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The World We Live In  -  Part II

Electricity is one of the more puzzling physical phenomena presented in life, drawing wonder from many sides of humanity.


This article follows a previous article The World We Live In, informing of the many benefits of electricity but also cautioning about the perhaps unforeseen dangers - or possible hazards - if one is not wary of the world they live in.

Electricity is one of the more puzzling physical phenomena presented in life, drawing wonder from many sides of humanity.  In 1752, Benjamin Franklin proved the existence of electricity in its natural form when he flew a kite amidst a thunderstorm and drew a spark from a key at the other end of the kite line.  He was inevitably “shocked” by his own experiment which laid ground for a new vocabulary of terms: such as conductor, condenser, charge, discharge, electric shock, and electrician.  Shortly thereafter Franklin invented the lightning rod to prevent electrical shock to houses.

Poets and authors often have something to say about new ideas or inventions as they first come about.  Some quotes during the event of electricity:

                                                                   “Is it a fact – or have I dreamt it – that, by means of electricity, the world of matter has become
                                                                   a great nerve, vibrating thousands of miles in a breathless point of time?”
                                                                                                                          - Nathaniel Hawthorne

                                                                 “Do what you know, and perception is converted into character, as islands and continents were
                                                                   built by invisible infusories, or, as these forest leaves absorb light, electricity, and volatile gases,
                                                                   and the gnarled oak to live a thousand years ..”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

                                                                  “Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in
                                                                   order to exist at all.”
                                                                                                                         - William Faulkner

The first man-made electricity, or electrochemical battery, was presumed to be discovered by Alessandro Volta, although it is interesting to note that before this feat, the chemistry of the battery was first observed in biological tissue.  In 1780, Luigi Galvani claimed a type of “animal electricity” he observed in the muscles of a frog’s leg, activated when touched with two metal probes. Volta replaced the frog’s leg with brine–soaked paper and detected a similar flow of current, leading to his invention of the electrochemical cell.  Following Volta, the first improved electrochemical battery for production was by William Cruickshank in 1802. 

The knowledge of electricity’s usefulness soon spread upon the significant discoveries of Faraday and the electromagnetic motor, and Thomas Alva Edison and the incandescent light bulb. 

Today we receive our supply of electricity by a vast network of transmission lines, and as stated in an earlier article, travelling at great distances sustaining voltages up to 1 million volts.  These voltages are stepped down, of course, when reaching the inhabited zones, and in the United States the power that reaches a house is 110 volts. 

Outside this zone, however, caution must be heeded not to venture too close to these particularly high voltage lines which can extend thousands of miles.

Since these transmission lines are considered to be insulated by the air only, they require a certain amount of “insulation space” about them in order to avoid electrocution.  For very high voltage lines of upto a million volts this is determined to be at least 25 feet.  However, these transmission lines are raised at least 50 feet off the ground, and placed well away from public areas along certain designated corridors.



One may wonder about birds who occasionally take a break and perch on any available tree limb or resting spot.  Since they are isolated too within the air around them, they will not be in danger if they decide to take a rest and perch on a power line.  It is only if a connection is made to the ground or some other adjacent conductive source that the danger of electrocution ensues.   

Birds are uncanny in that they possess certain navigational “sensory apparatus” enabling them to detect the presence of magnetic fields.  Birds can detect the magnetic field of the Earth enabling them to decide which way to fly during seasonal changes.  They may likewise sense the electromagnetic field (EMF) of power lines and avoid those zones which are not feasible to fly close to. 

Another caution to humans is that of residing anywhere nearby a high voltage line for any length of time.  Since humans possess ion-rich blood, and very fine neural circuits within their own nervous systems (WE have electric circuits !), the exposure to high EMF power lines can affect tissues and neural pathways. 

Studies have cautioned that significant EMF exposure near high voltage lines can increase the risk of cancer, leukemia, and
neurodegenerative disease.  Detail studies in regional communities are ongoing to maintain safe living conditions in the vicinity of
high power lines. 

(Next:  Part III – How to Safely Place Power Lines Underground)