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5 Ways to Make Thermal Homeostasis More Approachable for Students

Usama Attiq
Higher Education
Teaching with Labster

Introduction: Thermal homeostasis

Homeostasis is the tendency of the body to maintain the stability of the internal environment in response to changes in the external environment. Thermal homeostasis is a type of homeostasis that refers to the maintenance of the internal body temperature of the organism for survival.

There are two kinds of species; warm-blooded animals and cold-blooded animals. Warm-blooded animals are also called endothermic because they maintain a constant internal temperate. For example, mammals, birds, and humans. Cold-blooded animals are also called exothermic because they cannot maintain their constant body temperature. The temperature of a cold-blooded animal changes as the temperature of the environment change. For example, crocodiles, insects, amphibians, and fish.

Thermal equilibrium is an important term used in thermal homeostasis. When the body loses the same amount of energy that is produced in the body. This process is known as thermal equilibrium. The body can change the heat exchange with the environment to maintain thermal equilibrium and internal thermal homeostasis.

The main function of thermal homeostasis is maintaining warm-blooded organisms' internal temperature.  It helps to avoid hypothermia (reduction in the body temperature) and regulates the normal function of the body.

At Labster, we can provide knowledge about the difficulties that students experience during learning thermal hemostasis. Then, we provide you with five ways that make the tough topic like thermal homeostasis easier to understand. In the end, we will convince you why a virtual lab simulation is important for students as well as for teachers to convey the topic appropriately.

thermal homeostasis virtual lab 2

Figure: An image of vasocontraction in peripheral blood vessels from Labster on thermal homeostasis. 

Why thermal homeostasis can be tricky to learn

Three main reasons make thermal homeostasis difficult for students to understand.

1. It feels abstract

Thermal homeostasis consists of several abstract concepts, such as temperature, heat, thermoregulation, and evaporation. These are abstract concepts because we cannot see them in reality. Students may find it difficult to remember abstract concepts because they do not imagine them.  

2. It’s complicated

In thermal homeostasis, students need to learn about mechanisms, the contribution of vasocontraction and vasodilation, the effects of thermal homeostasis on the circulatory system, and metabolic heat production. Additionally, there are several terms that are necessary to learn in thermal homeostasis. Learning about all the processes and terms makes thermal homeostasis a tough topic to understand.

3. It’s content heavy

Thermal homeostasis is the maintenance of the body’s temperature during fluctuations in the environmental temperature. This topic involves the body’s mechanism in a hot and cold environment. Additionally, there are several examples in the environment that need to understand in thermal homeostasis. Therefore, students may find learning about thermal homeostasis boring and time-consuming.

5 ways to make thermal homeostasis a more approachable topic to understand

As we know the reasons that make thermal homeostasis difficult to learn, there are five ways that make thermal homeostasis an interesting topic to understand.  

1. Basic knowledge of thermoregulation

Thermoregulation is a biological process that helps to maintain your internal body temperature. The thermoregulation mechanisms can return the body to normal homeostasis. There is a narrow range of internal body temperature. An average normal body temperature range is between 37 degrees Celsius to 37.8 degrees Celsius. There are three main mechanisms for thermoregulation in humans.

  1. Efferent response

  2. Central control

  3. Afferent sensing

Efferent response: These responses are the behaviors of humans to maintain the body temperature. For example, wearing a coat in winter to prevent cold or going to shade on a hot day.

Central control: Hypothalamus is the central control that receives the information and releases the hormones to change the body's temperature.

Afferent sensing consists of temperature receptors that recognize the body's temperature and send messages to the central control (hypothalamus).

If a change occurs in the body's normal temperature, it can lead to two kinds of conditions.

  1. Hypothermia

  2. Hyperthermia

Hypothermia: is when the body loses heat quicker than it can produce heat. It happens in a cold environment. In normal conditions, the body’s temperature is 37 degrees Celsius. The body temperature decreases to 35 degrees Celsius, which leads to the hypothermic condition. The symptoms of hypothermia are shivering, slurred speech, and confusion.

Hyperthermia is a condition in which the body temperature becomes too high. The symptoms of hyperthermia are sweating, nausea, vomiting, fainting, and a change in pulse rate.

When you need to warm up the body, there are a few mechanisms of thermoregulation. These are vasoconstriction, hormonal thermogenesis, and thermogenesis.

  • Vasoconstriction: In vasoconstriction, the blood vessels present in the skin get contracted, decrease the flow of blood, and provide heat to the body.

  • Hormonal thermogenesis: Hormones can also play an important role in providing heat to organisms. The thyroid gland helps to release hormones to enhance the body's temperature.

  • Thermogenesis: In warm-blooded animals, thermogenesis is the process that produces heat in the body.

There are two main mechanisms when you need to decrease the body temperature. These are vasodilation and sweating.

  • Vasodilation: Vasodilation is a process in which the blood vessels in the skin expand in size. It enhances blood flow and decreases the temperature of the body.

  • Sweating: In a warm environment, the sweat glands receive the signals and start producing sweating on the skin. When sweat presents on the skin evaporates, it keeps the body cool.

HOT Screenshot4

Figure: An image of metabolic rate and evaporative heat from Labster on thermal homeostasis

2. Learn about the mechanism of heat exchange

When the temperature of the environment changes, the internal body uses four main mechanisms of heat exchange to maintain thermal homeostasis. Mechanisms of heat exchange are convection, radiation, conduction, and evaporation. According to the temperature and environmental conditions, the mechanisms are different from each other.

  1. Convection: The transfer of heat through the air across the skin is called convection. This process has also occurred in water. The body loses up to 15% of the heat through convection. For example, a fan can lower the body temperature and transfer heat from the body to the surrounding environment.

  2. Radiation: Radiation is the transfer of heat by using infrared waves. For example, the sun can warm the skin through sunlight (radiations).

  3. Conduction: Heat loss occurs through physical contact with other objects in this process. For example, when you hold a glass of cold water, the heat from your hand enters the glass and melts the ice.

  4. Evaporation: Evaporation is a process that removes heat and acts as a cooling mechanism. Up to 20% of the body's heat is lost through evaporation.

3. Temperature regulation feedback system

Humans have a temperature regulating system that helps to regulate the temperature through heat loss or heat gain. When the hypothalamus receives the message that body temperature rises from the normal range, it stimulates the brain cells, which is also called the heat loss center. In this simulation, there are three main effects that are following:

  • In the skin, the blood vessels expand, allowing blood to move from the inner side to the skin's surface. It helps to radiate the heat from the body to the skin.

  • When blood flow enhances in the skin, sweat glands are imitated to produce sweat. Sweating can be effective for heat loss from the skin's surface to the surrounding environment.

  • The respiration rate increases, so you can breathe from your open mouth instead of the nasal area. This process is helpful in releasing heat loss from the body's lungs.

4. Seeing is believing

When a topic is complex, like thermal homeostasis, it is important to use color diagrams for better understanding. When students see color images, it can help to memorize the topic more appropriately. Therefore, the visual representation of thermal homeostasis delivers the concepts of learners more clearly. The image presented below shows the temperature table of a warm-blooded animal. It shows the rectal, body surface, and average leg surface temperature on a cold and warm day. 

Explore Thermal Homeostasis- Apply thermoregulation to climate change Virtual Lab Simulation 2

Figure: An image of the temperature table of a warm-blooded animal from Labster’s virtual laboratory on thermal homeostasis

5. Use of virtual lab simulation

Teachers may use new ways to explain the topics to the students, like virtual lab simulations. A virtual lab is an advanced method to explain thermal homeostasis easy to understand. Labster provides 3D simulations with gamification elements like storytelling and the scoring system. So, the virtual lab is effective for teachers in teaching thermal homeostasis to the students. 

Labster thermal regulation simulation explains the principles of thermoregulation and heat balance, compare mammalian methods, metabolic rate, the impact of thermogenic heat, and the contribution of vasoconstriction and vasodilation in thermoregulation.

Check out Labster thermal regulation simulation here, or get in touch to know how you can start a virtual lab with your students.

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