Category Archives: Issues in Science

Should you buy a Hydrogen or electric car for the environment?

If you are looking to buy a new car and want to protect the environment, you have two exciting new choices to power your car: Hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric. they are both considered as “green” and can save you money in the long run. So which one should you buy?

Fuel cell car. Source: Wikipedia

Fuel cell car. Source: Wikipedia

What is hydrogen fuel cell car?

There are several types of fuel cell cars but they all work in similarly. It has a cathode, anode and electrolyte that allow electrons to pass through. It works like your AAA batteries except it uses hydrogen as fuel. It has no emission and the only byproduct is water that you can drink! (If you are really thirsty)

Electric car. Source: Wikipedia

Electric car. Source: Wikipedia

What is battery electric car?

Battery electric cars usually use battery Lithium ion battery to store the electricity. The first electric car was invented 130 years ago but it wasn’t until recently that we have technology to mass produce these vehicles. Like hydrogen fuel cell cars, it has no emission so they don’t produce any pollution at the tailpipe.

Hydrogen fuel cell vs Battery efficiency comparison. Source: Wikipedia

Hydrogen fuel cell vs Battery efficiency comparison. Source: Wikipedia

Green comparison

According to a study by Stephen and James Eaves of Arizona State University, battery electric cars are much more efficient than Hydrogen fuel cell cars. To supply 60kWh to a hydrogen fuel cell car, 202 kWh has to be produced from power plants, while only 79 kWh is needed for battery electric cars. The main reason is that the Li-ion battery has a 94% efficiency, while hydrogen fuel cell has only 54%. The findings is similar from another study by Tesla motor (see picture above).

On the other hand, producing Hydrogen is very energy intensive. The most common method is called steam-methane reformation, it involves mixing natural gas with high temperature steam to produce Hydrogen, Carbon Monoxide (toxic) and Carbon Dioxide (greenhouse gas), while the electricity for electric cars can come entirely from renewable sources. For example, according to Tesla Motors, all of their super chargers will be supplied by solar power.

All in all, Hydrogen is only a means to store energy instead of a energy source. Considering the low efficiency and the use a nonrenewable natural gas, electric battery cars seems to be a better choice for your next car.

Yiu Leung Wong

Influenza Vaccine Really Worth It?

Local media, schools, and healthcare professionals can always be seen urging people to stay up to date with their vaccinations. More specifically, every Fall, a new influenza vaccine, more commonly known as the flu shot, is made, which promises to benefit those who decide to get vaccinated. So, every year around November and December, people have the option of receiving this vaccine. However, for people like myself, getting vaccinated is not an option, but rather a requirement for my work setting.

When it comes to the flu shot, the questions I see myself asking are: Will this vaccination actually protect me? Will I get sick from it, or react negatively to it? Often times, the second question is the one I worry the most about because flu season usually starts around the time I begin thinking about final examinations.

H3N2 virus Image Courtesy of: Life In Quebec

Well, recently there has been a series of articles being published about the 2014-2015 influenza vaccine and how it hasn’t been able to protect against the influenza virus. The vaccine for this year’s cycle was manufactured with a strain of H3N2 virus. However, the strain that has been causing the many influenza cases around the country is actually a mutated version of this virus, which the vaccine doesn’t offer protection against. According to laboratory tests, there are a large number of vaccinated individuals who have contracted the illness. So, essentially, this vaccination provides both vaccinated individuals and unvaccinated individuals with no protection. To add to this, oddly enough, it has been found by Dr. Dickinson from the University of Calgary that the vaccine actually increases your risk for catching the flu. This is summarized in a video in the above Global News article.

I have always been skeptical of flu shots, but these findings definitely puts the influenza vaccine in a grey zone for me. And, I actually believe it should not be a requirement at all for any work setting, let alone mine. In an article published in Life in Quebec, one of the researchers, Dr. Skowronski, discusses her results from her tests. Though her findings are different from what Dr Dickinson found, and what the global news video showed, the consensus is that this vaccine is not working. Because of this, in her interview Dr. Skowronski believes that the influenza immunization program should rethink their message. And, instead of telling everyone to get their vaccination every year, they should only release vaccines every couple of years. This is because she claims that whenever the dominant strain is the H3N2 strain, vaccinations are useless against protecting individuals from contracting the flu. So, there is no real point in getting vaccinated.

Personally I am in favor of Dr. Skowronski’s idea of rethinking the urgency of being vaccinated every year because, every year I worry as to whether or not I will get sick, if it’s even worth getting vaccinated, or whether there are any future unknown implications of getting the flu shot.

Gagandeep Gill


Image Citation:

Staff Writer. Completely Ineffective Flu Vaccine. Accessed February 2 2015.  Retrieved from:



Unmanned Aerial Conservationists…?

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or, more commonly, drones have been used by the United States military for many years. They are associated with warzones and the subsequent collateral murder of innocent civilians. Attempts to kill 41 men by the US have resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people in Pakistan alone. But what if drones were adapted to conserve rather than kill? NGOs such as SoarOcean and ConservationDrones have been developing drone technology to serve as wildlife protection.

The rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo are home to the orang-utans, a tree dwelling member of the great apes. Their habitat is being converted to palm trees at an ever increasing rate by developers keen to cash-in upon the rising demand for palm oil, a substance that is estimated to feature in half of all packaged products sold in supermarkets. This has led to a fall in orang-utan numbers, from 300,000 to fewer than 50,000. ConservationDrones are working with local NGOs to survey the forest habitat to obtain a better picture of the individuals movements and where they are likely to aggregate in groups. This evidence will provide strong support to pressure the government into protecting certain areas. Previous efforts on foot can be expensive and time-consuming in the dense jungle, whilst a 30-minute flight can capture 900 images of 30-times satellite clarity over a 30 km2 region. A vast improvement upon conservation efforts.

Photo courtesy - National Geographic

Photo courtesy – National Geographic

Drones could also be used to tackle Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, a major concern to Belize due to its detrimental effect upon environmental, social and economical axes. Such practices are often undertaken by distant water fishing vessels from other nations who hide their identity through changing flags in order to obtain the valuable resources from the territorial waters of vulnerable countries without prosecution. The 70 enforcement personnel of Belize struggle to police the 386 km coastline and 200 islands, hence the need for drones. These could catch illegal fishers by surprise to gather evidence for prosecution in court, eventually acting as deterrent from the territorial waters. The $2,400 cost per drone is economically viable but practice must be undertaken and safety protocols established prior to their implementation. Belize could soon be patrolled by the buzz of drones to protect from and prevent IUU fishing.

Blog 1 - Rhino photo

Photo courtesy – Jeremy Smith

The poaching of rhinos across Africa has seen a stark increase in recent years, from 122 deaths in 2009 to 388 in 2012. Their horns are of high value due to their demand for use in traditional Asian medicine. Organised gangs deploy advanced technologies to exploit this illegal market with park rangers out-manned and out-gunned. However, the use of drones could be an alternative combative measure. The Wildlife Conservation UAV Challenge is an international competition whereby robotics teams are tasked with building inexpensive, easy-to-fly drones with an emphasis upon data process for use in wildlife protection. See the following video for more information:

YouTube Preview Image

Video courtesy – National Geographic

For more interesting uses of drones, check out this link!

Toby Buttress