Author Archives: jln5162

Hybrids

Everyone has heard of them as being the best car out there, mainly cause of gas prices. Hybrids are sweeping the nation, but are we really doing better for our environment by using them, or are they doing more harm than good?

According to The Week, the worst part of hybrids is their production process. In the process of making the batteries, a lot of carbon emissions are produced. And, compared to a normal car with one battery, hybrids need many. This being said, however, when they are actually running they emit way less, and if a better way of producing the batteries can be found, they really will be healthier for the environment.

However, you can find a link on this page that proves otherwise. While those emissions may be bad, in the long run hybrid cars really do save quite a bit of the environment. In fact, the website states that the fuel savings you get outweigh the emissions by quite a bit.

Is it worth it still to buy these cars though? I thought they were expensive, but again, I was proved wrong. They are reasonably priced, and continue to drop as they become even more of “old news”.

Should we be more careful with the battery production? Is there any form of more efficient way to produce these batteries that make hybrids truly environmentally safe?

I hope so, because the Honda Civic hybrid is on the top of my wishlist; saving the planet is up there, too.

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Break-Ups

People everywhere are breaking up, just in time for the holidays. And the more couples I see parting ways, the more I notice that the girl always seems more miserable. This raised a few questions in my head.

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1) Do boys tend to break up with girls more than the other way around?

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything on this really, but if so that could be a possible explanation for my next question.

2) Why are girls seemingly more upset than guys? And why does it also seem to take girls longer to get over the relationship?

There are quite a few different explanations for this, but a few of my favorite can be found in this article. The one I hadn’t thought of that really seemed like a “duh” moment for me is the first: Guys are typically pressured to go out and explore their options by friends much sooner than girls. This can speed up the healing process for them. Also, because they’re afraid of judgement from friends, males will tend to put on a braver face so that it seems like they’re moving on… even if they’re not.

Another thing that I know I have at least thought of is the fact that guys will use a rebound to make themselves feel better and move on, as a writer in the Huffington Post says. Since they can’t cry to their friends or family about it because it would “ruin their macho image”, they decide that they have to move on quickly to avoid seeming like their break up is bothering them (which it, in fact, is).

A theory that was presented to me by a friend that actually makes some sense, though I can’t find any evidence of it, actually relates the speed of moving-on to our primal instincts. Males animals, for example, are destined to just reproduce. Many will move from female to female without even sticking around for the birth of the offspring. Females, on the other hand, are born to nurture, to care. Even female animals that are with a mate that moves to different people will often only stay with that original mate (and will not mate again if that one dies). These are their survival instincts and what keeps the species alive. In the case of break-ups, humans could possibly have the same subconscious instincts.

Is there any evidence of this being possible? Do YOU think it’s possible? I’m not sure, but it would make me feel a little bit better to know that when I’m falling apart, there’s an actual scientific reason why the guy isn’t.

Pregnancy Tests

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While browsing Andrew’s blog and looking to see all of the posts that I missed (I’m pretty sure I haven’t looked at the instructor blog more than once this semester), I saw his post about the behavior problems in class. While the comment on the wall about semen on a pregnancy test and skewed the results was very crude and inappropriate, it got me thinking. Could that actually happen?

The first step I took in finding this answer was to look at the science behind a pregnancy test. How does it work?

As this website explains, both types of pregnancy tests test for a hormone called hCG or human chorionic gonadotropin, whether in the blood or in the urine. Higher levels of this hormone indicate pregnancy.

So does semen have this hormone?

News Medical says it does not. Semen is composed mainly of sperm, fructose, and other enzymes. If you’re curious, the full list of what makes up semen can be found here.

Obviously, semen then cannot skew the results of a pregnancy test. But now I am even more curious: What causes those false positives? What can cause elevated levels of hCG other than pregnancy?

JustMommies.com has an interesting article on this very subject. Certain medications, for example, contain hCG as it is useful for fertility conditions. Also, if you have a medical problem (like certain cancers, for example), your hCG levels may be elevated from that. And perhaps the most interesting, one that piques my curiosity even more, is that if there is too much protein in your urine, the test could also come up possible.

I haven’t been able to find much information on this, so maybe you guys can. Is there any definitive explanation for as to why protein will show on a pregnancy test as elevated hCG levels? Also, given these abilities for a false positive, should you trust an at-home pregnancy test or just go to the doctors?

Emotions in Animals

After reading an interesting blog on whether or not animals could communicate with humans, I started to wonder if animals have emotions. I know they can feel things like hunger, obviously, but can they be happy or mad or sad? There are times when I can almost see the smile on my cats face, and others when I think she’s glaring at me across the room, but am I just imagining these things?

New studies on rats are suggesting that I am not. In this particular case, when two rats were placed in a cage with one of them trapped in an uncomfortably small box, the free rat would ignore treats also placed in the cage to try and help the other one get out. Astonishingly, the free rat would save some of the treats as well for the other rat to eat once it was free. There was no reward for freeing the other rat, which leads researchers (and myself!) to believe that there is no other explanation other than feelings. The free rat feels bad for the caged rat, and gets relief from setting his or her companion free.

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Some scientific proof that animals are capable of emotions lies in their brains. As this article points out, human brains have spindle cells which are known to play a key roll in processing emotions. Scientists are now finding that these spindle cells are also present in the same regions of the brain in animals. These regions are responsible for empathy, intuition, and social skills. As of yet, researchers have only found them in whales, apes, and a few other animals, but who knows if they are in even more and yet to be discovered?

Many scientists are still in debate about this, but what about you? Do you think animals have emotions? Or are they just acting on instinct and not really feeling?

As for me, I’ll choose to believe that my cat loves me as much as I love her.

Underage Drinking

I was reading a few blogs about the effects of drinking, and it got me thinking. I know that they say younger people just don’t have the rationality to drink safely, and that is why the drinking age is 21. However, I was curious to know, is there something scientific behind it, too?

This article reminded me of Andrew’s lecture on the benefits of antibiotics. It points out that the age laws of anything are based upon weighing the risks and the benefits out of doing such a thing at that age. The article also answers my question fairly straightforwardly: The brain is known to continue to develop into your mid-twenties, so drinking can cause developmental problems.

Drinking (especially heavily) can affect the brain in many ways. I found another article that describes some of the most obvious.

Not only does heavy drinking destroy brain cells (and the links between them) and slow development of key areas of the brain, but it also causes damage in people who wouldn’t be considered alcoholics! While this may not completely get rid of the brain cells, it does lessen the quality of the connections between them (the white matter) which is how the brain gets information around all the different sections as well as to the rest of the body.

 

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 On the less scientific side, the original article does point out the interesting fact that the younger you are, the more likely you are to act impulsively. This being said, if your mind is already impaired by alcohol, you are going to make even riskier decisions.

As sad as it is to admit it, yes I have drank and yes I am underage. Was it worth the risk? Probably not. But is there really that much of a difference between 18 and 21, especially if your brain is continuing to develop until your MID twenties, a few years after you become legal?

Cell Phones and Gas Pumps

Pumping gas the other day, I mindlessly read (with my cell phone in hand) the “Do not use cell phones while pumping gas” sticker on the side of the pump. While this may seem daring – or just downright stupid – I’ve seen the episode of MythBusters (where they prove that a cell phone will not cause a fire at the gas pump) so many times that I’ve been ignoring the sticker ever since. As I sit down to write this blog, however, I started to wonder how credible was MythBusters? Could their answer be wrong?

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After doing some more research on my own, I found some very interesting information. Every source I ran into seemed to say the same thing: cell phone signals are not strong enough and do not create enough of a spark to ignite gas fumes. Not only did their reasonings differ, however, there were some slightly more frightening ideas presented!

According to the Federal Communications Commission (or FCC) report, there has been a lot of testing done and no link has been established between cell phone usage and gas pump fires. However, under extremely precise conditions, it could theoretically still happen.

Of course, with any electronic their is a danger of malfunctioning. In the case of cell phones, if the battery were to explode, that could ignite a fire at the pump, says CBS News. Otherwise, they agree that it is nearly impossible for cell phones to be an actual threat.

If these sources, however, both do agree that there’s nothing to worry about, why all the warnings when you pump your gas?

Both ABC News and Discovery present a very good theory: static electricity.

According to Jim Farr, a fire marshal in Gaston County, NC, interviewed by ABC, just from scuffing your feet on the carpet, there have been recorded static electricity measurements of 35,000 volts. Getting in and out of cars, there have been recorded measurements of over 60,000 volts. This high charge is more than enough to cause a fire.

Discovery explains the entire concept further. A running car will generate heat, and as you may know, heat causes expansion. This “expansion” also occurs in the charges of atoms or molecules within materials. The charges caused by this expansion will need to be discharged immediately, and this is what is known as static electricity. When the atoms discharge, it causes a spark, and this spark could possibly be what is being confused as coming from a cell phone when causing fires at the gas pump.

The only thing I’m still not certain of is this: What certain conditions could actually cause the cell phone to spark a fire? Obviously, the exploding battery would be a very specific condition, but is there anything else? I couldn’t find this on the FCC’s governmental website, but it’s definitely food for thought.

If anyone’s interested in watching who hasn’t seen it already, here‘s the episode of MythBusters I referenced earlier… enjoy!

Homosexuality and Science

I was sitting with my best friend the other day (who happens to be gay) and he was debating with someone over whether or not being gay was a choice. He brought up the fact that science was starting to discover exactly why it is not; that there is actually some science behind homosexuality! Curious, as soon as I got home I started a google search on the subject.

Before I go into what I found, we need to discuss some background. Homosexuality (or someone sexually preferring someone of their own gender rather than someone of the opposite gender) has been a topic of controversy for a long time. For the purpose of this blog, I’m going to just focus on male homosexuality because there was significantly less information on females.

The first article I stumbled upon was a summary of a study done by Charles Roselli, a professor at Oregon State University. In this study, Roselli (among a few others) studied the sexual preferences of rams. Approximately 8% of rams show a sexual preference to other rams, as opposed to ewes (female sheep). When their brains were analyzed, the researchers found a cell group in the medial preoptic area or anterior hypothalamus of the brain that varied in homosexual sheep. If you’re just as confused as I was when I first read that as to where that spot actually is, here is a diagram:

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The cell group — also known as the Sexually Dimorphic Nucleus or SDN — in that medial preoptic area was found to be two times smaller in the homosexual (gay) sheep than in the heterosexual (straight) sheep. The medial preoptic area of the brain is also known to control the ways males express sexual behaviors, from everything down to seducing and dating to sexual acts.

Now how does this relate to human sexuality? I did a bit of further research, and found that a man by the name of Simon LeVay did a similar study of brains on identified homosexual humans. His study and findings are briefly mentioned here. LeVay states the he found similar results in these brains to the results that Roselli found in the rams.

This still leaves me with quite a few questions, however. If these findings are true, what explains the homosexuality in females? Could the science be overlooking something that explains homosexuality in both genders, or is the size of the SDN coinicidental? Is being gay a “choice”?

As for my gay friend, he certainly doesn’t think so.

Perpetually Ill

As I sit here, sick yet again at the start of the semester, it makes me wonder why this happens. And why, when I finally go to the doctor, they tell me that “it’s viral, so we can’t do anything for you. Antibiotics won’t help”. Why is this? Can’t viruses be killed just like anything else? I know the ones on my computer can! 
As it turns out, they can. But it is much harder than killing bacteria. As Bryan Walsh discusses in a TIME magazine article (found here), bacteria is a living organism. It needs to feed and be nourished to survive. Antibiotics, in that case, just destroy the nourishment (and the life, essentially) of the organism that is whatever bacteria is making you sick.
Viruses are a different story. Since they technically aren’t alive until they burrow into a host cell (one of the cells in your body, for example) they can’t be killed until they’ve done that. And yes, there are ways to kill off viruses at this point, but that would mean killing off the cells, too! These nasty viruses are also different from bacteria in that they mutate and adapt to any threats, therefore making once useful vaccinations no longer work. As far as doctors are concerned, it is much easier — and safer! — to just let the human immune system kill off the viruses itself.
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Within the same train of thought is, then, what are vaccines good for if the viruses can just become immune to them? Bryan Walsh points out that “Science can help with vaccines, which prep the body to recognize and produce antibodies against a particular attacker”. So maybe that pesky flu shot your mom has been begging you to get is really worth it! 

I can tell you one thing, I’d take one needle over the amount of time it takes my body to finally get rid of this bronchitis! It was over a month last time! Sheesh! Should it really take so long for me to heal?

Finally some free time to write this blog!

Hi all! My name is Jenn Niedzwiki and I’m currently a sophomore here at good old PSU! I actually withdrew last spring because of family issues, so my credit standing might be freshman status, but I went to a community college near home (Bucks County) in the spring so once I get those transferred that should be fixed. It feels good to be back!

I’m not really sure what my major is yet, but I know it won’t be science. I’m not really interested in the labs or anything like that, though I can’t really say I’ve had bad luck with any science classes. In fact, chemistry was one of my favorite classes back in high school just because I loved the teacher so much. I’m really only taking this class because I need a science gen. ed. and didn’t want to deal with the labs.

And I left my laptop open when I went to the bathroom, and came back to find this as my background picture…

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Yup. Gotta love friends.

And here’s some random link to my favorite singer’s website so I don’t get points taken off! 😀

GAGA!