video.
  • An answer key has also been provided for teacher reference.
  • The final questions are reflection-based and might be helpful in prompting a class discussion after students have a few minutes to answer them independently.
  • The AACT classroom resource library offers 23 teaching resources in the Chemistry of Cars collection that may help to complement this video. Specifically, there are several focused on catalytic converters:

For the Student



While watching the video, answer the following questions:

  1. True or False? Fats and oils on your skin are responsible for keeping skin moisturized and protected.
  2. The oils on your skin can transfer—where do they go?
  3. Draw the Lewis structure for Ozone (O3) below.
  4. The Ozone layer is diffused around the Earth. Its size and shape vary depending on what two factors?
  5. True or False? Ozone is part of the “fresh air” experienced in the cabin of an airplane.
  6. What are two examples of “vulnerable tissues” in your body that react with ozone?
  7. Scientists have determined that ozone is reacting with something else on an airplane—what is it?
  8. True or False? The Pig Pen Effect can occur even without people actually present.
  9. True or False? There is no way to keep ozone out of the airplane cabin.
  10. How many oxygen atoms are removed from each ozone molecule as it passes through a converter?
  11. True or False: Every airplane has a catalytic converter.

After you watch the video, reflect on the following questions:

  1. Thinking outside of the airplane—Why is ozone so important to life on Earth?
  2. What questions would you have for a scientist in this field? What more do you want to know?