Photosynthesis, the beginning of energy's flow through life; Food chains and energy pyramids; Energy changes and heat flow in Nature. Science and technology education from FT Exploring  
 


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PHOTOSYNTHESIS: HOW LIFE KEEPS GOING ...and going...and going...
Take a little sunshine. Take some carbon dioxide molecules out of the air.
Take some hydrogen atoms out of water.
Shuffle them around inside a bunch of little green chloroplasts inside green plant cells. What do you get?
That's right. It's GLUCOSE and OXYGEN! Two very important molecules.
Follow the links in the green box below.
What you learn in these pages will make you want to hug every tree and water every plant - even weeds!
 
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Photosynthesis and Energy
 
  How Energy Travels Through Life  
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  The Mysterious Everything  
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 Written by David Watson
 

       This girl once took trees for granted. Then she read our pages on photosynthesis. Now she can't stop hugging trees.  
     
       This seagull (like all the rest of us) is powered by solar energy. It's food is a form of stored solar energy.
     For a seagull, the energy could come originally from phytoplankton (see energy pyramids) that was eaten by a fish that died and was eaten by a crab that was then eaten by the seagull.
     Or the energy could have come originally from grass that was eaten by a cow that was made into a hamburger that didn't quite get eaten and ended up on a garbage barge which, to a seagull, is just a great big smorgasborg.
     The wind the bird soars on is driven by the sun's energy.
 


   
   
     
   
   
     
     
     
     
 
 
     
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     I see your eyes glazing over. Big words that defy pronunciation. Complicated diagrams.
It's biology class!
     Not here. These pages are photosynthesis made interesting! You should know about this. When you understand the basics, you'll want to know more. Photosynthesis is important to you. It keeps you, everybody, and everything else alive. You'll never look at plants or slime the same. You won't want to interrupt the grass by stepping on it. Don't bother the diatoms. They're busy. Photosynthesis in progress!
 

     Glucose is a type of sugar.  Click here to learn what it is and where it comes from.
 
 
   
 

Handmade FT Exploring
colored pencil drawing.
     Here's what happens:
     Energy flows into the earth in the form of electromagnetic radiation that most of us call sunshine. The sun's energy heats the earth, makes weather, keeps us warm - thanks a lot.
     But if that was all, this would still be a pretty dead planet, and there would be no me and no you.

     Plants and animals need energy to live, to grow, and to make more of themselves.
     All that solar energy pouring onto the earth everyday wouldn't do us any good if we didn't have some way to turn it into a form of energy that we can use.
     Well, some under appreciated autotrophic life forms have "stepped-up" to save the day. They've developed a way to take sunshine, and a few common molecules from air and water, and turn them into something that the rest of us "non-autotrophs" can use.
     Everyday, without fanfare or thanks, or anyone hardly noticing, these humble life forms make thousands of tons of glucose (and other carbohydrates) and put thousands of tons of oxygen into the atmosphere. Without all that oxygen and carbohydrates we animals would be in big trouble.


"Thanks for the Oxygen"
     Photosynthesis is the beginning of the amazing journey of energy and the basic materials of life from plant to animal to animal to decomposer (see the stuff on Food Chains).

     For the molecules and atoms that living things are made of, the journey is a cycle that repeats itself over and over. You might be made of a few carbon or oxygen atoms that were once part of a dinosaur or a wooly mammoth.

     For energy, the trip is sort of a one time thing - in and out. All the energy that moves through life eventually ends up as heat and radiates back into space - from whence it came.   If it wasn't for that nice big dose of new energy coming in from the sun every day, we would all soon be very cold and in a permanent frozen state of "not-living".

     Take the tour. Explore the wonders of photosynthesis, energy, and life.

     The links listed in the green box in the left hand column above will take you to pages that will explore this fascinating process and the further adventures of energy. Take the tour and follow the links. Every thing is interconnected in FT Exploring.
You can't take a wrong link. But if exploring makes you nervous, use the Navigation Page to help you find your way.

"Thanks for the Glucose!"
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©Copyright 2009, 2014. David E. Watson. All rights reserved. Everything in the Flying Turtle web site is copyrighted, either by us or by someone else. For information concerning use of this material, click on the word Copyright.
Autotroph vs. Heterotroph
I know, I know, the teacher's not happy unless we learn new words. Here are two pretty important ones to start us off on our journey into photosynthesis, food chains, and energy.

Autotroph - Some living organisms can make their own food from inorganic material (stuff that does not come from living things) and sunlight. Green plants, algae, and certain kinds of bacteria, can all make food for themselves from sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water (bacteria can use some other things to make food too, but we won't go there). Autotrophs don't need to "eat" anything or anybody. All they have to do is sit around, or float around, catching some "rays", taking carbon from carbon dioxide in the air (if they are land plants), and absorbing a little water. Living organisms that can make their own food this way are called autotrophs, or licensed practitioners of autotrophy (just kidding, they don't need a license). Or, if you want an adjective (often more impressive and learned sounding), they can be called autotrophic organisms. The process they use to make food from these basic ingredients is called photosynthesis. It is an extremely complicated and fascinating process, but the basics are pretty simple and everybody needs to know the basics. So, in the pages to follow, we are giving you an introduction free of charge to the basics.

Heterotroph - The rest of us are heterotrophs. They could have called us "non-autotrophs", but we wanted our own name. Heterotrophs can't make their own food from sunlight, carbon, and water. Heterotrophs have to eat something. They have to eat an autotroph or another heterotroph. Then they digest what they ate and turn it into food. Animals are heterotrophs. Animals that eat only plants (most plants are autotrophic) are generally called vegetari...oops, I mean Herbivores. Animals that eat mostly other animals are called carnivores. Humans and other animals that eat both plants and animals are called omnivores, or just plain "lucky". All three of them, herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores, are unlicensed practitioners of heterotrophy. It's not a crime.


So...the next time a grumpy person tells you not to stand on the autrophic organisms in his yard, you'll know he means to stay off the grass. Won't you?
 


 
©Copyright 2000, 2014, David E. Watson. All rights reserved. Everything in the FT Exploring web site is copyrighted, either by us or by someone else. For information concerning use of this material, click on the word Copyright.