Poisons that Can Kill and Poisons that Can Heal

Davy Jones’s Locker is a phrase common among seafarers: it is used to refer to wreckage (and humans) condemned to the bottom of the oceans. If the Australian box jellyfish (sea wasp) stings a human being, the probability of the victim ending up on the ocean floor is quite high. Although they look harmless and wispy, their sting is among the deadliest on the planet on account of the venom they produce. Unbearable pain is followed by shock, which can be followed by drowning or heart failure; all in a few minutes. The lucky ones who survive are left with scarring from the tentacles and severe pain for weeks afterward.

Why Be So Venomous

Jellyfish are ethereal-looking and literally go with the flow of the water. Even as food trends come and go, the ancient, non-harmful jellyfish is still food on the plate for many people. The box jellies are different; they swim and hunt their prey, which typically includes shrimp and fish. They don’t really hunt humans, so why do they produce venom potent enough to kill a human being? Researchers think this might be the wrong question to ask.

A Box Jellyfish
Image Credit: Mithril (Wikimedia Commons)

The theory for why its venom is so toxic is as follows: while co-evolving with creatures that could harm the jellyfish easily, the jellyfish needed their venom to work swiftly and potently. Humans, on the other hand, have not particularly evolved alongside, or under the particular threat of, predators that have wanted to overwhelm them with toxins; that’s why humans are susceptible to jellyfish venom.

As preys evolve to develop immunity to their attackers’ venom, the hunters also evolve by upping the toxicity of their venom. This is an arms race, so to say. When preys feel they are not especially under attack from a particular animal, their ability to develop resistance or immunity to the attacking animal’s venom may diminish. Creatures like mice, mongoose, and ground squirrels can survive the bite of a venomous snake because snakes continue to pose an obvious threat to their survival.

Humans have not had to deal with venomous predators on the lookout for human prey; in other words, the human specie has not developed any significant resistance to venoms. It’s unfortunate that venomous creatures that hunt other prey end up killing humans.

Do Poisons Only Kill?

Many antibiotics used by humans to fight bacterial infections are poisonous to the bacteria inside the human being, not to the human being consuming it. One creature’s food–or, in this case, medicine–is another creature’s poison. Even water, which is essential for humans and most species, can cause death when consumed in excess.

In other words, a helpful substance can be toxic under some circumstances. It’s also well documented that certain poisons can heal.

For instance, Botox is a modern drug that is used effectively to treat ailments like migraines, uncontrolled blinking, overactive bladders, and excessive sweating. It also helps with relieving spasms in the food pipe and helps cerebral palsy patients to move better. Botulinum, a toxin found in contaminated food, is also commonly available in soil and dust. Interestingly, Botox is a form of botulinum toxin. Its effectiveness in treatment vis à vis its role as a poison is decided by the quantity used. To put things in perspective, one gram can kill 5.5 people averaging 70 kilos.

The CDC (Center for Disease Control) even lists Botox as a Category A substance as it can be misused as a biological weapon.

Venoms or Toxins that Humans Use

Just as humans have learnt to harness botulinum, here are a few other animal whose venoms can be beneficial to humans if administered correctly:

  1. The Gila Monster
    The Gila monster (pronounced hee-luh), endemic to the deserts of Mexico and the US, does not hunt often; it only gets hungry three or four times a year. Spending 95% of its life in burrows, the slow creature surfaces to raid eggs from nests, and eat young mammals. Storing its fat in its tail, the lizard can grow up to two feet in length.

The lizard’s venom is a mild neurotoxin, which is delivered through its teeth as it chews. A chemical in its saliva helps the lizard digest its food gradually. Scientists have come up with a synthetic form of the same chemical, which is effective in controlling sugar levels and facilitating weight loss in diabetics.

2. Rattlesnakes
Rattlesnakes are large venomous snakes found in the US. Arizona, in particular, is home to thirteen varieties. The snake relies on its heat-sensing facial pits to spot its prey. Although its bite can be dangerous, it is rarely fatal.

The anticoagulating protein in the snake’s venom is used in modern medicine to design drugs to help prevent blood clots.

3. Scorpion Venom
Scorpion venom contains an element that helps target cancerous cells without affecting the good cells. This makes it easier for doctors to excise the cancerous cells and save lives.

A synthetic version of the mini-protein in the Deathstalker scorpion from Israel binds to cancerous cells. By attaching a fluorescent dye, researchers create what they call a “molecular flashlight,” which, once bound to the cancerous cells, emits near-infrared light. This helps surgeons spot and excise cancerous cells.

What Is a Tsunami?

A tsunami is a series of extremely large and often devastating ocean waves typically caused by sudden movements on the ocean floor. Usually, these sudden movements are caused by earthquakes, strong volcanic eruptions, or underwater landslides. Tsunamis are dangerous not only because of their size but also because of their speed. In fact, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), tsunamis travel faster than 500 miles per hour (mph) in deep regions of oceans, and some of them can last for several days.

Image Credit: David Rydevik (Wikimedia Commons)

How Fast Is a Tsunami?

The speed of a tsunami is determined by the depth of the region in which it originates and the regions it travels to. In short, the deeper the water, the faster and more devastating the tsunami. What’s more, it is very difficult to spot a tsunami in deep waters, which makes it all the more dangerous. Nonetheless, tsunamis lose speed as they approach shallow coastal waters. In fact, they can strike land at speeds as low as 20-30 mph. This, however, does not make them any less dangerous. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, widely regarded as the deadliest tsunami in human history, killed and displaced over 150,000 people in 11 countries. The tsunami was caused by a massive earthquake near Sumatra, an Indonesian island.

The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

Famously, National Geographic reported that, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the tsunami may have released energy equivalent to the detonation of over 23,000 Little Boys—the nuclear bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima during the Second World War. The massive earthquake occurred on December 26, 2004, and unleashed a series of killer waves that reached the coasts of Africa and Thailand the very same day. The tsunami killed almost 150,000 people—the official death toll—across 11 countries on December 26th itself. Although tsunamis slow down as they approach shorelines, they strike with deadly impact velocity. These killer waves carry large volumes of water and can permanently damage coastlines, as was indeed the case with the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. In fact, the tsunami also led to the permanent submersion of entire islands in the Indian Ocean. In addition to human deaths, the tsunami also caused heavy property damage. Remarkably, however, there were very few animal deaths.

Some Characteristics of a Tsunami

Since tsunamis can travel faster than 500 mph in the deep ocean, they can cross entire oceans over the course of a single day! Moreover, tsunamis typically have a wavelength (the distance between successive waves) of over 100 miles in the deep ocean. This explains the interval between waves that strike shorelines.

Although tsunamis lose speed rapidly as they approach coastlines, they grow significantly in height. The killer waves are typically around 10 feet tall when they strike land. On the other hand, they can be more than 100 feet tall if they originate near coastlines.

What Are Avalanches?

Last month, we focused on the dangers of high-altitude climbing. This month’s post is about avalanches–another danger specific to icy mountainous regions.

Avalanches occur when a slab of snow overlying a weaker layer of snow is triggered and slides down a steep slope. They are dangerous not only because they tend to gather speed very quickly, but also because they draw in more snow as they accelerate. This rapidly increases their mass and volume. In fact, the rapid acceleration can produce a “gravity current,” formed by a combination of snow and air called “powder snow avalanche.” Expectedly, avalanches are especially common in mountainous terrains. In addition to snow, they also draw in rocks and debris. Snow avalanches are called snowslides, whereas rock or debris avalanches are called rockslides. Snowslides can occur along most inclined slopes, including roofs of buildings. Buildings located in mountainous regions are especially vulnerable to avalanches.

An avalanche warning sign
Image Credit: Nicolas Cool on Unsplash

What Causes Snowslides?

Snowslides occur whenever the pull of gravity exceeds the strength of snow cover. They can also be triggered by human activities such as skiing, group trekking, or driving on weak snowpacks. Strong-rooted trees sometimes serve as anchors and bind snow to sleep slopes, thereby preventing avalanches. However, avalanches can also be forceful enough to uproot even dense vegetation. Avalanches also occur spontaneously sometimes: they may be triggered entirely by the gravitational load on snowpacks. Avalanches in icy mountainous regions tend to sweep up trees too. Interestingly, these avalanches (snowslides) are not classified as rockslides. This is because the latter do not include ice or snow. In addition, rockslides are also more fluid in their flow than snowslides.

Classifying and Studying Avalanches

Notably, avalanches have not been classified into specific categories. In fact, it may not be possible to do. Nonetheless, we can study the following characteristics of avalanches: their size, their impact, their composition, and their triggers. Geologists and meteorologists use graded scales to determine the possibility of avalanches. These scales are based on factors such as the stability of snow and the angle of incline. Any slope with a gradient of more than 30 degrees is typically considered steep and dangerous. Commonly used scales include the North American Avalanche Danger Scale and the European Avalanche Size Table.

Did You Know?

Although this sounds counterintuitive, one of the best ways to prevent snowslides is to repeatedly travel on a snowpack whenever snow accumulates. However, crowding on weak snowpacks also triggers avalanches. This is especially common at altitudes higher than 5000 meters (above sea level). This is why there are restrictions regarding the number of people in climbing expeditions. Avalanches can be triggered if too many people are jammed or stranded on a climbing route. Nonetheless, it is possible to stabilize snow using tractors, snowmobiles, or trucks. These machines are also used to “groom” snow so as to make it suitable for recreational activities.

Beware of the vicious circle, though: you can stabilize snow using these machines, but you may well trigger an avalanche while skiing. The key is to develop the capacity to “read” snow. More interestingly, explosives are also used to prevent avalanches: they are used to trigger small-scale avalanches, which tend to reduce or eliminate imbalances in snowpacks.

The Dangers of High-Altitude Climbing

Though more people are climbing mountains today, few seem to understand the importance of acclimatization.

High altitude impacts the human body in several ways. Beyond 1,500 meters above sea level, the saturation of oxyhemoglobin in the human body begins to decrease. The higher one goes, the lower the saturation of oxyhemoglobin. This is because air pressure reduces with altitude. However, if properly acclimatized, the human body can function reasonably well up to an altitude of 5,000 meters, but acclimatization doesn’t guarantee safety. Moreover, there are very few human settlements at this altitude. At 5,130 meters above sea level, La Rinconada in Peru is currently the world’s highest settlement.

A view of Kangchenjunga (or K2 – the third highest mountain in the world at 8,586 m) from Gangtok, Sikkim, India
Image Credit: Johannes Bahrdt

Very High Altitude and Extreme Altitude

Typically, only mountaineers and well-acclimatized researchers cross the 5,000-meter mark. Classifications such as “very high altitude” (between 3,500 to 5,500 meters) and “extreme altitude” (above 5,500 meters) serve to indicate the level of oxygen in the atmosphere. That is, the higher one goes, lesser the oxygen and greater the risk of death. In fact, mountaineers and meteorologists typically refer to the 8000-meter mark as the “death zone.” This is because the so-called death zone does not contain enough oxygen to sustain human life.

Altitude Sickness, Hypoxia, and Acute Mountain Sickness

But how exactly does high altitude affect the human body? First, the lower air pressure at very high altitudes can directly lead to hypoxia, a severe case of oxygen deprivation. Early symptoms include fatigue and confusion. Since it is normal for climbers to experience some degree of fatigue and confusion at very high altitudes, it is difficult to determine whether fatigue and confusion will necessarily lead to hypoxia. In addition, these are also symptoms of acute mountain sickness, which also occurs due to decreased oxygen and air pressure levels at high altitudes. One of the best ways to alleviate acute mountain sickness is rapid descent. Acute mountain sickness typically occurs when climbers ascend too quickly. Therefore, it is essential for climbers to acclimatize properly to very high altitudes. Typically, climbers spend two or three weeks at base camps to acclimatize for expeditions. Even if one is well-acclimatized, too much physical exertion at very high altitudes can cause acute mountain sickness.

Other symptoms of severe altitude sickness include excessive coughing, painful breathing, skin discoloration, and hallucination. In extreme cases, altitude sickness may require hospitalization. At very high and extreme altitudes, the human body may also experience high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), a fatal accumulation of fluid in the lungs. Excessive coughing, fatigue, and congestion can also be symptoms of HAPE. On the other hand, signs of HAPE include wheezing while breathing, rapid breathing, and rapid heart rate. Since HAPE and acute mountain sickness have similar symptoms, it is best to descend rapidly to avoid fatality.

Interestingly, people who live 2,500 meters above sea level typically tend to adapt to decreased oxygen levels. Compared to newcomers, those who live at these altitudes have greater lung capacity and endurance. Although the human body can adapt to high altitudes, very high and extreme altitudes are extremely punishing.

What Is Molting?

Molting is a fascinating biological phenomenon practiced mainly, but not only, by invertebrates. It involves the shedding or casting off of a particular part of the animal’s body. Typically, animals shed their epidermis, the outermost skin layer; pelage; or wings. Some arthropods even shed their entire exoskeleton. Indeed, arthropods differ from other invertebrates in that they possess an exoskeleton. Molting is either necessitated by external factors such as climate-related or seasonal changes or occurs at specific points in an animal’s life cycle—that is, when animals outgrow their skin or their exoskeleton, or when they metamorphose into adults.

Some Molting Animals

Cats and dogs (Fur)

Molting is also common among mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. For instance, dogs and cats typically molt fur to adapt to external changes. Cats usually molt fur after winter, especially during spring-summer. Dogs, on the other hand, molt fur owing to changes in the extent and degree of sunlight, and not because of seasonal changes.

Snakes and lizards (Epidermis)

A molting lizard
Image Credit: Art String

Snakes and lizards are perhaps the most famous molting animals. Both animals rely on the contours of their habitat to remove or shed skin: they usually seek out rough edges, objects, or surfaces to facilitate molting. Snakes typically refrain from eating just before a molt; they are also known to seek safer habitats during this period. Molting is essential to a snake’s well-being, as it allows the animal to eliminate harmful parasites and bacteria from its epidermis. Remarkably, snakes sometimes shed their old skin in one piece. Snakeskin, especially when intact, is also a highly valuable commodity.

Lizards, on the other hand, not only practice molting but also consume their own shed skin. Lizard skin, it has been found, is rich in nutrients, especially calcium. What’s more, lizards, much like starfish, also have regenerative capabilities. They can shed their tail at will to escape predators and obstacles, and can regrow a fully functional tail in just about 60-70 days.

Birds (Feathers)

Birds shed feathers fairly regularly, and they do so mainly to replace dead feathers. Unlike lizards and snakes, however, birds do not shed all their feathers at once, since feathers regulate their body temperature and offer them protection. Notably, almost all birds—from hens to vultures—practice molting. In fact, since molting enables hens to lay eggs, hens are widely subjected to forced-molting, an unethical commercial practice aimed at enhancing the capacity of captive hens to produce eggs.

Arthropods (Exoskeleton)

Arthropods (especially insects, spiders, and crustaceans) typically shed their exoskeleton or shell during metamorphosis. Molting is thus not only a necessary process for arthropods but also a transformational one. Arthropods that reach adulthood through metamorphosis are markedly different from their larval selves.

Did You Know?

Molting is also known as sloughing or shedding.

Invertebrate molting is also called “ecdysis,” a term derived from Ancient Greek. Roughly speaking, ecdysis means “to remove” or “to cast away.”

Jellyfish: Facts and Trivia

So far, I’ve written about beavers, giraffes, the Venus flytrap, a few other animals, and this month I turn my attention to jellyfish.

Jellyfish are one of the oldest animals on Earth. Interestingly, jellyfish are not really a type of fish; they are invertebrates. In other words, they are aquatic animals that do not have backbones.

Jellyfish are rather ubiquitous. They can be found in abundance in warm as well as cold ocean water. They can also be found in the depths of the oceans and along shallow coastlines. They are also seen in freshwater lakes and ponds.

Scientists have so far discovered more than 2,000 different types of jellyfish. What’s more, it has also been reported that there could be nearly 300,000 more species of jellyfish yet to be discovered. Being invertebrates, jellyfish do not have a skeleton. In addition, most jellyfish have a transparent body, which makes them rather difficult to spot. On the other hand, some jellyfish are quite conspicuous in that they are bright and luminescent.

Image Credit: Anna Tsukanova on Unsplash

Stinging: The Jellyfish’s Modus Operandi

Jellyfish are notorious for their ability to deliver extremely painful, and sometimes stunning, fatal stings. They capture prey with the help of their tentacles, which are populated with stinging cells. Some jellyfish are also known to feed on other jellyfish, too.

Jellyfish are remarkably simple organisms. They do not have vital organs (such as the brain, heart, and lungs). In fact, contrary to popular belief, they do not have legs, feet, hands, or even eyes and ears. Remember: their tentacles cannot be regarded as limbs.

Despite being a simple organism, some jellyfish can deliver a fatal sting. They propel themselves forward by squirting water through their mouth. In fact, like the hydra—a genus of small, freshwater organisms—jellyfish also dispel waste through their mouth. Although they can propel themselves forward, jellyfish are highly limited swimmers. Too often, their movement is determined by ocean currents and other external factors.

The Jellyfish’s Constitution

Being simple invertebrates, jellyfish are made almost entirely of water (more than 90% according to most scientific accounts). As a result, when jellyfish get stranded along coastlines, they simply evaporate. Nonetheless, they posses a simple yet effective nervous system that allows them to detect light and gauge depth. They are also adept at digesting food quickly.

Even dead jellyfish can deliver a sting when touched or stepped on. However, not all jellyfish are poisonous; some are even edible, whereas others have been found to have medicinal value.

Some Interesting Facts About Pitcher Plants

The Venus Flytrap is not the only carnivorous plant. Pitcher plants are also famous for their carnivory, and as their name suggests, these plants possess pitcher-shaped leaves that form a pitfall trap. Much like the flytrap, pitchers typically grow in poor soil and are mainly found in dry pine fields and coastal swamps.

Image Credit: Tim Mansfield

How Do Pitchers Attract Prey?

Pitchers attract prey with their pitfall traps, which are filled with nectar. Pitchers kill their prey by drowning them in nectar. In addition, the pitfall traps contain a deep cavity filled with digestive fluids. Pitchers typically attract crawling or foraging insects. Sometimes, they also attract flying insects. Pitfall traps typically become moist and slippery due to condensation, and this enables pitchers to snare unsuspecting prey. Condensation is usually caused by two factors: weather conditions (external factor) and nectar (internal factor).

Their Prey-Trapping Mechanism

Pitchers are known for their elaborate prey-trapping mechanism. They may contain waxy scales, protruding aldehyde crystals, or prey-trapping hairs. Some pitchers may also contain what are called “guard-cell-originating” lunate cells along their insides to ensure that trapped insects remain trapped. Once trapped, pitchers drown their prey to ensure proper digestion. Drowned prey are first dissolved, and pitchers accomplish this by relying either on their own enzymes or internal bacterial action. Interestingly, pitchers do not naturally host digestive bacteria; they do so only inadvertently, and this is mainly because their pitfall traps remain open most of the time. As a result, digestive bacteria are driven into their traps by rainfall, wind, and other external factors. At the same time, it must be noted that not all bacteria that are driven into pitchers facilitate digestion.

What Does Digestion Entail?

As mentioned above, once they lure and drown their prey, pitchers begin to digest their catch. But what exactly does this process entail? Aided by enzymes and digestive bacteria, pitchers convert their catch into a nutritious solution. In essence, this solution is a broken-down form of the mineral nutrition that constitutes their prey. Since pitchers feed mainly on insects, this broken-down solution mainly consists of amino acids, urea, peptides, and phosphates. As one can see, pitchers rely on insects especially for nitrogen and phosphorous. This is because much like most carnivorous plants, pitchers do not rely on photosynthesis for their survival: they draw minerals from the soil and nutrients from their insect prey.

Did You Know?

Pitchers are extremely resilient. It is no surprise, therefore, that, unlike the Venus Flytrap, pitchers face no threat of extinction.

BTW, “Pitcher plants” is an umbrella term: it refers to different species of carnivorous plants that use the pitfall-trap.

The Venus Flytrap: A Fascinating Carnivorous Plant

Previously, we’ve discussed beavers, giraffes, the fishing cat, and other fascinating creatures. In this month’s post we’ll be discussing the Venus Flytrap.

Before discussing the fascinating features of the Venus Flytrap, let’s briefly discuss pollination. This may seem like a digression, but it just might enhance your appreciation of the Venus Flytrap. Pollination is a particularly fascinating phenomenon: it is the process by which plants—almost entirely stationary living things—reproduce. Aided by insects, other larger animals, and wind, pollination involves the transfer of pollen from the male parts to the female parts of a plant (typically from the male anther to the female stigma of a flower). This in turn enables plants to fertilize and produce seeds, ultimately resulting in the production of offspring. To ensure survival through pollination, plants produce seeds and attract insects and other animals (pollinators). However, not all plants require other agents—wind or pollinators—to fertilize. Some plants are “self-pollinating”: they can fertilize themselves. Plants that require other agents to fertilize are called “cross-pollinating” plants.

While most plants attract pollinators to ensure fertilization, the Venus Flytrap, a carnivorous plant, attracts insects mainly to consume them. Why does this carnivorous plant consume insects? This is because the Venus Flytrap grows only in substandard soil. Since it cannot draw the necessary kinds or amounts of nutrients from substandard soil alone, the plant feeds on insects and other tiny animals. Remarkably, the Venus Flytrap is known to attract and feed on small-sized frogs, too. The plant absorbs nutrients from insects by digesting them. Oddly enough, fertilizing the soil it grows in kills the plant. Native to the subtropical wetlands of North America, especially North and South Carolina, the Venus Flytrap is highly selective about its prey. It typically feeds on beetles, spiders, and grasshoppers. Only occasionally does the plant feed on small-sized frogs.

How Does the Flytrap Snare Prey?

A Venus Flytrap at work
Image Credit: Dugeot

Trapping a crawling insect requires considerable energy, and the flytrap is a highly efficient plant. It shuts its trap only if it is sure that an insect is worth trapping and digesting. The plant’s inner surface consists of small hairs, and the extremities of the plant’s leaves complete its trapping structure. The plant closes its trap when a crawling insect comes into contact with one of the small hairs. It does not digest its catch until it is sure it has trapped an insect worth digesting.

The Craze to Collect and Domesticate the Flytrap

Widely collected by curious admirers, the Venus Flytrap is currently a vulnerable plant. The plant survives remarkably well in open, subtropical conditions, drawing nutrients from the air, the soil, and insects. Collectors have had to figure out the best means to grow the Venus Flytrap in domestic settings, and this has partly made it vulnerable. Reportedly, collectors have even tried to feed hamburgers to the plant, which results in indigestion, infection, rot, and eventual death. Similarly, the feeding of over-sized prey—that is, prey larger than the plant’s trapping system—also tends to cause deadly infections: the portion of the prey outside the closed plant contracts bacterial infection, which eventually also kills the plant.

What Teachers can Do

The Venus Flytrap is an extremely fascinating plant. Few other things pique student interest as much. If you are wondering how to instill in your students a penchant for preserving the environment, a field trip to a greenhouse is a great idea. Just remember to take them to a greenhouse that grows the plant. Students can witness firsthand what it means to care for and preserve a fascinating, yet vulnerable, living organism.

What Are Hybrid Vehicles? 101

Recently my students and I were discussing hybrid vehicles, and I was quite surprised to learn that most students tend to associate cars (almost exclusively) with hybrid technology. When in fact there is a range of hybrid vehicles. Indeed, from casual conversations over the past couple of weeks, it seems to me that even many adults mainly associate cars with hybrid technology.

Another key takeaway from this discussion was that any mention of hybrid cars (not all hybrid vehicles) almost always provoked discussion about their impacts (good and bad) on the environment. However, claims from either side seemed unsubstantiated–and even unsubstantiable–in many instances. In other words, there doesn’t seem to have been much fruitful public discussion about the environmental impacts of hybrid cars, though there have been many studies in this context. For instance, this simple article presents some of the most commonly discussed issues related to the environmental impact of hybrid cars.

This post is not about the environmental impact of manufacturing and using hybrids. It is a post about hybrid technology itself. In other words, we’ll be addressing the more basic question “What are hybrid vehicles?”

Hybrid Vehicles

Hybrid vehicles are vehicles that use more than one type of power. Most hybrid vehicles use an internal combustion engine and an electric generator. The former generates motive power by burning fuel—typically gasoline or oil—to release hot gasses. The gasses in turn drive pistons and aid other essential tasks. Internal combustion engines require air to burn fuel and release hot gasses. Electric generators, on the other hand, are used to power electric motors in hybrid vehicles.

How Do Hybrids Work?

How exactly do hybrid vehicles work, and why are they becoming increasingly popular? In a nutshell, hybrid vehicles are popular because of their energy efficiency. This is because electric motors are more efficient than internal combustion engines when it comes to producing torque. On the other hand, the traditional internal combustion engine is more efficient than the electric motor at maintaining high speeds. This is why most hybrid vehicles consist of the electric motor and the combustion engine: they are activated at different speeds, and in a complementary manner. In fact, hybrid vehicles are at their most efficient when the switch from the electric motor to the combustion engine and vice versa is optimally timed. Since they are energy efficient, hybrid vehicles are also typically fuel efficient. However, energy efficiency does not always guarantee fuel efficiency.

Illustration of a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle
Image Credit

What Powers Hybrids?

Hybrid vehicles are powered by petrol or diesel, hydrogen, solar energy, wind energy, electricity, radio waves, and electric batteries. Combustion engines are also capable of handling solid combustibles, such as coal and wood. Hybrid vehicles, therefore, are quite versatile in that they can be operated using different sources of power. Some of them are also human-powered: that is, they tap energy and power generated from activities such as pedaling and rowing. Some hybrid cars also employ ways to store braking energy in a battery, thereby enabling minimal energy wastage and increasing efficiency. In addition, electric motors do not consume energy when they are idle. They also do not consume much energy at low speeds. Unlike vehicles powered solely by electricity, hybrid vehicles do not need to be plugged in.

So What’s the Deal with Hybrid Technology?

Hybrid technology has been successfully tested in vehicles as diverse as cars, trains, ships, aircrafts, cycles, and mopeds. However, it is still being refined and studied; with cars, especially, its fuel efficiency and energy efficiency are not particularly remarkable. At least in the US, hybrid cars cost significantly more than gasoline-powered vehicles. In addition, the former have been found to be only 20 percent more efficient than the latter. Nonetheless, hybrid cars are undoubtedly the most gasoline-efficient cars. Hybrid vehicles have the potential to become more “green” and fuel efficient with time. It may not be the answer to the global energy crisis, but it could alleviate the problem.

Simple Tips To Make Editing Easier

Students often wonder what it means to write solid essays and term papers. Almost unanimously, they agree that good writing and good editing go hand in hand. Yet they find it difficult to edit their papers uncompromisingly. This is partly due to the fact that editing is a demanding task and students write many essays over the course of a semester. Given this, students–and teachers–should understand that not every essay can be thoroughly edited before submission. This is of course not to say that students can afford to skip the editing process altogether. Rather, it is to call students’ attention to the most important aspects of editing. In other words, the non-negotiables.

Things To Keep In Mind

Foremost, the first draft is never the complete article, no matter how good it is. When you re-read your draft you will inevitably find ways to improve it, both in terms of grammar and structure.

So read you draft at least twice to ensure you improve your paper grammatically and structurally. Though this may seem like too much work, it is actually quite simple to edit for grammar and structure separately. Most people use their first go at the draft to edit for structure and their second one to edit for grammar. Compartmentalizing saves time, reduces stress, and improves the overall quality of your essay.

Second, don’t be demoralized if you think your paper lacks structure. In fact, editing for structure almost exclusively involves moving paragraphs and sentences around. A good paper usually presents a sound argument, and a sound argument takes work. Besides, every writer, no matter how good, spends time editing for structure. Indeed, many believe that one can’t become a good writer without the ability and willingness to edit for structure.

If you want to make the rearranging part less stressful, use short, simple sentences wherever possible. This is a great way to weed out the fluff and develop clarity. It also helps us become better thinkers.

Clarity Can Improve Grammar

Using short, simple sentences is also a great way to improve grammar and avoid grammatical mistakes. Besides, simple sentences are also better understood by word processors, which means their suggestions to improve grammar are more likely to be accurate.

In fact, addressing issues highlighted by your word processor is often enough to improve the quality of your paper. For in-depth remedial suggestions and plagiarism checks, use an online tool. Be sure to make a note of the remedial suggestions, so you can apply them to your writing.

Conceptual clarity is equally important. In other words, it is essential to realize that essays can have different learning objectives. For some essays, students might only be required to summarize key arguments from the prescribed reading materials. In this case, you need not form a thesis or provide a scholarly opinion (this is usually expected of your final term paper, not your weekly essays). You only have to present key facets of the argument developed in your prescribed reading materials. Though you may not be required to cite external materials, you can still rely on primers and study helpers to better understand your primary texts. If you’re in doubt about the learning objective, check with your teacher or professor.