What is a Cell?

A cell is the most basic form of life, we humans are made up of billions of cells each working together to ultimately keep us alive (a process known as Homeostasis, but that is a topic for another day!). But cells in themselves are quite complex and vary dramatically, just like we humans do.

There is more than just one variety of cell, a bacterial cell varies greatly from a human cell and a human cell is different again to a plant cell. Whilst all cells in the human body contain all the same Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA, the genetic coding material, and again a topic for another day!), each cell type, so lets say a muscle cell and a hepatocyte (liver cell), will express it differently. But, there are two main cell types that you should know about and they are:


These cells are generally associated with things such as bacteria, prions and archaea. They are much, much smaller than a Eukaryotic cell and are very distinctive. They have no defined nucleus meaning they have their DNA just floating around inside the cellular space, known as

cytosol.  They generally have a tail(s), known as a flagella(plural is flagellum) , to move around. They do contain ribosomes, which help synthesize proteins, but have no other definable organelles. They are contained by a first layer, known as a plasma membrane (made of  special lipids and proteins)  and then by another protective layer called a cell wall (made of peptidoglycans in bacteria). They reproduce through a process known as binary fission and have the ability to communicate to each other though little external structured called pilli(s).

Eukaryotic cells are much more complex than prokaryotic cells. They have a defined nucleus, within it a nucleolus. They also contain many membrane bound organelles, such as an endoplasmic reticulum (both smooth and rough), lysosomes (used in a process known as apoptosis as well as phagocytosis), golgi apparatus (a cellular packaging and sorting organelle) and a few other ones which I may cover in a little bit of detail down the track (they are not huge parts of cellular function).

 (Diagram sourced from: http://mrskingsbioweb.com/Biology.html, 22/04/2012)
The diagram is of a plant and animal cell, of which there are a few big differences.
Firstly, and most notably, the plant cell has a large vacuole taking up somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of the internal cellular space. This is how plants store water and nutrients for survival, animals do not need this function and hence do not have such a prominent vacuole.
Secondly, animal cells have mitochondria to produce energy in the form of Adenosine TriPhosphate (ATP). They use a process known as The Citric Acid Cycle (TCA cycle) to do this (this will be covered later on, it is a bit complex). This is compared to plant cells, which use sunlight and chlorophyll to produce ATP in the Chloroplast.
Lastly, an animal cell has a cell membrane enclosing the cell from the external environment. This is contrasted to a plant cell which has a cell wall. Why you may ask? Well, a plant has to be able to store water and nutrients for its survival. They store them in the vacuole, and when it is full it causes the cell to expand. A cell membrane (also known as a plasma membrane) has no real flexibility and if the cell gets too big it will explode (yes, it literally explodes, especially with red blood cells). However, in a plant the cell wall provides some rigidity and makes it virtually impossible for the cell to lyse (burst).

This is just a very, very basic run down of a very complex topic. I will go into more detail on all the organelles over time as understanding their function, and more importantly how they work together, is very interesting as well as ever evolving.

Why I like Science #1—The Science Explained

So, why does this happen?
Well, this is a phenomenon known as rapid depressurization (Heard of it before when talking about Aircraft and doors opening in flight?).

Gas has the ability to take up the volume of the space it is contained in. One litre of a gaseous substance can take up much, much more than a litre of space. So heating up the water in the drum turned into steam, a gas which is now occupying the whole space in the drum.
Now, if we were to just let it cool down of its own accord (that is just turn the heat off the drum), it would not collapse upon itself. But we are cooling it down much faster than the external atmosphere would naturally.

The external atmosphere applies pressure to everything within it. We are included as part of this, but as it is constant we don’t notice this pressure existing, but if it changes we will (ears popping at altitude). So this drum has roughly 1 atmosphere worth of pressure being put on it at all times (101.3 kPa).

Now, pressure and volume are directly related. Fill a 600ml water bottle with 600ml of water and try crush it, then 50ml of water and try crush it. You can’t with the 600ml of water in there but you can easily with the 50ml. Whilst pressure is a gas measurement, this test is what happens when dealing with gasses.

So the drum is 210 litres, give or take. We have a gas occupying (not 210 litres of gas) all this space. It is at an equilibrium with the outside atmosphere (if we were to heat it up rapidly it would explode, definitely do not try that at home!). But now we RAPIDLY cool it down. From 210 litres occupied with gas, we only have lets say 2 litres occupied with water. The pressure inside the drum is now much, much less than that of the atmosphere. As the atmospheric pressure is constant, it will, so to speak, leap on this oppurtunity and crush the drum almost instantaneously.

Why I like Science #1

Well, if you haven’t seen this on YouTube yet, you may like to.

Whatever you do, don’t try this at home.

This is a science experiment conducted, showing how you can collapse a 55 gallon (about 210 litre) drum, with a little bit of pressure. I think it’s pretty awesome.

Why I Like Science Reason #1 – It’s quirky.


– J.

Welcome to Science Mayhem

Hello there Internets!

My name is Chris, and I guess in a way I’ll sort of be running this blog (so if it all becomes an unorganized mess, you know who to blame). Let me introduce myself:

I am currently studying Biomedical Science at RMIT University. This is as a pathway, to yet still undecided, either Post Graduate Medicine or a PhD in a relevant field (ideally Microbiology, but I’d settle for Physiology or Cell Biology). I have studied physics to a year 12 level, being top of the class in that subject, and am still currently studying chemistry and biology as part of my degree. I have a passion for science and hope to try convey that across, in as fun a way as I can.

Feel free to ask questions about what you want covered, be it basic or advanced (well, don’t ask for a cure for cancer that is a bit too advanced) but I will try to give as good a response as I possibly can.

I hope to hear from you guys soon, the first science based post will be up soon!




This place might still be under construction, but I thought I’d introduce myself 🙂

So, hello all! My name’s Amanda, but most people call me Mandii, and you can usually find me here. I’m part way through my second year of studying Nursing & Psychology, here in Aus. I’ve been blogging for almost two years now, and I love the idea of blogging to help others. I’ll mostly be here to add to the psych resources 😀

Feel free to comment and let me know if there’s anything you really want me to cover!

Cheers 🙂


Welcome to the Construction Zone!

This is Science Mayhem!

It’s… I dunno, a sciencey blog?

I’m Josh, from Mathematical Mischief, just setting this up for Chris – people keep asking about science, so let’s give them something to science with? 🙂

If you’ve got any questions, drop us a line at sciencemayhem@gmail.com.