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Default Solved Everyday Science Papers

Assalam o Alaikum,
I have edited some papers i.e., 2000,2001,2003,2004 for you. Please see and enjoy and pray for me.

PAPER 2000

(a) Al-Beruni

Al-Biruni (973-1050?), Arab scientist, who wrote on a wide variety of scientific subjects. His most important contributions as a scientist were his keen observations of natural phenomena, rather than theories. Sometimes called “the master,” he became one of the best-known Muslim scientists of his time.

Al-Biruni was born in what is now Uzbekistan. At the time, it was part of a vast region called Persia. Al-Biruni's records show that he wrote 113 works, but most of them have been lost. His subjects included astronomy, astrology, chronology, geography, mathematics, mechanics, medicine, pharmacology, meteorology, mineralogy, history, religion, philosophy, literature, and magic. One or more books on most of these subjects have survived. Al-Biruni's important works include Canon, his most comprehensive study of astronomy; Densities, which records specific gravities of various metals, liquids, and gems; Astrolabe, one of the most valuable descriptions of that astronomical instrument; Pharmacology, which contains more than 700 descriptions of drugs; and India, his best-known work, in which he used his knowledge of Sanskrit to describe Indian customs, languages, science, and geography.

(b) Water Pollution


Water Pollution, contamination of streams, lakes, underground water, bays, or oceans by substances harmful to living things. Water is necessary to life on earth. All organisms contain it; some live in it; some drink it. Plants and animals require water that is moderately pure, and they cannot survive if their water is loaded with toxic chemicals or harmful microorganisms. If severe, water pollution can kill large numbers of fish, birds, and other animals, in some cases killing all members of a species in an affected area. Pollution makes streams, lakes, and coastal waters unpleasant to look at, to smell, and to swim in. Fish and shellfish harvested from polluted waters may be unsafe to eat. People who ingest polluted water can become ill, and, with prolonged exposure, may develop cancers or bear children with birth defects.

The major water pollutants are chemical, biological, or physical materials that degrade water quality. Pollutants can be classed into eight categories, each of which presents its own set of hazards.

A Petroleum Products
Oil and chemicals derived from oil are used for fuel, lubrication, plastics manufacturing, and many other purposes. These petroleum products get into water mainly by means of accidental spills from ships, tanker trucks, pipelines, and leaky underground storage tanks. Many petroleum products are poisonous if ingested by animals, and spilled oil damages the feathers of birds or the fur of animals, often causing death. In addition, spilled oil may be contaminated with other harmful substances, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

B Pesticides and Herbicides
Chemicals used to kill unwanted animals and plants, for instance on farms or in suburban yards, may be collected by rainwater runoff and carried into streams, especially if these substances are applied too lavishly. Some of these chemicals are biodegradable and quickly decay into harmless or less harmful forms, while others are nonbiodegradable and remain dangerous for a long time.

When animals consume plants that have been treated with certain nonbiodegradable chemicals, such as chlordane and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), these chemicals are absorbed into the tissues or organs of the animals. When other animals feed on these contaminated animals, the chemicals are passed up the food chain. With each step up the food chain, the concentration of the pollutant increases. In one study, DDT levels in ospreys (a family of fish-eating birds) were found to be 10 to 50 times higher than in the fish that they ate, 600 times the level in the plankton that the fish ate, and 10 million times higher than in the water. Animals at the top of food chains may, as a result of these chemical concentrations, suffer cancers, reproductive problems, and death.
Many drinking water supplies are contaminated with pesticides from widespread agricultural use. More than 14 million Americans drink water contaminated with pesticides, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 10 percent of wells contain pesticides. Nitrates, a pollutant often derived from fertilizer runoff, can cause methemoglobinemia in infants, a potentially lethal form of anemia that is also called blue baby syndrome.

C Heavy Metals
Heavy metals, such as copper, lead, mercury, and selenium, get into water from many sources, including industries, automobile exhaust, mines, and even natural soil. Like pesticides, heavy metals become more concentrated as animals feed on plants and are consumed in turn by other animals. When they reach high levels in the body, heavy metals can be immediately poisonous, or can result in long-term health problems similar to those caused by pesticides and herbicides. For example, cadmium in fertilizer derived from sewage sludge can be absorbed by crops. If these crops are eaten by humans in sufficient amounts, the metal can cause diarrhea and, over time, liver and kidney damage. Lead can get into water from lead pipes and solder in older water systems; children exposed to lead in water can suffer mental retardation.

D Hazardous Wastes
Hazardous wastes are chemical wastes that are either toxic (poisonous), reactive (capable of producing explosive or toxic gases), corrosive (capable of corroding steel), or ignitable (flammable). If improperly treated or stored, hazardous wastes can pollute water supplies. In 1969 the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, was so polluted with hazardous wastes that it caught fire and burned. PCBs, a class of chemicals once widely used in electrical equipment such as transformers, can get into the environment through oil spills and can reach toxic levels as organisms eat one another.

E Excess Organic Matter
Fertilizers and other nutrients used to promote plant growth on farms and in gardens may find their way into water. At first, these nutrients encourage the growth of plants and algae in water. However, when the plant matter and algae die and settle underwater, microorganisms decompose them. In the process of decomposition, these microorganisms consume oxygen that is dissolved in the water. Oxygen levels in the water may drop to such dangerously low levels that oxygen-dependent animals in the water, such as fish, die. This process of depleting oxygen to deadly levels is called eutrophication.

F Sediment
Sediment, soil particles carried to a streambed, lake, or ocean, can also be a pollutant if it is present in large enough amounts. Soil erosion produced by the removal of soil-trapping trees near waterways, or carried by rainwater and floodwater from croplands, strip mines, and roads, can damage a stream or lake by introducing too much nutrient matter. This leads to eutrophication. Sedimentation can also cover streambed gravel in which many fish, such as salmon and trout, lay their eggs.

G Infectious Organisms
A 1994 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that about 900,000 people get sick annually in the United States because of organisms in their drinking water, and around 900 people die. Many disease-causing organisms that are present in small numbers in most natural waters are considered pollutants when found in drinking water. Such parasites as Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium parvum occasionally turn up in urban water supplies. These parasites can cause illness, especially in people who are very old or very young, and in people who are already suffering from other diseases. In 1993 an outbreak of Cryptosporidium in the water supply of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sickened more than 400,000 people and killed more than 100.

H Thermal Pollution
Water is often drawn from rivers, lakes, or the ocean for use as a coolant in factories and power plants. The water is usually returned to the source warmer than when it was taken. Even small temperature changes in a body of water can drive away the fish and other species that were originally present, and attract other species in place of them. Thermal pollution can accelerate biological processes in plants and animals or deplete oxygen levels in water. The result may be fish and other wildlife deaths near the discharge source. Thermal pollution can also be caused by the removal of trees and vegetation that shade and cool streams.

Water pollutants result from many human activities. Pollutants from industrial sources may pour out from the outfall pipes of factories or may leak from pipelines and underground storage tanks. Polluted water may flow from mines where the water has leached through mineral-rich rocks or has been contaminated by the chemicals used in processing the ores. Cities and other residential communities contribute mostly sewage, with traces of household chemicals mixed in. Sometimes industries discharge pollutants into city sewers, increasing the variety of pollutants in municipal areas. Pollutants from such agricultural sources as farms, pastures, feedlots, and ranches contribute animal wastes, agricultural chemicals, and sediment from erosion.

The oceans, vast as they are, are not invulnerable to pollution. Pollutants reach the sea from adjacent shorelines, from ships, and from offshore oil platforms. Sewage and food waste discarded from ships on the open sea do little harm, but plastics thrown overboard can kill birds or marine animals by entangling them, choking them, or blocking their digestive tracts if swallowed.

Oil spills often occur through accidents, such as the wrecks of the tanker Amoco Cadiz off the French coast in 1978 and the Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1992. Routine and deliberate discharges, when tanks are flushed out with seawater, also add a lot of oil to the oceans. Offshore oil platforms also produce spills: The second largest oil spill on record was in the Gulf of Mexico in 1979 when the Ixtoc 1 well spilled 530 million liters (140 million gallons). The largest oil spill ever was the result of an act of war. During the Gulf War of 1991, Iraqi forces destroyed eight tankers and onshore terminals in Kuwait, releasing a record 910 million liters (240 million gallons). An oil spill has its worst effects when the oil slick encounters a shoreline. Oil in coastal waters kills tidepool life and harms birds and marine mammals by causing feathers and fur to lose their natural waterproof quality, which causes the animals to drown or die of cold. Additionally, these animals can become sick or poisoned when they swallow the oil while preening (grooming their feathers or fur).

Water pollution can also be caused by other types of pollution. For example, sulfur dioxide from a power plant’s chimney begins as air pollution. The polluted air mixes with atmospheric moisture to produce airborne sulfuric acid, which falls to the earth as acid rain. In turn, the acid rain can be carried into a stream or lake, becoming a form of water pollution that can harm or even eliminate wildlife. Similarly, the garbage in a landfill can create water pollution if rainwater percolating through the garbage absorbs toxins before it sinks into the soil and contaminates the underlying groundwater (water that is naturally stored underground in beds of gravel and sand, called aquifers).

Pollution may reach natural waters at spots we can easily identify, known as point sources, such as waste pipes or mine shafts. Nonpoint sources are more difficult to recognize. Pollutants from these sources may appear a little at a time from large areas, carried along by rainfall or snowmelt. For instance, the small oil leaks from automobiles that produce discolored spots on the asphalt of parking lots become nonpoint sources of water pollution when rain carries the oil into local waters. Most agricultural pollution is nonpoint since it typically originates from many fields.

In the United States, the serious campaign against water pollution began in 1972, when Congress passed the Clean Water Act. This law initiated a national goal to end all pollution discharges into surface waters, such as lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, and coastal waters. The law required those who discharge pollutants into waterways to apply for federal permits and to be responsible for reducing the amount of pollution over time. The law also authorized generous federal grants to help states build water treatment plants that remove pollutants, principally sewage, from wastewater before it is discharged.

Since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, most of the obvious point sources of pollution in the United States have been substantially cleaned up. Municipal sewage plants in many areas are now yielding water so clean that it can be used again. Industries are treating their waste and also changing their manufacturing processes so that less waste is produced. As a result, surface waters are far cleaner than they were in 1972. In 1990 a survey of rivers and streams found that three-quarters of these waters were clean enough for swimming and fishing. Cleaning up the remainder of these rivers and streams will require tackling the more difficult problems of diffuse, nonpoint source pollution.

Congress first took up the nonpoint source problem in 1987, requiring the states to develop programs to combat this kind of pollution. Since interception and treatment of nonpoint pollution is very difficult, the prime strategy is to prevent it.

In urban areas, one obvious sign of the campaign against nonpoint pollution is the presence of stenciled notices often seen beside storm drains: Drains To Bay, Drains To Creek, or Drains To Lake. These signs discourage people from dumping contaminants, such as used engine oil, down grates because the material will likely pollute nearby waterways. Householders are urged to be sparing in their use of garden pesticides and fertilizers in order to reduce contaminated runoff and eutrophication. At construction sites, builders are required to fight soil erosion by laying down tarps, building sediment traps, and seeding grasses.

In the countryside, efforts are underway to reduce pollution from agricultural wastes, fertilizers, and pesticides, and from erosion caused by logging and farming. Farmers and foresters are encouraged to protect streams by leaving streamside trees and vegetation undisturbed; this practice stabilizes banks and traps sediment coming down the slope, preventing sediment buildup in water. Hillside fields are commonly plowed on the contour of the land, rather than up and down the incline, to reduce erosion and to discourage the formation of gullies. Cows are kept away from streamsides and housed in barns where their waste can be gathered and treated. Increasingly, governments are protecting wetlands, which are valuable pollution traps because their plants absorb excess nutrients and their fine sediments absorb other pollutants. In some places, lost wetlands are being restored. Despite these steps, a great deal remains to be done.
In the United States, the EPA is in overall charge of antipollution efforts. The EPA sets standards, approves state control plans, and steps in (if necessary) to enforce its own rules. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), passed in 1974 and amended in 1986 and 1996, the EPA sets standards for drinking water. Among other provisions, the SWDA requires that all water drawn from surface water supplies must be filtered to remove Cryptosporidium bacteria by the year 2000. The law also requires that states map the watersheds from which drinking water comes and identify sources of pollution within those watersheds. While America’s drinking water is among the safest in the world, and has been improving since passage of the SDWA, many water utilities that serve millions of Americans provide tap water that fails to meet the EPA standards.

The EPA has equivalents in many countries, although details of responsibilities vary. For instance, the federal governments may have a larger role in pollution control, as in France, or more of this responsibility may be shifted to the state and provincial governments, as in Canada. Because many rivers, lakes, and ocean shorelines are shared by several nations, many international treaties also address water pollution. For example, the governments of Canada and the United States have negotiated at least nine treaties or agreements, starting with the Canada-U.S. Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, governing water pollution of the many rivers and lakes that flow along or across their common border.
Several major treaties deal with oceanic pollution, including the 1972 Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter and the 1973 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (known as MARPOL). International controls and enforcement, however, are generally weak.

Contributed By:
John Hart
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

(c) Semi Conductors

Semiconductor, solid or liquid material, able to conduct electricity at room temperature more readily than an insulator, but less easily than a metal. Electrical conductivity, which is the ability to conduct electrical current under the application of a voltage, has one of the widest ranges of values of any physical property of matter. Such metals as copper, silver, and aluminum are excellent conductors, but such insulators as diamond and glass are very poor conductors (see Conductor, electrical; Insulation; Metals). At low temperatures, pure semiconductors behave like insulators. Under higher temperatures or light or with the addition of impurities, however, the conductivity of semiconductors can be increased dramatically, reaching levels that may approach those of metals. The physical properties of semiconductors are studied in solid-state physics. See Physics.

The common semiconductors include chemical elements and compounds such as silicon, germanium; selenium, gallium arsenide, zinc selenide, and lead telluride. The increase in conductivity with temperature, light, or impurities arises from an increase in the number of conduction electrons, which are the carriers of the electrical current See Electricity; Electron. In a pure, or intrinsic, semiconductor such as silicon, the valence electrons, or outer electrons, of an atom are paired and shared between atoms to make a covalent bond that holds the crystal together See Chemical Reaction; see Crystal). These valence electrons are not free to carry electrical current. To produce conduction electrons, temperature or light is used to excite the valence electrons out of their bonds, leaving them free to conduct current. Deficiencies, or “holes,” are left behind that contribute to the flow of electricity. (These holes are said to be carriers of positive electricity.) This is the physical origin of the increase in the electrical conductivity of semiconductors with temperature. The energy required to excite the electron and hole is called the energy gap.


Another method to produce free carriers of electricity is to add impurities to, or to “dope,” the semiconductor. The difference in the number of valence electrons between the doping material, or dopant (either donors or acceptors of electrons), and host gives rise to negative (n-type) or positive (p-type) carriers of electricity. This concept is illustrated in the accompanying diagram of a doped silicon (Si) crystal. Each silicon atom has four valence electrons (represented by dots); two are required to form a covalent bond. In n- type silicon, atoms such as phosphorus (P) with five valence electrons replace some silicon and provide extra negative electrons. In p-type silicon, atoms with three valence electrons such as aluminum (Al) lead to a deficiency of electrons, or to holes, which act as positive electrons. The extra electrons or holes can conduct electricity.

When p-type and n-type semiconductor regions are adjacent to each other, they form a semiconductor diode, and the region of contact is called a p-n junction. (A diode is a two-terminal device that has a high resistance to electric current in one direction but a low resistance in the other direction.) The conductance properties of the p-n junction depend on the direction of the voltage, which can, in turn, be used to control the electrical nature of the device. Series of such junctions are used to make transistors and other semiconductor devices such as solar cells, p-n junction lasers, rectifiers, and many others.

Semiconductor devices have many varied applications in electrical engineering. Recent engineering developments have yielded small semiconductor chips containing hundreds of thousands of transistors. These chips have made possible great miniaturization of electronic devices. More efficient use of such chips has been developed through what is called complementary metal-oxide semiconductor circuitry, or CMOS, which consists of pairs of p- and n-channel transistors controlled by a single circuit. In addition, extremely small devices are being made using the technique of molecular-beam epitaxy.

Contributed By:
Marvin L. Cohen
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Question:2 Movements of Earth

Earth (planet)


Earth (planet), one of nine planets in the solar system, the only planet known to harbor life, and the “home” of human beings. From space Earth resembles a big blue marble with swirling white clouds floating above blue oceans. About 71 percent of Earth’s surface is covered by water, which is essential to life. The rest is land, mostly in the form of continents that rise above the oceans.

Earth’s surface is surrounded by a layer of gases known as the atmosphere, which extends upward from the surface, slowly thinning out into space. Below the surface is a hot interior of rocky material and two core layers composed of the metals nickel and iron in solid and liquid form.

Unlike the other planets, Earth has a unique set of characteristics ideally suited to supporting life as we know it. It is neither too hot, like Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, nor too cold, like distant Mars and the even more distant outer planets—Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and tiny Pluto. Earth’s atmosphere includes just the right amount of gases that trap heat from the Sun, resulting in a moderate climate suitable for water to exist in liquid form. The atmosphere also helps block radiation from the Sun that would be harmful to life. Earth’s atmosphere distinguishes it from the planet Venus, which is otherwise much like Earth. Venus is about the same size and mass as Earth and is also neither too near nor too far from the Sun. But because Venus has too much heat-trapping carbon dioxide in its atmosphere, its surface is extremely hot—462°C (864°F)—hot enough to melt lead and too hot for life to exist.

Although Earth is the only planet known to have life, scientists do not rule out the possibility that life may once have existed on other planets or their moons, or may exist today in primitive form. Mars, for example, has many features that resemble river channels, indicating that liquid water once flowed on its surface. If so, life may also have evolved there, and evidence for it may one day be found in fossil form. Water still exists on Mars, but it is frozen in polar ice caps, in permafrost, and possibly in rocks below the surface.

For thousands of years, human beings could only wonder about Earth and the other observable planets in the solar system. Many early ideas—for example, that the Earth was a sphere and that it traveled around the Sun—were based on brilliant reasoning. However, it was only with the development of the scientific method and scientific instruments, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, that humans began to gather data that could be used to verify theories about Earth and the rest of the solar system. By studying fossils found in rock layers, for example, scientists realized that the Earth was much older than previously believed. And with the use of telescopes, new planets such as Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto were discovered.

In the second half of the 20th century, more advances in the study of Earth and the solar system occurred due to the development of rockets that could send spacecraft beyond Earth. Human beings were able to study and observe Earth from space with satellites equipped with scientific instruments. Astronauts landed on the Moon and gathered ancient rocks that revealed much about the early solar system. During this remarkable advancement in human history, humans also sent unmanned spacecraft to the other planets and their moons. Spacecraft have now visited all of the planets except Pluto. The study of other planets and moons has provided new insights about Earth, just as the study of the Sun and other stars like it has helped shape new theories about how Earth and the rest of the solar system formed.

As a result of this recent space exploration, we now know that Earth is one of the most geologically active of all the planets and moons in the solar system. Earth is constantly changing. Over long periods of time land is built up and worn away, oceans are formed and re-formed, and continents move around, break up, and merge.

Life itself contributes to changes on Earth, especially in the way living things can alter Earth’s atmosphere. For example, Earth at one time had the same amount of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere as Venus now has, but early forms of life helped remove this carbon dioxide over millions of years. These life forms also added oxygen to Earth’s atmosphere and made it possible for animal life to evolve on land.

A variety of scientific fields have broadened our knowledge about Earth, including biogeography, climatology, geology, geophysics, hydrology, meteorology, oceanography, and zoogeography. Collectively, these fields are known as Earth science. By studying Earth’s atmosphere, its surface, and its interior and by studying the Sun and the rest of the solar system, scientists have learned much about how Earth came into existence, how it changed, and why it continues to change.

Earth is the third planet from the Sun, after Mercury and Venus. The average distance between Earth and the Sun is 150 million km (93 million mi). Earth and all the other planets in the solar system revolve, or orbit, around the Sun due to the force of gravitation. The Earth travels at a velocity of about 107,000 km/h (about 67,000 mph) as it orbits the Sun. All but one of the planets orbit the Sun in the same plane—that is, if an imaginary line were extended from the center of the Sun to the outer regions of the solar system, the orbital paths of the planets would intersect that line. The exception is Pluto, which has an eccentric (unusual) orbit.
Earth’s orbital path is not quite a perfect circle but instead is slightly elliptical (oval-shaped). For example, at maximum distance Earth is about 152 million km (about 95 million mi) from the Sun; at minimum distance Earth is about 147 million km (about 91 million mi) from the Sun. If Earth orbited the Sun in a perfect circle, it would always be the same distance from the Sun.

The solar system, in turn, is part of the Milky Way Galaxy, a collection of billions of stars bound together by gravity. The Milky Way has armlike discs of stars that spiral out from its center. The solar system is located in one of these spiral arms, known as the Orion arm, which is about two-thirds of the way from the center of the Galaxy. In most parts of the Northern Hemisphere, this disc of stars is visible on a summer night as a dense band of light known as the Milky Way.

Earth is the fifth largest planet in the solar system. Its diameter, measured around the equator, is 12,756 km (7,926 mi). Earth is not a perfect sphere but is slightly flattened at the poles. Its polar diameter, measured from the North Pole to the South Pole, is somewhat less than the equatorial diameter because of this flattening. Although Earth is the largest of the four planets—Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars—that make up the inner solar system (the planets closest to the Sun), it is small compared with the giant planets of the outer solar system—Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. For example, the largest planet, Jupiter, has a diameter at its equator of 143,000 km (89,000 mi), 11 times greater than that of Earth. A famous atmospheric feature on Jupiter, the Great Red Spot, is so large that three Earths would fit inside it.

Earth has one natural satellite, the Moon. The Moon orbits the Earth, completing one revolution in an elliptical path in 27 days 7 hr 43 min 11.5 sec. The Moon orbits the Earth because of the force of Earth’s gravity. However, the Moon also exerts a gravitational force on the Earth. Evidence for the Moon’s gravitational influence can be seen in the ocean tides. A popular theory suggests that the Moon split off from Earth more than 4 billion years ago when a large meteorite or small planet struck the Earth.

As Earth revolves around the Sun, it rotates, or spins, on its axis, an imaginary line that runs between the North and South poles. The period of one complete rotation is defined as a day and takes 23 hr 56 min 4.1 sec. The period of one revolution around the Sun is defined as a year, or 365.2422 solar days, or 365 days 5 hr 48 min 46 sec. Earth also moves along with the Milky Way Galaxy as the Galaxy rotates and moves through space. It takes more than 200 million years for the stars in the Milky Way to complete one revolution around the Galaxy’s center.

Earth’s axis of rotation is inclined (tilted) 23.5° relative to its plane of revolution around the Sun. This inclination of the axis creates the seasons and causes the height of the Sun in the sky at noon to increase and decrease as the seasons change. The Northern Hemisphere receives the most energy from the Sun when it is tilted toward the Sun. This orientation corresponds to summer in the Northern Hemisphere and winter in the Southern Hemisphere. The Southern Hemisphere receives maximum energy when it is tilted toward the Sun, corresponding to summer in the Southern Hemisphere and winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Fall and spring occur in between these orientations.

The atmosphere is a layer of different gases that extends from Earth’s surface to the exosphere, the outer limit of the atmosphere, about 9,600 km (6,000 mi) above the surface. Near Earth’s surface, the atmosphere consists almost entirely of nitrogen (78 percent) and oxygen (21 percent). The remaining 1 percent of atmospheric gases consists of argon (0.9 percent); carbon dioxide (0.03 percent); varying amounts of water vapor; and trace amounts of hydrogen, nitrous oxide, ozone, methane, carbon monoxide, helium, neon, krypton, and xenon.

A Layers of the Atmosphere
The layers of the atmosphere are the troposphere, the stratosphere, the mesosphere, the thermosphere, and the exosphere. The troposphere is the layer in which weather occurs and extends from the surface to about 16 km (about 10 mi) above sea level at the equator. Above the troposphere is the stratosphere, which has an upper boundary of about 50 km (about 30 mi) above sea level. The layer from 50 to 90 km (30 to 60 mi) is called the mesosphere. At an altitude of about 90 km, temperatures begin to rise. The layer that begins at this altitude is called the thermosphere because of the high temperatures that can be reached in this layer (about 1200°C, or about 2200°F). The region beyond the thermosphere is called the exosphere. The thermosphere and the exosphere overlap with another region of the atmosphere known as the ionosphere, a layer or layers of ionized air extending from almost 60 km (about 50 mi) above Earth’s surface to altitudes of 1,000 km (600 mi) and more.

Earth’s atmosphere and the way it interacts with the oceans and radiation from the Sun are responsible for the planet’s climate and weather. The atmosphere plays a key role in supporting life. Almost all life on Earth uses atmospheric oxygen for energy in a process known as cellular respiration, which is essential to life. The atmosphere also helps moderate Earth’s climate by trapping radiation from the Sun that is reflected from Earth’s surface. Water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere act as “greenhouse gases.” Like the glass in a greenhouse, they trap infrared, or heat, radiation from the Sun in the lower atmosphere and thereby help warm Earth’s surface. Without this greenhouse effect, heat radiation would escape into space, and Earth would be too cold to support most forms of life.

Other gases in the atmosphere are also essential to life. The trace amount of ozone found in Earth’s stratosphere blocks harmful ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. Without the ozone layer, life as we know it could not survive on land. Earth’s atmosphere is also an important part of a phenomenon known as the water cycle or the hydrologic cycle. See also Atmosphere.

B The Atmosphere and the Water Cycle
The water cycle simply means that Earth’s water is continually recycled between the oceans, the atmosphere, and the land. All of the water that exists on Earth today has been used and reused for billions of years. Very little water has been created or lost during this period of time. Water is constantly moving on Earth’s surface and changing back and forth between ice, liquid water, and water vapor.

The water cycle begins when the Sun heats the water in the oceans and causes it to evaporate and enter the atmosphere as water vapor. Some of this water vapor falls as precipitation directly back into the oceans, completing a short cycle. Some of the water vapor, however, reaches land, where it may fall as snow or rain. Melted snow or rain enters rivers or lakes on the land. Due to the force of gravity, the water in the rivers eventually empties back into the oceans. Melted snow or rain also may enter the ground. Groundwater may be stored for hundreds or thousands of years, but it will eventually reach the surface as springs or small pools known as seeps. Even snow that forms glacial ice or becomes part of the polar caps and is kept out of the cycle for thousands of years eventually melts or is warmed by the Sun and turned into water vapor, entering the atmosphere and falling again as precipitation. All water that falls on land eventually returns to the ocean, completing the water cycle.


Earth’s surface is the outermost layer of the planet. It includes the hydrosphere, the crust, and the biosphere.

A Hydrosphere
The hydrosphere consists of the bodies of water that cover 71 percent of Earth’s surface. The largest of these are the oceans, which contain over 97 percent of all water on Earth. Glaciers and the polar ice caps contain just over 2 percent of Earth’s water in the form of solid ice. Only about 0.6 percent is under the surface as groundwater. Nevertheless, groundwater is 36 times more plentiful than water found in lakes, inland seas, rivers, and in the atmosphere as water vapor. Only 0.017 percent of all the water on Earth is found in lakes and rivers. And a mere 0.001 percent is found in the atmosphere as water vapor. Most of the water in glaciers, lakes, inland seas, rivers, and groundwater is fresh and can be used for drinking and agriculture. Dissolved salts compose about 3.5 percent of the water in the oceans, however, making it unsuitable for drinking or agriculture unless it is treated to remove the salts.

B Crust
The crust consists of the continents, other land areas, and the basins, or floors, of the oceans. The dry land of Earth’s surface is called the continental crust. It is about 15 to 75 km (9 to 47 mi) thick. The oceanic crust is thinner than the continental crust. Its average thickness is 5 to 10 km (3 to 6 mi). The crust has a definite boundary called the Mohorovičić discontinuity, or simply the Moho. The boundary separates the crust from the underlying mantle, which is much thicker and is part of Earth’s interior.

Oceanic crust and continental crust differ in the type of rocks they contain. There are three main types of rocks: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic. Igneous rocks form when molten rock, called magma, cools and solidifies. Sedimentary rocks are usually created by the breakdown of igneous rocks. They tend to form in layers as small particles of other rocks or as the mineralized remains of dead animals and plants that have fused together over time. The remains of dead animals and plants occasionally become mineralized in sedimentary rock and are recognizable as fossils. Metamorphic rocks form when sedimentary or igneous rocks are altered by heat and pressure deep underground.

Oceanic crust consists of dark, dense igneous rocks, such as basalt and gabbro. Continental crust consists of lighter-colored, less dense igneous rocks, such as granite and diorite. Continental crust also includes metamorphic rocks and sedimentary rocks.

C Biosphere
The biosphere includes all the areas of Earth capable of supporting life. The biosphere ranges from about 10 km (about 6 mi) into the atmosphere to the deepest ocean floor. For a long time, scientists believed that all life depended on energy from the Sun and consequently could only exist where sunlight penetrated. In the 1970s, however, scientists discovered various forms of life around hydrothermal vents on the floor of the Pacific Ocean where no sunlight penetrated. They learned that primitive bacteria formed the basis of this living community and that the bacteria derived their energy from a process called chemosynthesis that did not depend on sunlight. Some scientists believe that the biosphere may extend relatively deep into Earth’s crust. They have recovered what they believe are primitive bacteria from deeply drilled holes below the surface.

D Changes to Earth’s Surface

Earth’s surface has been constantly changing ever since the planet formed. Most of these changes have been gradual, taking place over millions of years. Nevertheless, these gradual changes have resulted in radical modifications, involving the formation, erosion, and re-formation of mountain ranges, the movement of continents, the creation of huge supercontinents, and the breakup of supercontinents into smaller continents.

The weathering and erosion that result from the water cycle are among the principal factors responsible for changes to Earth’s surface. Another principal factor is the movement of Earth’s continents and seafloors and the buildup of mountain ranges due to a phenomenon known as plate tectonics. Heat is the basis for all of these changes. Heat in Earth’s interior is believed to be responsible for continental movement, mountain building, and the creation of new seafloor in ocean basins. Heat from the Sun is responsible for the evaporation of ocean water and the resulting precipitation that causes weathering and erosion. In effect, heat in Earth’s interior helps build up Earth’s surface while heat from the Sun helps wear down the surface.

D1 Weathering
Weathering is the breakdown of rock at and near the surface of Earth. Most rocks originally formed in a hot, high-pressure environment below the surface where there was little exposure to water. Once the rocks reached Earth’s surface, however, they were subjected to temperature changes and exposed to water. When rocks are subjected to these kinds of surface conditions, the minerals they contain tend to change. These changes constitute the process of weathering. There are two types of weathering: physical weathering and chemical weathering.

Physical weathering involves a decrease in the size of rock material. Freezing and thawing of water in rock cavities, for example, splits rock into small pieces because water expands when it freezes.

Chemical weathering involves a chemical change in the composition of rock. For example, feldspar, a common mineral in granite and other rocks, reacts with water to form clay minerals, resulting in a new substance with totally different properties than the parent feldspar. Chemical weathering is of significance to humans because it creates the clay minerals that are important components of soil, the basis of agriculture. Chemical weathering also causes the release of dissolved forms of sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and other chemical elements into surface water and groundwater. These elements are carried by surface water and groundwater to the sea and are the sources of dissolved salts in the sea.

D2 Erosion
Erosion is the process that removes loose and weathered rock and carries it to a new site. Water, wind, and glacial ice combined with the force of gravity can cause erosion.

Erosion by running water is by far the most common process of erosion. It takes place over a longer period of time than other forms of erosion. When water from rain or melted snow moves downhill, it can carry loose rock or soil with it. Erosion by running water forms the familiar gullies and V-shaped valleys that cut into most landscapes. The force of the running water removes loose particles formed by weathering. In the process, gullies and valleys are lengthened, widened, and deepened. Often, water overflows the banks of the gullies or river channels, resulting in floods. Each new flood carries more material away to increase the size of the valley. Meanwhile, weathering loosens more and more material so the process continues.

Erosion by glacial ice is less common, but it can cause the greatest landscape changes in the shortest amount of time. Glacial ice forms in a region where snow fails to melt in the spring and summer and instead builds up as ice. For major glaciers to form, this lack of snowmelt has to occur for a number of years in areas with high precipitation. As ice accumulates and thickens, it flows as a solid mass. As it flows, it has a tremendous capacity to erode soil and even solid rock. Ice is a major factor in shaping some landscapes, especially mountainous regions. Glacial ice provides much of the spectacular scenery in these regions. Features such as horns (sharp mountain peaks), arêtes (sharp ridges), glacially formed lakes, and U-shaped valleys are all the result of glacial erosion.

Wind is an important cause of erosion only in arid (dry) regions. Wind carries sand and dust, which can scour even solid rock.
Many factors determine the rate and kind of erosion that occurs in a given area. The climate of an area determines the distribution, amount, and kind of precipitation that the area receives and thus the type and rate of weathering. An area with an arid climate erodes differently than an area with a humid climate. The elevation of an area also plays a role by determining the potential energy of running water. The higher the elevation the more energetically water will flow due to the force of gravity. The type of bedrock in an area (sandstone, granite, or shale) can determine the shapes of valleys and slopes, and the depth of streams.
A landscape’s geologic age—that is, how long current conditions of weathering and erosion have affected the area—determines its overall appearance. Relatively young landscapes tend to be more rugged and angular in appearance. Older landscapes tend to have more rounded slopes and hills. The oldest landscapes tend to be low-lying with broad, open river valleys and low, rounded hills. The overall effect of the wearing down of an area is to level the land; the tendency is toward the reduction of all land surfaces to sea level.
D3 Plate Tectonics
Opposing this tendency toward leveling is a force responsible for raising mountains and plateaus and for creating new landmasses. These changes to Earth’s surface occur in the outermost solid portion of Earth, known as the lithosphere. The lithosphere consists of the crust and another region known as the upper mantle and is approximately 65 to 100 km (40 to 60 mi) thick. Compared with the interior of the Earth, however, this region is relatively thin. The lithosphere is thinner in proportion to the whole Earth than the skin of an apple is to the whole apple.
Scientists believe that the lithosphere is broken into a series of plates, or segments. According to the theory of plate tectonics, these plates move around on Earth’s surface over long periods of time. Tectonics comes from the Greek word, tektonikos, which means “builder.”
According to the theory, the lithosphere is divided into large and small plates. The largest plates include the Pacific plate, the North American plate, the Eurasian plate, the Antarctic plate, the Indo-Australian plate, and the African plate. Smaller plates include the Cocos plate, the Nazca plate, the Philippine plate, and the Caribbean plate. Plate sizes vary a great deal. The Cocos plate is 2,000 km (1,000 mi) wide, while the Pacific plate is nearly 14,000 km (nearly 9,000 mi) wide.
These plates move in three different ways in relation to each other. They pull apart or move away from each other, they collide or move against each other, or they slide past each other as they move sideways. The movement of these plates helps explain many geological events, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions as well as mountain building and the formation of the oceans and continents.
D3a When Plates Pull Apart
When the plates pull apart, two types of phenomena occur depending on whether the movement takes place in the oceans or on land. When plates pull apart on land, deep valleys known as rift valleys form. An example of a rift valley is the Great Rift Valley that extends from Syria in the Middle East to Mozambique in Africa. When plates pull apart in the oceans, long, sinuous chains of volcanic mountains called mid-ocean ridges form, and new seafloor is created at the site of these ridges. Rift valleys are also present along the crests of the mid-ocean ridges.
Most scientists believe that gravity and heat from the interior of the Earth cause the plates to move apart and to create new seafloor. According to this explanation, molten rock known as magma rises from Earth’s interior to form hot spots beneath the ocean floor. As two oceanic plates pull apart from each other in the middle of the oceans, a crack, or rupture, appears and forms the mid-ocean ridges. These ridges exist in all the world’s ocean basins and resemble the seams of a baseball. The molten rock rises through these cracks and creates new seafloor.
D3b When Plates Collide
When plates collide or push against each other, regions called convergent plate margins form. Along these margins, one plate is usually forced to dive below the other. As that plate dives, it triggers the melting of the surrounding lithosphere and a region just below it known as the asthenosphere. These pockets of molten crust rise behind the margin through the overlying plate, creating curved chains of volcanoes known as arcs. This process is called subduction.
If one plate consists of oceanic crust and the other consists of continental crust, the denser oceanic crust will dive below the continental crust. If both plates are oceanic crust, then either may be subducted. If both are continental crust, subduction can continue for a while but will eventually end because continental crust is not dense enough to be forced very far into the upper mantle.
The results of this subduction process are readily visible on a map showing that 80 percent of the world’s volcanoes rim the Pacific Ocean where plates are colliding against each other. The subduction zone created by the collision of two oceanic plates—the Pacific plate and the Philippine plate—can also create a trench. Such a trench resulted in the formation of the deepest point on Earth, the Mariana Trench, which is estimated to be 11,033 m (36,198 ft) below sea level.
On the other hand, when two continental plates collide, mountain building occurs. The collision of the Indo-Australian plate with the Eurasian plate has produced the Himalayan Mountains. This collision resulted in the highest point of Earth, Mount Everest, which is 8,850 m (29,035 ft) above sea level.
D3c When Plates Slide Past Each Other
Finally, some of Earth’s plates neither collide nor pull apart but instead slide past each other. These regions are called transform margins. Few volcanoes occur in these areas because neither plate is forced down into Earth’s interior and little melting occurs. Earthquakes, however, are abundant as the two rigid plates slide past each other. The San Andreas Fault in California is a well-known example of a transform margin.
The movement of plates occurs at a slow pace, at an average rate of only 2.5 cm (1 in) per year. But over millions of years this gradual movement results in radical changes. Current plate movement is making the Pacific Ocean and Mediterranean Sea smaller, the Atlantic Ocean larger, and the Himalayan Mountains higher.
The interior of Earth plays an important role in plate tectonics. Scientists believe it is also responsible for Earth’s magnetic field. This field is vital to life because it shields the planet’s surface from harmful cosmic rays and from a steady stream of energetic particles from the Sun known as the solar wind.
A Composition of the Interior
Earth’s interior consists of the mantle and the core. The mantle and core make up by far the largest part of Earth’s mass. The distance from the base of the crust to the center of the core is about 6,400 km (about 4,000 mi).
Scientists have learned about Earth’s interior by studying rocks that formed in the interior and rose to the surface. The study of meteorites, which are believed to be made of the same material that formed the Earth and its interior, has also offered clues about Earth’s interior. Finally, seismic waves generated by earthquakes provide geophysicists with information about the composition of the interior. The sudden movement of rocks during an earthquake causes vibrations that transmit energy through the Earth in the form of waves. The way these waves travel through the interior of Earth reveals the nature of materials inside the planet.
The mantle consists of three parts: the lower part of the lithosphere, the region below it known as the asthenosphere, and the region below the asthenosphere called the lower mantle. The entire mantle extends from the base of the crust to a depth of about 2,900 km (about 1,800 mi). Scientists believe the asthenosphere is made up of mushy plastic-like rock with pockets of molten rock. The term asthenosphere is derived from Greek and means “weak layer.” The asthenosphere’s soft, plastic quality allows plates in the lithosphere above it to shift and slide on top of the asthenosphere. This shifting of the lithosphere’s plates is the source of most tectonic activity. The asthenosphere is also the source of the basaltic magma that makes up much of the oceanic crust and rises through volcanic vents on the ocean floor.
The mantle consists of mostly solid iron-magnesium silicate rock mixed with many other minor components including radioactive elements. However, even this solid rock can flow like a “sticky” liquid when it is subjected to enough heat and pressure.
The core is divided into two parts, the outer core and the inner core. The outer core is about 2,260 km (about 1,404 mi) thick. The outer core is a liquid region composed mostly of iron, with smaller amounts of nickel and sulfur in liquid form. The inner core is about 1,220 km (about 758 mi) thick. The inner core is solid and is composed of iron, nickel, and sulfur in solid form. The inner core and the outer core also contain a small percentage of radioactive material. The existence of radioactive material is one of the sources of heat in Earth’s interior because as radioactive material decays, it gives off heat. Temperatures in the inner core may be as high as 6650°C (12,000°F).
B The Core and Earth’s Magnetism
Scientists believe that Earth’s liquid iron core is instrumental in creating a magnetic field that surrounds Earth and shields the planet from harmful cosmic rays and the Sun’s solar wind. The idea that Earth is like a giant magnet was first proposed in 1600 by English physician and natural philosopher William Gilbert. Gilbert proposed the idea to explain why the magnetized needle in a compass points north. According to Gilbert, Earth’s magnetic field creates a magnetic north pole and a magnetic south pole. The magnetic poles do not correspond to the geographic North and South poles, however. Moreover, the magnetic poles wander and are not always in the same place. The north magnetic pole is currently close to Ellef Ringnes Island in the Queen Elizabeth Islands near the boundary of Canada’s Northwest Territories with Nunavut. The south magnetic pole lies just off the coast of Wilkes Land, Antarctica.
Not only do the magnetic poles wander, but they also reverse their polarity—that is, the north magnetic pole becomes the south magnetic pole and vice versa. Magnetic reversals have occurred at least 170 times over the past 100 million years. The reversals occur on average about every 200,000 years and take place gradually over a period of several thousand years. Scientists still do not understand why these magnetic reversals occur but think they may be related to Earth’s rotation and changes in the flow of liquid iron in the outer core.
Some scientists theorize that the flow of liquid iron in the outer core sets up electrical currents that produce Earth’s magnetic field. Known as the dynamo theory, this theory appears to be the best explanation yet for the origin of the magnetic field. Earth’s magnetic field operates in a region above Earth’s surface known as the magnetosphere. The magnetosphere is shaped somewhat like a teardrop with a long tail that trails away from the Earth due to the force of the solar wind.
Inside the magnetosphere are the Van Allen radiation belts, named for the American physicist James A. Van Allen who discovered them in 1958. The Van Allen belts are regions where charged particles from the Sun and from cosmic rays are trapped and sent into spiral paths along the lines of Earth’s magnetic field. The radiation belts thereby shield Earth’s surface from these highly energetic particles. Occasionally, however, due to extremely strong magnetic fields on the Sun’s surface, which are visible as sunspots, a brief burst of highly energetic particles streams along with the solar wind. Because Earth’s magnetic field lines converge and are closest to the surface at the poles, some of these energetic particles sneak through and interact with Earth’s atmosphere, creating the phenomenon known as an aurora.
A Origin of Earth
Most scientists believe that the Earth, Sun, and all of the other planets and moons in the solar system formed about 4.6 billion years ago from a giant cloud of gas and dust known as the solar nebula. The gas and dust in this solar nebula originated in a star that ended its life in a violent explosion known as a supernova. The solar nebula consisted principally of hydrogen, the lightest element, but the nebula was also seeded with a smaller percentage of heavier elements, such as carbon and oxygen. All of the chemical elements we know were originally made in the star that became a supernova. Our bodies are made of these same chemical elements. Therefore, all of the elements in our solar system, including all of the elements in our bodies, originally came from this star-seeded solar nebula.
Due to the force of gravity tiny clumps of gas and dust began to form in the early solar nebula. As these clumps came together and grew larger, they caused the solar nebula to contract in on itself. The contraction caused the cloud of gas and dust to flatten in the shape of a disc. As the clumps continued to contract, they became very dense and hot. Eventually the atoms of hydrogen became so dense that they began to fuse in the innermost part of the cloud, and these nuclear reactions gave birth to the Sun. The fusion of hydrogen atoms in the Sun is the source of its energy.
Many scientists favor the planetesimal theory for how the Earth and other planets formed out of this solar nebula. This theory helps explain why the inner planets became rocky while the outer planets, except for Pluto, are made up mostly of gases. The theory also explains why all of the planets orbit the Sun in the same plane.
According to this theory, temperatures decreased with increasing distance from the center of the solar nebula. In the inner region, where Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars formed, temperatures were low enough that certain heavier elements, such as iron and the other heavy compounds that make up rock, could condense out—that is, could change from a gas to a solid or liquid. Due to the force of gravity, small clumps of this rocky material eventually came together with the dust in the original solar nebula to form protoplanets or planetesimals (small rocky bodies). These planetesimals collided, broke apart, and re-formed until they became the four inner rocky planets. The inner region, however, was still too hot for other light elements, such as hydrogen and helium, to be retained. These elements could only exist in the outermost part of the disc, where temperatures were lower. As a result two of the outer planets—Jupiter and Saturn—are mostly made of hydrogen and helium, which are also the dominant elements in the atmospheres of Uranus and Neptune.
B The Early Earth
Within the planetesimal Earth, heavier matter sank to the center and lighter matter rose toward the surface. Most scientists believe that Earth was never truly molten and that this transfer of matter took place in the solid state. Much of the matter that went toward the center contained radioactive material, an important source of Earth’s internal heat. As heavier material moved inward, lighter material moved outward, the planet became layered, and the layers of the core and mantle were formed. This process is called differentiation.
Not long after they formed, more than 4 billion years ago, the Earth and the Moon underwent a period when they were bombarded by meteorites, the rocky debris left over from the formation of the solar system. The impact craters created during this period of heavy bombardment are still visible on the Moon’s surface, which is unchanged. Earth’s craters, however, were long ago erased by weathering, erosion, and mountain building. Because the Moon has no atmosphere, its surface has not been subjected to weathering or erosion. Thus, the evidence of meteorite bombardment remains.
Energy released from the meteorite impacts created extremely high temperatures on Earth that melted the outer part of the planet and created the crust. By 4 billion years ago, both the oceanic and continental crust had formed, and the oldest rocks were created. These rocks are known as the Acasta Gneiss and are found in the Canadian territory of Nunavut. Due to the meteorite bombardment, the early Earth was too hot for liquid water to exist and so it was impossible for life to exist.
C Geologic Time
Geologists divide the history of the Earth into three eons: the Archean Eon, which lasted from around 4 billion to 2.5 billion years ago; the Proterozoic Eon, which lasted from 2.5 billion to 543 million years ago; and the Phanerozoic Eon, which lasted from 543 million years ago to the present. Each eon is subdivided into different eras. For example, the Phanerozoic Eon includes the Paleozoic Era, the Mesozoic Era, and the Cenozoic Era. In turn, eras are further divided into periods. For example, the Paleozoic Era includes the Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, and Permian Periods.
The Archean Eon is subdivided into four eras, the Eoarchean, the Paleoarchean, the Mesoarchean, and the Neoarchean. The beginning of the Archean is generally dated as the age of the oldest terrestrial rocks, which are about 4 billion years old. The Archean Eon ended 2.5 billion years ago when the Proterozoic Eon began. The Proterozoic Eon is subdivided into three eras: the Paleoproterozoic Era, the Mesoproterozoic Era, and the Neoproterozoic Era. The Proterozoic Eon lasted from 2.5 billion years ago to 543 million years ago when the Phanerozoic Eon began. The Phanerozoic Eon is subdivided into three eras: the Paleozoic Era from 543 million to 248 million years ago, the Mesozoic Era from 248 million to 65 million years ago, and the Cenozoic Era from 65 million years ago to the present.
Geologists base these divisions on the study and dating of rock layers or strata, including the fossilized remains of plants and animals found in those layers. Until the late 1800s scientists could only determine the relative ages of rock strata. They knew that in general the top layers of rock were the youngest and formed most recently, while deeper layers of rock were older. The field of stratigraphy shed much light on the relative ages of rock layers.
The study of fossils also enabled geologists to determine the relative ages of different rock layers. The fossil record helped scientists determine how organisms evolved or when they became extinct. By studying rock layers around the world, geologists and paleontologists saw that the remains of certain animal and plant species occurred in the same layers, but were absent or altered in other layers. They soon developed a fossil index that also helped determine the relative ages of rock layers.
Beginning in the 1890s, scientists learned that radioactive elements in rock decay at a known rate. By studying this radioactive decay, they could determine an absolute age for rock layers. This type of dating, known as radiometric dating, confirmed the relative ages determined through stratigraphy and the fossil index and assigned absolute ages to the various strata. As a result scientists were able to assemble Earth’s geologic time scale from the Archean Eon to the present. See also Geologic Time.
C1 Precambrian
The Precambrian is a time span that includes the Archean and Proterozoic eons and began about 4 billion years ago. The Precambrian marks the first formation of continents, the oceans, the atmosphere, and life. The Precambrian represents the oldest chapter in Earth’s history that can still be studied. Very little remains of Earth from the period of 4.6 billion to about 4 billion years ago due to the melting of rock caused by the early period of meteorite bombardment. Rocks dating from the Precambrian, however, have been found in Africa, Antarctica, Australia, Brazil, Canada, and Scandinavia. Some zircon mineral grains deposited in Australian rock layers have been dated to 4.2 billion years.
The Precambrian is also the longest chapter in Earth’s history, spanning a period of about 3.5 billion years. During this timeframe, the atmosphere and the oceans formed from gases that escaped from the hot interior of the planet as a result of widespread volcanic eruptions. The early atmosphere consisted primarily of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and water vapor. As Earth continued to cool, the water vapor condensed out and fell as precipitation to form the oceans. Some scientists believe that much of Earth’s water vapor originally came from comets containing frozen water that struck Earth during the period of meteorite bombardment.
By studying 2-billion-year-old rocks found in northwestern Canada, as well as 2.5-billion-year-old rocks in China, scientists have found evidence that plate tectonics began shaping Earth’s surface as early as the middle Precambrian. About a billion years ago, the Earth’s plates were centered around the South Pole and formed a supercontinent called Rodinia. Slowly, pieces of this supercontinent broke away from the central continent and traveled north, forming smaller continents.
Life originated during the Precambrian. The earliest fossil evidence of life consists of prokaryotes, one-celled organisms that lacked a nucleus and reproduced by dividing, a process known as asexual reproduction. Asexual division meant that a prokaryote’s hereditary material was copied unchanged. The first prokaryotes were bacteria known as archaebacteria. Scientists believe they came into existence perhaps as early as 3.8 billion years ago, but certainly by about 3.5 billion years ago, and were anaerobic—that is, they did not require oxygen to produce energy. Free oxygen barely existed in the atmosphere of the early Earth.
Archaebacteria were followed about 3.46 billion years ago by another type of prokaryote known as cyanobacteria or blue-green algae. These cyanobacteria gradually introduced oxygen in the atmosphere as a result of photosynthesis. In shallow tropical waters, cyanobacteria formed mats that grew into humps called stromatolites. Fossilized stromatolites have been found in rocks in the Pilbara region of western Australia that are more than 3.4 billion years old and in rocks of the Gunflint Chert region of northwest Lake Superior that are about 2.1 billion years old.
For billions of years, life existed only in the simple form of prokaryotes. Prokaryotes were followed by the relatively more advanced eukaryotes, organisms that have a nucleus in their cells and that reproduce by combining or sharing their heredity makeup rather than by simply dividing. Sexual reproduction marked a milestone in life on Earth because it created the possibility of hereditary variation and enabled organisms to adapt more easily to a changing environment. The very latest part of Precambrian time some 560 million to 545 million years ago saw the appearance of an intriguing group of fossil organisms known as the Ediacaran fauna. First discovered in the northern Flinders Range region of Australia in the mid-1940s and subsequently found in many locations throughout the world, these strange fossils appear to be the precursors of many of the fossil groups that were to explode in Earth's oceans in the Paleozoic Era. See also Evolution; Natural Selection.
C2 Paleozoic Era
At the start of the Paleozoic Era about 543 million years ago, an enormous expansion in the diversity and complexity of life occurred. This event took place in the Cambrian Period and is called the Cambrian explosion. Nothing like it has happened since. Almost all of the major groups of animals we know today made their first appearance during the Cambrian explosion. Almost all of the different “body plans” found in animals today—that is, the way an animal’s body is designed, with heads, legs, rear ends, claws, tentacles, or antennae—also originated during this period.
Fishes first appeared during the Paleozoic Era, and multicellular plants began growing on the land. Other land animals, such as scorpions, insects, and amphibians, also originated during this time. Just as new forms of life were being created, however, other forms of life were going out of existence. Natural selection meant that some species were able to flourish, while others failed. In fact, mass extinctions of animal and plant species were commonplace.
Most of the early complex life forms of the Cambrian explosion lived in the sea. The creation of warm, shallow seas, along with the buildup of oxygen in the atmosphere, may have aided this explosion of life forms. The shallow seas were created by the breakup of the supercontinent Rodinia. During the Ordovician, Silurian, and Devonian periods, which followed the Cambrian Period and lasted from 490 million to 354 million years ago, some of the continental pieces that had broken off Rodinia collided. These collisions resulted in larger continental masses in equatorial regions and in the Northern Hemisphere. The collisions built a number of mountain ranges, including parts of the Appalachian Mountains in North America and the Caledonian Mountains of northern Europe.
Toward the close of the Paleozoic Era, two large continental masses, Gondwanaland to the south and Laurasia to the north, faced each other across the equator. Their slow but eventful collision during the Permian Period of the Paleozoic Era, which lasted from 290 million to 248 million years ago, assembled the supercontinent Pangaea and resulted in some of the grandest mountains in the history of Earth. These mountains included other parts of the Appalachians and the Ural Mountains of Asia. At the close of the Paleozoic Era, Pangaea represented over 90 percent of all the continental landmasses. Pangaea straddled the equator with a huge mouthlike opening that faced east. This opening was the Tethys Ocean, which closed as India moved northward creating the Himalayas. The last remnants of the Tethys Ocean can be seen in today’s Mediterranean Sea.
The Paleozoic came to an end with a major extinction event, when perhaps as many as 90 percent of all plant and animal species died out. The reason is not known for sure, but many scientists believe that huge volcanic outpourings of lavas in central Siberia, coupled with an asteroid impact, were joint contributing factors.
C3 Mesozoic Era
The Mesozoic Era, beginning 248 million years ago, is often characterized as the Age of Reptiles because reptiles were the dominant life forms during this era. Reptiles dominated not only on land, as dinosaurs, but also in the sea, in the form of the plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs, and in the air, as pterosaurs, which were flying reptiles. See also Dinosaur; Plesiosaur; Ichthyosaur; Pterosaur.
The Mesozoic Era is divided into three geological periods: the Triassic, which lasted from 248 million to 206 million years ago; the Jurassic, from 206 million to 144 million years ago; and the Cretaceous, from 144 million to 65 million years ago. The dinosaurs emerged during the Triassic Period and were one of the most successful animals in Earth’s history, lasting for about 180 million years before going extinct at the end of the Cretaceous Period. The first birds and mammals and the first flowering plants also appeared during the Mesozoic Era. Before flowering plants emerged, plants with seed-bearing cones known as conifers were the dominant form of plants. Flowering plants soon replaced conifers as the dominant form of vegetation during the Mesozoic Era.
The Mesozoic was an eventful era geologically with many changes to Earth’s surface. Pangaea continued to exist for another 50 million years during the early Mesozoic Era. By the early Jurassic Period, Pangaea began to break up. What is now South America began splitting from what is now Africa, and in the process the South Atlantic Ocean formed. As the landmass that became North America drifted away from Pangaea and moved westward, a long subduction zone extended along North America’s western margin. This subduction zone and the accompanying arc of volcanoes extended from what is now Alaska to the southern tip of South America. Much of this feature, called the American Cordillera, exists today as the eastern margin of the Pacific Ring of Fire.
During the Cretaceous Period, heat continued to be released from the margins of the drifting continents, and as they slowly sank, vast inland seas formed in much of the continental interiors. The fossilized remains of fishes and marine mollusks called ammonites can be found today in the middle of the North American continent because these areas were once underwater. Large continental masses broke off the northern part of southern Gondwanaland during this period and began to narrow the Tethys Ocean. The largest of these continental masses, present-day India, moved northward toward its collision with southern Asia. As both the North Atlantic Ocean and South Atlantic Ocean continued to open, North and South America became isolated continents for the first time in 450 million years. Their westward journey resulted in mountains along their western margins, including the Andes of South America.
C4 Cenozoic Era
The Cenozoic Era, beginning about 65 million years ago, is the period when mammals became the dominant form of life on land. Human beings first appeared in the later stages of the Cenozoic Era. In short, the modern world as we know it, with its characteristic geographical features and its animals and plants, came into being. All of the continents that we know today took shape during this era.
A single catastrophic event may have been responsible for this relatively abrupt change from the Age of Reptiles to the Age of Mammals. Most scientists now believe that a huge asteroid or comet struck the Earth at the end of the Mesozoic and the beginning of the Cenozoic eras, causing the extinction of many forms of life, including the dinosaurs. Evidence of this collision came with the discovery of a large impact crater off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula and the worldwide finding of iridium, a metallic element rare on Earth but abundant in meteorites, in rock layers dated from the end of the Cretaceous Period. The extinction of the dinosaurs opened the way for mammals to become the dominant land animals.
The Cenozoic Era is divided into the Tertiary and the Quaternary periods. The Tertiary Period lasted from about 65 million to about 1.8 million years ago. The Quaternary Period began about 1.8 million years ago and continues to the present day. These periods are further subdivided into epochs, such as the Pleistocene, from 1.8 million to 10,000 years ago, and the Holocene, from 10,000 years ago to the present.
Early in the Tertiary Period, Pangaea was completely disassembled, and the modern continents were all clearly outlined. India and other continental masses began colliding with southern Asia to form the Himalayas. Africa and a series of smaller microcontinents began colliding with southern Europe to form the Alps. The Tethys Ocean was nearly closed and began to resemble today’s Mediterranean Sea. As the Tethys continued to narrow, the Atlantic continued to open, becoming an ever-wider ocean. Iceland appeared as a new island in later Tertiary time, and its active volcanism today indicates that seafloor spreading is still causing the country to grow.
Late in the Tertiary Period, about 6 million years ago, humans began to evolve in Africa. These early humans began to migrate to other parts of the world between 2 million and 1.7 million years ago.
The Quaternary Period marks the onset of the great ice ages. Many times, perhaps at least once every 100,000 years on average, vast glaciers 3 km (2 mi) thick invaded much of North America, Europe, and parts of Asia. The glaciers eroded considerable amounts of material that stood in their paths, gouging out U-shaped valleys. Anatomically modern human beings, known as Homo sapiens, became the dominant form of life in the Quaternary Period. Most anthropologists (scientists who study human life and culture) believe that anatomically modern humans originated only recently in Earth’s 4.6-billion-year history, within the past 200,000 years. See also Human Evolution.
With the rise of human civilization about 8,000 years ago and especially since the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1700s, human beings began to alter the surface, water, and atmosphere of Earth. In doing so, they have become active geological agents, not unlike other forces of change that influence the planet. As a result, Earth’s immediate future depends to a great extent on the behavior of humans. For example, the widespread use of fossil fuels is releasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and threatens to warm the planet’s surface. This global warming could melt glaciers and the polar ice caps, which could flood coastlines around the world and many island nations. In effect, the carbon dioxide that was removed from Earth’s early atmosphere by the oceans and by primitive plant and animal life, and subsequently buried as fossilized remains in sedimentary rock, is being released back into the atmosphere and is threatening the existence of living things. See also Global Warming.
Even without human intervention, Earth will continue to change because it is geologically active. Many scientists believe that some of these changes can be predicted. For example, based on studies of the rate that the seafloor is spreading in the Red Sea, some geologists predict that in 200 million years the Red Sea will be the same size as the Atlantic Ocean is today. Other scientists predict that the continent of Asia will break apart millions of years from now, and as it does, Lake Baikal in Siberia will become a vast ocean, separating two landmasses that once made up the Asian continent.
In the far, far distant future, however, scientists believe that Earth will become an uninhabitable planet, scorched by the Sun. Knowing the rate at which nuclear fusion occurs in the Sun and knowing the Sun’s mass, astrophysicists (scientists who study stars) have calculated that the Sun will become brighter and hotter about 3 billion years from now, when it will be hot enough to boil Earth’s oceans away. Based on studies of how other Sun-like stars have evolved, scientists predict that the Sun will become a red giant, a star with a very large, hot atmosphere, about 7 billion years from now. As a red giant the Sun’s outer atmosphere will expand until it engulfs the planet Mercury. The Sun will then be 2,000 times brighter than it is now and so hot it will melt Earth’s rocks. Earth will end its existence as a burnt cinder. See also Sun.
Three billion years is the life span of millions of human generations, however. Perhaps by then, humans will have learned how to journey beyond the solar system to colonize other planets in the Milky Way Galaxy and find another place to call “home.”

Reviewed By:
Alan V. Morgan
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Question No:3
Endocrine System
Endocrine System, group of specialized organs and body tissues that produce, store, and secrete chemical substances known as hormones. As the body's chemical messengers, hormones transfer information and instructions from one set of cells to another. Because of the hormones they produce, endocrine organs have a great deal of influence over the body. Among their many jobs are regulating the body's growth and development, controlling the function of various tissues, supporting pregnancy and other reproductive functions, and regulating metabolism.
Endocrine organs are sometimes called ductless glands because they have no ducts connecting them to specific body parts. The hormones they secrete are released directly into the bloodstream. In contrast, the exocrine glands, such as the sweat glands or the salivary glands, release their secretions directly to target areas—for example, the skin or the inside of the mouth. Some of the body's glands are described as endo-exocrine glands because they secrete hormones as well as other types of substances. Even some nonglandular tissues produce hormone-like substances—nerve cells produce chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, for example.
The earliest reference to the endocrine system comes from ancient Greece, in about 400 BC. However, it was not until the 16th century that accurate anatomical descriptions of many of the endocrine organs were published. Research during the 20th century has vastly improved our understanding of hormones and how they function in the body. Today, endocrinology, the study of the endocrine glands, is an important branch of modern medicine. Endocrinologists are medical doctors who specialize in researching and treating disorders and diseases of the endocrine system.
The primary glands that make up the human endocrine system are the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal, pineal body, and reproductive glands—the ovary and testis. The pancreas, an organ often associated with the digestive system, is also considered part of the endocrine system. In addition, some nonendocrine organs are known to actively secrete hormones. These include the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, thymus, skin, and placenta. Almost all body cells can either produce or convert hormones, and some secrete hormones. For example, glucagon, a hormone that raises glucose levels in the blood when the body needs extra energy, is made in the pancreas but also in the wall of the gastrointestinal tract. However, it is the endocrine glands that are specialized for hormone production. They efficiently manufacture chemically complex hormones from simple chemical substances—for example, amino acids and carbohydrates—and they regulate their secretion more efficiently than any other tissues.
The hypothalamus, found deep within the brain, directly controls the pituitary gland. It is sometimes described as the coordinator of the endocrine system. When information reaching the brain indicates that changes are needed somewhere in the body, nerve cells in the hypothalamus secrete body chemicals that either stimulate or suppress hormone secretions from the pituitary gland. Acting as liaison between the brain and the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus is the primary link between the endocrine and nervous systems.
Located in a bony cavity just below the base of the brain is one of the endocrine system's most important members: the pituitary gland. Often described as the body’s master gland, the pituitary secretes several hormones that regulate the function of the other endocrine glands. Structurally, the pituitary gland is divided into two parts, the anterior and posterior lobes, each having separate functions. The anterior lobe regulates the activity of the thyroid and adrenal glands as well as the reproductive glands. It also regulates the body's growth and stimulates milk production in women who are breast-feeding. Hormones secreted by the anterior lobe include adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), thyrotropic hormone (TSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), growth hormone (GH), and prolactin. The anterior lobe also secretes endorphins, chemicals that act on the nervous system to reduce sensitivity to pain.
The posterior lobe of the pituitary gland contains the nerve endings (axons) from the hypothalamus, which stimulate or suppress hormone production. This lobe secretes antidiuretic hormones (ADH), which control water balance in the body, and oxytocin, which controls muscle contractions in the uterus.
The thyroid gland, located in the neck, secretes hormones in response to stimulation by TSH from the pituitary gland. The thyroid secretes hormones—for example, thyroxine and three-iodothyronine—that regulate growth and metabolism, and play a role in brain development during childhood.
The parathyroid glands are four small glands located at the four corners of the thyroid gland. The hormone they secrete, parathyroid hormone, regulates the level of calcium in the blood.
Located on top of the kidneys, the adrenal glands have two distinct parts. The outer part, called the adrenal cortex, produces a variety of hormones called corticosteroids, which include cortisol. These hormones regulate salt and water balance in the body, prepare the body for stress, regulate metabolism, interact with the immune system, and influence sexual function. The inner part, the adrenal medulla, produces catecholamines, such as epinephrine, also called adrenaline, which increase the blood pressure and heart rate during times of stress.
The reproductive components of the endocrine system, called the gonads, secrete sex hormones in response to stimulation from the pituitary gland. Located in the pelvis, the female gonads, the ovaries, produce eggs. They also secrete a number of female sex hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, which control development of the reproductive organs, stimulate the appearance of female secondary sex characteristics, and regulate menstruation and pregnancy.
Located in the scrotum, the male gonads, the testes, produce sperm and also secrete a number of male sex hormones, or androgens. The androgens, the most important of which is testosterone, regulate development of the reproductive organs, stimulate male secondary sex characteristics, and stimulate muscle growth.
The pancreas is positioned in the upper abdomen, just under the stomach. The major part of the pancreas, called the exocrine pancreas, functions as an exocrine gland, secreting digestive enzymes into the gastrointestinal tract. Distributed through the pancreas are clusters of endocrine cells that secrete insulin, glucagon, and somastatin. These hormones all participate in regulating energy and metabolism in the body.
The pineal body, also called the pineal gland, is located in the middle of the brain. It secretes melatonin, a hormone that may help regulate the wake-sleep cycle. Research has shown that disturbances in the secretion of melatonin are responsible, in part, for the jet lag associated with long-distance air travel.
Hormones from the endocrine organs are secreted directly into the bloodstream, where special proteins usually bind to them, helping to keep the hormones intact as they travel throughout the body. The proteins also act as a reservoir, allowing only a small fraction of the hormone circulating in the blood to affect the target tissue. Specialized proteins in the target tissue, called receptors, bind with the hormones in the bloodstream, inducing chemical changes in response to the body’s needs. Typically, only minute concentrations of a hormone are needed to achieve the desired effect.
Too much or too little hormone can be harmful to the body, so hormone levels are regulated by a feedback mechanism. Feedback works something like a household thermostat. When the heat in a house falls, the thermostat responds by switching the furnace on, and when the temperature is too warm, the thermostat switches the furnace off. Usually, the change that a hormone produces also serves to regulate that hormone's secretion. For example, parathyroid hormone causes the body to increase the level of calcium in the blood. As calcium levels rise, the secretion of parathyroid hormone then decreases. This feedback mechanism allows for tight control over hormone levels, which is essential for ideal body function. Other mechanisms may also influence feedback relationships. For example, if an individual becomes ill, the adrenal glands increase the secretions of certain hormones that help the body deal with the stress of illness. The adrenal glands work in concert with the pituitary gland and the brain to increase the body’s tolerance of these hormones in the blood, preventing the normal feedback mechanism from decreasing secretion levels until the illness is gone.
Long-term changes in hormone levels can influence the endocrine glands themselves. For example, if hormone secretion is chronically low, the increased stimulation by the feedback mechanism leads to growth of the gland. This can occur in the thyroid if a person's diet has insufficient iodine, which is essential for thyroid hormone production. Constant stimulation from the pituitary gland to produce the needed hormone causes the thyroid to grow, eventually producing a medical condition known as goiter.
Endocrine disorders are classified in two ways: disturbances in the production of hormones, and the inability of tissues to respond to hormones. The first type, called production disorders, are divided into hypofunction (insufficient activity) and hyperfunction (excess activity). Hypofunction disorders can have a variety of causes, including malformations in the gland itself. Sometimes one of the enzymes essential for hormone production is missing, or the hormone produced is abnormal. More commonly, hypofunction is caused by disease or injury. Tuberculosis can appear in the adrenal glands, autoimmune diseases can affect the thyroid, and treatments for cancer—such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy—can damage any of the endocrine organs. Hypofunction can also result when target tissue is unable to respond to hormones. In many cases, the cause of a hypofunction disorder is unknown.
Hyperfunction can be caused by glandular tumors that secrete hormone without responding to feedback controls. In addition, some autoimmune conditions create antibodies that have the side effect of stimulating hormone production. Infection of an endocrine gland can have the same result.
Accurately diagnosing an endocrine disorder can be extremely challenging, even for an astute physician. Many diseases of the endocrine system develop over time, and clear, identifying symptoms may not appear for many months or even years. An endocrinologist evaluating a patient for a possible endocrine disorder relies on the patient's history of signs and symptoms, a physical examination, and the family history—that is, whether any endocrine disorders have been diagnosed in other relatives. A variety of laboratory tests—for example, a radioimmunoassay—are used to measure hormone levels. Tests that directly stimulate or suppress hormone production are also sometimes used, and genetic testing for deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) mutations affecting endocrine function can be helpful in making a diagnosis. Tests based on diagnostic radiology show anatomical pictures of the gland in question. A functional image of the gland can be obtained with radioactive labeling techniques used in nuclear medicine.
One of the most common diseases of the endocrine systems is diabetes mellitus, which occurs in two forms. The first, called diabetes mellitus Type 1, is caused by inadequate secretion of insulin by the pancreas. Diabetes mellitus Type 2 is caused by the body's inability to respond to insulin. Both types have similar symptoms, including excessive thirst, hunger, and urination as well as weight loss. Laboratory tests that detect glucose in the urine and elevated levels of glucose in the blood usually confirm the diagnosis. Treatment of diabetes mellitus Type 1 requires regular injections of insulin; some patients with Type 2 can be treated with diet, exercise, or oral medication. Diabetes can cause a variety of complications, including kidney problems, pain due to nerve damage, blindness, and coronary heart disease. Recent studies have shown that controlling blood sugar levels reduces the risk of developing diabetes complications considerably.
Diabetes insipidus is caused by a deficiency of vasopressin, one of the antidiuretic hormones (ADH) secreted by the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland. Patients often experience increased thirst and urination. Treatment is with drugs, such as synthetic vasopressin, that help the body maintain water and electrolyte balance.
Hypothyroidism is caused by an underactive thyroid gland, which results in a deficiency of thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism disorders cause myxedema and cretinism, more properly known as congenital hypothyroidism. Myxedema develops in older adults, usually after age 40, and causes lethargy, fatigue, and mental sluggishness. Congenital hypothyroidism, which is present at birth, can cause more serious complications including mental retardation if left untreated. Screening programs exist in most countries to test newborns for this disorder. By providing the body with replacement thyroid hormones, almost all of the complications are completely avoidable.
Addison's disease is caused by decreased function of the adrenal cortex. Weakness, fatigue, abdominal pains, nausea, dehydration, fever, and hyperpigmentation (tanning without sun exposure) are among the many possible symptoms. Treatment involves providing the body with replacement corticosteroid hormones as well as dietary salt.
Cushing's syndrome is caused by excessive secretion of glucocorticoids, the subgroup of corticosteroid hormones that includes hydrocortisone, by the adrenal glands. Symptoms may develop over many years prior to diagnosis and may include obesity, physical weakness, easily bruised skin, acne, hypertension, and psychological changes. Treatment may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or blockage of hormone production with drugs.
Thyrotoxicosis is due to excess production of thyroid hormones. The most common cause for it is Graves' disease, an autoimmune disorder in which specific antibodies are produced, stimulating the thyroid gland. Thyrotoxicosis is eight to ten times more common in women than in men. Symptoms include nervousness, sensitivity to heat, heart palpitations, and weight loss. Many patients experience protruding eyes and tremors. Drugs that inhibit thyroid activity, surgery to remove the thyroid gland, and radioactive iodine that destroys the gland are common treatments.
Acromegaly and gigantism both are caused by a pituitary tumor that stimulates production of excessive growth hormone, causing abnormal growth in particular parts of the body. Acromegaly is rare and usually develops over many years in adult subjects. Gigantism occurs when the excess of growth hormone begins in childhood.

Contributed By:
Gad B. Kletter
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

(b) Eco-System
Ecosystem, organisms living in a particular environment, such as a forest or a coral reef, and the physical parts of the environment that affect them. The term ecosystem was coined in 1935 by the British ecologist Sir Arthur George Tansley, who described natural systems in “constant interchange” among their living and nonliving parts.
The ecosystem concept fits into an ordered view of nature that was developed by scientists to simplify the study of the relationships between organisms and their physical environment, a field known as ecology. At the top of the hierarchy is the planet’s entire living environment, known as the biosphere. Within this biosphere are several large categories of living communities known as biomes that are usually characterized by their dominant vegetation, such as grasslands, tropical forests, or deserts. The biomes are in turn made up of ecosystems. The living, or biotic, parts of an ecosystem, such as the plants, animals, and bacteria found in soil, are known as a community. The physical surroundings, or abiotic components, such as the minerals found in the soil, are known as the environment or habitat.
Any given place may have several different ecosystems that vary in size and complexity. A tropical island, for example, may have a rain forest ecosystem that covers hundreds of square miles, a mangrove swamp ecosystem along the coast, and an underwater coral reef ecosystem. No matter how the size or complexity of an ecosystem is characterized, all ecosystems exhibit a constant exchange of matter and energy between the biotic and abiotic community. Ecosystem components are so interconnected that a change in any one component of an ecosystem will cause subsequent changes throughout the system.
The living portion of an ecosystem is best described in terms of feeding levels known as trophic levels. Green plants make up the first trophic level and are known as primary producers. Plants are able to convert energy from the sun into food in a process known as photosynthesis. In the second trophic level, the primary consumers—known as herbivores—are animals and insects that obtain their energy solely by eating the green plants. The third trophic level is composed of the secondary consumers, flesh-eating or carnivorous animals that feed on herbivores. At the fourth level are the tertiary consumers, carnivores that feed on other carnivores. Finally, the fifth trophic level consists of the decomposers, organisms such as fungi and bacteria that break down dead or dying matter into nutrients that can be used again.
Some or all of these trophic levels combine to form what is known as a food web, the ecosystem’s mechanism for circulating and recycling energy and materials. For example, in an aquatic ecosystem algae and other aquatic plants use sunlight to produce energy in the form of carbohydrates. Primary consumers such as insects and small fish may feed on some of this plant matter, and are in turn eaten by secondary consumers, such as salmon. A brown bear may play the role of the tertiary consumer by catching and eating salmon. Bacteria and fungi may then feed upon and decompose the salmon carcass left behind by the bear, enabling the valuable nonliving components of the ecosystem, such as chemical nutrients, to leach back into the soil and water, where they can be absorbed by the roots of plants. In this way nutrients and the energy that green plants derive from sunlight are efficiently transferred and recycled throughout the ecosystem.
In addition to the exchange of energy, ecosystems are characterized by several other cycles. Elements such as carbon and nitrogen travel throughout the biotic and abiotic components of an ecosystem in processes known as nutrient cycles. For example, nitrogen traveling in the air may be snatched by a tree-dwelling, or epiphytic, lichen that converts it to a form useful to plants. When rain drips through the lichen and falls to the ground, or the lichen itself falls to the forest floor, the nitrogen from the raindrops or the lichen is leached into the soil to be used by plants and trees. Another process important to ecosystems is the water cycle, the movement of water from ocean to atmosphere to land and eventually back to the ocean. An ecosystem such as a forest or wetland plays a significant role in this cycle by storing, releasing, or filtering the water as it passes through the system.
Every ecosystem is also characterized by a disturbance cycle, a regular cycle of events such as fires, storms, floods, and landslides that keeps the ecosystem in a constant state of change and adaptation. Some species even depend on the disturbance cycle for survival or reproduction. For example, longleaf pine forests depend on frequent low-intensity fires for reproduction. The cones of the trees, which contain the reproductive structures, are sealed shut with a resin that melts away to release the seeds only under high heat.
Humans benefit from these smooth-functioning ecosystems in many ways. Healthy forests, streams, and wetlands contribute to clean air and clean water by trapping fast-moving air and water, enabling impurities to settle out or be converted to harmless compounds by plants or soil. The diversity of organisms, or biodiversity, in an ecosystem provides essential foods, medicines, and other materials. But as human populations increase and their encroachment on natural habitats expands, humans are having detrimental effects on the very ecosystems on which they depend. The survival of natural ecosystems around the world is threatened by many human activities: bulldozing wetlands and clear-cutting forests—the systematic cutting of all trees in a specific area—to make room for new housing and agricultural land; damming rivers to harness the energy for electricity and water for irrigation; and polluting the air, soil, and water.
Many organizations and government agencies have adopted a new approach to managing natural resources—naturally occurring materials that have economic or cultural value, such as commercial fisheries, timber, and water—in order to prevent their catastrophic depletion. This strategy, known as ecosystem management, treats resources as interdependent ecosystems rather than simply commodities to be extracted. Using advances in the study of ecology to protect the biodiversity of an ecosystem, ecosystem management encourages practices that enable humans to obtain necessary resources using methods that protect the whole ecosystem. Because regional economic prosperity may be linked to ecosystem health, the needs of the human community are also considered.
Ecosystem management often requires special measures to protect threatened or endangered species that play key roles in the ecosystem. In the commercial shrimp trawling industry, for example, ecosystem management techniques protect loggerhead sea turtles. In the last thirty years, populations of loggerhead turtles on the southeastern coasts of the United States have been declining at alarming rates due to beach development and the ensuing erosion, bright lights, and traffic, which make it nearly impossible for female turtles to build nests on beaches. At sea, loggerheads are threatened by oil spills and plastic debris, offshore dredging, injury from boat propellers, and getting caught in fishing nets and equipment. In 1970 the species was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
When scientists learned that commercial shrimp trawling nets were trapping and killing between 5000 and 50,000 loggerhead sea turtles a year, they developed a large metal grid called a Turtle Excluder Device (TED) that fits into the trawl net, preventing 97 percent of trawl-related loggerhead turtle deaths while only minimally reducing the commercial shrimp harvest. In 1992 the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) implemented regulations requiring commercial shrimp trawlers to use TEDs, effectively balancing the commercial demand for shrimp with the health and vitality of the loggerhead sea turtle population.

Contributed By:
Joel P. Clement
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

(c) Troposphere
Troposphere, lowest layer of the earth's atmosphere and site of all weather on the earth. The troposphere is bounded on the top by a layer of air called the tropopause, which separates the troposphere from the stratosphere, and on the bottom by the surface of the earth. The troposphere is wider at the equator (16 km/10 mi) than at the poles (8 km/5 mi).
The temperature of the troposphere is warmest in the tropical (latitude 0º to about 30º north and south) and subtropical (latitude about 30º to about 40º north and south) climatic zones (see climate) and coldest at the polar climatic zones (latitude about 70º to 90º north and south). Observations from weather balloons have shown that temperature decreases with height at an average of 6.5º C per 1000 m (3.6º F per 1000 ft), reaching about -80º C (about -110º F) above the tropical regions and about -50º C (about -60º F) above the polar regions.
The troposphere contains 75 percent of the atmosphere's mass—on an average day the weight of the molecules in air (see Pressure) is 1.03 kg/sq cm (14.7 lb/sq in)—and most of the atmosphere's water vapor. Water vapor concentration varies from trace amounts in polar regions to nearly 4 percent in the tropics. The most prevalent gases are nitrogen (78 percent) and oxygen (21 percent), with the remaining 1 percent consisting of argon (0.9 percent) and traces of hydrogen, ozone (a form of oxygen), methane, and other constituents. Carbon dioxide is present in small amounts, but its concentration has nearly doubled since 1900. Like water vapor, carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas (see Greenhouse Effect), which traps some of the earth's heat close to the surface and prevents its release into space. Scientists fear that the increasing amounts of carbon dioxide could raise the earth's surface temperature during the next century, bringing significant changes to worldwide weather patterns. Such changes may include a shift in climatic zones and the melting of the polar ice caps, which could raise the level of the world's oceans.
The uneven heating of the regions of the troposphere by the sun (the sun warms the air at the equator more than the air at the poles) causes convection currents (see Heat Transfer), large-scale patterns of winds that move heat and moisture around the globe. In the Northern and Southern hemispheres, air rises along the equator and subpolar (latitude about 50º to about 70º north and south) climatic regions and sinks in the polar and subtropical regions. Air is deflected by the earth's rotation as it moves between the poles and equator, creating belts of surface winds moving from east to west (easterly winds) in tropical and polar regions, and winds moving from west to east (westerly winds) in the middle latitudes. This global circulation is disrupted by the circular wind patterns of migrating high and low air pressure areas, plus locally abrupt changes in wind speed and direction known as turbulence.
A common feature of the troposphere of densely populated areas is smog, which restricts visibility and is irritating to the eyes and throat. Smog is produced when pollutants accumulate close to the surface beneath an inversion layer (a layer of air in which the usual rule that temperature of air decreases with altitude does not apply), and undergo a series of chemical reactions in the presence of sunlight. Inversions suppress convection, or the normal expansion and rise of warm air, and prevent pollutants from escaping into the upper atmosphere. Convection is the mechanism responsible for the vertical transport of heat in the troposphere while horizontal heat transfer is accomplished through advection.
The exchange and movement of water between the earth and atmosphere is called the water cycle. The cycle, which occurs in the troposphere, begins as the sun evaporates large amounts of water from the earth's surface and the moisture is transported to other regions by the wind. As air rises, expands, and cools, water vapor condenses and clouds develop. Clouds cover large portions of the earth at any given time and vary from fair-weather cirrus to towering cumulus clouds (see Cloud). When liquid or solid water particles grow large enough in size, they fall toward the earth as precipitation. The type of precipitation that reaches the ground, be it rain, snow, sleet, or freezing rain, depends upon the temperature of the air through which it falls.
As sunlight enters the atmosphere, a portion is immediately reflected back to space, but the rest penetrates the atmosphere and is absorbed by the earth's surface. This energy is then reemitted by the earth back into the atmosphere as long-wave radiation. Carbon dioxide and water molecules absorb this energy and emit much of it back toward the earth again. This delicate exchange of energy between the earth's surface and atmosphere keeps the average global temperature from changing drastically from year to year.

Contributed By:
Frank Christopher Hawthorne
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

(d) Carbon Cycle
Carbon Cycle (ecology)
Carbon Cycle (ecology), in ecology, the cycle of carbon usage by which energy flows through the earth's ecosystem. The basic cycle begins when photosynthesizing plants (see Photosynthesis) use carbon dioxide (CO2) found in the atmosphere or dissolved in water. Some of this carbon is incorporated in plant tissue as carbohydrates, fats, and protein; the rest is returned to the atmosphere or water primarily by aerobic respiration. Carbon is thus passed on to herbivores that eat the plants and thereby use, rearrange, and degrade the carbon compounds. Much of it is given off as CO2, primarily as a by-product of aerobic respiration, but some is stored in animal tissue and is passed on to carnivores feeding on the herbivores. Ultimately, all the carbon compounds are broken down by decomposition, and the carbon is released as CO2 to be used again by plants.
On a global scale the carbon cycle involves an exchange of CO2 between two great reservoirs: the atmosphere and the earth's waters. Atmospheric CO2 enters water by diffusion across the air-water surface. If the CO2 concentration in the water is less than that in the atmosphere, it diffuses into water, but if the CO2 concentration is greater in the water than in the atmosphere, CO2 enters the atmosphere. Additional exchanges take place within aquatic ecosystems. Excess carbon may combine with water to form carbonates and bicarbonates. Carbonates may precipitate out and become deposited in bottom sediments. Some carbon is incorporated in the forest-vegetation biomass (living matter) and may remain out of circulation for hundreds of years. Incomplete decomposition of organic matter in wet areas results in the accumulation of peat. Such accumulation during the Carboniferous period created great stores of fossil fuels: coal, oil, and gas.
The total carbon pool, estimated at about 49,000 metric gigatons (1 metric gigaton equals 109 metric tons), is distributed among organic and inorganic forms. Fossil carbon accounts for 22 percent of the total pool. The oceans contain 71 percent of the world's carbon, mostly in the form of bicarbonate and carbonate ions. An additional 3 percent is in dead organic matter and phytoplankton. Terrestrial ecosystems, in which forests are the main reservoir, hold about 3 percent of the total carbon. The remaining 1 percent is held in the atmosphere, circulated, and used in photosynthesis.
Because of the burning of fossil fuels, the clearing of forests, and other such practices, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has been increasing since the Industrial Revolution. Atmospheric concentrations have risen from an estimated 260 to 300 parts per million (ppm) in preindustrial times to more than 350 ppm today. This increase accounts for only half of the estimated amount of carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere. The other 50 percent has probably been taken up by and stored in the oceans. Although terrestrial vegetation may take up considerable quantities of carbon, it is also an additional source of CO2.
Atmospheric CO2 acts as a shield over the earth. It is penetrated by short-wave radiation from outer space but blocks the escape of long-wave radiation. As increased quantities of CO2 are added to the atmosphere, the shield thickens and more heat is retained, increasing global temperatures. Although such increases have not yet been great enough to cancel out natural climatic variability, projected increases in CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels suggest that global temperatures could rise some 2° to 6° C (about 4° to 11° F) by early in the 21st century. This increase would be significant enough to alter global climates and thereby affect human welfare. See also Air Pollution; Greenhouse Effect.

Contributed By:
Robert Leo Smith
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

(e) Meningitis
Meningitis, inflammation of the meninges, the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis may be caused by a physical injury, a reaction to certain drugs, or more commonly, infection by certain viruses, bacteria, fungi, or parasites. This article focuses on meningitis caused by viral or bacterial infection. In the United States viral meningitis is the most common form of the disease, while bacterial meningitis, which affects an estimated 17,500 people each year, is the most serious form of the disease. Most cases of both viral and bacterial meningitis occur in the first five years of life.
The most common causes of viral meningitis are coxsackie viruses and echoviruses, although herpesviruses, the mumps virus, and many other viruses can also cause the disease. Viral meningitis is rarely fatal, and most patients recover from the disease completely.
Most cases of bacterial meningitis are caused by one of three species of bacteria—Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Neisseria meningitidis. Many other bacteria, including Escherichia coli and the bacteria that are responsible for tuberculosis and syphilis, can also cause the disease. Bacterial meningitis can be fatal if not treated promptly. Some children who survive the infection are left with permanent neurological impairments, such as hearing loss or learning disabilities.
Many of the microorganisms that cause meningitis are quite common in the environment and are usually harmless. The microorganisms typically enter the body through the respiratory system or, sometimes, through the middle ear or nasal sinuses. Many people carry these bacteria or viruses without having any symptoms at all, while others experience minor, coldlike symptoms. Meningitis only develops if these microorganisms enter a patient’s bloodstream and then the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which surrounds the brain and spinal cord. The CSF contains no protective white blood cells to fight infection, so once the microorganisms enter the CSF, they multiply rapidly and make a person sick.
Although the viruses and bacteria that cause meningitis are contagious, not everyone who comes in contact with someone with meningitis will develop the disease. In fact, meningitis typically occurs in isolated cases. Occasionally outbreaks of meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitidis, also known as meningococcal meningitis, occur in group living situations, such as day-care centers, college dormitories, or military barracks. A child whose immune system is weakened—due to a disease or genetic disorder, for instance--is at increased risk for developing meningitis. In general, however, scientists do not know why microorganisms that are usually harmless are able to cross into the CSF and cause meningitis in some people but not others.
No matter what the cause, the symptoms of meningitis are always similar and usually develop rapidly, often over the course of a few hours. Nearly all patients with meningitis experience vomiting, high fever, and a stiff neck. Meningitis may also cause severe headache, back pain, muscle aches, sensitivity of the eyes to light, drowsiness, confusion, and even loss of consciousness. Some children have convulsions. In infants, the symptoms of meningitis are often more difficult to detect and may include irritability, lethargy, and loss of appetite. Most patients with meningococcal meningitis develop a rash of red, pinprick spots on the skin. The spots do not turn white when pressed, and they quickly grow to look like purple bruises.
Meningitis is diagnosed by a lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, in which a doctor inserts a needle into the lower back to obtain a sample of CSF. The fluid is then tested for the presence of bacteria and other cells, as well as certain chemical changes that are characteristic of meningitis.
It is imperative to seek immediate medical attention if the symptoms of meningitis develop in order to determine whether the meningitis is viral or bacterial. Any delays in treating bacterial meningitis can lead to stroke, severe brain damage, and even death. Patients with bacterial meningitis are usually hospitalized and given large doses of intravenous antibiotics. The specific antibiotic used depends on the bacterium responsible for the infection. Antibiotic therapy is very effective, and if treatment begins in time, the risk of dying from bacterial meningitis today is less than 15 percent.
No specific treatment is available for viral meningitis. With bed rest, plenty of fluids, and medicine to reduce fever and control headache, most patients recover from viral meningitis within a week or two and suffer no lasting effects.
Good hygiene to prevent the spread of viruses is the only method of preventing viral meningitis. To help prevent the spread of bacterial meningitis, antibiotics are sometimes given to family members and other people who have had close contact with patients who develop the disease. Vaccines are also available against some of the bacteria that can cause meningitis. A vaccine against one strain of Haemophilus influenzae, once the most common cause of bacterial meningitis, was introduced during the 1980s and has been a part of routine childhood immunization in the United States since 1990. This vaccine has dramatically reduced the number of cases of bacterial meningitis. Vaccines also exist for certain strains of Neisseria meningitidis and Streptococcus pneumoniae but are not a part of routine immunization. The Neisseria meningitidis vaccine is given to military recruits and people who are planning travel to areas of the world where outbreaks of meningococcal meningitis are common. The Streptococcus pneumoniae vaccine is recommended for people over age 65.

Contributed By:
David Spilker
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Question NO:4
The energy required for maintenance and proper functioning of the human body is supplied by food. After it is broken into fragments by chewing (see Teeth) and mixed with saliva, digestion begins. The food passes down the gullet into the stomach, where the process is continued by the gastric and intestinal juices. Thereafter, the mixture of food and secretions, called chyme, is pushed down the alimentary canal by peristalsis, rhythmic contractions of the smooth muscle of the gastrointestinal system. The contractions are initiated by the parasympathetic nervous system; such muscular activity can be inhibited by the sympathetic nervous system. Absorption of nutrients from chyme occurs mainly in the small intestine; unabsorbed food and secretions and waste substances from the liver pass to the large intestines and are expelled as feces. Water and water-soluble substances travel via the bloodstream from the intestines to the kidneys, which absorb all the constituents of the blood plasma except its proteins. The kidneys return most of the water and salts to the body, while excreting other salts and waste products, along with excess water, as urine.
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Blood enters the kidney through the renal artery. The artery divides into smaller and smaller blood vessels, called arterioles, eventually ending in the tiny capillaries of the glomerulus. The capillary walls here are quite thin, and the blood pressure within the capillaries is high. The result is that water, along with any substances that may be dissolved in it—typically salts, glucose or sugar, amino acids, and the waste products urea and uric acid—are pushed out through the thin capillary walls, where they are collected in Bowman's capsule. Larger particles in the blood, such as red blood cells and protein molecules, are too bulky to pass through the capillary walls and they remain in the bloodstream. The blood, which is now filtered, leaves the glomerulus through another arteriole, which branches into the meshlike network of blood vessels around the renal tubule. The blood then exits the kidney through the renal vein. Approximately 180 liters (about 50 gallons) of blood moves through the two kidneys every day.
Urine production begins with the substances that the blood leaves behind during its passage through the kidney—the water, salts, and other substances collected from the glomerulus in Bowman’s capsule. This liquid, called glomerular filtrate, moves from Bowman’s capsule through the renal tubule. As the filtrate flows through the renal tubule, the network of blood vessels surrounding the tubule reabsorbs much of the water, salt, and virtually all of the nutrients, especially glucose and amino acids, that were removed in the glomerulus. This important process, called tubular reabsorption, enables the body to selectively keep the substances it needs while ridding itself of wastes. Eventually, about 99 percent of the water, salt, and other nutrients is reabsorbed.
At the same time that the kidney reabsorbs valuable nutrients from the glomerular filtrate, it carries out an opposing task, called tubular secretion. In this process, unwanted substances from the capillaries surrounding the nephron are added to the glomerular filtrate. These substances include various charged particles called ions, including ammonium, hydrogen, and potassium ions.
Together, glomerular filtration, tubular reabsorption, and tubular secretion produce urine, which flows into collecting ducts, which guide it into the microtubules of the pyramids. The urine is then stored in the renal cavity and eventually drained into the ureters, which are long, narrow tubes leading to the bladder. From the roughly 180 liters (about 50 gallons) of blood that the kidneys filter each day, about 1.5 liters (1.3 qt) of urine are produced.

In addition to cleaning the blood, the kidneys perform several other essential functions. One such activity is regulation of the amount of water contained in the blood. This process is influenced by antidiuretic hormone (ADH), also called vasopressin, which is produced in the hypothalamus (a part of the brain that regulates many internal functions) and stored in the nearby pituitary gland. Receptors in the brain monitor the blood’s water concentration. When the amount of salt and other substances in the blood becomes too high, the pituitary gland releases ADH into the bloodstream. When it enters the kidney, ADH makes the walls of the renal tubules and collecting ducts more permeable to water, so that more water is reabsorbed into the bloodstream.
The hormone aldosterone, produced by the adrenal glands, interacts with the kidneys to regulate the blood’s sodium and potassium content. High amounts of aldosterone cause the nephrons to reabsorb more sodium ions, more water, and fewer potassium ions; low levels of aldosterone have the reverse effect. The kidney’s responses to aldosterone help keep the blood’s salt levels within the narrow range that is best for crucial physiological activities.
Aldosterone also helps regulate blood pressure. When blood pressure starts to fall, the kidney releases an enzyme (a specialized protein) called renin, which converts a blood protein into the hormone angiotensin. This hormone causes blood vessels to constrict, resulting in a rise in blood pressure. Angiotensin then induces the adrenal glands to release aldosterone, which promotes sodium and water to be reabsorbed, further increasing blood volume and blood pressure.
The kidney also adjusts the body's acid-base balance to prevent such blood disorders as acidosis and alkalosis, both of which impair the functioning of the central nervous system. If the blood is too acidic, meaning that there is an excess of hydrogen ions, the kidney moves these ions to the urine through the process of tubular secretion. An additional function of the kidney is the processing of vitamin D; the kidney converts this vitamin to an active form that stimulates bone development.
Several hormones are produced in the kidney. One of these, erythropoietin, influences the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow. When the kidney detects that the number of red blood cells in the body is declining, it secretes erythropoietin. This hormone travels in the bloodstream to the bone marrow, stimulating the production and release of more red cells.

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Urine, pale yellow fluid produced by the kidneys, composed of dissolved wastes and excess water or chemical substances from the body. It is produced when blood filters through the kidneys, which remove about 110 liters (230 pints) of watery fluid from the blood every day. Most of this fluid is reabsorbed into the blood, but the remainder is passed from the body as urine. Urine leaves the kidneys, passes to the bladder through two slender tubes, the ureters, and exits the body through the urethra. A healthy adult can produce between 0.5 to 2 liters (1 to 4 pints) of urine a day, but the quantity varies considerably, depending on fluid intake and loss of fluid from sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Water accounts for about 96 percent, by volume, of the urine excreted by a healthy person. Urine also contains small amounts of urea, chloride, sodium, potassium, ammonia, and calcium. Other substances, such as sugar, are sometimes excreted in the urine if their concentration in the body becomes too great. The volume, acidity, and salt concentration of urine are controlled by hormones. Measurements of the composition of urine are useful in the diagnosis of a wide variety of conditions, including kidney disease, diabetes, and pregnancy.
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Question No:5
Telephone, instrument that sends and receives voice messages and data. Telephones convert speech and data to electrical energy, which is sent great distances. All telephones are linked by complex switching systems called central offices or exchanges, which establish the pathway for information to travel. Telephones are used for casual conversations, to conduct business, and to summon help in an emergency (as in the 911 service in the United States). The telephone has other uses that do not involve one person talking to another, including paying bills (the caller uses the telephone to communicate with a bank’s distant computer) and retrieving messages from an answering machine. In 2003 there were 621 main telephone lines per 1,000 people in the United States and 629 main telephone lines per 1,000 people in Canada.
About half of the information passing through telephone lines occurs entirely between special-purpose telephones, such as computers with modems. A modem converts the digital bits of a computer’s output to an audio tone, which is then converted to an electrical signal and passed over telephone lines to be decoded by a modem attached to a computer at the receiving end. Another special-purpose telephone is a facsimile machine, or fax machine, which produces a duplicate of a document at a distant point.
A basic telephone set contains a transmitter that transfers the caller’s voice; a receiver that amplifies sound from an incoming call; a rotary or push-button dial; a ringer or alerter; and a small assembly of electrical parts, called the antisidetone network, that keeps the caller’s voice from sounding too loud through the receiver. If it is a two-piece telephone set, the transmitter and receiver are mounted in the handset, the ringer is typically in the base, and the dial may be in either the base or handset. The handset cord connects the base to the handset, and the line cord connects the telephone to the telephone line.
More sophisticated telephones may vary from this pattern. A speakerphone has a microphone and speaker in the base in addition to the transmitter and receiver in the handset. Speakerphones allow callers’ hands to be free, and allow more than two people to listen and speak during a call. In a cordless phone, the handset cord is replaced by a radio link between the handset and base, but a line cord is still used. This allows a caller to move about in a limited area while on the telephone. A cellular phone has extremely miniaturized components that make it possible to combine the base and handset into one handheld unit. No line or handset cords are needed with a cellular phone. A cellular phone permits more mobility than a cordless phone.
A Transmitter
There are two common kinds of telephone transmitters: the carbon transmitter and the electret transmitter. The carbon transmitter is constructed by placing carbon granules between metal plates called electrodes. One of the metal plates is a thin diaphragm that takes variations in pressure caused by sound waves and transmits these variations to the carbon granules. The electrodes conduct electricity that flows through the carbon. Variations in pressure caused by sound waves hitting the diaphragm cause the electrical resistance of the carbon to vary—when the grains are squeezed together, they conduct electricity more easily; and when they are far apart, they conduct electricity less efficiently. The resultant current varies with the sound-wave pressure applied to the transmitter.
The electret transmitter is composed of a thin disk of metal-coated plastic and a thicker, hollow metal disk. In the handset, the plastic disk is held slightly above most of the metal disk. The plastic disk is electrically charged, and an electric field is created in the space where the disks do not touch. Sound waves from the caller’s voice cause the plastic disk to vibrate, which changes the distance between the disks, and so changes the intensity of the electric field between them. The variations in the electric field are translated into variations of electric current, which travels across telephone lines. An amplifier using transistors is needed with an electret transmitter to obtain sufficiently strong variations of electric current.
B Receiver
The receiver of a telephone set is made from a flat ring of magnetic material with a short cuff of the same material attached to the ring’s outer rim. Underneath the magnetic ring and inside the magnetic cuff is a coil of wire through which electric current, representing the sounds from the distant telephone, flows. A thin diaphragm of magnetic material is suspended from the inside edges of the magnetic ring so it is positioned between the magnet and the coil. The magnetic field created by the magnet changes with the current in the coil and makes the diaphragm vibrate. The vibrating diaphragm creates sound waves that replicate the sounds that were transformed into electricity by the other person’s transmitter.
C Alerter
The alerter in a telephone is usually called the ringer, because for most of the telephone’s history, a bell was used to indicate a call. The alerter responds only to a special frequency of electricity that is sent by the exchange in response to the request for that telephone number. Creating an electronic replacement for the bell that can provide a pleasing yet attention-getting sound at a reasonable cost was a surprisingly difficult task. For many people, the sound of a bell is still preferable to the sound of an electronic alerter. However, since a mechanical bell requires a certain amount of space in the telephone to be effective, smaller telephones mandate the use of electronic alerters.
D Dial
The telephone dial has undergone major changes in its history. Two forms of dialing still exist within the telephone system: dial pulse from a rotary dial, and multifrequency tone, which is commonly called by its original trade name of Touch-Tone, from a push-button dial.
In a rotary dial, the numerals one to nine, followed by zero, are placed in a circle behind round holes in a movable plate. The user places a finger in the hole corresponding to the desired digit and rotates the movable plate clockwise until the user’s finger hits the finger stop; then the user removes the finger. A spring mechanism causes the plate to return to its starting position, and, while the plate is turning, the mechanism opens an electrical switch the number of times equal to the dial digit. Zero receives ten switch openings since it is the last digit on the dial. The result is a number of "dial pulses" in the electrical current flowing between the telephone set and the exchange. Equipment at the exchange counts these pulses to determine the number being called.
The rotary dial has been used since the 1920s. But mechanical dials are expensive to repair and the rotary-dialing process itself is slow, especially if a long string of digits is dialed. The development of inexpensive and reliable amplification provided by the introduction of the transistor in the 1960s made practical the design of a dialing system based on the transmission of relatively low power tones instead of the higher-power dial pulses.
Today most telephones have push buttons instead of a rotary dial. Touch-Tone is an optional service, and telephone companies still maintain the ability to receive pulse dialing. Push-button telephones usually have a switch on the base that the customer can set to determine whether the telephone will send pulses or tones.
E Business Telephones
A large business will usually have its own switching machine called a Private Branch Exchange (PBX), with hundreds or possibly thousands of lines, all of which can be reached by dialing one number. The extension telephones connected to the large business’s PBX are often identical to the simple single-line instruments used in residences. The telephones used by small businesses, which do not have their own PBX, must incorporate the capability of accessing several telephone lines and are called multiline sets. The small-business environment usually requires the capability of transferring calls from one set to another as well as intercom calls, which allow one employee to call another without using an outside telephone line.
F Cellular Telephones
A cellular telephone is designed to give the user maximum freedom of movement while using a telephone. A cellular telephone uses radio signals to communicate between the set and an antenna. The served area is divided into cells something like a honeycomb, and an antenna is placed within each cell and connected by telephone lines to one exchange devoted to cellular-telephone calls. This exchange connects cellular telephones to one another or transfers the call to a regular exchange if the call is between a cellular telephone and a noncellular telephone. The special cellular exchange, through computer control, selects the antenna closest to the telephone when service is requested. As the telephone roams, the exchange automatically determines when to change the serving cell based on the power of the radio signal received simultaneously at adjacent sites. This change occurs without interrupting conversation. Practical power considerations limit the distance between the telephone and the nearest cellular antenna, and since cellular phones use radio signals, it is very easy for unauthorized people to access communications carried out over cellular phones. Currently, digital cellular phones are gaining in popularity because the radio signals are harder to intercept and decode.
A telephone call starts when the caller lifts a handset off the base. This closes an electrical switch that initiates the flow of a steady electric current over the line between the user’s location and the exchange. The exchange detects the current and returns a dial tone, a precise combination of two notes that lets a caller know the line is ready.
Once the dial tone is heard, the caller uses a rotary or push-button dial mounted either on the handset or base to enter a sequence of digits, the telephone number of the called party. The switching equipment in the exchange removes the dial tone from the line after the first digit is received and, after receiving the last digit, determines whether the called party is in the same exchange or a different exchange. If the called party is in the same exchange, bursts of ringing current are applied to the called party’s line. Each telephone contains a ringer that responds to a specific electric frequency. When the called party answers the telephone by picking up the handset, steady current starts to flow in the called party’s line and is detected by the exchange. The exchange then stops applying ringing and sets up a connection between the caller and the called party.
If the called party is in a different exchange from the caller, the caller’s exchange sets up a connection over the telephone network to the called party’s exchange. The called exchange then handles the process of ringing, detecting an answer, and notifying the calling exchange and billing machinery when the call is completed (in telephone terminology, a call is completed when the called party answers, not when the conversation is over).
When the conversation is over, one or both parties hang up by replacing their handset on the base, stopping the flow of current. The exchange then initiates the process of taking down the connection, including notifying billing equipment of the duration of the call if appropriate. Billing equipment may or may not be involved because calls within the local calling area, which includes several nearby exchanges, may be either flat rate or message rate. In flat-rate service, the subscriber is allowed an unlimited number of calls for a fixed fee each month. For message-rate subscribers, each call involves a charge that depends on the distance between the calling and called parties and the duration of the call. A long-distance call is a call out of the local calling area and is always billed as a message-rate call.
A Switching
Telephone switching equipment interprets the number dialed and then completes a path through the network to the called subscriber. For long-distance calls with complicated paths through the network, several levels of switching equipment may be needed. The automatic exchange to which the subscriber’s telephone is connected is the lowest level of switching equipment and is called by various names, including local exchange, local office, central-office switch, or, simply, switch. Higher levels of switching equipment include tandem and toll switches, and are not needed when both caller and called subscribers are within the same local exchange.
Before automatic exchanges were invented, all calls were placed through manual exchanges in which a small light on a switchboard alerted an operator that a subscriber wanted service. The operator inserted an insulated electrical cable into a jack corresponding to the subscriber requesting service. This allowed the operator and the subscriber to converse. The caller told the operator the called party’s name, and the operator used another cord adjacent to the first to plug into the called party’s jack and then operated a key (another type of electrical switch) that connected ringing current to the called party’s telephone. The operator listened for the called party to answer, and then disconnected to ensure the privacy of the call.
Today there are no telephones served by manual exchanges in the United States. All telephone subscribers are served by automatic exchanges, which perform the functions of the human operator. The number being dialed is stored and then passed to the exchange’s central computer, which in turn operates the switch to complete the call or routes it to a higher-level switch for further processing.
Today’s automatic exchanges use a pair of computers, one running the program that provides service, and the second monitoring the operation of the first, ready to take over in a few seconds in the event of an equipment failure.
Early telephone exchanges, a grouping of 10,000 individual subscriber numbers, were originally given names corresponding to their town or location within a city, such as Murray Hill or Market. When the dialing area grew to cover more than one exchange, there was a need for the dial to transmit letters as well as numbers. This problem was solved by equating three letters to each digit on the dial except for the one and the zero. Each number from two to nine represented three letters, so there was room for only 24 letters. Q and Z were left off the dial because these letters rarely appear in place-names. In dialing, the first two letters of each exchange name were used ahead of the rest of the subscriber’s number, and all exchange names were standardized as two letters and a digit. Eventually the place-names were replaced with their equivalent digits, giving us our current U.S. and Canadian seven-digit telephone numbers. In other parts of the world, a number may consist of more or less than seven digits.
The greatly expanded information-processing capability of modern computers permits Direct Distance Dialing, with which a subscriber can automatically place a call to a distant city without needing the services of a human operator to determine the appropriate routing path through the network. Computers in the switching machines used for long-distance calls store the routing information in their electronic memory. A toll-switching machine may store several different possible routes for a call. As telephone traffic becomes heavier during the day, some routes may become unavailable. The toll switch will then select a less direct alternate route to permit the completion of the call.
B Transmission
Calling from New York City to Hong Kong involves using a path that transmits electrical energy halfway around the world. During the conversation, it is the task of the transmission system to deliver that energy so that the speech or data is transmitted clearly and free from noise. Since the telephone in New York City does not know whether it is connected to a telephone next door or to one in Hong Kong, the amount of energy put on the line is not different in either case. However, it requires much more energy to converse with Hong Kong than with next door because energy is lost in the transmission. The transmission path must provide amplification of the signal as well as transport.
Analog transmission, in which speech or data is converted directly into a varying electrical current, is suitable for local calls. But once the call involves any significant distance, the necessary amplification of the analog signal can add so much noise that the received signal becomes unintelligible. For long-distance calls, the signal is digitized, or converted to a series of pulses that encodes the information.
When an analog electrical signal is digitized, samples of the signal’s strength are taken at regular intervals, usually about 8,000 samples per second. Each sample is converted into a binary form, a number made up of a series of 1s and 0s. This number is easily and swiftly passed through the switching system. Digital transmission systems are much less subject to interfering noise than are analog systems. The digitized signal can then be passed through a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) at a point close to the receiving party, and converted to a form that the ear cannot distinguish from the original signal.
There are several ways a digital or analog signal may be transmitted, including coaxial and fiber-optic cables and microwave and longwave radio signals sent along the ground or bounced off satellites in orbit around the earth. A coaxial wire, like the wire between a videocassette recorder, or VCR (see Video Recording), and a television set, is an efficient transmission system. A coaxial wire has a conducting tube surrounding another conductor. A coaxial cable contains several coaxial wires in a common outer covering. The important benefit of a coaxial cable over a cable composed of simple wires is that the coaxial cable is more efficient at carrying very high frequency currents. This is important because in providing transmission over long distances, many telephone conversations are combined using frequency-modulation (FM) techniques similar to the combining of many channels in the television system. The combined signal containing hundreds of individual telephone conversations is sent over one pair of wires in a coaxial cable, so the signal has to be very clear.
Coaxial cable is expensive to install and maintain, especially when it is lying on the ocean floor. Two methods exist for controlling this expense. The first consists of increasing the capacity of the cable and so spreading the expense over more users. The installation of the first transatlantic submarine coaxial telephone cable in 1956 provided only about 30 channels, but the number of submarine cable channels across the ocean has grown to thousands with the addition of only a few more cables because of the greatly expanded capacity of each new coaxial cable.
Another telephone-transmission method uses fiber-optic cable, which is made of bundles of optical fibers (see Fiber Optics), long strands of specially made glass encased in a protective coating. Optical fibers transmit energy in the form of light pulses. The technology is similar to that of the coaxial cable, except that the optical fibers can handle tens of thousands of conversations simultaneously.
Another approach to long-distance transmission is the use of radio. Before coaxial cables were invented, very powerful longwave (low frequency) radio stations were used for intercontinental calls. Only a few calls could be in progress at one time, however, and such calls were very expensive. Microwave radio uses very high frequency radio waves and has the ability to handle a large number of simultaneous conversations over the same microwave link. Because cable does not have to be installed between microwave towers, this system is usually cheaper than coaxial cable. On land, the coaxial-cable systems are often supplemented with microwave-radio systems.
The technology of microwave radio is carried one step further by the use of communications satellites. Most communications satellites are in geosynchronous orbit—that is, they orbit the earth once a day over the equator, so the satellite is always above the same place on the earth’s surface. That way, only a single satellite is needed for continuous service between two points on the surface, provided both points can be seen from the satellite. Even considering the expense of a satellite, this method is cheaper to install and maintain per channel than using coaxial cables on the ocean floor. Consequently, satellite links are used regularly in long-distance calling. Since radio waves, while very fast, take time to travel from one point to another, satellite communication does have one serious shortcoming: Because of the satellite’s distance from the earth, there is a noticeable lag in conversational responses. As a result, many calls use a satellite for only one direction of transmission, such as from the caller to the receiver, and use a ground microwave or coaxial link for receiver-to-caller transmission.
A combination of microwave, coaxial-cable, optical-fiber, and satellite paths now link the major cities of the world. The capacity of each type of system depends on its age and the territory covered, but capacities generally fall into the following ranges: Frequency modulation over a simple pair of wires like the earliest telephone lines yields tens of circuits (a circuit can transmit one telephone conversation) per pair; coaxial cable yields hundreds of circuits per pair of conductors, and thousands per cable; microwave and satellite transmissions yield thousands of circuits per link; and optical fiber has the potential for tens of thousands of circuits per fiber.
In the United States and Canada, universal service was a stated goal of the telephone industry during the first half of the 20th century—every household was to have its own telephone. This goal has now been essentially reached, but before it became a reality, the only access many people had to the telephone was through pay (or public) telephones, usually placed in a neighborhood store. A pay telephone is a telephone that may have special hardware to count and safeguard coins or, more recently, to read the information off credit cards or calling cards. Additional equipment at the exchange responds to signals from the pay phone to indicate to the operator or automatic exchange how much money has been deposited or to which account the call will be charged. Today the pay phone still exists, but it usually serves as a convenience rather than as primary access to the telephone network.
Computer-controlled exchange switches make it possible to offer a variety of extra services to both the residential and the business customer. Some services to which users may subscribe at extra cost are call waiting, in which a second incoming call, instead of receiving a busy signal, hears normal ringing while the subscriber hears a beep superimposed on the conversation in progress; and three-way calling, in which a second outgoing call may be placed while one is already in progress so that three subscribers can then talk to each other. Some services available to users within exchanges with the most-modern transmission systems are: caller ID, in which the calling party’s number is displayed to the receiver (with the calling party’s permission—subscribers can elect to make their telephone number hidden from caller-ID services) on special equipment before the call is answered; and repeat dialing, in which a called number, if busy, will be automatically redialed for a certain amount of time.
For residential service, voice mail can either be purchased from the telephone company or can be obtained by purchasing an answering machine. An answering machine usually contains a regular telephone set along with the ability to detect incoming calls and to record and play back messages, with either an audiotape or a digital system. After a preset number of rings, the answering machine plays a prerecorded message inviting the caller to leave a message to be recorded.
Toll-free 800 numbers are a very popular service. Calls made to a telephone number that has an 800 area code are billed to the called party rather than to the caller. This is very useful to any business that uses mail-order sales, because it encourages potential customers to call to place orders. A less expensive form of 800-number service is now available for residential subscribers.
In calling telephone numbers with area codes of 900, the caller is billed an extra charge, often on a per-minute basis. The use of these numbers has ranged from collecting contributions for charitable organizations, to businesses that provide information for which the caller must pay.
While the United States and Canada are the most advanced countries in the world in telephone-service technologies, most other industrialized nations are not far behind. An organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, called the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), works to standardize telephone service throughout the world. Without its coordinating activities, International Direct Distance Dialing (a service that provides the ability to place international calls without the assistance of an operator) would have been extremely difficult to implement. Among its other services, the ITU creates an environment in which a special service introduced in one country can be quickly duplicated elsewhere.
The history of the invention of the telephone is a stormy one. A number of inventors contributed to carrying a voice signal over wires. In 1854 the French inventor Charles Bourseul suggested that vibrations caused by speaking into a flexible disc or diaphragm might be used to connect and disconnect an electric circuit, thereby producing similar vibrations in a diaphragm at another location, where the original sound would be reproduced. A few years later, the German physicist Johann Philip Reis invented an instrument that transmitted musical tones, but it could not reproduce speech. An acoustic communication device that could transmit speech was developed around 1860 by an Italian American inventor, Antonio Meucci. The first to achieve commercial success and inaugurate widespread use of the telephone, however, was a Scottish-born American inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, a speech teacher in Boston, Massachusetts.
Bell had built an experimental telegraph, which began to function strangely one day because a part had come loose. The accident gave Bell insight into how voices could be reproduced at a distance, and he constructed a transmitter and a receiver, for which he received a patent on March 7, 1876. On March 10, 1876, as he and his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, were preparing to test the mechanism, Bell spilled some acid on himself. In another room, Watson, next to the receiver, heard clearly the first telephone message: “Mr. Watson, come here; I want you.”
A few hours after Bell had patented his invention, another American inventor, Elisha Gray, filed a document called a caveat with the U.S. Patent Office, announcing that he was well on his way to inventing a telephone. Other inventors, including Meucci and Amos E. Dolbear, also made claim to having invented the telephone. Lawsuits were filed by various individuals, and Bell’s claim to being the inventor of the first telephone had to be defended in court some 600 times. Gray’s case was decided in Bell’s favor. Meucci’s case was never resolved because Meucci died before it reached the Supreme Court of the United States.
A Advances in Technology
After the invention of the telephone instrument itself, the second greatest technological advance in the industry may have been the invention of automatic switching. The first automatic exchanges were called Strowger switches, after Almon Brown Strowger, an undertaker in Kansas City, Missouri, who invented the system because he thought his town’s human operators were steering prospective business to his competitors. Strowger received a patent for the switches in 1891.
Long-distance telephony was established in small steps. The first step was the introduction of the long-distance telephone, originally a special highly efficient instrument permanently installed in a telephone company building and used for calling between cities. The invention at the end of the 19th century of the loading coil (a coil of copper wire wound on an iron core and connected to the cable every mile or so) increased the speaking range to approximately 1,000 miles. Until the 1910s the long-distance service used repeaters, electromechanical devices spaced along the route of the call that amplified and repeated conversations into another long-distance instrument. The obvious shortcomings of this arrangement were overcome with the invention of the triode vacuum tube, which amplified electrical signals. In 1915 vacuum-tube repeaters were used to initiate service from New York City to San Francisco, California.
The vacuum tube also made possible the development of longwave radio circuits that could span oceans. Sound quality on early radio circuits was poor, and transmission subject to unpredictable interruption. In the 1950s the technology of the coaxial-cable system was combined with high-reliability vacuum-tube circuits in an undersea cable linking North America and Europe, greatly improving transmission quality. Unlike the first transatlantic telegraph cable placed in service in 1857, which failed after two months, the first telephone cable (laid in 1956) served many years before becoming obsolete. The application of digital techniques to transmission, along with undersea cable and satellites, finally made it possible to link points halfway around the earth with a circuit that had speech quality almost as good as that between next-door neighbors.
Improved automatic-switching systems followed the gradual improvement in transmission technology. Until Direct Distance Dialing became available, all long-distance calls still required the assistance of an operator to complete. By adding a three-digit area code in front of the subscriber’s old number and developing more sophisticated common-control-switching machines, it became possible for subscribers to complete their own long-distance calls. Today customer-controlled international dialing is available between many countries.
B Evolution of the Telephone Industry
In the late 1800s, the Bell Telephone Company (established in 1877 by Alexander Graham Bell and financial backers Gardiner Greene Hubbard, a lawyer, and Thomas Sanders, a leather merchant) strongly defended its patents in order to exclude others from the telephone business. After these patents expired in 1893 and 1894, independent telephone companies were started in many cities and most small towns. A period of consolidation followed in the early 1900s, and eventually about 80 percent of the customers in the United States and many of those in Canada were served by the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T), which had bought the Bell Telephone Company in 1900. AT&T sold off its Canadian interests in 1908.
From 1885 to 1887 and from 1907 to 1919 AT&T was headed by Theodore Vail, whose vision shaped the industry for most of the 20th century. At that time, AT&T included 22 regional operating companies, each providing telephone service to an area comprising a large city, state, or group of states. In addition to owning virtually all of the long-distance circuits in use in the United States, AT&T owned the Western Electric Company, which manufactured most of the equipment. Such a corporate combination is called a vertically integrated monopoly because it dominates all facets of a business.
Both the long-distance part of AT&T and the operating companies were considered to be “natural monopolies,” and by law were decreed to be the sole provider of telephone service within a designated area. More than 5,000 independent companies remained, but each independent was also a monopoly with an exclusive service region. This arrangement reduced the costs associated with more than one company stringing wires in an area, and eliminated the early problems that had arisen when customers of one company serving a region wished to call customers of another company serving the same area. In exchange for the absence of competition, the companies were regulated by various levels of government, which told them what services they must provide and what prices they could charge.
During this time, telephone sets were never sold to the customer—they were leased as part of an overall service package that included the telephone, the connecting lines to the exchange, and the capability of calling other customers. In this way, the telephone company was responsible for any problems, whether they arose from equipment failures, damage to exposed wires, or even the conduct of operators on their job. If a telephone set broke, it was fixed or replaced at no charge.
Since stringing wires between exchanges and users was a major part of the cost of providing telephone service, especially in rural environments, early residential subscribers often shared the same line. These were called party lines—as opposed to private, or single-party, lines. When one subscriber on a party line was making a telephone call, the other parties on the line could not use the line. Unfortunately, they could listen to the conversation, thereby compromising its privacy. Such arrangements also meant that, unless special equipment was used, all the telephones on the line would ring whenever there was a call for any of the parties. Each party had a distinct combination of short and long rings to indicate whether the call was for that house or another party.
Business telephones were usually private lines. A business could not afford to have its service blocked by another user. This meant that business service was more expensive than residential service. Businesses continued to be charged more for their private lines than were subscribers with private lines in homes. This subsidization of telephones in homes permeated the government-regulated rate structure of the telephone industry until about 1980. Long-distance service was priced artificially high, and the consequent extra revenues to the telephone company were used to keep the price of residential service artificially low.
While most consumers were happy with the control of all equipment by the telephone companies, some were not. Also, because of strong vertical integration within AT&T, the purchase of equipment from independent manufacturers was tightly controlled. AT&T initially refused to allow the independently manufactured Carterphone, a device that linked two-way-radio equipment to a telephone, to be connected to its network. After protracted lawsuits, AT&T agreed in 1968 to allow the connection of independently manufactured telephones to its network, provided they met legal standards set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). While the AT&T agreement did not directly involve the other telephone companies in the country, over time the entire industry followed AT&T’s lead.
In 1974 MCI Communications Corporation challenged AT&T about its right to maintain a monopoly over long-distance service. Antitrust proceedings were brought, and eventually settled in 1982 in a consent decree that brought about the breakup of AT&T. In a consent decree, the federal government agrees to stop proceedings against a company in return for restrictions on or changes in the company.
The antitrust proceedings were dropped when AT&T agreed to sell off its local operating companies, retaining the long-distance network and manufacturing companies. The former AT&T operating companies were regrouped into seven Regional Holding Companies (RHCs), which were initially restricted from engaging in any business other than telephone service within their assigned service area. The RHCs promptly began sidestepping these restrictions by setting up subsidiaries to operate in the unregulated environment and seeking legislation to further remove restrictions. At the same time, alternate long-distance carriers, such as MCI and Sprint, sought legislation to keep AT&T under as much regulation as possible while freeing themselves from any regulation.
C The Telephone Industry Today
In 1996 the U.S. government enacted the Telecommunications Reform Act, which removed government rules preventing local and long-distance phone companies, cable television operators, broadcasters, and wireless services from directly competing with one another. The act spurred consolidation in the industry, as regional companies joined forces to create telecommunications giants that provided telephone, wireless, cable, and Internet services.
In other countries, until the 1990s, most of the telephone companies were owned by each nation’s central government and operated as part of the post office, an arrangement that inevitably led to tight control. Many countries are now privatizing telephone service. In order to escape government regulation at home, U.S. companies are investing heavily in the phone systems of other countries. For example, in 1995 AT&T announced it would attempt to gain a share of the market for telephone services in India. In a reverse trend, European companies are investing in U.S. long-distance carriers.
Other major markets for telephone companies are opening up around the globe as the developing world becomes more technologically advanced. Nonindustrial countries are now trying to leapfrog their development by encouraging private companies to install only the latest technology. In remote places in India and Africa, the use of solar cells is now making it possible to introduce telephones in areas still without electricity.
The introduction of radio into the telephone set has been the most important recent development in telephone technology, permitting first the cordless phone and now the cellular phone. In addition to regular telephone service, modern cellular phones also provide wireless Internet connections, enabling users to send and receive electronic mail and search the World Wide Web.
Answering machines and phones with dials that remember several stored numbers (repertory dials) have been available for decades, but because of their expense and unreliability were never as popular as they are today. Multifunctional telephones that use microprocessors and integrated circuits have overcome both these barriers to make repertory dials a standard feature in most phones sold today. Many multifunctional telephones also include automatic answering and message-recording capability.
Videophones are devices that use a miniature video camera to send images as well as voice communication. Videophones can be connected to regular telephone lines or their messages can be sent via wireless technology. Since the transmission of a picture requires much more bandwidth (a measure of the amount of data a system can transmit per period of time) than the transmission of voice, the high cost of transmission facilities has limited the use of videophone service. This problem is being overcome by technologies that compress the video information, and by the steadily declining cost of transmission and video-terminal equipment. Video service is now used to hold business “teleconferences” between groups in distant cities using high-capacity transmission paths with wide bandwidth. Videophones suitable for conversations between individuals over the normal network are commercially available, but because they provide a picture inferior to that of a television set, have not proven very popular. Television news organizations adopted the use of videophones to cover breaking news stories in remote areas. Their use escalated in 2001 during the U.S. war against terrorists and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Telecommunications companies are rapidly expanding their use of digital technology, such as Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) or Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN), to allow users to get more information faster over the telephone. Telecommunications companies are also investing heavily in fiber optic cable to meet the ever-increasing demand for increased bandwidth.
As bandwidth continues to improve, an instrument that functions as a telephone, computer, and television becomes more commercially viable. Such a device is now available, but its cost will likely limit its widespread use in the early part of the 21st century.

Contributed By:
Richard M. Rickert
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Latitude and Longitude
Latitude and Longitude
Latitude and Longitude, system of geometrical coordinates used in designating the location of places on the surface of the earth. (For the use of these terms in astronomy, see Coordinate System; Ecliptic.) Latitude, which gives the location of a place north or south of the equator, is expressed by angular measurements ranging from 0° at the equator to 90° at the poles. Longitude, the location of a place east or west of a north-south line called the prime meridian, is measured in angles ranging from 0° at the prime meridian to 180° at the International Date Line.
Midway between the poles, the equator, a great circle, divides the earth into northern and southern hemispheres. Parallel to the equator and north and south of it are a succession of imaginary circles that become smaller and smaller the closer they are to the poles. This series of east-west-running circles, known as the parallels of latitude, is crossed at right angles by a series of half-circles extending north and south from one pole to the other, called the meridians of longitude.
Although the equator was an obvious choice as the prime parallel, being the largest, no one meridian was uniquely qualified as prime. Until a single prime meridian could be agreed upon, each nation was free to choose its own, with the result that many 19th-century maps of the world lacked a standardized grid. The problem was resolved in 1884, when an international prime meridian, passing through London's Greenwich Observatory, was officially designated. A metallic marker there indicates its exact location.
Degrees of latitude are equally spaced, but the slight flattening at the poles causes the length of a degree of latitude to vary from 110.57 km (68.70 mi) at the equator to 111.70 km (69.41 mi) at the poles. At the equator, meridians of longitude 1 degree apart are separated by a distance of 111.32 km (69.17 mi); at the poles, meridians converge. Each degree of latitude and longitude is divided into 60 minutes, and each minute divided into 60 seconds, thereby allowing the assignment of a precise numerical location to any place on earth.

Contributed By:
Geoffrey J. Martin
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

(a)Cardiac Muscles and Skeletal Muscles
Skeletal Muscle
Skeletal muscle enables the voluntary movement of bones. Skeletal muscle consists of densely packed groups of elongated cells known as muscle fibers.
This type of muscle is composed of long fibers surrounded by a membranous sheath, the sarcolemma. The fibers are elongated, sausage-shaped cells containing many nuclei and clearly display longitudinal and cross striations. Skeletal muscle is supplied with nerves from the central nervous system, and because it is partly under conscious control, it is also called voluntary muscle. Most skeletal muscle is attached to portions of the skeleton by connective-tissue attachments called tendons. Contractions of skeletal muscle serve to move the various bones and cartilages of the skeleton. Skeletal muscle forms most of the underlying flesh of vertebrates.
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Cardiac Muscle
Cardiac muscle, found only in the heart, drives blood through the circulatory system. Cardiac muscle cells connect to each other by specialized junctions called intercalated disks. Without a constant supply of oxygen, cardiac muscle will die, and heart attacks occur from the damage caused by insufficient blood supply to cardiac muscle.
This muscle tissue composes most of the vertebrate heart. The cells, which show both longitudinal and imperfect cross striations, differ from skeletal muscle primarily in having centrally placed nuclei and in the branching and interconnecting of fibers. Cardiac muscle is not under voluntary control. It is supplied with nerves from the autonomic nervous system, but autonomic impulses merely speed or slow its action and are not responsible for the continuous rhythmic contraction characteristic of living cardiac muscle. The mechanism of cardiac contraction is not yet understood.
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
(b)Haze and Smog
haze 1

haze [hayz]
noun (plural haz•es)
1. particles in atmosphere: mist, cloud, or smoke suspended in the atmosphere and obscuring or obstructing the view
2. vague obscuring factor: something that is vague and serves to obscure something
3. disoriented mental or physical state: a mental or physical state or condition when feelings and perceptions are vague, disorienting, or obscured
intransitive verb (past and past participle hazed, present participle haz•ing, 3rd person present singular haz•es)
become filled with particles: to become saturated with suspended particles
• As the temperatures rose, the sky began to haze over.
[Early 18th century. Probably back-formation < hazy ]
Microsoft® Encarta® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Smog, mixture of solid and liquid fog and smoke particles formed when humidity is high and the air so calm that smoke and fumes accumulate near their source. Smog reduces natural visibility and often irritates the eyes and respiratory tract. In dense urban areas, the death rate usually goes up considerably during prolonged periods of smog, particularly when a process of heat inversion creates a smog-trapping ceiling over a city. Smog occurs most often in and near coastal cities and is an especially severe problem in Los Angeles and Tokyo.
Smog prevention requires control of smoke from furnaces; reduction of fumes from metal-working and other industrial plants; and control of noxious emissions from automobiles, trucks, and incinerators. In the U.S. internal-combustion engines are regarded as the largest contributors to the smog problem, emitting large amounts of contaminants, including unburned hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen. The number of undesirable components in smog, however, is considerable, and the proportions highly variable. They include ozone, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen cyanide, and hydrocarbons and their products formed by partial oxidation. Fuel obtained from fractionation of coal and petroleum produces sulfur dioxide, which is oxidized by atmospheric oxygen, forming sulfur trioxide (SO3). Sulfur trioxide is in turn hydrated by the water vapor in the atmosphere to form sulfuric acid (H2SO4).
The so-called photochemical smog, which irritates sensitive membranes and damages plants, is formed when nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere undergo reactions with the hydrocarbons energized by ultraviolet and other radiations from the sun. See Air Pollution.
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
(c) Enzyme and Harmone
Enzyme, any one of many specialized organic substances, composed of polymers of amino acids, that act as catalysts to regulate the speed of the many chemical reactions involved in the metabolism of living organisms, such as digestion. The name enzyme was suggested in 1867 by the German physiologist Wilhelm Kühne (1837-1900); it is derived from the Greek phrase en zymē, meaning “in leaven.” Those enzymes identified now number more than 700.
Enzymes are classified into several broad categories, such as hydrolytic, oxidizing, and reducing, depending on the type of reaction they control. Hydrolytic enzymes accelerate reactions in which a substance is broken down into simpler compounds through reaction with water molecules. Oxidizing enzymes, known as oxidases, accelerate oxidation reactions; reducing enzymes speed up reduction reactions, in which oxygen is removed. Many other enzymes catalyze other types of reactions.
Individual enzymes are named by adding ase to the name of the substrate with which they react. The enzyme that controls urea decomposition is called urease; those that control protein hydrolyses are known as proteinases. Some enzymes, such as the proteinases trypsin and pepsin, retain the names used before this nomenclature was adopted.
As the Swedish chemist Jöns Jakob Berzelius suggested in 1823, enzymes are typical catalysts: they are capable of increasing the rate of reaction without being consumed in the process. See Catalysis.
Some enzymes, such as pepsin and trypsin, which bring about the digestion of meat, control many different reactions, whereas others, such as urease, are extremely specific and may accelerate only one reaction. Still others release energy to make the heart beat and the lungs expand and contract. Many facilitate the conversion of sugar and foods into the various substances the body requires for tissue-building, the replacement of blood cells, and the release of chemical energy to move muscles.
Pepsin, trypsin, and some other enzymes possess, in addition, the peculiar property known as autocatalysis, which permits them to cause their own formation from an inert precursor called zymogen. As a consequence, these enzymes may be reproduced in a test tube.
As a class, enzymes are extraordinarily efficient. Minute quantities of an enzyme can accomplish at low temperatures what would require violent reagents and high temperatures by ordinary chemical means. About 30 g (about 1 oz) of pure crystalline pepsin, for example, would be capable of digesting nearly 2 metric tons of egg white in a few hours.
The kinetics of enzyme reactions differ somewhat from those of simple inorganic reactions. Each enzyme is selectively specific for the substance in which it causes a reaction and is most effective at a temperature peculiar to it. Although an increase in temperature may accelerate a reaction, enzymes are unstable when heated. The catalytic activity of an enzyme is determined primarily by the enzyme's amino-acid sequence and by the tertiary structure—that is, the three-dimensional folded structure—of the macromolecule. Many enzymes require the presence of another ion or a molecule, called a cofactor, in order to function.
As a rule, enzymes do not attack living cells. As soon as a cell dies, however, it is rapidly digested by enzymes that break down protein. The resistance of the living cell is due to the enzyme's inability to pass through the membrane of the cell as long as the cell lives. When the cell dies, its membrane becomes permeable, and the enzyme can then enter the cell and destroy the protein within it. Some cells also contain enzyme inhibitors, known as antienzymes, which prevent the action of an enzyme upon a substrate.
Alcoholic fermentation and other important industrial processes depend on the action of enzymes that are synthesized by the yeasts and bacteria used in the production process. A number of enzymes are used for medical purposes. Some have been useful in treating areas of local inflammation; trypsin is employed in removing foreign matter and dead tissue from wounds and burns.
Alcoholic fermentation is undoubtedly the oldest known enzyme reaction. This and similar phenomena were believed to be spontaneous reactions until 1857, when the French chemist Louis Pasteur proved that fermentation occurs only in the presence of living cells (see Spontaneous Generation). Subsequently, however, the German chemist Eduard Buchner discovered (1897) that a cell-free extract of yeast can cause alcoholic fermentation. The ancient puzzle was then solved; the yeast cell produces the enzyme, and the enzyme brings about the fermentation. As early as 1783 the Italian biologist Lazzaro Spallanzani had observed that meat could be digested by gastric juices extracted from hawks. This experiment was probably the first in which a vital reaction was performed outside the living organism.
After Buchner's discovery scientists assumed that fermentations and vital reactions in general were caused by enzymes. Nevertheless, all attempts to isolate and identify their chemical nature were unsuccessful. In 1926, however, the American biochemist James B. Sumner succeeded in isolating and crystallizing urease. Four years later pepsin and trypsin were isolated and crystallized by the American biochemist John H. Northrop. Enzymes were found to be proteins, and Northrop proved that the protein was actually the enzyme and not simply a carrier for another compound.
Research in enzyme chemistry in recent years has shed new light on some of the most basic functions of life. Ribonuclease, a simple three-dimensional enzyme discovered in 1938 by the American bacteriologist René Dubos and isolated in 1946 by the American chemist Moses Kunitz, was synthesized by American researchers in 1969. The synthesis involves hooking together 124 molecules in a very specific sequence to form the macromolecule. Such syntheses led to the probability of identifying those areas of the molecule that carry out its chemical functions, and opened up the possibility of creating specialized enzymes with properties not possessed by the natural substances. This potential has been greatly expanded in recent years by genetic engineering techniques that have made it possible to produce some enzymes in great quantity (see Biochemistry).
The medical uses of enzymes are illustrated by research into L-asparaginase, which is thought to be a potent weapon for treatment of leukemia; into dextrinases, which may prevent tooth decay; and into the malfunctions of enzymes that may be linked to such diseases as phenylketonuria, diabetes, and anemia and other blood disorders.

Contributed By:
John H. Northrop
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Hormone, chemical that transfers information and instructions between cells in animals and plants. Often described as the body’s chemical messengers, hormones regulate growth and development, control the function of various tissues, support reproductive functions, and regulate metabolism (the process used to break down food to create energy). Unlike information sent by the nervous system, which is transmitted via electronic impulses that travel quickly and have an almost immediate and short-term effect, hormones act more slowly, and their effects typically are maintained over a longer period of time.
Hormones were first identified in 1902 by British physiologists William Bayliss and Ernest Starling. These researchers showed that a substance taken from the lining of the intestine could be injected into a dog to stimulate the pancreas to secrete fluid. They called the substance secretin and coined the term hormone from the Greek word hormo, which means to set in motion. Today more than 100 hormones have been identified.
Hormones are made by specialized glands or tissues that manufacture and secrete these chemicals as the body needs them. The majority of hormones are produced by the glands of the endocrine system, such as the pituitary, thyroid, adrenal glands, and the ovaries or testes. These endocrine glands produce and secrete hormones directly into the bloodstream. However, not all hormones are produced by endocrine glands. The mucous membranes of the small intestine secrete hormones that stimulate secretion of digestive juices from the pancreas. Other hormones are produced in the placenta, an organ formed during pregnancy, to regulate some aspects of fetal development.
Hormones are classified into two basic types based on their chemical makeup. The majority of hormones are peptides, or amino acid derivatives that include the hormones produced by the anterior pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, placenta, and pancreas. Peptide hormones are typically produced as larger proteins. When they are called into action, these peptides are broken down into biologically active hormones and secreted into the blood to be circulated throughout the body. The second type of hormones are steroid hormones, which include those hormones secreted by the adrenal glands and ovaries or testes. Steroid hormones are synthesized from cholesterol (a fatty substance produced by the body) and modified by a series of chemical reactions to form a hormone ready for immediate action.
Most hormones are released directly into the bloodstream, where they circulate throughout the body in very low concentrations. Some hormones travel intact in the bloodstream. Others require a carrier substance, such as a protein molecule, to keep them dissolved in the blood. These carriers also serve as a hormone reservoir, keeping hormone concentrations constant and protecting the bound hormone from chemical breakdown over time.
Hormones travel in the bloodstream until they reach their target tissue, where they activate a series of chemical changes. To achieve its intended result, a hormone must be recognized by a specialized protein in the cells of the target tissue called a receptor. Typically, hormones that are water-soluble use a receptor located on the cell membrane surface of the target tissues. A series of special molecules within the cell, known as second messengers, transport the hormone’s information into the cell. Fat-soluble hormones, such as steroid hormones, pass through the cell membrane and bind to receptors found in the cytoplasm. When a receptor and a hormone bind together, both the receptor and hormone molecules undergo structural changes that activate mechanisms within the cell. These mechanisms produce the special effects induced by the hormone.
Receptors on the cell membrane surface are in constant turnover. New receptors are produced by the cell and inserted into the cell wall, and receptors that have reacted with hormones are broken down or recycled. The cell can respond, if necessary, to irregular hormone concentrations in the blood by decreasing or increasing the number of receptors on its surface. If the concentration of a hormone in the blood increases, the number of receptors in the cell wall may go down to maintain the same level of hormonal interaction in the cell. This is known as downregulation. If concentrations of hormones in the blood decrease, upregulation increases the number of receptors in the cell wall.
Some hormones are delivered directly to the target tissues instead of circulating throughout the entire bloodstream. For example, hormones from the hypothalamus, a portion of the brain that controls the endocrine system, are delivered directly to the adjacent pituitary gland, where their concentrations are several hundred times higher than in the circulatory system.
Hormonal effects are complex, but their functions can be divided into three broad categories. Some hormones change the permeability of the cell membrane. Other hormones can alter enzyme activity, and some hormones stimulate the release of other hormones.
Recent studies have shown that the more lasting effects of hormones ultimately result in the activation of specific genes. For example, when a steroid hormone enters a cell, it binds to a receptor in the cell’s cytoplasm. The receptor becomes activated and enters the cell’s nucleus, where it binds to specific sites in the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the long molecules that contain individual genes. This activates some genes and inactivates others, altering the cell’s activity. Hormones have also been shown to regulate ribonucleic acids (RNA) in protein synthesiss.
A single hormone may affect one tissue in a different way than it affects another tissue, because tissue cells are programmed to respond differently to the same hormone. A single hormone may also have different effects on the same tissue at different times in life. To add to this complexity, some hormone-induced effects require the action of more than one hormone. This complex control system provides safety controls so that if one hormone is deficient, others will compensate.
Hormones exist in mammals, including humans, as well as in invertebrates and plants. The hormones of humans, mammals, and other vertebrates are nearly identical in chemical structure and function in the body. They are generally characterized by their effect on specific tissues.
A Human Hormones
Human hormones significantly affect the activity of every cell in the body. They influence mental acuity, physical agility, and body build and stature. Growth hormone is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland. It regulates growth by stimulating the formation of bone and the uptake of amino acids, molecules vital to building muscle and other tissue.
Sex hormones regulate the development of sexual organs, sexual behavior, reproduction, and pregnancy. For example, gonadotropins, also secreted by the pituitary gland, are sex hormones that stimulate egg and sperm production. The gonadotropin that stimulates production of sperm in men and formation of ovary follicles in women is called a follicle-stimulating hormone. When a follicle-stimulating hormone binds to an ovary cell, it stimulates the enzymes needed for the synthesis of estradiol, a female sex hormone. Another gonadotropin called luteinizing hormone regulates the production of eggs in women and the production of the male sex hormone testosterone. Produced in the male gonads, or testes, testosterone regulates changes to the male body during puberty, influences sexual behavior, and plays a role in growth. The female sex hormones, called estrogens, regulate female sexual development and behavior as well as some aspects of pregnancy. Progesterone, a female hormone secreted in the ovaries, regulates menstruation and stimulates lactation in humans and other mammals.
Other hormones regulate metabolism. For example, thyroxine, a hormone secreted by the thyroid gland, regulates rates of body metabolism. Glucagon and insulin, secreted in the pancreas, control levels of glucose in the blood and the availability of energy for the muscles. A number of hormones, including insulin, glucagon, cortisol, growth hormone, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, maintain glucose levels in the blood. While insulin lowers the blood glucose, all the other hormones raise it. In addition, several other hormones participate indirectly in the regulation. A protein called somatostatin blocks the release of insulin, glucagon, and growth hormone, while another hormone, gastric inhibitory polypeptide, enhances insulin release in response to glucose absorption. This complex system permits blood glucose concentration to remain within a very narrow range, despite external conditions that may vary to extremes.
Hormones also regulate blood pressure and other involuntary body functions. Epinephrine, also called adrenaline, is a hormone secreted in the adrenal gland. During periods of stress, epinephrine prepares the body for physical exertion by increasing the heart rate, raising the blood pressure, and releasing sugar stored in the liver for quick energy.
Hormones are sometimes used to treat medical problems, particularly diseases of the endocrine system. In people with diabetes mellitus type 1, for example, the pancreas secretes little or no insulin. Regular injections of insulin help maintain normal blood glucose levels. Sometimes, an illness or injury not directly related to the endocrine system can be helped by a dose of a particular hormone. Steroid hormones are often used as anti-inflammatory agents to treat the symptoms of various diseases, including cancer, asthma, or rheumatoid arthritis. Oral contraceptives, or birth control pills, use small, regular doses of female sex hormones to prevent pregnancy.
Initially, hormones used in medicine were collected from extracts of glands taken from humans or animals. For example, pituitary growth hormone was collected from the pituitary glands of dead human bodies, or cadavers, and insulin was extracted from cattle and hogs. As technology advanced, insulin molecules collected from animals were altered to produce the human form of insulin.
With improvements in biochemical technology, many hormones are now made in laboratories from basic chemical compounds. This eliminates the risk of transferring contaminating agents sometimes found in the human and animal sources. Advances in genetic engineering even enable scientists to introduce a gene of a specific protein hormone into a living cell, such as a bacterium, which causes the cell to secrete excess amounts of a desired hormone. This technique, known as recombinant DNA technology, has vastly improved the availability of hormones.
Recombinant DNA has been especially useful in producing growth hormone, once only available in limited supply from the pituitary glands of human cadavers. Treatments using the hormone were far from ideal because the cadaver hormone was often in short supply. Moveover, some of the pituitary glands used to make growth hormone were contaminated with particles called prions, which could cause diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal brain disorder. The advent of recombinant technology made growth hormone widely available for safe and effective therapy.
B Invertebrate Hormones
In invertebrates, hormones regulate metamorphosis (the process in which many insects, crustaceans, and mollusks transform from eggs, to larva, to pupa, and finally to mature adults). A hormone called ecdysone triggers the insect molting process, in which these animals periodically shed their outer covering, or exoskeletons, and grow new ones. The molting process is delayed by juvenile hormone, which inhibits secretion of ecdysone. As an insect larva grows, secretion of juvenile hormone declines steadily until its concentrations are too low to prevent the secretion of ecdysone. When this happens, ecdysone concentrations increase until they are high enough to trigger the metamorphic molt.
In insects that migrate long distances, such as the locust, a hormone called octopamine increases the efficiency of glucose utilization by the muscles, while adipokinetic hormone increases the burning of fat as an energy source. In these insects, octopamine levels build up in the first five minutes of flight and then level off as adipokinetic hormone takes over, triggering the metabolism of fat reserves during long distance flights.
Hormones also trigger color changes in invertebrates. Squids, octopuses, and other mollusks, for example, have hormonally controlled pigment cells that enable the animals to change color to blend in with their surroundings.
C Plant Hormones
Hormones in plants are called phytohormones. They regulate most of the life cycle events in plants, such as germination, cell division and extension, flowering, fruit ripening, seed and bud dormancy, and death (see Plant: Growth and Differentiation). Plant biologists believe that hormones exert their effects via specific receptor sites in target cells, similar to the mechanism found in animals. Five plant hormones have long been identified: auxin, cytokinin, gibberellin, abscisic acid, and ethylene. Recent discoveries of other plant hormones include brassinosteroids, salicylates, and jasmonates.
Auxins are primarily responsible for protein synthesis and promote the growth of the plant's length. The most common auxin, indoleacetic acid (IAA), is usually formed near the growing top shoots and flows downward, causing newly formed leaves to grow longer. Auxins stimulate growth toward light and root growth.
Gibberellins, which form in the seeds, young leaves, and roots, are also responsible for protein synthesis, especially in the main stem of the plant. Unlike auxins, gibberellins move upward from the roots. Cytokinins form in the roots and move up to the leaves and fruit to maintain growth, cell differentiation, and cell division. Among the growth inhibitors is abscisic acid, which promotes abscission, or leaf fall; dormancy in buds; and the formation of bulbs or tubers, possibly by preventing the synthesis of protein. Ethylene, another inhibitor, also causes abscission, perhaps by its destructive effect on auxins, and it also stimulates the ripening of fruit.
Brassinosteroids act with auxins to encourage leaf elongation and inhibit root growth. Brassinosteroids also protect plants from some insects because they work against some of the hormones that regulate insect molting. Salicylates stimulate flowering and cause disease resistance in some plants. Jasmonates regulate growth, germination, and flower bud formation. They also stimulate the formation of proteins that protect the plant against environmental stresses, such as temperature changes or droughts.
Hormones are used for a variety of commercial purposes. In the livestock industry, for example, growth hormones increase the amount of lean (non-fatty) meat in both cattle and hogs to produce bigger, less fatty animals. The cattle hormone bovine somatotropin increases milk production in dairy cows. Hormones are also used in animal husbandry to increase the success rates of artificial insemination and speed maturation of eggs.
In plants, auxins are used as herbicides, to induce fruit development without pollination, and to induce root formation in cuttings. Cytokinins are used to maintain the greenness of plant parts, such as cut flowers. Gibberellins are used to increase fruit size, increase cluster size in grapes, delay ripening of citrus fruits, speed up flowering of strawberries, and stimulate starch break down in barley used in beer making.
In addition, ethylene is used to control fruit ripening, which allows hard fruit to be transported without much bruising. The fruit is allowed to ripen after it is delivered to market. Genetic engineering also has produced fruits unable to form ethylene naturally. These fruits will ripen only if exposed to ethylene, allowing for extended shipping and storage of produce.

Contributed By:
Gad B. Kletter
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Sedimentary Rock
Sedimentary Rock, in geology, rock composed of geologically reworked materials, formed by the accumulation and consolidation of mineral and particulate matter deposited by the action of water or, less frequently, wind or glacial ice. Most sedimentary rocks are characterized by parallel or discordant bedding that reflects variations in either the rate of deposition of the material or the nature of the matter that is deposited.
Sedimentary rocks are classified according to their manner of origin into mechanical or chemical sedimentary rocks. Mechanical rocks, or fragmental rocks, are composed of mineral particles produced by the mechanical disintegration of other rocks and transported, without chemical deterioration, by flowing water. They are carried into larger bodies of water, where they are deposited in layers. Shale, sandstone, and conglomerate are common sedimentary rocks of mechanical origin.
The materials making up chemical sedimentary rocks may consist of the remains of microscopic marine organisms precipitated on the ocean floor, as in the case of limestone. They may also have been dissolved in water circulating through the parent rock formation and then deposited in a sea or lake by precipitation from the solution. Halite, gypsum, and anhydrite are formed by the evaporation of salt solutions and the consequent precipitation of the salts.
See also Geology; Igneous Rock.
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Igneous Rock
Igneous Rock, rock formed when molten or partially molten material, called magma, cools and solidifies. Igneous rocks are one of the three main types of rocks; the other types are sedimentary rocks and metamorphic rocks. Of the three types of rocks, only igneous rocks are formed from melted material. The two most common types of igneous rocks are granite and basalt. Granite is light colored and is composed of large crystals of the minerals quartz, feldspar, and mica. Basalt is dark and contains minute crystals of the minerals olivine, pyroxene, and feldspar.
Geologists classify igneous rocks according to the depth at which they formed in the earth’s crust. Using this principle, they divide igneous rocks into two broad categories: those that formed beneath the earth’s surface, and those that formed at the surface. Igneous rocks may also be classified according to the minerals they contain.
A Classification by Depth of Formation
Rocks formed within the earth are called intrusive or plutonic rocks because the magma from which they form often intrudes into the neighboring rock. Rocks formed at the surface of the earth are called extrusive rocks. In extrusive rocks, the magma has extruded, or erupted, through a volcano or fissure.
Geologists can tell the difference between intrusive and extrusive rocks by the size of their crystals: crystals in intrusive rocks are larger than those in extrusive rocks. The crystals in intrusive rocks are larger because the magma that forms them is insulated by the surrounding rock and therefore cools slowly. This slow cooling gives the crystals time to grow larger. Extrusive rocks cool rapidly, so the crystals are very small. In some cases, the magma cools so rapidly that crystals have no time to form, and the magma hardens in an amorphous glass, such as obsidian.
One special type of rock, called porphyry, is partly intrusive and partly extrusive. Porphyry has large crystals embedded in a mass of much smaller crystals. The large crystals formed underground and only melt at extremely high temperatures. They were carried in lava when it erupted. The mass of much smaller crystals formed around the large crystals when the lava cooled quickly above ground.
B Classification by Composition
Geologists also classify igneous rocks based on the minerals the rocks contain. If the mineral grains in the rocks are large enough, geologists can identify specific minerals by eye and easily classify the rocks by their mineral composition. However, extrusive rocks are generally too fine-grained to identify their minerals by eye. Geologists must classify these rocks by determining their chemical composition in the laboratory.
Most magmas are composed primarily of the same elements that make up the crust and the mantle of the earth: oxygen (O), silicon (Si), aluminum (Al), iron (Fe), magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca), sodium (Na), and potassium (K). These elements make up the rock-forming minerals quartz, feldspar, mica, amphibole, pyroxene, and olivine. Rocks and minerals rich in silicon are called silica-rich or felsic (rich in feldspar and silica). Rocks and minerals low in silicon are rich in magnesium and iron. They are called mafic (rich in magnesium and ferrum, the Latin term for iron). Rocks very low in silicon are called ultramafic. Rocks with a composition between felsic and mafic are called intermediate.
B1 Felsic Rocks
The most felsic, or silicon-rich, mineral is quartz. It is pure silicon dioxide and contains no aluminum, iron, magnesium, calcium, sodium, or potassium. The other important felsic mineral is feldspar. In feldspar, a quarter or a half of the silicon has been replaced by aluminum. Feldspar also contains potassium, sodium, or calcium but no magnesium or iron.
Felsic intrusive rocks are classified as either granite or granodiorite, depending on how much potassium they contain. Both are light-colored rocks that have large crystals of quartz and feldspar. Extrusive rocks that have the same chemical composition as granite are called rhyolite and those with the same chemical composition as granodiorite are called dacite. Both rhyolite and dacite are fine-grained light-colored rocks.
B2 Intermediate Rocks
Rocks intermediate in composition between felsic and mafic rocks are termed syenite, monzonite, or monzodiorite if they are intrusive and trachyte, latite, and andesite if they are extrusive. Syenite and trachyte are rich in potassium while monzodiorite and andesite contain little potassium.
B3 Mafic Rocks
The mafic rock-forming minerals are olivine, pyroxene, and amphibole. All three contain silicon and a lot of either magnesium or iron or both. All three of these minerals are often dark colored.
Mafic intrusive rocks are termed diorite or gabbro. Both are dark rocks with large, dark, mafic crystals as well as crystals of light-colored feldspar. Neither contains quartz. Diorite contains amphibole and pyroxene, while gabbro contains pyroxene and olivine. The feldspar in diorite tends to be sodium-rich, while the feldspar in gabbro is calcium-rich. Extrusive rocks that have the same chemical composition as diorite or gabbro are called basalt. Basalt is a fine-grained dark rock.
Ultramafic rocks are composed almost exclusively of mafic minerals. Dunite is composed of more than 90 percent olivine; peridotites have between 90 and 40 percent olivine with pyroxene and amphibole as the other two principal minerals. Pyroxenite is composed primarily of pyroxene, and hornblendite is composed primarily of hornblende, which is a type of amphibole.
The magmas that form igneous rock are hot, chemical soups containing a complex mixture of many different elements. As they cool, many different minerals could form. Indeed, two magmas with identical composition could form quite distinct sets of minerals, depending on the conditions of crystallization.
As a magma cools, the first crystals to form will be of minerals that become solid at relatively high temperatures (usually olivine and a type of feldspar known as anorthite). The composition of these early-formed mineral crystals will be different from the initial composition of the magma. Consequently, as these growing crystals take certain elements out of the magma in certain proportions, the composition of the remaining liquid changes. This process is known as magmatic differentiation. Sometimes, the early-formed crystals are separated from the rest of the magma, either by settling to the floor of the magma chamber, or by compression that expels the liquid, leaving the crystals behind.
As the magma cools to temperatures below the point where other minerals begin to crystallize (such as pyroxene and another type of feldspar known as bytownite), their crystals will start to form as well. However, early-formed minerals often cannot coexist in magma with the later-formed mineral crystals. If the early-formed minerals are not separated from the magma, they will react with or dissolve back into the magma over time. This process repeats through several cycles as the temperature of the magma continues to cool to the point where the remaining minerals become solid. The final mix of minerals formed from a cooling magma depends on three factors: the initial composition of the magma, the degree to which already-formed crystals separate from the magma, and the speed of cooling.
When magma intrudes a region of the crust and cools, the resulting mass of igneous rock is called an intrusion. Geologists describe intrusions by their size, their shape, and whether they are concordant, meaning they run parallel to the structure of neighboring rocks, or discordant, meaning they cut across the structure of neighboring rocks. An example of a concordant intrusion is a horizontal bed formed when magma flows between horizontal beds of neighboring rock. A discordant intrusion would form when magma flows into cracks in neighboring rock, and the cracks lie at an angle to the neighboring beds of rock.
A batholith is an intrusion with a cross-sectional area of more than 100 sq km (39 sq mi), usually consisting of granite, granodiorite, and diorite. Deep batholiths are often concordant, while shallow batholiths are usually discordant. Deep batholiths can be extremely large; the Coast Range batholith of North America is 100 to 200 km (60 to 120 mi) wide and extends 600 km (370 mi) through Alaska and British Columbia, Canada.
Lopoliths are saucer-shaped concordant intrusions. They may be up to 100 km (60 mi) in diameter and 8 km (5 mi) thick. Lopoliths, which are usually basaltic in composition, are frequently called layered intrusions because they are strongly layered. Well-known examples are the Bushveld complex in South Africa and the Muskox intrusion in the Northwest Territories, Canada.
Laccoliths have a flat base and a domed ceiling, and are concordant with the neighboring rocks; they are usually small. The classic area from which they were first described is the Henry Mountains in the state of Utah.
Dikes and sills are sheetlike intrusions that are very thin relative to their length; sills are concordant and dikes are discordant. They are commonly fairly small features (a few meters thick) but can be larger. The Palisades Sill in the state of New York is 300 m (1000 ft) thick and 80 km (50 mi) long.
Many different types of extrusive bodies occur throughout the world. The physical characteristics of these bodies depend on their chemical composition and on how the magma from which they formed erupted. The chemical composition of the parent magma affects its viscosity, or its resistance to flow, which in turn affects how the magma erupts. Felsic magma tends to be thick and viscous, while mafic magma tends to be fluid. (See also Volcano)
Flood basalts are the most common type of extrusive rock. They form when highly fluid basaltic lava erupts from long fissures and many vents. The lava coalesces and floods large areas to considerable depths (up to 100 m/300 ft). Repeated eruptions can result in accumulated deposits up to 5 km (3 mi) thick. Typical examples are the Columbia River basalts in Washington and the Deccan trap of western India; the latter covers an area of more than 500,000 sq km (200,000 sq mi).
When basalt erupts underwater, the rapid cooling causes it to form a characteristic texture known as pillow basalt. Pillow basalts are lava flows made up of interconnected pillow-shaped and pillow-sized rocks. Much of the ocean floor is made up of pillow basalt.
Extrusive rocks that erupt from a main central vent form volcanoes, and these are classified according to their physical form and the type of volcanic activity. Mafic, or basaltic, lava is highly fluid and erupts nonexplosively. The fluid lava quickly spreads out, forming large volcanoes with shallow slopes called shield volcanoes. Mauna Loa (Hawaii) is the best-known example. Intermediate, or andesitic, magmas have a higher viscosity and so they erupt more explosively. They form steep-sided composite volcanoes. A composite volcano, or stratovolcano, is made up of layers of lava and volcanic ash. Well-known examples of composite volcanoes include Mount Rainier (Washington), Mount Vesuvius (Italy), and Mount Fuji (Japan).
Felsic (rhyolitic) magmas are so viscous that they do not flow very far at all; instead, they form a dome above their central vent. This dome can give rise to very explosive eruptions when pressure builds up in a blocked vent, as happened with Mount Saint Helens (Washington) in 1983, Krakatau (Indonesia) in 1883, and Vesuvius (Italy) in AD 79. This type of explosive behavior can eject enormous amounts of ash and rock fragments, referred to as pyroclastic material, which form pyroclastic deposits (See also Pyroclastic Flow)
The advent of the theory of plate tectonics in the 1960s provided a theoretical framework for understanding the worldwide distribution of different types of igneous rocks. According to the theory of plate tectonics, the surface of the earth is covered by about a dozen large plates. Some of these plates are composed primarily of basalt and are called oceanic plates, since most of the ocean floor is covered with basalt. Other plates, called continental plates because they contain the continents, are composed of a wide range of rocks, including sedimentary and metamorphic rocks, and large amounts of granite.
Where two plates diverge (move apart), such as along a mid-ocean ridge, magma rises from the mantle to fill the gap. This material is mafic in composition and forms basalt. Where this divergence occurs on land, such as in Iceland, flood basalts are formed.
When an oceanic plate collides with a continental plate, the heavier oceanic plate subducts, or slides, under the lighter continental plate. Some of the subducted material melts and rises. As it travels through the overriding continental plate, it melts and mixes with the continental material. Since continental material, on average, is more felsic than the mafic basalt of the oceanic plate, this mixing causes the composition of the magma to become more mafic. The magma may become intermediate in composition and form andesitic volcanoes. The Andes Mountains of South America are a long chain of andesitic volcanoes formed from the subduction of the Pacific Plate under the South American plate. If the magma becomes mafic, it may form rhyolitic volcanoes like Mount Saint Helens. Magma that is too viscous to rise to the surface may instead form granitic batholiths.
Many types of igneous rocks are used as building stone, facing stone, and decorative material, such as that used for tabletops, cutting boards, and carved figures. For example, polished granite facing stone is exported all over the world from countries such as Italy, Brazil, and India.
Igneous rocks may also contain many important ores as accessory or trace minerals. Certain mafic intrusives are sources of chromium, titanium, platinum, and palladium. Some felsic rocks, called granitic pegmatites, contain a wealth of rare elements, such as lithium, tantalum, tin, and niobium, which are of economic importance. Kimberlites, formed from magmas from deep within the earth, are the primary source of diamonds. Many magmas release large amounts of metal-rich hot fluids that migrate through nearby rock, forming veins rich in metallic ores. Newly formed igneous rocks are also hot and can be an important source of geothermal energy.

Contributed By:
Frank Christopher Hawthorne
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

A more useful way of looking at the terrestrial and aquatic landscapes is to view them as ecosystems, a word coined in 1935 by the British plant ecologist Sir Arthur George Tansley to stress the concept of each locale or habitat as an integrated whole. A system is a collection of interdependent parts that function as a unit and involve inputs and outputs. The major parts of an ecosystem are the producers (green plants), the consumers (herbivores and carnivores), the decomposers (fungi and bacteria), and the nonliving, or abiotic, component, consisting of dead organic matter and nutrients in the soil and water. Inputs into the ecosystem are solar energy, water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and other elements and compounds. Outputs from the ecosystem include water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, nutrient losses, and the heat released in cellular respiration, or heat of respiration. The major driving force is solar energy.
Plants are primary producers. All life in an ecosystem depends on primary producers to capture energy from the Sun, convert it to food that is stored in plant cells, and pass this energy on to organisms that eat plants.
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Primary consumers are animals that feed on plants. This group includes some insects, seed- and fruit-eating birds, rodents, and larger animals that graze on vegetation, such as deer. When primary consumers eat primary producers (plants), the energy in plant cells changes into a form that can be stored in animal cells.
Secondary consumers are a diverse group of animals—some eat primary consumers and some eat other secondary consumers. Those animals that eat smaller primary consumers include frogs, snakes, foxes, and spiders. Animals that eat secondary consumers include hawks, wolves, and lions.
Decomposers include worms, mushrooms, and microscopic bacteria. These organisms break down dead plants and animals into the nutrients needed by plants to survive.
Control Unit
A CPU is similar to a calculator, only much more powerful. The main function of the CPU is to perform arithmetic and logical operations on data taken from memory or on information entered through some device, such as a keyboard, scanner, or joystick. The CPU is controlled by a list of software instructions, called a computer program. Software instructions entering the CPU originate in some form of memory storage device such as a hard disk, floppy disk, CD-ROM, or magnetic tape. These instructions then pass into the computer’s main random access memory (RAM), where each instruction is given a unique address, or memory location. The CPU can access specific pieces of data in RAM by specifying the address of the data that it wants.
As a program is executed, data flow from RAM through an interface unit of wires called the bus, which connects the CPU to RAM. The data are then decoded by a processing unit called the instruction decoder that interprets and implements software instructions. From the instruction decoder the data pass to the arithmetic/logic unit (ALU), which performs calculations and comparisons. Data may be stored by the ALU in temporary memory locations called registers where it may be retrieved quickly. The ALU performs specific operations such as addition, multiplication, and conditional tests on the data in its registers, sending the resulting data back to RAM or storing it in another register for further use. During this process, a unit called the program counter keeps track of each successive instruction to make sure that the program instructions are followed by the CPU in the correct order.
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Cell (biology)
Cell (biology), basic unit of life. Cells are the smallest structures capable of basic life processes, such as taking in nutrients, expelling waste, and reproducing. All living things are composed of cells. Some microscopic organisms, such as bacteria and protozoa, are unicellular, meaning they consist of a single cell. Plants, animals, and fungi are multicellular; that is, they are composed of a great many cells working in concert. But whether it makes up an entire bacterium or is just one of trillions in a human being, the cell is a marvel of design and efficiency. Cells carry out thousands of biochemical reactions each minute and reproduce new cells that perpetuate life.
Cells vary considerably in size. The smallest cell, a type of bacterium known as a mycoplasma, measures 0.0001 mm (0.000004 in) in diameter; 10,000 mycoplasmas in a row are only as wide as the diameter of a human hair. Among the largest cells are the nerve cells that run down a giraffe’s neck; these cells can exceed 3 m (9.7 ft) in length. Human cells also display a variety of sizes, from small red blood cells that measure 0.00076 mm (0.00003 in) to liver cells that may be ten times larger. About 10,000 average-sized human cells can fit on the head of a pin.
Along with their differences in size, cells present an array of shapes. Some, such as the bacterium Escherichia coli, resemble rods. The paramecium, a type of protozoan, is slipper shaped; and the amoeba, another protozoan, has an irregular form that changes shape as it moves around. Plant cells typically resemble boxes or cubes. In humans, the outermost layers of skin cells are flat, while muscle cells are long and thin. Some nerve cells, with their elongated, tentacle-like extensions, suggest an octopus.
In multicellular organisms, shape is typically tailored to the cell’s job. For example, flat skin cells pack tightly into a layer that protects the underlying tissues from invasion by bacteria. Long, thin muscle cells contract readily to move bones. The numerous extensions from a nerve cell enable it to connect to several other nerve cells in order to send and receive messages rapidly and efficiently.
By itself, each cell is a model of independence and self-containment. Like some miniature, walled city in perpetual rush hour, the cell constantly bustles with traffic, shuttling essential molecules from place to place to carry out the business of living. Despite their individuality, however, cells also display a remarkable ability to join, communicate, and coordinate with other cells. The human body, for example, consists of an estimated 20 to 30 trillion cells. Dozens of different kinds of cells are organized into specialized groups called tissues. Tendons and bones, for example, are composed of connective tissue, whereas skin and mucous membranes are built from epithelial tissue. Different tissue types are assembled into organs, which are structures specialized to perform particular functions. Examples of organs include the heart, stomach, and brain. Organs, in turn, are organized into systems such as the circulatory, digestive, or nervous systems. All together, these assembled organ systems form the human body.
The components of cells are molecules, nonliving structures formed by the union of atoms. Small molecules serve as building blocks for larger molecules. Proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, and lipids, which include fats and oils, are the four major molecules that underlie cell structure and also participate in cell functions. For example, a tightly organized arrangement of lipids, proteins, and protein-sugar compounds forms the plasma membrane, or outer boundary, of certain cells. The organelles, membrane-bound compartments in cells, are built largely from proteins. Biochemical reactions in cells are guided by enzymes, specialized proteins that speed up chemical reactions. The nucleic acid deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) contains the hereditary information for cells, and another nucleic acid, ribonucleic acid(RNA), works with DNA to build the thousands of proteins the cell needs.
Cells fall into one of two categories: prokaryotic or eukaryotic (see Prokaryote). In a prokaryotic cell, found only in bacteria and archaebacteria, all the components, including the DNA, mingle freely in the cell’s interior, a single compartment. Eukaryotic cells, which make up plants, animals, fungi, and all other life forms, contain numerous compartments, or organelles, within each cell. The DNA in eukaryotic cells is enclosed in a special organelle called the nucleus, which serves as the cell’s command center and information library. The term prokaryote comes from Greek words that mean “before nucleus” or “prenucleus,” while eukaryote means “true nucleus.”
A Prokaryotic Cells
Prokaryotic cells are among the tiniest of all cells, ranging in size from 0.0001 to 0.003 mm (0.000004 to 0.0001 in) in diameter. About a hundred typical prokaryotic cells lined up in a row would match the thickness of a book page. These cells, which can be rodlike, spherical, or spiral in shape, are surrounded by a protective cell wall. Like most cells, prokaryotic cells live in a watery environment, whether it is soil moisture, a pond, or the fluid surrounding cells in the human body. Tiny pores in the cell wall enable water and the substances dissolved in it, such as oxygen, to flow into the cell; these pores also allow wastes to flow out.
Pushed up against the inner surface of the prokaryotic cell wall is a thin membrane called the plasma membrane. The plasma membrane, composed of two layers of flexible lipid molecules and interspersed with durable proteins, is both supple and strong. Unlike the cell wall, whose open pores allow the unregulated traffic of materials in and out of the cell, the plasma membrane is selectively permeable, meaning it allows only certain substances to pass through. Thus, the plasma membrane actively separates the cell’s contents from its surrounding fluids.
While small molecules such as water, oxygen, and carbon dioxide diffuse freely across the plasma membrane, the passage of many larger molecules, including amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and sugars, is carefully regulated. Specialized transport proteins accomplish this task. The transport proteins span the plasma membrane, forming an intricate system of pumps and channels through which traffic is conducted. Some substances swirling in the fluid around the cell can enter it only if they bind to and are escorted in by specific transport proteins. In this way, the cell fine-tunes its internal environment.
The plasma membrane encloses the cytoplasm, the semifluid that fills the cell. Composed of about 65 percent water, the cytoplasm is packed with up to a billion molecules per cell, a rich storehouse that includes enzymes and dissolved nutrients, such as sugars and amino acids. The water provides a favorable environment for the thousands of biochemical reactions that take place in the cell.
Within the cytoplasm of all prokaryotes is deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), a complex molecule in the form of a double helix, a shape similar to a spiral staircase. The DNA is about 1,000 times the length of the cell, and to fit inside, it repeatedly twists and folds to form a compact structure called a chromosome. The chromosome in prokaryotes is circular, and is located in a region of the cell called the nucleoid. Often, smaller chromosomes called plasmids are located in the cytoplasm. The DNA is divided into units called genes, just like a long train is divided into separate cars. Depending on the species, the DNA contains several hundred or even thousands of genes. Typically, one gene contains coded instructions for building all or part of a single protein. Enzymes, which are specialized proteins, determine virtually all the biochemical reactions that support and sustain the cell.
Also immersed in the cytoplasm are the only organelles in prokaryotic cells—tiny bead-like structures called ribosomes. These are the cell’s protein factories. Following the instructions encoded in the DNA, ribosomes churn out proteins by the hundreds every minute, providing needed enzymes, the replacements for worn-out transport proteins, or other proteins required by the cell.
While relatively simple in construction, prokaryotic cells display extremely complex activity. They have a greater range of biochemical reactions than those found in their larger relatives, the eukaryotic cells. The extraordinary biochemical diversity of prokaryotic cells is manifested in the wide-ranging lifestyles of the archaebacteria and the bacteria, whose habitats include polar ice, deserts, and hydrothermal vents—deep regions of the ocean under great pressure where hot water geysers erupt from cracks in the ocean floor.
B Eukaryotic Animal Cells
Eukaryotic cells are typically about ten times larger than prokaryotic cells. In animal cells, the plasma membrane, rather than a cell wall, forms the cell’s outer boundary. With a design similar to the plasma membrane of prokaryotic cells, it separates the cell from its surroundings and regulates the traffic across the membrane.
The eukaryotic cell cytoplasm is similar to that of the prokaryote cell except for one major difference: Eukaryotic cells house a nucleus and numerous other membrane-enclosed organelles. Like separate rooms of a house, these organelles enable specialized functions to be carried out efficiently. The building of proteins and lipids, for example, takes place in separate organelles where specialized enzymes geared for each job are located.
The nucleus is the largest organelle in an animal cell. It contains numerous strands of DNA, the length of each strand being many times the diameter of the cell. Unlike the circular prokaryotic DNA, long sections of eukaryotic DNA pack into the nucleus by wrapping around proteins. As a cell begins to divide, each DNA strand folds over onto itself several times, forming a rod-shaped chromosome.
The nucleus is surrounded by a double-layered membrane that protects the DNA from potentially damaging chemical reactions that occur in the cytoplasm. Messages pass between the cytoplasm and the nucleus through nuclear pores, which are holes in the membrane of the nucleus. In each nuclear pore, molecular signals flash back and forth as often as ten times per second. For example, a signal to activate a specific gene comes in to the nucleus and instructions for production of the necessary protein go out to the cytoplasm.
Attached to the nuclear membrane is an elongated membranous sac called the endoplasmic reticulum. This organelle tunnels through the cytoplasm, folding back and forth on itself to form a series of membranous stacks. Endoplasmic reticulum takes two forms: rough and smooth. Rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER) is so called because it appears bumpy under a microscope. The bumps are actually thousands of ribosomes attached to the membrane’s surface. The ribosomes in eukaryotic cells have the same function as those in prokaryotic cells—protein synthesis—but they differ slightly in structure. Eukaryote ribosomes bound to the endoplasmic reticulum help assemble proteins that typically are exported from the cell. The ribosomes work with other molecules to link amino acids to partially completed proteins. These incomplete proteins then travel to the inner chamber of the endoplasmic reticulum, where chemical modifications, such as the addition of a sugar, are carried out. Chemical modifications of lipids are also carried out in the endoplasmic reticulum.
The endoplasmic reticulum and its bound ribosomes are particularly dense in cells that produce many proteins for export, such as the white blood cells of the immune system, which produce and secrete antibodies. Some ribosomes that manufacture proteins are not attached to the endoplasmic reticulum. These so-called free ribosomes are dispersed in the cytoplasm and typically make proteins—many of them enzymes—that remain in the cell.
The second form of endoplasmic reticulum, the smooth endoplasmic reticulum (SER), lacks ribosomes and has an even surface. Within the winding channels of the smooth endoplasmic reticulum are the enzymes needed for the construction of molecules such as carbohydrates and lipids. The smooth endoplasmic reticulum is prominent in liver cells, where it also serves to detoxify substances such as alcohol, drugs, and other poisons.
Proteins are transported from free and bound ribosomes to the Golgi apparatus, an organelle that resembles a stack of deflated balloons. It is packed with enzymes that complete the processing of proteins. These enzymes add sulfur or phosphorus atoms to certain regions of the protein, for example, or chop off tiny pieces from the ends of the proteins. The completed protein then leaves the Golgi apparatus for its final destination inside or outside the cell. During its assembly on the ribosome, each protein has acquired a group of from 4 to 100 amino acids called a signal. The signal works as a molecular shipping label to direct the protein to its proper location.
Lysosomes are small, often spherical organelles that function as the cell’s recycling center and garbage disposal. Powerful digestive enzymes concentrated in the lysosome break down worn-out organelles and ship their building blocks to the cytoplasm where they are used to construct new organelles. Lysosomes also dismantle and recycle proteins, lipids, and other molecules.
The mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell. Within these long, slender organelles, which can appear oval or bean shaped under the electron microscope, enzymes convert the sugar glucose and other nutrients into adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This molecule, in turn, serves as an energy battery for countless cellular processes, including the shuttling of substances across the plasma membrane, the building and transport of proteins and lipids, the recycling of molecules and organelles, and the dividing of cells. Muscle and liver cells are particularly active and require dozens and sometimes up to a hundred mitochondria per cell to meet their energy needs. Mitochondria are unusual in that they contain their own DNA in the form of a prokaryote-like circular chromosome; have their own ribosomes, which resemble prokaryotic ribosomes; and divide independently of the cell.
Unlike the tiny prokaryotic cell, the relatively large eukaryotic cell requires structural support. The cytoskeleton, a dynamic network of protein tubes, filaments, and fibers, crisscrosses the cytoplasm, anchoring the organelles in place and providing shape and structure to the cell. Many components of the cytoskeleton are assembled and disassembled by the cell as needed. During cell division, for example, a special structure called a spindle is built to move chromosomes around. After cell division, the spindle, no longer needed, is dismantled. Some components of the cytoskeleton serve as microscopic tracks along which proteins and other molecules travel like miniature trains. Recent research suggests that the cytoskeleton also may be a mechanical communication structure that converses with the nucleus to help organize events in the cell.
C Eukaryotic Plant Cells
Plant cells have all the components of animal cells and boast several added features, including chloroplasts, a central vacuole, and a cell wall. Chloroplasts convert light energy—typically from the Sun—into the sugar glucose, a form of chemical energy, in a process known as photosynthesis. Chloroplasts, like mitochondria, possess a circular chromosome and prokaryote-like ribosomes, which manufacture the proteins that the chloroplasts typically need.
The central vacuole of a mature plant cell typically takes up most of the room in the cell. The vacuole, a membranous bag, crowds the cytoplasm and organelles to the edges of the cell. The central vacuole stores water, salts, sugars, proteins, and other nutrients. In addition, it stores the blue, red, and purple pigments that give certain flowers their colors. The central vacuole also contains plant wastes that taste bitter to certain insects, thus discouraging the insects from feasting on the plant.
In plant cells, a sturdy cell wall surrounds and protects the plasma membrane. Its pores enable materials to pass freely into and out of the cell. The strength of the wall also enables a cell to absorb water into the central vacuole and swell without bursting. The resulting pressure in the cells provides plants with rigidity and support for stems, leaves, and flowers. Without sufficient water pressure, the cells collapse and the plant wilts.
To stay alive, cells must be able to carry out a variety of functions. Some cells must be able to move, and most cells must be able to divide. All cells must maintain the right concentration of chemicals in their cytoplasm, ingest food and use it for energy, recycle molecules, expel wastes, and construct proteins. Cells must also be able to respond to changes in their environment.
A Movement
Many unicellular organisms swim, glide, thrash, or crawl to search for food and escape enemies. Swimming organisms often move by means of a flagellum, a long tail-like structure made of protein. Many bacteria, for example, have one, two, or many flagella that rotate like propellers to drive the organism along. Some single-celled eukaryotic organisms, such as euglena, also have a flagellum, but it is longer and thicker than the prokaryotic flagellum. The eukaryotic flagellum works by waving up and down like a whip. In higher animals, the sperm cell uses a flagellum to swim toward the female egg for fertilization.
Movement in eukaryotes is also accomplished with cilia, short, hairlike proteins built by centrioles, which are barrel-shaped structures located in the cytoplasm that assemble and break down protein filaments. Typically, thousands of cilia extend through the plasma membrane and cover the surface of the cell, giving it a dense, hairy appearance. By beating its cilia as if they were oars, an organism such as the paramecium propels itself through its watery environment. In cells that do not move, cilia are used for other purposes. In the respiratory tract of humans, for example, millions of ciliated cells prevent inhaled dust, smog, and microorganisms from entering the lungs by sweeping them up on a current of mucus into the throat, where they are swallowed. Eukaryotic flagella and cilia are formed from basal bodies, small protein structures located just inside the plasma membrane. Basal bodies also help to anchor flagella and cilia.
Still other eukaryotic cells, such as amoebas and white blood cells, move by amoeboid motion, or crawling. They extrude their cytoplasm to form temporary pseudopodia, or false feet, which actually are placed in front of the cell, rather like extended arms. They then drag the trailing end of their cytoplasm up to the pseudopodia. A cell using amoeboid motion would lose a race to a euglena or paramecium. But while it is slow, amoeboid motion is strong enough to move cells against a current, enabling water-dwelling organisms to pursue and devour prey, for example, or white blood cells roaming the blood stream to stalk and engulf a bacterium or virus.
B Nutrition
All cells require nutrients for energy, and they display a variety of methods for ingesting them. Simple nutrients dissolved in pond water, for example, can be carried through the plasma membrane of pond-dwelling organisms via a series of molecular pumps. In humans, the cavity of the small intestine contains the nutrients from digested food, and cells that form the walls of the intestine use similar pumps to pull amino acids and other nutrients from the cavity into the bloodstream. Certain unicellular organisms, such as amoebas, are also capable of reaching out and grabbing food. They use a process known as endocytosis, in which the plasma membrane surrounds and engulfs the food particle, enclosing it in a sac, called a vesicle, that is within the amoeba’s interior.
C Energy
Cells require energy for a variety of functions, including moving, building up and breaking down molecules, and transporting substances across the plasma membrane. Nutrients contains energy, but cells must convert the energy locked in nutrients to another form—specifically, the ATP molecule, the cell’s energy battery—before it is useful. In single-celled eukaryotic organisms, such as the paramecium, and in multicellular eukaryotic organisms, such as plants, animals, and fungi, mitochondria are responsible for this task. The interior of each mitochondrion consists of an inner membrane that is folded into a mazelike arrangement of separate compartments called cristae. Within the cristae, enzymes form an assembly line where the energy in glucose and other energy-rich nutrients is harnessed to build ATP; thousands of ATP molecules are constructed each second in a typical cell. In most eukaryotic cells, this process requires oxygen and is known as aerobic respiration.
Some prokaryotic organisms also carry out aerobic respiration. They lack mitochondria, however, and carry out aerobic respiration in the cytoplasm with the help of enzymes sequestered there. Many prokaryote species live in environments where there is little or no oxygen, environments such as mud, stagnant ponds, or within the intestines of animals. Some of these organisms produce ATP without oxygen in a process known as anaerobic respiration, where sulfur or other substances take the place of oxygen. Still other prokaryotes, and yeast, a single-celled eukaryote, build ATP without oxygen in a process known as fermentation.
Almost all organisms rely on the sugar glucose to produce ATP. Glucose is made by the process of photosynthesis, in which light energy is transformed to the chemical energy of glucose. Animals and fungi cannot carry out photosynthesis and depend on plants and other photosynthetic organisms for this task. In plants, as we have seen, photosynthesis takes place in organelles called chloroplasts. Chloroplasts contain numerous internal compartments called thylakoids where enzymes aid in the energy conversion process. A single leaf cell contains 40 to 50 chloroplasts. With sufficient sunlight, one large tree is capable of producing upwards of two tons of sugar in a single day. Photosynthesis in prokaryotic organisms—typically aquatic bacteria—is carried out with enzymes clustered in plasma membrane folds called chromatophores. Aquatic bacteria produce the food consumed by tiny organisms living in ponds, rivers, lakes, and seas.
D Protein Synthesis
A typical cell must have on hand about 30,000 proteins at any one time. Many of these proteins are enzymes needed to construct the major molecules used by cells—carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids—or to aid in the breakdown of such molecules after they have worn out. Other proteins are part of the cell’s structure—the plasma membrane and ribosomes, for example. In animals, proteins also function as hormones and antibodies, and they function like delivery trucks to transport other molecules around the body. Hemoglobin, for example, is a protein that transports oxygen in red blood cells. The cell’s demand for proteins never ceases.
Before a protein can be made, however, the molecular directions to build it must be extracted from one or more genes. In humans, for example, one gene holds the information for the protein insulin, the hormone that cells need to import glucose from the bloodstream, while at least two genes hold the information for collagen, the protein that imparts strength to skin, tendons, and ligaments. The process of building proteins begins when enzymes, in response to a signal from the cell, bind to the gene that carries the code for the required protein, or part of the protein. The enzymes transfer the code to a new molecule called messenger RNA, which carries the code from the nucleus to the cytoplasm. This enables the original genetic code to remain safe in the nucleus, with messenger RNA delivering small bits and pieces of information from the DNA to the cytoplasm as needed. Depending on the cell type, hundreds or even thousands of molecules of messenger RNA are produced each minute.
Once in the cytoplasm, the messenger RNA molecule links up with a ribosome. The ribosome moves along the messenger RNA like a monorail car along a track, stimulating another form of RNA—transfer RNA—to gather and link the necessary amino acids, pooled in the cytoplasm, to form the specific protein, or section of protein. The protein is modified as necessary by the endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi apparatus before embarking on its mission. Cells teem with activity as they forge the numerous, diverse proteins that are indispensable for life. For a more detailed discussion about protein synthesis, see Genetics: The Genetic Code.
E Cell Division
Most cells divide at some time during their life cycle, and some divide dozens of times before they die. Organisms rely on cell division for reproduction, growth, and repair and replacement of damaged or worn out cells. Three types of cell division occur: binary fission, mitosis, and meiosis. Binary fission, the method used by prokaryotes, produces two identical cells from one cell. The more complex process of mitosis, which also produces two genetically identical cells from a single cell, is used by many unicellular eukaryotic organisms for reproduction. Multicellular organisms use mitosis for growth, cell repair, and cell replacement. In the human body, for example, an estimated 25 million mitotic cell divisions occur every second in order to replace cells that have completed their normal life cycles. Cells of the liver, intestine, and skin may be replaced every few days. Recent research indicates that even brain cells, once thought to be incapable of mitosis, undergo cell division in the part of the brain associated with memory.
The type of cell division required for sexual reproduction is meiosis. Sexually reproducing organisms include seaweeds, fungi, plants, and animals—including, of course, human beings. Meiosis differs from mitosis in that cell division begins with a cell that has a full complement of chromosomes and ends with gamete cells, such as sperm and eggs, that have only half the complement of chromosomes. When a sperm and egg unite during fertilization, the cell resulting from the union, called a zygote, contains the full number of chromosomes.
The story of how cells evolved remains an open and actively investigated question in science (see Life). The combined expertise of physicists, geologists, chemists, and evolutionary biologists has been required to shed light on the evolution of cells from the nonliving matter of early Earth. The planet formed about 4.5 billion years ago, and for millions of years, violent volcanic eruptions blasted substances such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen, water, and other small molecules into the air. These small molecules, bombarded by ultraviolet radiation and lightning from intense storms, collided to form the stable chemical bonds of larger molecules, such as amino acids and nucleotides—the building blocks of proteins and nucleic acids. Experiments indicate that these larger molecules form spontaneously under laboratory conditions that simulate the probable early environment of Earth.
Scientists speculate that rain may have carried these molecules into lakes to create a primordial soup—a breeding ground for the assembly of proteins, the nucleic acid RNA, and lipids. Some scientists postulate that these more complex molecules formed in hydrothermal vents rather than in lakes. Other scientists propose that these key substances may have reached Earth on meteorites from outer space. Regardless of the origin or environment, however, scientists do agree that proteins, nucleic acids, and lipids provided the raw materials for the first cells. In the laboratory, scientists have observed lipid molecules joining to form spheres that resemble a cell’s plasma membrane. As a result of these observations, scientists postulate that millions of years of molecular collisions resulted in lipid spheres enclosing RNA, the simplest molecule capable of self-replication. These primitive aggregations would have been the ancestors of the first prokaryotic cells.
Fossil studies indicate that cyanobacteria, bacteria capable of photosynthesis, were among the earliest bacteria to evolve, an estimated 3.4 billion to 3.5 billion years ago. In the environment of the early Earth, there was no oxygen, and cyanobacteria probably used fermentation to produce ATP. Over the eons, cyanobacteria performed photosynthesis, which produces oxygen as a byproduct; the result was the gradual accumulation of oxygen in the atmosphere. The presence of oxygen set the stage for the evolution of bacteria that used oxygen in aerobic respiration, a more efficient ATP-producing process than fermentation. Some molecular studies of the evolution of genes in archaebacteria suggest that these organisms may have evolved in the hot waters of hydrothermal vents or hot springs slightly earlier than cyanobacteria, around 3.5 billion years ago. Like cyanobacteria, archaebacteria probably relied on fermentation to synthesize ATP.
Eukaryotic cells may have evolved from primitive prokaryotes about 2 billion years ago. One hypothesis suggests that some prokaryotic cells lost their cell walls, permitting the cell’s plasma membrane to expand and fold. These folds, ultimately, may have given rise to separate compartments within the cell—the forerunners of the nucleus and other organelles now found in eukaryotic cells. Another key hypothesis is known as endosymbiosis. Molecular studies of the bacteria-like DNA and ribosomes in mitochondria and chloroplasts indicate that mitochondrion and chloroplast ancestors were once free-living bacteria. Scientists propose that these free-living bacteria were engulfed and maintained by other prokaryotic cells for their ability to produce ATP efficiently and to provide a steady supply of glucose. Over generations, eukaryotic cells complete with mitochondria—the ancestors of animals—or with both mitochondria and chloroplasts—the ancestors of plants—evolved (see Evolution).
The first observations of cells were made in 1665 by English scientist Robert Hooke, who used a crude microscope of his own invention to examine a variety of objects, including a thin piece of cork. Noting the rows of tiny boxes that made up the dead wood’s tissue, Hooke coined the term cell because the boxes reminded him of the small cells occupied by monks in a monastery. While Hooke was the first to observe and describe cells, he did not comprehend their significance. At about the same time, the Dutch maker of microscopes Antoni van Leeuwenhoek pioneered the invention of one of the best microscopes of the time. Using his invention, Leeuwenhoek was the first to observe, draw, and describe a variety of living organisms, including bacteria gliding in saliva, one-celled organisms cavorting in pond water, and sperm swimming in semen. Two centuries passed, however, before scientists grasped the true importance of cells.
Modern ideas about cells appeared in the 1800s, when improved light microscopes enabled scientists to observe more details of cells. Working together, German botanist Matthias Jakob Schleiden and German zoologist Theodor Schwann recognized the fundamental similarities between plant and animal cells. In 1839 they proposed the revolutionary idea that all living things are made up of cells. Their theory gave rise to modern biology: a whole new way of seeing and investigating the natural world.
By the late 1800s, as light microscopes improved still further, scientists were able to observe chromosomes within the cell. Their research was aided by new techniques for staining parts of the cell, which made possible the first detailed observations of cell division, including observations of the differences between mitosis and meiosis in the 1880s. In the first few decades of the 20th century, many scientists focused on the behavior of chromosomes during cell division. At that time, it was generally held that mitochondria transmitted the hereditary information. By 1920, however, scientists determined that chromosomes carry genes and that genes transmit hereditary information from generation to generation.
During the same period, scientists began to understand some of the chemical processes in cells. In the 1920s, the ultracentrifuge was developed. The ultracentrifuge is an instrument that spins cells or other substances in test tubes at high speeds, which causes the heavier parts of the substance to fall to the bottom of the test tube. This instrument enabled scientists to separate the relatively abundant and heavy mitochondria from the rest of the cell and study their chemical reactions. By the late 1940s, scientists were able to explain the role of mitochondria in the cell. Using refined techniques with the ultracentrifuge, scientists subsequently isolated the smaller organelles and gained an understanding of their functions.
While some scientists were studying the functions of cells, others were examining details of their structure. They were aided by a crucial technological development in the 1940s: the invention of the electron microscope, which uses high-energy electrons instead of light waves to view specimens. New generations of electron microscopes have provided resolution, or the differentiation of separate objects, thousands of times more powerful than that available in light microscopes. This powerful resolution revealed organelles such as the endoplasmic reticulum, lysosomes, the Golgi apparatus, and the cytoskeleton. The scientific fields of cell structure and function continue to complement each other as scientists explore the enormous complexity of cells.
The discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953 by American biochemist James D. Watson and British biophysicist Francis Crick ushered in the era of molecular biology. Today, investigation inside the world of cells—of genes and proteins at the molecular level—constitutes one of the largest and fastest moving areas in all of science. One particularly active field in recent years has been the investigation of cell signaling, the process by which molecular messages find their way into the cell via a series of complex protein pathways in the cell.
Another busy area in cell biology concerns programmed cell death, or apoptosis. Millions of times per second in the human body, cells commit suicide as an essential part of the normal cycle of cellular replacement. This also seems to be a check against disease: When mutations build up within a cell, the cell will usually self-destruct. If this fails to occur, the cell may divide and give rise to mutated daughter cells, which continue to divide and spread, gradually forming a growth called a tumor. This unregulated growth by rogue cells can be benign, or harmless, or cancerous, which may threaten healthy tissue. The study of apoptosis is one avenue that scientists explore in an effort to understand how cells become cancerous.
Scientists are also discovering exciting aspects of the physical forces within cells. Cells employ a form of architecture called tensegrity, which enables them to withstand battering by a variety of mechanical stresses, such as the pressure of blood flowing around cells or the movement of organelles within the cell. Tensegrity stabilizes cells by evenly distributing mechanical stresses to the cytoskeleton and other cell components. Tensegrity also may explain how a change in the cytoskeleton, where certain enzymes are anchored, initiates biochemical reactions within the cell, and can even influence the action of genes. The mechanical rules of tensegrity may also account for the assembly of molecules into the first cells. Such new insights—made some 300 years after the tiny universe of cells was first glimpsed—show that cells continue to yield fascinating new worlds of discovery.
Animal Cell
An animal cell typically contains several types of membrane-bound organs, or organelles. The nucleus directs activities of the cell and carries genetic information from generation to generation. The mitochondria generate energy for the cell. Proteins are manufactured by ribosomes, which are bound to the rough endoplasmic reticulum or float free in the cytoplasm. The Golgi apparatus modifies, packages, and distributes proteins while lysosomes store enzymes for digesting food. The entire cell is wrapped in a lipid membrane that selectively permits materials to pass in and out of the cytoplasm.

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Question :11
Plastics, materials made up of large, organic (carbon-containing) molecules that can be formed into a variety of products. The molecules that compose plastics are long carbon chains that give plastics many of their useful properties. In general, materials that are made up of long, chainlike molecules are called polymers. The word plastic is derived from the words plasticus (Latin for “capable of molding”) and plastikos (Greek “to mold,” or “fit for molding”). Plastics can be made hard as stone, strong as steel, transparent as glass, light as wood, and elastic as rubber. Plastics are also lightweight, waterproof, chemical resistant, and produced in almost any color. More than 50 families of plastics have been produced, and new types are currently under development.
Like metals, plastics come in a variety of grades. For instance, nylons are plastics that are separated by different properties, costs, and the manufacturing processes used to produce them. Also like metals, some plastics can be alloyed, or blended, to combine the advantages possessed by several different plastics. For example, some types of impact-resistant (shatterproof) plastics and heat-resistant plastics are made by blending different plastics together.
Plastics are moldable, synthetic (chemically-fabricated) materials derived mostly from fossil fuels, such as oil, coal, or natural gas. The raw forms of other materials, such as glass, metals, and clay, are also moldable. The key difference between these materials and plastics is that plastics consist of long molecules that give plastics many of their unique properties, while glass, metals, and clay consist of short molecules.
Plastics are indispensable to our modern way of life. Many people sleep on pillows and mattresses filled with a type of plastic—either cellular polyurethane or polyester. At night, people sleep under blankets and bedspreads made of acrylic plastics, and in the morning, they step out of bed onto polyester and nylon carpets. The cars we drive, the computers we use, the utensils we cook with, the recreational equipment we play with, and the houses and buildings we live and work in all include important plastic components. The average car contains almost 136 kg (almost 300 lb) of plastics—nearly 12 percent of the vehicle’s overall weight. Telephones, textiles, compact discs, paints, plumbing fixtures, boats, and furniture are other domestic products made of plastics. In 1979 the volume of plastics produced in the United States surpassed the volume of domestically produced steel.
Plastics are used extensively by many key industries, including the automobile, aerospace, construction, packaging, and electrical industries. The aerospace industry uses plastics to make strategic military parts for missiles, rockets, and aircraft. Plastics are also used in specialized fields, such as the health industry, to make medical instruments, dental fillings, optical lenses, and biocompatible joints.
Plastics possess a wide variety of useful properties and are relatively inexpensive to produce. They are lighter than many materials of comparable strength, and unlike metals and wood, plastics do not rust or rot. Most plastics can be produced in any color. They can also be manufactured as clear as glass, translucent (transmitting small amounts of light), or opaque (impenetrable to light).
Plastics have a lower density than that of metals, so plastics are lighter. Most plastics vary in density from 0.9 to 2.2 g/cm3 (0.45 to 1.5 oz/cu in), compared to steel’s density of 7.85 g/cm3 (5.29 oz/cu in). Plastic can also be reinforced with glass and other fibers to form incredibly strong materials. For example, nylon reinforced with glass can have a tensile strength (resistance of a material to being elongated or pulled apart) of up to 165 Mega Pascal (24,000 psi).
Plastics have some disadvantages. When burned, some plastics produce poisonous fumes. Although certain plastics are specifically designed to withstand temperatures as high as 288° C (550° F), in general plastics are not used when high heat resistance is needed. Because of their molecular stability, plastics do not easily break down into simpler components. As a result, disposal of plastics creates a solid waste problem (see Plastics and the Environment below).
Plastics consist of very long molecules each composed of carbon atoms linked into chains. One type of plastic, known as , is composed of extremely long molecules that each contain over 200,000 carbon atoms. These long, chainlike molecules give plastics unique properties and distinguish plastics from materials, such as metals, that have short, crystalline molecular structures.
Although some plastics are made from plant oils, the majority are made from fossil fuels. Fossil fuels contain hydrocarbons (compounds containing hydrogen and carbon), which provide the building blocks for long polymer molecules. These small building blocks, called monomers, link together to form long carbon chains called polymers. The process of forming these long molecules from hydrocarbons is known as polymerization. The molecules typically form viscous, sticky substances known as resins, which are used to make plastic products.
Ethylene, for example, is a gaseous hydrocarbon. When it is subjected to heat, pressure, and certain catalysts (substances used to enable faster chemical reactions), the ethylene molecules join together into long, repeating carbon chains. These joined molecules form a plastic resin known as .
Joining identical monomers to make carbon chains is called addition polymerization, because the process is similar to stringing many identical beads on a string. Plastics made by addition polymerization include polyethylene, , polyvinyl chloride, and . Joining two or more different monomers of varying lengths is known as condensation polymerization, because water or other by-products are eliminated as the polymer forms. Condensation polymers include (polyamide), polyester, and polyurethane.
The properties of a plastic are determined by the length of the plastic’s molecules and the specific monomer present. For example, elastomers are plastics composed of long, tightly twisted molecules. These coiled molecules allow the plastic to stretch and recoil like a spring. Rubber bands and flexible silicone caulking are examples of elastomers.
The carbon backbone of polymer molecules often bonds with smaller side chains consisting of other elements, including chlorine, fluorine, nitrogen, and silicon. These side chains give plastics some distinguishing characteristics. For example, when chlorine atoms substitute for hydrogen atoms along the carbon chain, the result is polyvinyl chloride, one of the most versatile and widely used plastics in the world. The addition of chlorine makes this plastic harder and more heat resistant.
Different plastics have advantages and disadvantages associated with the unique chemistry of each plastic. For example, longer polymer molecules become more entangled (like spaghetti noodles), which gives plastics containing these longer polymers high tensile strength and high impact resistance. However, plastics made from longer molecules are more difficult to mold.
All plastics, whether made by addition or condensation polymerization, can be divided into two groups: thermoplastics and thermosetting plastics. These terms refer to the different ways these types of plastics respond to heat. Thermoplastics can be repeatedly softened by heating and hardened by cooling. Thermosetting plastics, on the other hand, harden permanently after being heated once.
The reason for the difference in response to heat between thermoplastics and thermosetting plastics lies in the chemical structures of the plastics. Thermoplastic molecules, which are linear or slightly branched, do not chemically bond with each other when heated. Instead, thermoplastic chains are held together by weak van der Waal forces (weak attractions between the molecules) that cause the long molecular chains to clump together like piles of entangled spaghetti. Thermoplastics can be heated and cooled, and consequently softened and hardened, repeatedly, like candle wax. For this reason, thermoplastics can be remolded and reused almost indefinitely.
Thermosetting plastics consist of chain molecules that chemically bond, or cross-link, with each other when heated. When thermosetting plastics cross-link, the molecules create a permanent, three-dimensional network that can be considered one giant molecule. Once cured, thermosetting plastics cannot be remelted, in the same way that cured concrete cannot be reset. Consequently, thermosetting plastics are often used to make heat-resistant products, because these plastics can be heated to temperatures of 260° C (500° F) without melting.
The different molecular structures of thermoplastics and thermosetting plastics allow manufacturers to customize the properties of commercial plastics for specific applications. Because thermoplastic materials consist of individual molecules, properties of thermoplastics are largely influenced by molecular weight. For instance, increasing the molecular weight of a thermoplastic material increases its tensile strength, impact strength, and fatigue strength (ability of a material to withstand constant stress). Conversely, because thermosetting plastics consist of a single molecular network, molecular weight does not significantly influence the properties of these plastics. Instead, many properties of thermosetting plastics are determined by adding different types and amounts of fillers and reinforcements, such as glass fibers (see Materials Science and Technology).
Thermoplastics may be grouped according to the arrangement of their molecules. Highly aligned molecules arrange themselves more compactly, resulting in a stronger plastic. For example, molecules in nylon are highly aligned, making this thermoplastic extremely strong. The degree of alignment of the molecules also determines how transparent a plastic is. Thermoplastics with highly aligned molecules scatter light, which makes these plastics appear opaque. Thermoplastics with semialigned molecules scatter some light, which makes most of these plastics appear translucent. Thermoplastics with random (amorphous) molecular arrangement do not scatter light and are clear. Amorphous thermoplastics are used to make optical lenses, windshields, and other clear products.
The process of forming plastic resins into plastic products is the basis of the plastics industry. Many different processes are used to make plastic products, and in each process, the plastic resin must be softened or sufficiently liquefied to be shaped.
A Forming Thermoplastics
Although some processes are used to manufacture both thermoplastics and thermosetting plastics, certain processes are specific to forming thermoplastics. (For more information, see the Casting and Expansion Processes section of this article.)
A1 Injection Molding
Injection molding uses a piston or screw to force plastic resin through a heated tube into a mold, where the plastic cools and hardens to the shape of the mold. The mold is then opened and the plastic cast removed. Thermoplastic items made by injection molding include toys, combs, car grills, and various containers.
A2 Extrusion
Extrusion is a continuous process, as opposed to all other plastic production processes, which start over at the beginning of the process after each new part is removed from the mold. In the extrusion process, plastic pellets are first heated in a long barrel. In a manner similar to that of a pasta-making or sausage-stuffing machine, a rotating screw then forces the heated plastic through a die (device used for forming material) opening of the desired shape.
As the continuous plastic form emerges from the die opening, it is cooled and solidified, and the continuous plastic form is then cut to the desired length. Plastic products made by extrusion include garden hoses, drinking straws, pipes, and ropes. Melted thermoplastic forced through extremely fine die holes can be cooled and woven into fabrics for clothes, curtains, and carpets.
A3 Blow Molding
Blow molding is used to form bottles and other containers from soft, hollow thermoplastic tubes. First a mold is fitted around the outside of the softened thermoplastic tube, and then the tube is heated. Next, air is blown into the softened tube (similar to inflating a balloon), which forces the outside of the softened tube to conform to the inside walls of the mold. Once the plastic cools, the mold is opened and the newly molded container is removed. Blow molding is used to make many plastic containers, including soft-drink bottles, jars, detergent bottles, and storage drums.
A4 Blow Film Extrusion
Blow film extrusion is the process used to make plastic garbage bags and continuous sheets. This process works by extruding a hollow, sealed-end thermoplastic tube through a die opening. As the flattened plastic tube emerges from the die opening, air is blown inside the hollow tube to stretch and thin the tube (like a balloon being inflated) to the desired size and wall thickness.
The plastic is then air-cooled and pulled away on take-up rollers to a heat-sealing operation. The heat-sealer cuts and seals one end of the thinned, flattened thermoplastic tube, creating various bag lengths for products such as plastic grocery and garbage bags. For sheeting (flat film), the thinned plastic tube is slit along one side and opened to form a continuous sheet.
A5 Calendering
The calendering process forms continuous plastic sheets that are used to make flooring, wall siding, tape, and other products. These plastic sheets are made by forcing hot thermoplastic resin between heated rollers called calenders. A series of secondary calenders further thins the plastic sheets. Paper, cloth, and other plastics may be pressed between layers of calendered plastic to make items such as credit cards, playing cards, and wallpaper.
A6 Thermoforming
Thermoforming is a term used to describe several techniques for making products from plastic sheets. Products made from thermoformed sheets include trays, signs, briefcase shells, refrigerator door liners, and packages. In a vacuum-forming process, hot thermoplastic sheets are draped over a mold. Air is removed from between the mold and the hot plastic, which creates a vacuum that draws the plastic into the cavities of the mold. When the plastic cools, the molded product is removed. In the pressure-forming process, compressed air is used to drive a hot plastic sheet into the cavities and depressions of a concave, or female, mold. Vent holes in the bottom of the mold allow trapped air to escape.
B Forming Thermosetting Plastics
Thermosetting plastics are manufactured by several methods that use heat or pressure to induce polymer molecules to bond, or cross-link, into typically hard and durable products.
B1 Compression Molding
Compression molding forms plastics through a technique that is similar to the way a waffle iron forms waffles from batter. First, thermosetting resin is placed into a steel mold. The application of heat and pressure, which accelerate cross-linking of the resin, softens the material and squeezes it into all parts of the mold to form the desired shape. Once the material has cooled and hardened, the newly formed object is removed from the mold. This process creates hard, heat-resistant plastic products, including dinnerware, telephones, television set frames, and electrical parts.
B2 Laminating
The laminating process binds layers of materials, such as textiles and paper, together in a plastic matrix. This process is similar to the process of joining sheets of wood to make plywood. Resin-impregnated layers of textiles or paper are stacked on hot plates, then squeezed and fused together by heat and pressure, which causes the polymer molecules to cross-link. The best-known laminate trade name is Formica, which is a product consisting of resin-impregnated layers of paper with decorative patterns such as wood grain, marble, and colored designs. Formica is often used as a surface finish for furniture, and kitchen and bathroom countertops. Thermosetting resins known as melamine and phenolic resins form the plastic matrix for Formica and other laminates. Electric circuit boards are also laminated from resin-impregnated paper, fabric, and glass fibers.
B3 Reaction Injection Molding (RIM)
Strong, sizable, and durable plastic products such as automobile body panels, skis, and business machine housings are formed by reaction injection molding. In this process, liquid thermosetting resin is combined with a curing agent (a chemical that causes the polymer molecules to cross-link) and injected into a mold. Most products made by reaction injection molding are made from .
C Forming Both Types of Plastics
Certain plastic fabrication processes can be used to form either thermoplastics or thermosetting plastics.
C1 Casting
The casting process is similar to that of molding plaster or cement. Fluid thermosetting or thermoplastic resin is poured into a mold, and additives cause the resin to solidify. Photographic film is made by pouring a fluid solution of resin onto a highly polished metal belt. A thin plastic film remains as the solution evaporates. The casting process is also used to make furniture parts, tabletops, sinks, and acrylic window sheets.
C2 Expansion Processes
Thermosetting and thermoplastic resins can be expanded by injecting gases (often nitrogen or methyl chloride) into the plastic melt. As the resin cools, tiny bubbles of gas are trapped inside, forming a cellular plastic structure. This process is used to make foam products such as cushions, pillows, sponges, egg cartons, and polystyrene cups.
Foam plastics can be classified according to their bubble, or cell, structure. Sponges and carpet pads are examples of open-celled foam plastics, in which the bubbles are interconnected. Flotation devices are examples of closed-celled foam plastics, in which the bubbles are sealed like tiny balloons. Foam plastics can also be classified by density (ratio of plastic to cells), by the type of plastic resin used, and by flexibility (rigid or flexible foam). For example, rigid, closed-celled polyurethane plastics make excellent insulation for refrigerators and freezers.
A wide variety of both thermoplastics and thermosetting plastics are manufactured. These plastics have a spectrum of properties that are derived from their chemical compositions. As a result, manufactured plastics can be used in applications ranging from contact lenses to jet body components.
A Thermoplastics
Thermoplastic materials are in high demand because they can be repeatedly softened and remolded. The most commonly manufactured thermoplastics are presented in this section in order of decreasing volume of production.
A1 Polyethylene
(PE) resins are milky white, translucent substances derived from ethylene (CH2CH2). Polyethylene, with the chemical formula [CH2CH2]n (where n denotes that the chemical formula inside the brackets repeats itself to form the plastic molecule) is made in low- and high-density forms. Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) has a density ranging from 0.91 to 0.93 g/cm3 (0.60 to 0.61 oz/cu in). The molecules of LDPE have a carbon backbone with side groups of four to six carbon atoms attached randomly along the main backbone. LDPE is the most widely used of all plastics, because it is inexpensive, flexible, extremely tough, and chemical-resistant. LDPE is molded into bottles, garment bags, frozen food packages, and plastic toys.
High-density polyethylene (HDPE) has a density that ranges from 0.94 to 0.97 g/cm3 (0.62 to 0.64 oz/cu in). Its molecules have an extremely long carbon backbone with no side groups. As a result, these molecules align into more compact arrangements, accounting for the higher density of HDPE. HDPE is stiffer, stronger, and less translucent than low-density polyethylene. HDPE is formed into grocery bags, car fuel tanks, packaging, and piping.
A2 Polyvinyl Chloride
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is prepared from the organic compound vinyl chloride (CH2CHCl). PVC is the most widely used of the amorphous plastics. PVC is lightweight, durable, and waterproof. Chlorine atoms bonded to the carbon backbone of its molecules give PVC its hard and flame-resistant properties.
In its rigid form, PVC is weather-resistant and is extruded into pipe, house siding, and gutters. Rigid PVC is also blow molded into clear bottles and is used to form other consumer products, including compact discs and computer casings.
PVC can be softened with certain chemicals. This softened form of PVC is used to make shrink-wrap, food packaging, rainwear, shoe soles, shampoo containers, floor tile, gloves, upholstery, and other products. Most softened PVC plastic products are manufactured by extrusion, injection molding, or casting.
A3 Polypropylene
is polymerized from the organic compound propylene (CH3CHCH2) and has a methyl group (CH3) branching off of every other carbon along the molecular backbone. Because the most common form of polypropylene has the methyl groups all on one side of the carbon backbone, polypropylene molecules tend to be highly aligned and compact, giving this thermoplastic the properties of durability and chemical resistance. Many polypropylene products, such as rope, fiber, luggage, carpet, and packaging film, are formed by injection molding.
A4 Polystyrene
, produced from styrene (C6H5CHCH2), has phenyl groups (six-member carbon ring) attached in random locations along the carbon backbone of the molecule. The random attachment of benzene prevents the molecules from becoming highly aligned. As a result, polystyrene is an amorphous, transparent, and somewhat brittle plastic. Polystyrene is widely used because of its rigidity and superior insulation properties. Polystyrene can undergo all thermoplastic processes to form products such as toys, utensils, display boxes, model aircraft kits, and ballpoint pen barrels. Polystyrene is also expanded into foam plastics such as packaging materials, egg cartons, flotation devices, and styrofoam. (For more information, see the Expansion Processes section of this article.)
A5 Polyethylene Terephthalate
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is formed from the reaction of terephthalic acid (HOOCC6H4COOH) and ethylene glycol (HOCH2CH2OH), which produces the PET monomer [OOCC6H4COOCH2CH2]n. PET molecules are highly aligned, creating a strong and abrasion-resistant material that is used to produce films and polyester fibers. PET is injection molded into windshield wiper arms, sunroof frames, gears, pulleys, and food trays. This plastic is used to make the trademarked textiles Dacron, Fibre V, Fortrel, and Kodel. Tough, transparent PET films (marketed under the brand name Mylar) are magnetically coated to make both audio and video recording tape.
A6 Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is made by copolymerizing (combining two or more monomers) the monomers acrylonitrile (CH2CHCN) and styrene (C6H5CHCH2). Acrylonitrile and styrene are dissolved in polybutadiene rubber [CHCHCHCH] n, which allows these monomers to form chains by attaching to the rubber molecules.
The advantage of ABS is that this material combines the strength and rigidity of the acrylonitrile and styrene polymers with the toughness of the polybutadiene rubber. Although the cost of producing ABS is roughly twice the cost of producing polystyrene, ABS is considered superior for its hardness, gloss, toughness, and electrical insulation properties. ABS plastic is injection molded to make telephones, helmets, washing machine agitators, and pipe joints. This plastic is thermoformed to make luggage, golf carts, toys, and car grills. ABS is also extruded to make piping, to which pipe joints are easily solvent-cemented.
A7 Polymethyl Methacrylate
Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), more commonly known by the generic name acrylic, is polymerized from the hydrocarbon compound methyl methacrylate (C4O2H8). PMMA is a hard material and is extremely clear because of the amorphous arrangement of its molecules. As a result, this thermoplastic is used to make optical lenses, watch crystals, aircraft windshields, skylights, and outdoor signs. These PMMA products are marketed under familiar trade names, including Plexiglas, Lucite, and Acrylite. Because PMMA can be cast to resemble marble, it is also used to make sinks, countertops, and other fixtures.
A8 Polyamide
Polyamides (PA), known by the trade name Nylon, consist of highly ordered molecules, which give polyamides high tensile strength. Some polyamides are made by reacting dicarboxylic acid with diamines (carbon molecules with the ion –NH2 on each end), as in nylon-6,6 and nylon-6,10. (The two numbers in each type of nylon represent the number of carbon atoms in the diamine and the dicarboxylic acid, respectively.) Other types of nylon are synthesized by the condensation of amino acids.
Polyamides have mechanical properties such as high abrasion resistance, low coefficients of friction (meaning they are slippery), and tensile strengths comparable to the softer of the aluminum alloys. Therefore, nylons are commonly used for mechanical applications, such as gears, bearings, and bushings (see Engineering: Mechanical Engineering). Nylons are also extruded into millions of tons of synthetic fibers every year. The most commonly used nylon fibers, nylon-6,6 and nylon-6 (single number because this nylon forms by the self-condensation of an amino acid) are made into textiles, ropes, fishing lines, brushes, and other items.
B Thermosetting Materials
Because thermosetting plastics cure, or cross-link, after being heated, these plastics can be made into durable and heat-resistant materials. The most commonly manufactured thermosetting plastics are presented below in order of decreasing volume of production.
B1 Polyurethane
Polyurethane is a polymer consisting of the repeating unit [ROOCNHR’]n, where R may represent a different alkyl group than R’. Alkyl groups are chemical groups obtained by removing a hydrogen atom from an alkane—a hydrocarbon containing all carbon-carbon single bonds. Most types of polyurethane resin cross-link and become thermosetting plastics. However, some polyurethane resins have a linear molecular arrangement that does not cross-link, resulting in thermoplastics.
Thermosetting polyurethane molecules cross-link into a single giant molecule. Thermosetting polyurethane is widely used in various forms, including soft and hard foams. Soft, open-celled polyurethane foams are used to make seat cushions, mattresses, and packaging. Hard polyurethane foams are used as insulation in refrigerators, freezers, and homes.
Thermoplastic polyurethane molecules have linear, highly crystalline molecular structures that form an abrasion-resistant material. Thermoplastic polyurethanes are molded into shoe soles, car fenders, door panels, and other products.
B2 Phenolics
Phenolic (phenol-formaldehyde) resins, first commercially available in 1910, were some of the first polymers made. Today phenolics are some of the most widely produced thermosetting plastics. They are produced by reacting phenol (C6H5OH) with formaldehyde (HCOH). Phenolic plastics are hard, strong, inexpensive to produce, and they possess excellent electrical resistance. Phenolic resins cure (cross-link) when heat and pressure are applied during the molding process. Phenolic resin-impregnated paper or cloth can be laminated into numerous products, such as electrical circuit boards. Phenolic resins are also compression molded into electrical switches, pan and iron handles, radio and television casings, and toaster knobs and bases.
B3 Melamine-Formaldehyde and Urea-Formaldehyde
Urea-formaldehyde (UF) and melamine-formaldehyde (MF) resins are composed of molecules that cross-link into clear, hard plastics. Properties of UF and MF resins are similar to the properties of phenolic resins. As their names imply, these resins are formed by condensation reactions between urea (H2NCONH2) or melamine (C3H6N6) and formaldehyde (CH2O).
Melamine-formaldehyde resins are easily molded in compression and special injection molding machines. MF plastics are more heat-resistant, scratch-proof, and stain-resistant than urea-formaldehyde plastics are. MF resins are used to manufacture dishware, electrical components, laminated furniture veneers, and to bond wood layers into plywood.
Urea-formaldehyde resins form products such as appliance knobs, knife handles, and plates. UF resins are used to give drip-dry properties to wash-and-wear clothes as well as to bond wood chips and wood sheets into chip board and plywood.
B4 Unsaturated Polyesters
Unsaturated polyesters (UP) belong to the polyester group of plastics. Polyesters are composed of long carbon chains containing [OOCC6H4COOCH2CH2]n. Unsaturated polyesters (an unsaturated compound contains multiple bonds) cross-link when the long molecules are joined (copolymerized) by the aromatic organic compound styrene (see Aromatic Compounds).
Unsaturated polyester resins are often premixed with glass fibers for additional strength. Two types of premixed resins are bulk molding compounds (BMC) and sheet molding compounds (SMC). Both types of compounds are doughlike in consistency and may contain short fiber reinforcements and other additives. Sheet molding compounds are preformed into large sheets or rolls that can be molded into products such as shower floors, small boat hulls, and roofing materials. Bulk molding compounds are also preformed to be compression molded into car body panels and other automobile components.
B5 Epoxy
Epoxy (EP) resins are named for the epoxide groups (cycl-CH2OCH; cycl or cyclic refers to the triangle formed by this group) that terminate the molecules. The oxygen along epoxy’s carbon chain and the epoxide groups at the ends of the carbon chain give epoxy resins some useful properties. Epoxies are tough, extremely weather-resistant, and do not shrink as they cure (dry).
Epoxies cross-link when a catalyzing agent (hardener) is added, forming a three-dimensional molecular network. Because of their outstanding bonding strength, epoxy resins are used to make coatings, adhesives, and composite laminates. Epoxy has important applications in the aerospace industry. All composite aircraft are made of epoxy. Epoxy is used to make the wing skins for the F-18 and F-22 fighters, as well as the horizontal stabilizer for the F-16 fighter and the B-1 bomber. In addition, almost 20 percent of the Harrier jet’s total weight is composed of reinforcements bound with an epoxy matrix (see Airplane). Because of epoxy’s chemical resistance and excellent electrical insulation properties, electrical parts such as relays, coils, and transformers are insulated with epoxy.
B6 Reinforced Plastics
Reinforced plastics, called composites, are plastics strengthened with fibers, strands, cloth, or other materials. Thermosetting epoxy and polyester resins are commonly used as the polymer matrix (binding material) in reinforced plastics. Due to a combination of strength and affordability, glass fibers, which are woven into the product, are the most common reinforcing material. Organic synthetic fibers such as aramid (an aromatic polyamide with the commercial name Kevlar) offer greater strength and stiffness than glass fibers, but these synthetic fibers are considerably more expensive.
The Boeing 777 aircraft makes extensive use of lightweight reinforced plastics. Other products made from reinforced plastics include boat hulls and automobile body panels, as well as recreation equipment, such as tennis rackets, golf clubs, and jet skis.
Humankind has been using natural plastics for thousands of years. For example, the early Egyptians soaked burial wrappings in natural resins to help preserve their dead. People have been using animal horns and turtle shells (which contain natural resins) for centuries to make items such as spoons, combs, and buttons.
During the mid-19th century, shellac (resinous substance secreted by the lac insect) was gathered in southern Asia and transported to the United States to be molded into buttons, small cases, knobs, phonograph records, and hand-mirror frames. During that time period, gutta-percha (rubberlike sap taken from certain trees in Malaya) was used as the first insulating coating for electrical wires.
In order to find more efficient ways to produce plastics and rubbers, scientists began trying to produce these materials in the laboratory. In 1839 American inventor Charles Goodyear vulcanized rubber by accidentally dropping a piece of sulfur-treated rubber onto a hot stove. Goodyear discovered that heating sulfur and rubber together improved the properties of natural rubber so that it would no longer become brittle when cold and soft when hot. In 1862 British chemist Alexander Parkes synthesized a plastic known as pyroxylin, which was used as a coating film on photographic plates. The following year, American inventor John W. Hyatt began working on a substitute for ivory billiard balls. Hyatt added camphor to nitrated cellulose and formed a modified natural plastic called celluloid, which became the basis of the early plastics industry. Celluloid was used to make products such as umbrella handles, dental plates, toys, photographic film, and billiard balls.
These early plastics based on natural products shared numerous drawbacks. For example, many of the necessary natural materials were in short supply, and all proved difficult to mold. Finished products were inconsistent from batch to batch, and most products darkened and cracked with age. Furthermore, celluloid proved to be a very flammable material.
Due to these shortcomings, scientists attempted to find more reliable plastic source materials. In 1909 American chemist Leo Hendrik Baekeland made a breakthrough when he created the first commercially successful thermosetting synthetic resin, which was called Bakelite (known today as phenolic resin). Use of Bakelite quickly grew. It has been used to make products such as telephones and pot handles.
The chemistry of joining small molecules into macromolecules became the foundation of an emerging plastics industry. Between 1920 and 1932, the I.G. Farben Company of Germany synthesized polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride, as well as a synthetic rubber called Buna-S. In 1934 Du Pont made a breakthrough when it introduced nylon—a material finer, stronger, and more elastic than silk. By 1936 acrylics were being produced by German, British, and U.S. companies. That same year, the British company Imperial Chemical Industries developed polyethylene. In 1937 polyurethane was invented by the German company Friedrich Bayer & Co. (see Bayer AG), but this plastic was not available to consumers until it was commercialized by U.S. companies in the 1950s. In 1939 the German company I.G. Farbenindustrie filed a patent for polyepoxide (epoxy), which was not sold commercially until a U.S. firm made epoxy resins available to the consumer market almost four years later.
After World War II (1939-1945), the pace of new polymer discoveries accelerated. In 1941 a small English company developed polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Although Du Pont and Imperial Chemical Industries produced PET fibers (marketed under the names Dacron and Terylene, respectively) during the postwar era, the use of PET as a material for making bottles, films, and coatings did not become widespread until the 1970s. In the postwar era, research by Bayer and by General Electric resulted in production of plastics such as polycarbonates, which are used to make small appliances, aircraft parts, and safety helmets. In 1965 introduced a linear, heat-resistant thermoplastic known as polysulfone, which is used to make face shields for astronauts and hospital equipment that can be sterilized in an autoclave (a device that uses high pressure steam for sterilization).
Today, scientists can tailor the properties of plastics to numerous design specifications. Modern plastics are used to make products such as artificial joints, contact lenses, space suits, and other specialized materials. As plastics have become more versatile, use of plastics has grown as well. By the year 2005, annual global demand for plastics is projected to exceed 200 million metric tons (441 billion lb).
Every year in the United States, consumers throw millions of tons of plastic away—of the estimated 210 million metric tons (232 short tons) of municipal waste produced annually in the United States, 10.7 percent are plastics. As municipal landfills reach capacity and additional landfill space diminishes across the United States, alternative methods for reducing and disposing of wastes—including plastics—are being explored. Some of these options include reducing consumption of plastics, using biodegradable plastics, and incinerating or recycling plastic waste.
A Source Reduction
Source reduction is the practice of using less material to manufacture a product. For example, the wall thickness of many plastic and metal containers has been reduced in recent years, and some European countries have proposed to eliminate packaging that cannot be easily recycled.
B Biodegradable Plastics
Due to their molecular stability, plastics do not easily break down into simpler components. Plastics are therefore not considered biodegradable (see Solid Waste Disposal). However, researchers are working to develop biodegradable plastics that will disintegrate due to bacterial action or exposure to sunlight. For example, scientists are incorporating starch molecules into some plastic resins during the manufacturing process. When these plastics are discarded, bacteria eat the starch molecules. This causes the polymer molecules to break apart, allowing the plastic to decompose. Researchers are also investigating ways to make plastics more biodegradable from exposure to sunlight. Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun causes many plastics molecules to become brittle and slowly break apart. Researchers are working to create plastics that will degrade faster in sunlight, but not so fast that the plastic begins to degrade while still in use.
C Incineration
Some wastes, such as paper, plastics, wood, and other flammable materials can be burned in incinerators. The resulting ash requires much less space for disposal than the original waste would. Because incineration of plastics can produce hazardous air emissions and other pollutants, this process is strictly regulated.
D Recycling Plastics
All plastics can be recycled. Thermoplastics can be remelted and made into new products. Thermosetting plastics can be ground, commingled (mixed), and then used as filler in moldable thermoplastic materials. Highly filled and reinforced thermosetting plastics can be pulverized and used in new composite formulations.
Chemical recycling is a depolymerization process that uses heat and chemicals to break plastic molecules down into more basic components, which can then be reused. Another process, called pyrolysis, vaporizes and condenses both thermoplastics and thermosetting plastics into hydrocarbon liquids.
Collecting and sorting used plastics is an expensive and time-consuming process. While about 27 percent of aluminum products, 45 percent of paper products, and 23 percent of glass products are recycled in the United States, only about 5 percent of plastics are currently recovered and recycled. Once plastic products are thrown away, they must be collected and then separated by plastic type. Most modern automated plastic sorting systems are not capable of differentiating between many different types of plastics. However, some advances are being made in these sorting systems to separate plastics by color, density, and chemical composition. For example, x-ray sensors can distinguish PET from PVC by sensing the presence of chlorine atoms in the polyvinyl chloride material.
If plastic types are not segregated, the recycled plastic cannot achieve high remolding performance, which results in decreased market value of the recycled plastic. Other factors can adversely affect the quality of recycled plastics. These factors include the possible degradation of the plastic during its original life cycle and the possible addition of foreign materials to the scrap recycled plastic during the recycling process. For health reasons, recycled plastics are rarely made into food containers. Instead, most recycled plastics are typically made into items such as carpet fibers, motor oil bottles, trash carts, soap packages, and textile fibers.
To promote the conservation and recycling of materials, the U.S. federal government passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) in 1976. In 1988 the Plastic Bottle Institute of the Society of the Plastics Industry established a system for identifying plastic containers by plastic type. The purpose of the "chasing arrows" symbol that appears on the bottom of many plastic containers is to promote plastics recycling. The chasing arrows enclose a number (such as a 1 indicating PET, a 2 indicating high density polyethylene (HDPE), and a 3 indicating PVC), which aids in the plastics sorting process.
By 1994, 40 states had legislative mandates for litter control and recycling. Today, a growing number of communities have collection centers for recyclable materials, and some larger municipalities have implemented curbside pickup for recyclable materials, including plastics, paper, metal, and glass.

Contributed By:
Terry L. Richardson
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Earthquake, shaking of the Earth’s surface caused by rapid movement of the Earth’s rocky outer layer. Earthquakes occur when energy stored within the Earth, usually in the form of strain in rocks, suddenly releases. This energy is transmitted to the surface of the Earth by earthquake waves. The study of earthquakes and the waves they create is called seismology (from the Greek seismos, “to shake”). Scientists who study earthquakes are called seismologists.
The destruction an earthquake causes depends on its magnitude and duration, or the amount of shaking that occurs. A structure’s design and the materials used in its construction also affect the amount of damage the structure incurs. Earthquakes vary from small, imperceptible shaking to large shocks felt over thousands of kilometers. Earthquakes can deform the ground, make buildings and other structures collapse, and create tsunamis (large sea waves). Lives may be lost in the resulting destruction.
Earthquakes, or seismic tremors, occur at a rate of several hundred per day around the world. A worldwide network of seismographs (machines that record movements of the Earth) detects about 1 million small earthquakes per year. Very large earthquakes, such as the 1964 Alaskan earthquake, which caused millions of dollars in damage, occur worldwide once every few years. Moderate earthquakes, such as the 1989 tremor in Loma Prieta, California, and the 1995 tremor in Kōbe, Japan, occur about 20 times a year. Moderate earthquakes also cause millions of dollars in damage and can harm many people.
In the last 500 years, several million people have been killed by earthquakes around the world, including over 240,000 in the 1976 T’ang-Shan, China, earthquake. Worldwide, earthquakes have also caused severe property and structural damage. Adequate precautions, such as education, emergency planning, and constructing stronger, more flexible, safely designed structures, can limit the loss of life and decrease the damage caused by earthquakes.
Seismologists examine the parts of an earthquake, such as what happens to the Earth’s surface during an earthquake, how the energy of an earthquake moves from inside the Earth to the surface, how this energy causes damage, and the slip of the fault that causes the earthquake. Faults are cracks in Earth’s crust where rocks on either side of the crack have moved. By studying the different parts and actions of earthquakes, seismologists learn more about their effects and how to predict and prepare for their ground shaking in order to reduce damage.
A Focus and Epicenter
The point within the Earth along the rupturing geological fault where an earthquake originates is called the focus, or hypocenter. The point on the Earth’s surface directly above the focus is called the epicenter. Earthquake waves begin to radiate out from the focus and subsequently form along the fault rupture. If the focus is near the surface—between 0 and 70 km (0 and 40 mi) deep—shallow-focus earthquakes are produced. If it is intermediate or deep below the crust—between 70 and 700 km (40 and 400 mi) deep—a deep-focus earthquake will be produced. Shallow-focus earthquakes tend to be larger, and therefore more damaging, earthquakes. This is because they are closer to the surface where the rocks are stronger and build up more strain.
Seismologists know from observations that most earthquakes originate as shallow-focus earthquakes and most of them occur near plate boundaries—areas where the Earth’s crustal plates move against each other (see Plate Tectonics). Other earthquakes, including deep-focus earthquakes, can originate in subduction zones, where one tectonic plate subducts, or moves under another plate. See also Geology; Earth.
B Faults
Stress in the Earth’s crust creates faults, resulting in earthquakes. The properties of an earthquake depend strongly on the type of fault slip, or movement along the fault, that causes the earthquake. Geologists categorize faults according to the direction of the fault slip. The surface between the two sides of a fault lies in a plane, and the direction of the plane is usually not vertical; rather it dips at an angle into the Earth. When the rock hanging over the dipping fault plane slips downward into the ground, the fault is called a normal fault. When the hanging wall slips upward in relation to the footwall, the fault is called a reverse fault. Both normal and reverse faults produce vertical displacements, or the upward movement of one side of the fault above the other side, that appear at the surface as fault scarps. Strike-slip faults are another type of fault that produce horizontal displacements, or the side by side sliding movement of the fault, such as seen along the San Andreas fault in California. Strike-slip faults are usually found along boundaries between two plates that are sliding past each other.
C Waves
The sudden movement of rocks along a fault causes vibrations that transmit energy through the Earth in the form of waves. Waves that travel in the rocks below the surface of the Earth are called body waves, and there are two types of body waves: primary, or P, waves, and secondary, or S, waves. The S waves, also known as shearing waves, move the ground back and forth.
Earthquakes also contain surface waves that travel out from the epicenter along the surface of the Earth. Two types of these surface waves occur: Rayleigh waves, named after British physicist Lord Rayleigh, and Love waves, named after British geophysicist A. E. H. Love. Surface waves also cause damage to structures, as they shake the ground underneath the foundations of buildings and other structures.
Body waves, or P and S waves, radiate out from the rupturing fault starting at the focus of the earthquake. P waves are compression waves because the rocky material in their path moves back and forth in the same direction as the wave travels alternately compressing and expanding the rock. P waves are the fastest seismic waves; they travel in strong rock at about 6 to 7 km (about 4 mi) per second. P waves are followed by S waves, which shear, or twist, rather than compress the rock they travel through. S waves travel at about 3.5 km (about 2 mi) per second. S waves cause rocky material to move either side to side or up and down perpendicular to the direction the waves are traveling, thus shearing the rocks. Both P and S waves help seismologists to locate the focus and epicenter of an earthquake. As P and S waves move through the interior of the Earth, they are reflected and refracted, or bent, just as light waves are reflected and bent by glass. Seismologists examine this bending to determine where the earthquake originated.
On the surface of the Earth, Rayleigh waves cause rock particles to move forward, up, backward, and down in a path that contains the direction of the wave travel. This circular movement is somewhat like a piece of seaweed caught in an ocean wave, rolling in a circular path onto a beach. The second type of surface wave, the Love wave, causes rock to move horizontally, or side to side at right angles to the direction of the traveling wave, with no vertical displacements. Rayleigh and Love waves always travel slower than P waves and usually travel slower than S waves.
Most earthquakes are caused by the sudden slip along geologic faults. The faults slip because of movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates. This concept is called the elastic rebound theory. The rocky tectonic plates move very slowly, floating on top of a weaker rocky layer. As the plates collide with each other or slide past each other, pressure builds up within the rocky crust. Earthquakes occur when pressure within the crust increases slowly over hundreds of years and finally exceeds the strength of the rocks. Earthquakes also occur when human activities, such as the filling of reservoirs, increase stress in the Earth’s crust.
A Elastic Rebound Theory
In 1911 American seismologist Harry Fielding Reid studied the effects of the April 1906 California earthquake. He proposed the elastic rebound theory to explain the generation of certain earthquakes that scientists now know occur in tectonic areas, usually near plate boundaries. This theory states that during an earthquake, the rocks under strain suddenly break, creating a fracture along a fault. When a fault slips, movement in the crustal rock causes vibrations. The slip changes the local strain out into the surrounding rock. The change in strain leads to aftershocks (smaller earthquakes that occur after the initial earthquake), which are produced by further slips of the main fault or adjacent faults in the strained region. The slip begins at the focus and travels along the plane of the fault, radiating waves out along the rupture surface. On each side of the fault, the rock shifts in opposite directions. The fault rupture travels in irregular steps along the fault; these sudden stops and starts of the moving rupture give rise to the vibrations that propagate as seismic waves. After the earthquake, strain begins to build again until it is greater than the forces holding the rocks together, then the fault snaps again and causes another earthquake.
B Human Activities
Fault rupture is not the only cause of earthquakes; human activities can also be the direct or indirect cause of significant earthquakes. Injecting fluid into deep wells for waste disposal, filling reservoirs with water, and firing underground nuclear test blasts can, in limited circumstances, lead to earthquakes. These activities increase the strain within the rock near the location of the activity so that rock slips and slides along pre-existing faults more easily. While earthquakes caused by human activities may be harmful, they can also provide useful information. Prior to the Nuclear Test Ban treaty, scientists were able to analyze the travel and arrival times of P waves from known earthquakes caused by underground nuclear test blasts. Scientists used this information to study earthquake waves and determine the interior structure of the Earth.
Scientists have determined that as water level in a reservoir increases, water pressure in pores inside the rocks along local faults also increases. The increased pressure may cause the rocks to slip, generating earthquakes. Beginning in 1935, the first detailed evidence of reservoir-induced earthquakes came from the filling of Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam on the Nevada-Arizona state border. Earthquakes were rare in the area prior to construction of the dam, but seismographs registered at least 600 shallow-focus earthquakes between 1936 and 1946. Most reservoirs, however, do not cause earthquakes.
Seismologists have been monitoring the frequency and locations of earthquakes for most of the 20th century. Seismologists generally classify naturally occurring earthquakes into one of two categories: interplate and intraplate. Interplate earthquakes are the most common; they occur primarily along plate boundaries. Intraplate earthquakes occur where the crust is fracturing within a plate. Both interplate and intraplate earthquakes may be caused by tectonic or volcanic forces.
A Tectonic Earthquakes
Tectonic earthquakes are caused by the sudden release of energy stored within the rocks along a fault. The released energy is produced by the strain on the rocks due to movement within the Earth, called tectonic deformation. The effect is like the sudden breaking and snapping back of a stretched elastic band.
B Volcanic Earthquakes
Volcanic earthquakes occur near active volcanoes but have the same fault slip mechanism as tectonic earthquakes. Volcanic earthquakes are caused by the upward movement of magma under the volcano, which strains the rock locally and leads to an earthquake. As the fluid magma rises to the surface of the volcano, it moves and fractures rock masses and causes continuous tremors that can last up to several hours or days. Volcanic earthquakes occur in areas that are associated with volcanic eruptions, such as in the Cascade Mountain Range of the Pacific Northwest, Japan, Iceland, and at isolated hot spots such as Hawaii.
Seismologists use global networks of seismographic stations to accurately map the focuses of earthquakes around the world. After studying the worldwide distribution of earthquakes, the pattern of earthquake types, and the movement of the Earth’s rocky crust, scientists proposed that plate tectonics, or the shifting of the plates as they move over another weaker rocky layer, was the main underlying cause of earthquakes. The theory of plate tectonics arose from several previous geologic theories and discoveries. Scientists now use the plate tectonics theory to describe the movement of the Earth’s plates and how this movement causes earthquakes. They also use the knowledge of plate tectonics to explain the locations of earthquakes, mountain formation, and deep ocean trenches, and to predict which areas will be damaged the most by earthquakes. It is clear that major earthquakes occur most frequently in areas with features that are found at plate boundaries: high mountain ranges and deep ocean trenches. Earthquakes within plates, or intraplate tremors, are rare compared with the thousands of earthquakes that occur at plate boundaries each year, but they can be very large and damaging.
Earthquakes that occur in the area surrounding the Pacific Ocean, at the edges of the Pacific plate, are responsible for an average of 80 percent of the energy released in earthquakes worldwide. Japan is shaken by more than 1,000 tremors greater than 3.5 in magnitude each year. The western coasts of North and South America are very also active earthquake zones, with several thousand small to moderate earthquakes each year.
Intraplate earthquakes are less frequent than plate boundary earthquakes, but they are still caused by the internal fracturing of rock masses. The New Madrid, Missouri, earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 were extreme examples of intraplate seismic events. Scientists estimate that the three main earthquakes of this series were about magnitude 8.0 and that there were at least 1,500 aftershocks.
Ground shaking leads to landslides and other soil movement. These are the main damage-causing events that occur during an earthquake. Primary effects that can accompany an earthquake include property damage, loss of lives, fire, and tsunami waves. Secondary effects, such as economic loss, disease, and lack of food and clean water, also occur after a large earthquake.
A Ground Shaking and Landslides
Earthquake waves make the ground move, shaking buildings and causing poorly designed or weak structures to partially or totally collapse. The ground shaking weakens soils and foundation materials under structures and causes dramatic changes in fine-grained soils. During an earthquake, water-saturated sandy soil becomes like liquid mud, an effect called liquefaction. Liquefaction causes damage as the foundation soil beneath structures and buildings weakens. Shaking may also dislodge large earth and rock masses, producing dangerous landslides, mudslides, and rock avalanches that may lead to loss of lives or further property damage.
B Fire
Another post-earthquake threat is fire, such as the fires that happened in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and after the devastating 1923 Tokyo earthquake. In the 1923 earthquake, about 130,000 lives were lost in Tokyo, Yokohama, and other cities, many in firestorms fanned by high winds. The amount of damage caused by post-earthquake fire depends on the types of building materials used, whether water lines are intact, and whether natural gas mains have been broken. Ruptured gas mains may lead to numerous fires, and fire fighting cannot be effective if the water mains are not intact to transport water to the fires. Fires can be significantly reduced with pre-earthquake planning, fire-resistant building materials, enforced fire codes, and public fire drills.
C Tsunami Waves and Flooding
Along the coasts, sea waves called tsunamis that accompany some large earthquakes centered under the ocean can cause more death and damage than ground shaking. Tsunamis are usually made up of several oceanic waves that travel out from the slipped fault and arrive one after the other on shore. They can strike without warning, often in places very distant from the epicenter of the earthquake. Tsunami waves are sometimes inaccurately referred to as tidal waves, but tidal forces do not cause them. Rather, tsunamis occur when a major fault under the ocean floor suddenly slips. The displaced rock pushes water above it like a giant paddle, producing powerful water waves at the ocean surface. The ocean waves spread out from the vicinity of the earthquake source and move across the ocean until they reach the coastline, where their height increases as they reach the continental shelf, the part of the Earth’s crust that slopes, or rises, from the ocean floor up to the land. Tsunamis wash ashore with often disastrous effects such as severe flooding, loss of lives due to drowning, and damage to property.
Earthquakes can also cause water in lakes and reservoirs to oscillate, or slosh back and forth. The water oscillations are called seiches (pronounced saysh). Seiches can cause retaining walls and dams to collapse and lead to flooding and damage downstream.
D Disease
Catastrophic earthquakes can create a risk of widespread disease outbreaks, especially in underdeveloped countries. Damage to water supply lines, sewage lines, and hospital facilities as well as lack of housing may lead to conditions that contribute to the spread of contagious diseases, such as influenza (the flu) and other viral infections. In some instances, lack of food supplies, clean water, and heating can create serious health problems as well.
Earthquakes cannot be prevented, but the damage they cause can be greatly reduced with communication strategies, proper structural design, emergency preparedness planning, education, and safer building standards. In response to the tragic loss of life and great cost of rebuilding after past earthquakes, many countries have established earthquake safety and regulatory agencies. These agencies require codes for engineers to use in order to regulate development and construction. Buildings built according to these codes survive earthquakes better and ensure that earthquake risk is reduced.
Tsunami early warning systems can prevent some damage because tsunami waves travel at a very slow speed. Seismologists immediately send out a warning when evidence of a large undersea earthquake appears on seismographs. Tsunami waves travel slower than seismic P and S waves—in the open ocean, they move about ten times slower than the speed of seismic waves in the rocks below. This gives seismologists time to issue tsunami alerts so that people at risk can evacuate the coastal area as a preventative measure to reduce related injuries or deaths. Scientists radio or telephone the information to the Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu and other stations.
Engineers minimize earthquake damage to buildings by using flexible, reinforced materials that can withstand shaking in buildings. Since the 1960s, scientists and engineers have greatly improved earthquake-resistant designs for buildings that are compatible with modern architecture and building materials. They use computer models to predict the response of the building to ground shaking patterns and compare these patterns to actual seismic events, such as in the 1994 Northridge, California, earthquake and the 1995 Kōbe, Japan, earthquake. They also analyze computer models of the motions of buildings in the most hazardous earthquake zones to predict possible damage and to suggest what reinforcement is needed. See also Engineering: Civil Engineering.
A Structural Design
Geologists and engineers use risk assessment maps, such as geologic hazard and seismic hazard zoning maps, to understand where faults are located and how to build near them safely. Engineers use geologic hazard maps to predict the average ground motions in a particular area and apply these predicted motions during engineering design phases of major construction projects. Engineers also use risk assessment maps to avoid building on major faults or to make sure that proper earthquake bracing is added to buildings constructed in zones that are prone to strong tremors. They can also use risk assessment maps to aid in the retrofit, or reinforcement, of older structures.
In urban areas of the world, the seismic risk is greater in nonreinforced buildings made of brick, stone, or concrete blocks because they cannot resist the horizontal forces produced by large seismic waves. Fortunately, single-family timber-frame homes built under modern construction codes resist strong earthquake shaking very well. Such houses have laterally braced frames bolted to their foundations to prevent separation. Although they may suffer some damage, they are unlikely to collapse because the strength of the strongly jointed timber-frame can easily support the light loads of the roof and the upper stories even in the event of strong vertical and horizontal ground motions.
B Emergency Preparedness Plans
Earthquake education and preparedness plans can help significantly reduce death and injury caused by earthquakes. People can take several preventative measures within their homes and at the office to reduce risk. Supports and bracing for shelves reduce the likelihood of items falling and potentially causing harm. Maintaining an earthquake survival kit in the home and at the office is also an important part of being prepared.
In the home, earthquake preparedness includes maintaining an earthquake kit and making sure that the house is structurally stable. The local chapter of the American Red Cross is a good source of information for how to assemble an earthquake kit. During an earthquake, people indoors should protect themselves from falling objects and flying glass by taking refuge under a heavy table. After an earthquake, people should move outside of buildings, assemble in open spaces, and prepare themselves for aftershocks. They should also listen for emergency bulletins on the radio, stay out of severely damaged buildings, and avoid coastal areas in the event of a tsunami.
In many countries, government emergency agencies have developed extensive earthquake response plans. In some earthquake hazardous regions, such as California, Japan, and Mexico City, modern strong motion seismographs in urban areas are now linked to a central office. Within a few minutes of an earthquake, the magnitude can be determined, the epicenter mapped, and intensity of shaking information can be distributed via radio to aid in response efforts.
Seismologists measure earthquakes to learn more about them and to use them for geological discovery. They measure the pattern of an earthquake with a machine called a seismograph. Using multiple seismographs around the world, they can accurately locate the epicenter of the earthquake, as well as determine its magnitude, or size, and fault slip properties.
A Measuring Earthquakes
An analog seismograph consists of a base that is anchored into the ground so that it moves with the ground during an earthquake, and a spring or wire that suspends a weight, which remains stationary during an earthquake. In older models, the base includes a rotating roll of paper, and the stationary weight is attached to a stylus, or writing utensil, that rests on the roll of paper. During the passage of a seismic wave, the stationary weight and stylus record the motion of the jostling base and attached roll of paper. The stylus records the information of the shaking seismograph onto the paper as a seismogram. Scientists also use digital seismographs, computerized seismic monitoring systems that record seismic events. Digital seismographs use rewriteable, or multiple-use, disks to record data. They usually incorporate a clock to accurately record seismic arrival times, a printer to print out digital seismograms of the information recorded, and a power supply. Some digital seismographs are portable; seismologists can transport these devices with them to study aftershocks of a catastrophic earthquake when the networks upon which seismic monitoring stations depend have been damaged.
There are more than 1,000 seismograph stations in the world. One way that seismologists measure the size of an earthquake is by measuring the earthquake’s seismic magnitude, or the amplitude of ground shaking that occurs. Seismologists compare the measurements taken at various stations to identify the earthquake’s epicenter and determine the magnitude of the earthquake. This information is important in order to determine whether the earthquake occurred on land or in the ocean. It also helps people prepare for resulting damage or hazards such as tsunamis. When readings from a number of observatories around the world are available, the integrated system allows for rapid location of the epicenter. At least three stations are required in order to triangulate, or calculate, the epicenter. Seismologists find the epicenter by comparing the arrival times of seismic waves at the stations, thus determining the distance the waves have traveled. Seismologists then apply travel-time charts to determine the epicenter. With the present number of worldwide seismographic stations, many now providing digital signals by satellite, distant earthquakes can be located within about 10 km (6 mi) of the epicenter and about 10 to 20 km (6 to 12 mi) in focal depth. Special regional networks of seismographs can locate the local epicenters within a few kilometers.

All magnitude scales give relative numbers that have no physical units. The first widely used seismic magnitude scale was developed by the American seismologist Charles Richter in 1935. The Richter scale measures the amplitude, or height, of seismic surface waves. The scale is logarithmic, so that each successive unit of magnitude measure represents a tenfold increase in amplitude of the seismogram patterns. This is because ground displacement of earthquake waves can range from less than a millimeter to many meters. Richter adjusted for this huge range in measurements by taking the logarithm of the recorded wave heights. So, a magnitude 5 Richter measurement is ten times greater than a magnitude 4; while it is 10 x 10, or 100 times greater than a magnitude 3 measurement.
Today, seismologists prefer to use a different kind of magnitude scale, called the moment magnitude scale, to measure earthquakes. Seismologists calculate moment magnitude by measuring the seismic moment of an earthquake, or the earthquake’s strength based on a calculation of the area and the amount of displacement in the slip. The moment magnitude is obtained by multiplying these two measurements. It is more reliable for earthquakes that measure above magnitude 7 on other scales that refer only to part of the seismic waves, whereas the moment magnitude scale measures the total size. The moment magnitude of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake was 7.6; the Alaskan earthquake of 1964, about 9.0; and the 1995 Kōbe, Japan, earthquake was a 7.0 moment magnitude; in comparison, the Richter magnitudes were 8.3, 9.2, and 6.8, respectively for these tremors.
Earthquake size can be measured by seismic intensity as well, a measure of the effects of an earthquake. Before the advent of seismographs, people could only judge the size of an earthquake by its effects on humans or on geological or human-made structures. Such observations are the basis of earthquake intensity scales first set up in 1873 by Italian seismologist M. S. Rossi and Swiss scientist F. A. Forel. These scales were later superseded by the Mercalli scale, created in 1902 by Italian seismologist Giuseppe Mercalli. In 1931 American seismologists H. O. Wood and Frank Neumann adapted the standards set up by Giuseppe Mercalli to California conditions and created the Modified Mercalli scale. Many seismologists around the world still use the Modified Mercalli scale to measure the size of an earthquake based on its effects. The Modified Mercalli scale rates the ground shaking by a general description of human reactions to the shaking and of structural damage that occur during a tremor. This information is gathered from local reports, damage to specific structures, landslides, and peoples’ descriptions of the damage.
B Predicting Earthquakes
Seismologists try to predict how likely it is that an earthquake will occur, with a specified time, place, and size. Earthquake prediction also includes calculating how a strong ground motion will affect a certain area if an earthquake does occur. Scientists can use the growing catalogue of recorded earthquakes to estimate when and where strong seismic motions may occur. They map past earthquakes to help determine expected rates of repetition. Seismologists can also measure movement along major faults using global positioning satellites (GPS) to track the relative movement of the rocky crust of a few centimeters each year along faults. This information may help predict earthquakes. Even with precise instrumental measurement of past earthquakes, however, conclusions about future tremors always involve uncertainty. This means that any useful earthquake prediction must estimate the likelihood of the earthquake occurring in a particular area in a specific time interval compared with its occurrence as a chance event.
The elastic rebound theory gives a generalized way of predicting earthquakes because it states that a large earthquake cannot occur until the strain along a fault exceeds the strength holding the rock masses together. Seismologists can calculate an estimated time when the strain along the fault would be great enough to cause an earthquake. As an example, after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the measurements showed that in the 50 years prior to 1906, the San Andreas fault accumulated about 3.2 meters (10 feet) of displacement, or movement, at points across the fault. The maximum 1906 fault slip was 6.5 meters (21 feet), so it was suggested that 50 years x 6.5 meters/3.2 meters (21 feet/10 feet), about 100 years, would elapse before sufficient energy would again accumulate to produce a comparable earthquake.
Scientists have measured other changes along active faults to try and predict future activity. These measurements have included changes in the ability of rocks to conduct electricity, changes in ground water levels, and changes in variations in the speed at which seismic waves pass through the region of interest. None of these methods, however, has been successful in predicting earthquakes to date.
Seismologists have also developed field methods to date the years in which past earthquakes occurred. In addition to information from recorded earthquakes, scientists look into geologic history for information about earthquakes that occurred before people had instruments to measure them. This research field is called paleoseismology (paleo is Greek for “ancient”). Seismologists can determine when ancient earthquakes occurred.
C The Earth’s Interior
Seismologists also study earthquakes to learn more about the structure of the Earth’s interior. Earthquakes provide a rare opportunity for scientists to observe how the Earth’s interior responds when an earthquake wave passes through it. Measuring depths and geologic structures within the Earth using earthquake waves is more difficult for scientists than is measuring distances on the Earth’s surface. However, seismologists have used earthquake waves to determine that there are four main regions that make up the interior of the Earth: the crust, the mantle, and the inner and outer core.
The intense study of earthquake waves began during the last decades of the 19th century, when people began placing seismographs at observatories around the world. By 1897 scientists had gathered enough seismograms from distant earthquakes to identify that P and S waves had traveled through the deep Earth. Seismologists studying these seismograms later in the late 19th and early 20th centuries discovered P wave and S wave shadow zones—areas on the opposite side of the Earth from the earthquake focus that P waves and S waves do not reach. These shadow zones showed that the waves were bouncing off some large geologic interior structures of the planet.
Seismologists used these measurements to begin interpreting the paths along which the earthquake waves traveled. In 1904 Croatian seismologist Andrija Mohoroviić showed that the paths of P and S waves indicated a rocky surface layer, or crust, overlying more rigid rocks below. He proposed that inside the Earth, the waves are reflected by discontinuities, chemical or structural changes of the rock. Because of his discovery, the interface between the crust and the mantle below it became known as the Mohoroviić, or Moho Discontinuity.
In 1906 Richard Dixon Oldham of the Geological Survey of India used the arrival times of seismic P and S waves to deduce that the Earth must have a large and distinct central core. He interpreted the interior structure by comparing the faster speed of P waves to S waves, and noting that P waves were bent by the discontinuities such as the Moho Discontinuity. In 1914 German American seismologist Beno Gutenberg used travel times of seismic waves reflected at this boundary between the mantle and the core to determine the value for the radius of the core to be about 3,500 km (about 2,200 mi). In 1936 Danish seismologist Inge Lehmann discovered a smaller center structure, the inner core of the Earth. She estimated it to have a radius of 1,216 km (755 mi) by measuring the travel times of waves produced by South Pacific earthquakes. As the waves passed through the Earth and arrived at the Danish observatory, she determined that their speed and arrival times indicated that they must have been deflected by an inner core structure. In further studies of earthquake waves, seismologists found that the outer core is liquid and the inner core is solid.
Seismic events similar to earthquakes also occur on other planets and on their satellites. Scientific missions to Earth’s moon and to Mars have provided some information related to extraterrestrial quakes. The current Galileo mission to Jupiter’s moons may provide evidence of quakes on the moons of Jupiter.
Between 1969 and 1977, scientists conducted the Passive Seismic Experiment as part of the United States Apollo Program. Astronauts set up seismograph stations at five lunar sites. Each lunar seismograph detected between 600 and 3,000 moonquakes every year, a surprising result because the Moon has no tectonic plates, active volcanoes, or ocean trench systems. Most moonquakes had magnitudes less than about 2.0 on the Richter scale. Scientists used this information to determine the interior structure of the Moon and to examine the frequency of moonquakes.
Besides the Moon and the Earth, Mars is the only other planetary body on which seismographs have been placed. The Viking 1 and 2 spacecraft carried two seismographs to Mars in 1976. Unfortunately, the instrument on Viking 1 failed to return signals to Earth. The instrument on Viking 2 operated, but in one year, only one wave motion was detected. Scientists were unable to determine the interior structure of Mars with only this single event.

Endocrine System
Endocrine System, group of specialized organs and body tissues that produce, store, and secrete chemical substances known as hormones. As the body's chemical messengers, hormones transfer information and instructions from one set of cells to another. Because of the hormones they produce, endocrine organs have a great deal of influence over the body. Among their many jobs are regulating the body's growth and development, controlling the function of various tissues, supporting pregnancy and other reproductive functions, and regulating metabolism.
Endocrine organs are sometimes called ductless glands because they have no ducts connecting them to specific body parts. The hormones they secrete are released directly into the bloodstream. In contrast, the exocrine glands, such as the sweat glands or the salivary glands, release their secretions directly to target areas—for example, the skin or the inside of the mouth. Some of the body's glands are described as endo-exocrine glands because they secrete hormones as well as other types of substances. Even some nonglandular tissues produce hormone-like substances—nerve cells produce chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, for example.
The earliest reference to the endocrine system comes from ancient Greece, in about 400 BC. However, it was not until the 16th century that accurate anatomical descriptions of many of the endocrine organs were published. Research during the 20th century has vastly improved our understanding of hormones and how they function in the body. Today, endocrinology, the study of the endocrine glands, is an important branch of modern medicine. Endocrinologists are medical doctors who specialize in researching and treating disorders and diseases of the endocrine system.
The primary glands that make up the human endocrine system are the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal, pineal body, and reproductive glands—the ovary and testis. The pancreas, an organ often associated with the digestive system, is also considered part of the endocrine system. In addition, some nonendocrine organs are known to actively secrete hormones. These include the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, thymus, skin, and placenta. Almost all body cells can either produce or convert hormones, and some secrete hormones. For example, glucagon, a hormone that raises glucose levels in the blood when the body needs extra energy, is made in the pancreas but also in the wall of the gastrointestinal tract. However, it is the endocrine glands that are specialized for hormone production. They efficiently manufacture chemically complex hormones from simple chemical substances—for example, amino acids and carbohydrates—and they regulate their secretion more efficiently than any other tissues.
The hypothalamus, found deep within the brain, directly controls the pituitary gland. It is sometimes described as the coordinator of the endocrine system. When information reaching the brain indicates that changes are needed somewhere in the body, nerve cells in the hypothalamus secrete body chemicals that either stimulate or suppress hormone secretions from the pituitary gland. Acting as liaison between the brain and the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus is the primary link between the endocrine and nervous systems.
Located in a bony cavity just below the base of the brain is one of the endocrine system's most important members: the pituitary gland. Often described as the body’s master gland, the pituitary secretes several hormones that regulate the function of the other endocrine glands. Structurally, the pituitary gland is divided into two parts, the anterior and posterior lobes, each having separate functions. The anterior lobe regulates the activity of the thyroid and adrenal glands as well as the reproductive glands. It also regulates the body's growth and stimulates milk production in women who are breast-feeding. Hormones secreted by the anterior lobe include adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), thyrotropic hormone (TSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), growth hormone (GH), and prolactin. The anterior lobe also secretes endorphins, chemicals that act on the nervous system to reduce sensitivity to pain.
The posterior lobe of the pituitary gland contains the nerve endings (axons) from the hypothalamus, which stimulate or suppress hormone production. This lobe secretes antidiuretic hormones (ADH), which control water balance in the body, and oxytocin, which controls muscle contractions in the uterus.
The thyroid gland, located in the neck, secretes hormones in response to stimulation by TSH from the pituitary gland. The thyroid secretes hormones—for example, thyroxine and three-iodothyronine—that regulate growth and metabolism, and play a role in brain development during childhood.
The parathyroid glands are four small glands located at the four corners of the thyroid gland. The hormone they secrete, parathyroid hormone, regulates the level of calcium in the blood.
Located on top of the kidneys, the adrenal glands have two distinct parts. The outer part, called the adrenal cortex, produces a variety of hormones called corticosteroids, which include cortisol. These hormones regulate salt and water balance in the body, prepare the body for stress, regulate metabolism, interact with the immune system, and influence sexual function. The inner part, the adrenal medulla, produces catecholamines, such as epinephrine, also called adrenaline, which increase the blood pressure and heart rate during times of stress.
The reproductive components of the endocrine system, called the gonads, secrete sex hormones in response to stimulation from the pituitary gland. Located in the pelvis, the female gonads, the ovaries, produce eggs. They also secrete a number of female sex hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, which control development of the reproductive organs, stimulate the appearance of female secondary sex characteristics, and regulate menstruation and pregnancy.
Located in the scrotum, the male gonads, the testes, produce sperm and also secrete a number of male sex hormones, or androgens. The androgens, the most important of which is testosterone, regulate development of the reproductive organs, stimulate male secondary sex characteristics, and stimulate muscle growth.
The pancreas is positioned in the upper abdomen, just under the stomach. The major part of the pancreas, called the exocrine pancreas, functions as an exocrine gland, secreting digestive enzymes into the gastrointestinal tract. Distributed through the pancreas are clusters of endocrine cells that secrete insulin, glucagon, and somastatin. These hormones all participate in regulating energy and metabolism in the body.
The pineal body, also called the pineal gland, is located in the middle of the brain. It secretes melatonin, a hormone that may help regulate the wake-sleep cycle. Research has shown that disturbances in the secretion of melatonin are responsible, in part, for the jet lag associated with long-distance air travel.
Hormones from the endocrine organs are secreted directly into the bloodstream, where special proteins usually bind to them, helping to keep the hormones intact as they travel throughout the body. The proteins also act as a reservoir, allowing only a small fraction of the hormone circulating in the blood to affect the target tissue. Specialized proteins in the target tissue, called receptors, bind with the hormones in the bloodstream, inducing chemical changes in response to the body’s needs. Typically, only minute concentrations of a hormone are needed to achieve the desired effect.
Too much or too little hormone can be harmful to the body, so hormone levels are regulated by a feedback mechanism. Feedback works something like a household thermostat. When the heat in a house falls, the thermostat responds by switching the furnace on, and when the temperature is too warm, the thermostat switches the furnace off. Usually, the change that a hormone produces also serves to regulate that hormone's secretion. For example, parathyroid hormone causes the body to increase the level of calcium in the blood. As calcium levels rise, the secretion of parathyroid hormone then decreases. This feedback mechanism allows for tight control over hormone levels, which is essential for ideal body function. Other mechanisms may also influence feedback relationships. For example, if an individual becomes ill, the adrenal glands increase the secretions of certain hormones that help the body deal with the stress of illness. The adrenal glands work in concert with the pituitary gland and the brain to increase the body’s tolerance of these hormones in the blood, preventing the normal feedback mechanism from decreasing secretion levels until the illness is gone.
Long-term changes in hormone levels can influence the endocrine glands themselves. For example, if hormone secretion is chronically low, the increased stimulation by the feedback mechanism leads to growth of the gland. This can occur in the thyroid if a person's diet has insufficient iodine, which is essential for thyroid hormone production. Constant stimulation from the pituitary gland to produce the needed hormone causes the thyroid to grow, eventually producing a medical condition known as goiter.
Endocrine disorders are classified in two ways: disturbances in the production of hormones, and the inability of tissues to respond to hormones. The first type, called production disorders, are divided into hypofunction (insufficient activity) and hyperfunction (excess activity). Hypofunction disorders can have a variety of causes, including malformations in the gland itself. Sometimes one of the enzymes essential for hormone production is missing, or the hormone produced is abnormal. More commonly, hypofunction is caused by disease or injury. Tuberculosis can appear in the adrenal glands, autoimmune diseases can affect the thyroid, and treatments for cancer—such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy—can damage any of the endocrine organs. Hypofunction can also result when target tissue is unable to respond to hormones. In many cases, the cause of a hypofunction disorder is unknown.
Hyperfunction can be caused by glandular tumors that secrete hormone without responding to feedback controls. In addition, some autoimmune conditions create antibodies that have the side effect of stimulating hormone production. Infection of an endocrine gland can have the same result.
Accurately diagnosing an endocrine disorder can be extremely challenging, even for an astute physician. Many diseases of the endocrine system develop over time, and clear, identifying symptoms may not appear for many months or even years. An endocrinologist evaluating a patient for a possible endocrine disorder relies on the patient's history of signs and symptoms, a physical examination, and the family history—that is, whether any endocrine disorders have been diagnosed in other relatives. A variety of laboratory tests—for example, a radioimmunoassay—are used to measure hormone levels. Tests that directly stimulate or suppress hormone production are also sometimes used, and genetic testing for deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) mutations affecting endocrine function can be helpful in making a diagnosis. Tests based on diagnostic radiology show anatomical pictures of the gland in question. A functional image of the gland can be obtained with radioactive labeling techniques used in nuclear medicine.
One of the most common diseases of the endocrine systems is diabetes mellitus, which occurs in two forms. The first, called diabetes mellitus Type 1, is caused by inadequate secretion of insulin by the pancreas. Diabetes mellitus Type 2 is caused by the body's inability to respond to insulin. Both types have similar symptoms, including excessive thirst, hunger, and urination as well as weight loss. Laboratory tests that detect glucose in the urine and elevated levels of glucose in the blood usually confirm the diagnosis. Treatment of diabetes mellitus Type 1 requires regular injections of insulin; some patients with Type 2 can be treated with diet, exercise, or oral medication. Diabetes can cause a variety of complications, including kidney problems, pain due to nerve damage, blindness, and coronary heart disease. Recent studies have shown that controlling blood sugar levels reduces the risk of developing diabetes complications considerably.
Diabetes insipidus is caused by a deficiency of vasopressin, one of the antidiuretic hormones (ADH) secreted by the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland. Patients often experience increased thirst and urination. Treatment is with drugs, such as synthetic vasopressin, that help the body maintain water and electrolyte balance.
Hypothyroidism is caused by an underactive thyroid gland, which results in a deficiency of thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism disorders cause myxedema and cretinism, more properly known as congenital hypothyroidism. Myxedema develops in older adults, usually after age 40, and causes lethargy, fatigue, and mental sluggishness. Congenital hypothyroidism, which is present at birth, can cause more serious complications including mental retardation if left untreated. Screening programs exist in most countries to test newborns for this disorder. By providing the body with replacement thyroid hormones, almost all of the complications are completely avoidable.
Addison's disease is caused by decreased function of the adrenal cortex. Weakness, fatigue, abdominal pains, nausea, dehydration, fever, and hyperpigmentation (tanning without sun exposure) are among the many possible symptoms. Treatment involves providing the body with replacement corticosteroid hormones as well as dietary salt.
Cushing's syndrome is caused by excessive secretion of glucocorticoids, the subgroup of corticosteroid hormones that includes hydrocortisone, by the adrenal glands. Symptoms may develop over many years prior to diagnosis and may include obesity, physical weakness, easily bruised skin, acne, hypertension, and psychological changes. Treatment may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or blockage of hormone production with drugs.
Thyrotoxicosis is due to excess production of thyroid hormones. The most common cause for it is Graves' disease, an autoimmune disorder in which specific antibodies are produced, stimulating the thyroid gland. Thyrotoxicosis is eight to ten times more common in women than in men. Symptoms include nervousness, sensitivity to heat, heart palpitations, and weight loss. Many patients experience protruding eyes and tremors. Drugs that inhibit thyroid activity, surgery to remove the thyroid gland, and radioactive iodine that destroys the gland are common treatments.
Acromegaly and gigantism both are caused by a pituitary tumor that stimulates production of excessive growth hormone, causing abnormal growth in particular parts of the body. Acromegaly is rare and usually develops over many years in adult subjects. Gigantism occurs when the excess of growth hormone begins in childhood.

Last edited by Last Island; Sunday, December 30, 2007 at 07:17 PM.
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