Author Archives: Cheyenne Hess

Over 65? Drink up!

I have always thought that alcohol, even in small amounts, is never beneficial to your health or your mind. I’ve been taught that alcohol has negative side effects, even in small uses, or pointless minimal effects that cause you to stumble over words, not feel as much, and cause your brain not to function at it’s full capacity. Therefore, I was surprised when I stumbled across an article explaining a study in which light consumption of alcohol is actually beneficial.

In a recent study, 660 patients were examined by the University of Texas Medical Branch that were part of the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort to examine the midlife and late life alcohol consumption cognitive functioning and regional brain volumes. The patients could not have a track record of dementia or alcohol abuse. Before the tests, each patient had a MRI and neuropsychological assessment to make sure there was no dementia or brain damage from alcohol, and then they were assessed through genetic testing for the alzheimer’s disease. Then the actual testing began to determine the link between the light alcohol consumption and memory, and results showed that alcohol consumption did not have an affect on executive function or overall mental ability. However, it did have an affect on episodic memory. A send study done on animals further showed that light alcohol consumption boosts the hippocampal volume region of the brain in elderly people by assisting the formation of new nerve cells.

In basic terms, this study showed the light consumption of alcohol by people ages 60+ helped them with their episodic memory, which is the ability to remember personalized experiences and events.

Another study, in which 7,460 women ages 65 and above that drank up to three alcoholic beverages per day scored significantly higher on concentration, memory, abstract reasoning, and language tests. The researchers eliminated third variables that could have altered the results such as educational level and income.

These findings support the previously mentioned study conclusions and are consistent with other studies that show drinking alcohol in small amounts or up to three drinks a day in both women and men over the ages of 60/65 reduces the risk of dementia and cognitive function. Because there are multiple studies, chance is reduced as an explanation for the correlation between alcohol consumption and memory, so there is a more concrete link between them. As it appears, there are some benefits to drinking alcohol after all.





Ebola: Do we already have a vaccine?

By this point, after our discussion in class and the non stop news reports of Ebola, we all have a pretty good understanding of what the virus is and what it does to the body. In short, Ebola is a virus that causes a severe fever along with organ failure and severe bleeding, and over time, the symptoms become worse and include bleeding from the eyes, bruising, internal bleeding, etc. The virus comes from fruit bats infected with the virus in West Africa, and it is spread through contact with bodily fluids. The longer someone has the virus, the more contagious it becomes, and if a person infected gets any body fluids on any surfaces, the virus can live on it for several hours. The virus is and continues to spiral out of control as people cannot quarantine it and it has killed more than 4,400 people in just Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization quoted in a New York Times article.

In class we talked about how a possible vaccine for Ebola would not be released until the beginning of the new year at the earliest. However, is there already a vaccine that exists and could be the answer thousands have been waiting for?

Right now, there are more than a dozen Ebola drugs being worked on, yet they have not been approved by the FDA. The FDA did approve a couple for emergency use, one of them being called ZMapp. Zmapp was used on two of the few United States patients. Another possible “vaccine” or cure for the infected patients, as mentioned in class, is the potential use of a survivor’s blood to kill the virus in another person of the blood type.

According to the New York Times, about a decade ago researchers had been working on a vaccine to cure Ebola when it was not yet causing so much hysteria. They developed a vaccine that was going to be potentially ready for licensing in 2010/2011, yet it never happened and the vaccine got put on a shelf. Ebola used to be rare, so then it was not a big concern to find an immediate cure. Now, with almost 5,000 people dead, government and other groups are testing the vaccine created a decade ago. The vaccine is made from a strand of VSV, vesicular stomatitis virus, that was for a mouth disease in cattle but hardly effects people. It had already been used for other vaccines although, so they removed a few of the genes and replaced them with an Ebola gene. Now they are testing this new vaccine with monkeys, as they are considered a good alternate to humans. The tests results show that it has worked and cured the monkeys, and now trials on humans are just beginning.

In class today, we talked about wether or not vaccines are harmful to people and if they are safe or not. We talked about Smallpox and how a vaccine was created to treat it and scientists were able to globally eradicate the virus in 1977. Smallpox had killed 300-500 million people in the 20th century and got to a point where 2 million where dying a year. Polio was also eliminated in America from a vaccine as well, so they can work very well, although some work better than others.

My question is why if they have a vaccine that was almost licensed in 2010, and they had it ready to go on the shelf, is it taking so long for the vaccine to be given to the thousand of people infected in Africa who are currently dying at a faster rate each day? Why is it just in the beginning stages of human trial now? And why, if the FDA approved certain drugs for “emergencies” are they not being distributed to people in Africa because they are still being “tested” but were given to the two patients in America? If the drugs are good enough for emergencies, why are they not allowed for all cases?

Andrew brought up a very rational point in class today, being that we have a significantly higher, almost 100% chance higher, risk of dying in a car accident each day than we do from receiving a harmful vaccine. Yet, we believe that the risk of getting in a car is acceptable. Why, if the vaccine that is already in existence and has cured monkeys, and is not even considered one of the emergency drugs, is it not being large-scale distributed like the vaccine for Smallpox was? Perhaps because the FDA thinks there is too great of an element of “chance” or risk, yet clearly there is a greater risk of dying in a car crash or being seriously injured.

In my personal opinion, if the drug is proven to work, I believe people should be given the option of having the vaccine injected because it would be at their own risk, yet could save their lives and help stop the spread of Ebola.


Authoritarian Parenting

In Psychology class, we recently discussed the four types of parenting styles. After learning a little about each one, I wanted tot further analyze the Authoritarian style of parenting. Authoritarian parenting is when a parent forces their child to listen to them by ruling their household with a very strict, firm hand. Growing up, my parents used the authoritative style of parenting, which is when parents establish rules and guidelines but use constructive criticism and explain to their children what they did wrong when they act out in a bad manner. Authoritative also has an element of compromise, where the parents will listen to how the children feel and work to help them be better. Because I grew up in this parenting style, the authoritarian stye of parenting fascinates me in that I cannot imagine having parents who were not responsive to me, and it makes me curious as to how this effects the children. I personally would despise my parents and probably feel as though they did not care about me.

Diana Baumrind completed an observational study that consisted of more than 100 preschool aged children in which she observed their behaviors and completed parental interviews. From this study, she was able to conclude that there are four important elements of parenting: communication styles, warmth and nurturance, expectations of maturity and control, and disciplinary strategies. In specific, Baumrind found that authoritarian parenting generally results in well mannered and proficient, but they lack self-worth, esteem and happiness, as well as social skills. In comparison, authoritative parenting typically results in happy, confident, and successful children.

Baumrind also concluded further that the authoritarian approach, being strict, lacks the emotional and nurturing aspects of a healthy relationship and involves a high level of control over the children, to the point where it affects their ability to think for themselves. There is a lack of communication, another important element of parenting, and immediate punishment is the result of the breaking of rules. In her observations, Baumrind saw that spanking and yelling were typical punishments, as these children were preschool aged.

A report written by Matthew J. Miller, a Doctor of Psychology, further examines Baumrind’s study and discusses the authoritarian parenting style and it’s effects on children in more depth. The driving force behind this parenting style, he explains, is the development of fear within the children. Fear of failure to comply and of failure and punishment. Parents hold back emotions, causing children to feel unloved, and punishments can be unnecessarily excessive. Because the kids are obedient and compliant, the parents believe that their strategies of parenting are effective, but meanwhile their children feel alone because they feel they cannot go to their parents to seek guidance. People seek guidance from those they love and respect, so authoritarian children look elsewhere.

Socially, Miller explains that independence is discouraged. This results in the inability to become a leader, and make their own decisions, because they are punished if they do. They are emotionally dependent on others, and have a low self esteem. Because these children are unable to control their own lives, they develop feelings of helplessness. Interestingly, Miller addresses the issue of anger, and how most of these kids suffer from anger issues because they have no say over their lives and act out in passive (inward) or aggressive rebellions. Anxiety is also prevalent within their lives.

After reading and meditating on this report, both the feelings of anxiety and helplessness that authoritarian parented children experience stood out to me, as they are both symptoms of depression. In the study entitled, “Learned Helplessness in Children: A Longitudinal Study of Depression, Achievement, and Explanatory Style,” 168 school children were measured over the course of a year, five times each. The results showed that students who were not provided with adequate explanations of concepts was linked to higher concurrent levels of depression and even higher levels of depression while taking tests. Therefore, it was the lack of proper explanations causing depression; authoritarian-parented children also lack proper explanations and are put in high stress situations and more prone to depression for these reasons as well.

In conclusion, from the research completed, the authoritarian parenting style appears to cause many issues among the children subjected to it. It is very different from the authoritative parenting style, that offers kids fair explanations for why they are receiving punishment, and the  punishments are not over-the-top or excessive. Authoritarian parenting causes children to have low self-esteems, feel alone without direction, lack nurturing, develop anxiety that can lead to depression, and create social problems. I found this topic fascinating to study and see just how powerful the effects parents can have on their children; in class we are often told correlation does not equal causation, but in this case, the correlation between the parenting styles and kids living with these negative effects is due to the direct cause of the parents choice of disciplinary actions. This does not go to say that there is not a third variable or outside sources do not contribute to the feelings and anxiety kids develop, such as peer pressure in school or many other possibilities. However the multiple studies all showing similar results provide enough information to limit the possibility of chance. I am thankful that my parents did not implement this authoritarian parenting style within their household and that they let me speak my mind at times and listened to what I had to say. Because of this, I can now confide in them and go to them with any issues or questions I have.





Brita: helpful or harmful?

There is lots of controversy over whether water filters actually work or not, and if they are even necessary for people in the United States who do not have a lead problem with their water pumps. I read online that tap water is perfectly fine to drink most of the time in America, yet my roommate has a Brita water filter, and so I wanted to see if they are actually necessary.

In one study from March of 1996 published on the US National Library of Medicine (National Institutes of Health) website, the microbiological quality of filtered water through a Brita was measured in an experimental study in both households and two laboratory settings. 34 filters were tested in households, in which 24 filters increased the bacteria counts in water by as much as 6,000 cfu/ml. Out of 6 filters tested in the labs, 4 of them also increased the bacteria counts. The amount of bacteria was less in the tap water than the filtrated water after one week of use at two different temperatures, one room temperature and another 4 degrees celsius. Therefore, it was concluded that the filter in the Brita had bacteria growing on it during the week it was in use by as much as 10,000 more counts of bacterial colonies than the tap water, not filtered.

Another report from the University of Berkeley on December 6, 2000 concerning filtered water versus tap water found that using a Brita filter is okay if used simply for extra precaution and personal preference of the taste of the water, but the filter does not kill bacteria. The filter traps the bacteria which becomes a breeding ground for other bacteria. Tap water is filtered by Chlorine, yet if the filter is not changed and contains built up bacteria, it puts extra bacteria back into the naturally filtered water from tap. Tap water comes from filtered water plants and typically has low bacteria counts because of the minimal level of chlorine in the water that is safe for humans to digest and kills the bacterial cells. The problem that arises, and why people partially use filters, is because the tap water can be contaminated from the industrial pipes and drains that it goes through from plants to faucets. Some people prefer to get water through a purified bottle or use a filter because of the smell that the chlorine can cause, but it is mostly harmless. Brita filters, though they claim to remove bacteria, heavy leads, and chlorine, do not remove organic chemicals, known as THMs (tribalomethanes), that are naturally evaporated out of tap water but trapped in the filtered Brita. Brita can however be helpful in filtering out chemicals and germs from plumbing issues or other industrial metals and lead but ultimately, this resource concluded that unless there is a serious issue, Brita filters added bacteria and do not filter out microorganisms that tap water does naturally, so tap is essentially safer/purer.

From both the study and report, it seems as though Brita filters are not necessary if the tap water is not contaminated with lead. But does this mean that my roommate should stop using her Brita and drink straight from the sink? I researched Penn State’s water system to see if there was any record of issues with the filter systems or if the water would be exposed to any possible lead contamination or any related contamination source. I was able to find a Source Water Assessment Summary for The Pennsylvania State University  from 2003 on the public water system. After reading over it, I found that the source of water for Penn State is composed of nine wells in two well fields located in Big Hollow and Houserville. The water is treated with chlorine at a treatment building before it goes to the distribution center. The summary includes a list of possible contamination sources, but most are common and possible threats to any water source. Ongoing protection activities for watersheds is included, as well as protection needs. I was unable to find a more recent survey, but from this summary, I was unable to see any direct harmful threats as a result from drinking the tap water. There seems to be no more risk drinking out of the faucets here at PSU than there is drinking from tap water at home.

In conclusion, should my roommate stop using her Brita filter, is it necessary, or should she drink tap water? This reminds me of a question that was on a pop quiz earlier this year that asked: “As described, is the study design good enough to provide data that would cause you to alter your bathroom behavior?” The question had an asterisk because it was more of a personal opinion, which I feel is the case for this Brita question. I personally do not see a huge problem with drinking the tap water, and the Brita could most likely be adding more bacteria. It would have to be up to her to decide what matters most to her, that being taking the chance of extra bacteria or having water that maybe tastes better because of the filter.





Clorox Wipes 99.9% Effective?

It’s crazy to think about how many germs we come in contact with day to day, from germs on door handles, ID cards, desks, etc. At home, my mom is a religious user of Clorox wipes to kill germs; she is always cleaning something or wiping off my younger siblings’ toys. The other night my roommate and I spent an hour organizing, vacuuming, and straightening up our room, as it desperately needed it. Of course to clean the countertops we used none other than Clorox wipes, just like my mom always does. The yellow container in which the disinfectant wipes are held has two bold blue and red statements on it; one being “kills cold and flu viruses” and another “kills 99.9% of bacteria in 30 seconds.” When reading these brief facts, I found it interesting that Clorox wipes claim to kill 99.9% of bacteria.  In class, we have been learning that there is always an element of chance involved in any case, so it would be wrong for Clorox to advertise killing germs 100%, so instead they say 99.9%. In my opinion, the .1% difference is insignificant. Therefore, I wanted to research just how true the advertised effectiveness of the wipes really is.

While researching, I found an experimental study completed by Dr. Charles P. Gerba during June, July, and August of 2001 designed to do three things: quantify the amount of bacteria on workplace surface areas, determine the workplace areas with the largest amount of germs, and also to test how effective the use of one Clorox wipe a day on these surface areas is to kill illness-inducing germs in workplaces. Four different offices located in busy cities were tested; New York, Tampa, San Francisco, and Tuscon. Participants at each location were split into two groups, one a control group that was not given a Clorox wipe a day, and another group, the experimental group, that was given one Clorox wipe a day to clean their specified workplace area. Twelve different areas were tested in the study, including desktop, phone, mouse, computer keyboard, microwave door handle, elevator buttons, photocopier start button, photocopier surface, fax machine, toilet seat, fridge handle, and water fountain handle. All participants were asked to go about their normal routines, except the experimental group was asked to use a Clorox wipe to clean their working area right after lunch was over.  Each surface was measured three times a day to test the level of bacteria; the first measurement was early in the morning and the other two at lunch and later on. An average of ten office cubicles within each city location were part of the experiment and 7,000 samples were collected all together. The researcher studied the data and found that the most germ infected surfaces in an office include the phone, desktop, water fountain handle, microwave handle, and keyboard respectively. Interestingly, the workplace areas of the control group, non-wipe users, gained an average of 31% more illness-causing bacteria during the day while the bacteria was reduced by 99.9% or more on the most infected workplaces of the experimental group, the wipe users.

Therefore, two conclusions can be drawn from this experiment. One is that the use of one Clorox wipe a day effectively kills at least 99.9% of illness causing germs on the most contaminated surfaces. The other conclusion is that offices that are disinfected everyday have fewer germs than the desks alone of other offices that are not.

After reading over this study, I was pretty convinced that Clorox wipes do in fact kill 99.9% of germs. Reverse causation would make no sense because germs are not caused due to the use of wipes, and I felt this study also did a good job holding all other variables constant to determine if the wipes alone made a difference. No other cleaning products were used, and people did not change their workplace behaviors other than those told to do so in the experimental group. However, as in most experimental designs, chance is hard to account for and the data collected in this study could have possibly been reported inaccurately.

Another studied reported on from the ABC News Medical Unit by Allyson Collins in 2008 described an experiment conducted by researchers from the Welsh School of Pharmacy at Cardiff University in Wales in which they used several different types of disinfectant wipes to clean surfaces that were contaminated with the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria including a Methicillin-resistant type commonly known as MSRA that has been prevalent in hospitals. The study concluded that the disinfectant wipes, including Clorox, destroyed the most bacteria, even though they did not remove as much bacteria as a few others. The researchers found that while the wipes destroyed the bacteria, the bacteria stayed on the wipes after use, and if reused, transported the bacteria to other surfaces. Therefore, the wipes are most effective after only one use.

Therefore, it appears as though Clorox wipes are in fact 99.9% effective, but only after one use.  When looked at in this regard, reverse causation is possible, as reusing wipes would be causing an increase in the spread of germs rather than limiting the number of germs. The first experiment mentioned, the experimental study, therefore eliminated the possibility of reverse causation and aligns with the second study in this regard, as researchers only had the research participants use one wipe to clean up their work areas.

On a side note, in light of our recent discussion of Ebola in class, Clorox sales increased over the month of September by 28% due to the preparation of paranoid Americans to fight the virus. Other general disinfectant products’ sales were also up by 13%, as well as an increase in Hand Sanitizer sales by 8% according to Claire Suddath on





Gardasil: Preventing or Inducing Cancer?

At my last annual wellness check-up, my doctor asked me if I wanted to receive the Gardasil shots to protect against 4 different HPV viruses. Gardasil is, according to it’s own website, the only Human Papillamavirus Vaccine (HPV) that aids in the protection of viruses that cause 75% of cervical cancer cases and 90% of genital warts cases. My family doctor happens to be a close family friend, so I asked her for her own personal opinion of the vaccine and she shared with me that she did not let her daughter get it. I found this very interesting, considering many other doctors in the office were advocating for the vaccine, and I knew many other girls my age who had already gotten the series of three shots over six months.

Gardasil is promoted to help protect women (and men) between the ages of 9-26 from contracting several different cervical cancers. The website does state that it may not be effective for everyone, and that the vaccine will not protect or treat people who already have viruses. After completing further research, I found that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorse the drug, saying that is it safe and over 57 million doses of the drug have been given to date without any concerns or safety issues. They also state that although the drug is good to get before becoming sexually active, that almost all sexually active people will get HPV at some time in their life and not know it; the body usually fights off the virus naturally before people become aware that they have any strand of disease. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also claims to continue to monitor the vaccine and ensure that it remains safe for people to have as of today.

Therefore, in theory, the drug appears great. However, what is not advertised with the drug is that if a person has already been exposed to HPV 16 or 18, according to Dr. Mercola, and they receive Gardasil, their chances of forming precancerous lesions increases by as much as 44.6%. Therefore, it is important for people to have an HPV screening before receiving injections of the drug, which is not advertised to the public either. All they hear is that Gardasil prevents cancerous diseases, but not that it could increase their chances of contracting a cancerous disease, when in more than 70% of HPV cases, the body naturally clears it up within several months and over 90% of cases are cleared up without ever exposing any symptoms.

The drug was approved by the FDA on June 8, 2006, and was tested on more than 11,000 women around the world, with results showing that the drug was effective in the prevention of precancerous lesions and genital warts in women who had never been infected with HPV types 6, 11, 16, or 18. On June 30, 2008, 9,749 reports were collected of women who had been given the injection and out of these, 6% of the cases showed negative effects, including twenty deaths. There were two main causes for these deaths, including GBS and blood clots, but all cases of people who died and had these other illnesses or problems showed no correlation between Gardasil and their deaths. This is an example of what we learned in class, that causation does not equal correlation.

However, France and Japan have both banned the drug, Spain has recalled it, India banned clinical trials of Gardasil, and Israel is considering a ban as well, as A Shot of Truth States. New studies have recently been showing that the drug is inducing cancer more than preventing it. When one mom, Karen Maynor, who encouraged her daughter to get the shots and then she died a few days after, pleaded with the government to reinvestigate the drug and the death reports/injuries girls were receiving after the shot, the Obama administration did not investigate but instead spent $1.2 million dollars to provide poor girls in the minority with Gardasil. In 2006,  people started advocating against the drug, including Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccine Information Center, stating that the CDC and FDA have not been fairly informing the public of the serious reactions and deaths following the injections of the vaccine. As it appears from their information, Gardasil had only been tested on approximately 1,000 young girls under age 16 before doctors were giving the drug to millions of young girls. Then in 2008, Judicial Watch gave a special report in which they examined the FDA’s HPV Vaccine Records and found several cases in which girls had died, developed seizures, or became paralyzed after receiving the doses of the drug. As of June 2014, the following statistics have been reported: (chart from the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System)

DESCRIPTION                                 TOTAL
Disabled                                          1,156
Deaths                                             169
Did Not Recover                             7,111
Abnormal Pap Smear                    572
Cervical Dysplasia                          243
Cervical Cancer                              78
Life Threatening                            640
Emergency Room                         11,705
Hospitalized                                   3,679
Extended Hospital Stay               251
Serious                                           4,920
Adverse Events                             35,270

According to the Shot of Truth, the National Vaccine Information System (the oldest and biggest consumer led advocacy organization for the safety of drugs) claims that only 1-10% of death and serious cases are reported to the organization, and the CDC openly admitted to under representing and reporting vaccine cases. Even though the reported cases exceeded 30,000 adverse events in 2013, the CDC continued to encourage doctors to advertise and ask patients if they wanted to receive the drug. In 2012, the Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics stated that Gardasil’s claims in their advertisements were more created to cause a fear in many young women of contracting cancer so that they would get the drug rather than being based on the proven or potential benefits of the drug itself. Merck & Co.’s own executive director (the company that owns/created Gardasil) even stated that the goal of his company was to get the vaccine into as many young aged girls as possible through creative approaches (in other words aggressive ad campaigns) so that they would take action and seek out the drug.

After analyzing several viewpoints, including Gardasil’s claims from their own website and completing more in depth research from various outside sources, I feel as though Merck & Co., though appearing to have good intentions upon the release of Gardasil, is more interested in making money off the drug than informing the public of all the true side effects and actual prevention of teens/young adults from contracting genital warts and cancer from certain HPV viruses.  The CDC has not been accurately recording information, and the adverse events that occurred after drug usage and deaths have continued to increase and are above 30,000 as of June 2014. I am personally thankful that people started speaking up and advocating against the use of the drug, as it is not banned in a few countries for no reason! On a smaller scale, I can relate this to the conversation we had in class about bleeding out, and how for many years doctors were actually killing patients instead of making them better by causing such large amounts of blood loss. I feel that if over 70% of HPV viruses can naturally be fought off by the body without people ever having any symptoms, and the body is capable of healing itself in this way, Gardasil is not necessary and is just increasing the chances of developing cancerous lesions by increasing the risks for other strands of HPV not “protected” by Gardasil.




Breaking Barriers

Today’s United States Navy is made of a network of innovative concepts and cutting edge technology, that when combined through land, air, and sea, results in immense power and war winning capabilities. They are continually upgrading to have the fastest and best ships, weapons, and jets. Recently, the Navy acquired the new Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II jet, which will slowly replace the FA 18 Super Hornet. The first flight of the first jet produced was in February 2011, and as of December 2013, 100 jets have successfully been produced. According to the Lockheed Martin Corporation, the F-35, designed with a 360 degree window, enables pilots to be anywhere from six to eight times more effective on the battlefield and the communication system allows the pilots to safely communicate on a secure network back to base.

There are many interesting functions and capabilities this particular jet has, but what caught my attention the most right from the start was the fact that it has the ability to go supersonic, meaning it can fly faster than the speed of sound. The idea of traveling faster than sound blows my mind; how is that possible?

I came across an article from Fox News published on April 11, 2014 with the headline “Los Angeles ‘quake’ really a Navy jet breaking sound barrier.” In this article, I learned that people in Los Angeles reported having felt the ground move yet what they felt was really the vibrations of a loud “boom” that came from the air. The rumbling the people in Los Angeles felt was produced when a FA 18 Super Hornet broke the sound barrier approximately 35 miles away from San Diego over the Pacific Ocean. U.S. Navy Commander Kevin Stephens quotes in the article, “the sound will propagate in the direction it’s flying,” which caused buildings in L.A. to shake as a result of the plane headed north bound.

Merriam Webster defines a sound barrier as “a sudden large increase in aerodynamic drag that occurs as the speed of an aircraft approaches the speed of sound.” When a plane breaks through this barrier (traveling over 770 miles per hour), the sound waves combine together in front of the plane, and the plane accelerates through this force field, creating a loud boom, otherwise known as a sonic boom, from the change in pressure. This is similar to a large wake created behind a boat when it speeds up.

I really wanted to find out what it took, what kind of engine had to be designed in order to power the plane fast enough to break through a barrier, but had difficulty finding enough information on this subject because it is classified. After considering this phenomenon for some time however, it got me thinking about other various barriers, specifically light barriers. Is it possible to create a shock wave of light by breaking a light barrier similar to supersonic airplanes breaking a sound barrier?

According to Dr. Christopher S. Baird, who answers science questions with surprising answers, planes are capable of breaking the sound barrier because sound is simply a “traveling vibration of air molecules.” Sound waves pile up into pressure that only strong airplanes can break, creating a shock wave/sonic boom. However, “nothing can travel faster than the speed of light in vacuum,” so neither a plane or space ship would ever be fast enough to break through the light barrier due to physics; a never ending supply of energy would be needed to create an optical shock. If not in vacuum, the speed of light moves more slowly through other objects with more dense materials and certain objects can break the light barrier if traveling very fast, which creates a shock wave known as a Cherenkov radiation. An example of this is high-energy electrons that travel through water that are released from a nuclear reaction; as they travel through the cool water faster than light, it creates a shock wave of light seen as a blue-ish color to the human eye. It is also possible, but less likely, for objects to break through the light barrier in air but very very high speeds are required. One example of this is when high speed particles are released from Supernovae into the atmosphere as cosmic rays and are sometimes fast enough to create optical shock waves. So overall, I found it is possible to break a light barrier, just as it is possible for planes to break a sound barrier.

Watch the first minute of this video of jets breaking the sound barrier.







First Blog Post

Hey everyone, my name is Cheyenne Hess and I am from a small town in York, Pa. I live about fifteen minutes from the York College of Pennsylvania. I am taking this course to fulfill a basic general ed requirement but also because the course description caught my attention by stating that it was a “science appreciation” course. I have never cared for science and have always found it to be very challenging, so the idea of an appreciation course sounded a lot better than biology or chemistry. I would not be successful as a science major, so I am currently pursuing a major in either marketing or advertising/public relations instead.