Author Archives: Benjamin N Seltzer

Music and Our Emtions

Music is an amazing thing. It can make you dance, sing, or even feel. In this blog post, I will investigate the last of those three, and see if there is any scientific evidence that shows how music affects our emotions.

According to a study done at the University of London, Music can affect how we see images, and the emotions that we correlate with them.

In the experiment, 30 subjects were presented with a series of happy or sad musical excerpts. After listening to the snippets, the subjects were shown a photograph of a face. Some people were shown a happy face – the person was smiling – while others were exposed to a sad or neutral facial expression. The participants were then asked to rate the emotional content of the face on a 7-point scale, where 1 mean extremely sad and 7 extremely happy.

The researchers found that music powerfully influenced the emotional ratings of the faces. Happy music made happy faces seem even happier while sad music exaggerated the melancholy of a frown.

This study was done on a group of 30 people, 15 male and 15 female, with an average age of 26.1, who were a part of this experiment with no cash incentive at all. I believe this group is a good example of a random sample, and there is little possibility of bias here. This experiment shows that there is in fact, an impact that music has on us, but it offers no sort of mechanism. While this study is useful to this blog, it is far from the end of my research.

One Professor Daniel Levitin believes that he has the solution to this issue. Professor Levitin is both a neuroscientist and a composer, so he has expertise on both ends of the spectrum necessary in this blog, so I am more than inclined to believe him. Levitin believes that the fact that the parts of the brain that control language, emotion, and memory are all linked, and work together to process music.

In this study, 834 participants were given a list of 129 functions of music, and rated them. The results of this study were as follows:

“People listen to music to regulate arousal and mood, to achieve self-awareness, and as an expression of social relatedness. The first and second dimensions were judged to be much more important than the third—a result that contrasts with the idea that music has evolved primarily as a means for social cohesion and communication.”

This study was done on a group of volunteers who had the chance to win a tablet computer, but there is little room for bias because the tablet was awarded based on a random drawing, and the responses of the volunteers had nothing to do with their chances. The group of volunteers ranged from ages 8 to 85, and was 57% female, which is a pretty representative sample of the population as a whole. Once again, mood was measured as one of the most important functions of music, which further proves that music has a large impact on one’s mood, but still the mechanics of this remain a mystery to me.

This scientific journal, however provides at least an elementary explanation. Apparently, the tempo of the music is often what causes a shift in mood. When one is listening to music, they usually breathe in time with the music, whether they notice it or not, says the study. Because respiration and the cardiovascular system are so closely linked, this affects the heart rate as well. All of this together results in “an impact on a variety of neurophysiological systems in many ways similar to emotion-induced physiological changes.” This provides ample explanation that music is able to change our mood, and finally provides some sort of mechanism.

After researching extensively, I have found that music does affect our mood, and I have come across a process in which it does so. I would consider this blog to be a success due to this, and I hope it provides some insight into you music and mood choices. Happy listening!


Marijuana’s Costs and Benefits

Marijuana is a hot topic today, with many states legalizing it, either recreationally or medically. The people of my generation are staunchly in favor of legalization, because they see very few side effects, and potential benefits in pain reduction and return of appetite for cancer patients. The generation preceding us is less sure, and has concern about both the mental and physical side effects of marijuana. In this blog, I will investigate both sides of the coin, and come out with my own decision in the end.

Over time, the way that studies on marijuana have been conducted have gotten better, but because the drug is still illegal, it is difficult to get reliable data from humans. In this study from 1987, the results were found to be:

“Evidence regarding the potential long-term pulmonary consequences of regular marijuana smoking is mixed. Several studies conducted during the past decade on whole animals and isolated cell systems exposed to marijuana smoke, as well as some clinical observations, suggest that marijuana can be harmful to the lung. Conversely, human studies carried out abroad have failed to find any evidence of respiratory dysfunction or disease in long term heavy users of marijuana.”

Unfortunately, none of the results from this study can be considered truly useful, because the data that was collected on animals can only be used in terms of animals, and the data collected on humans was self reported, making it quite unreliable. The subjects of this survey were told to self-report their marijuana usage, as well as their history of lung issues. This data can be used as a nice talking point, but it has little scientific value.

One study done started in 1993, which concluded 20 years later in 2013, measured things such as the effects of marijuana on a driver, the concept that it is a “gateway drug”, and its physical and mental health effects as well. Here is a table of their results, with the “strength of effect” column measuring the evidence that has grown over the last 20 years.

Evidence Level of evidence Strength of effect
Acute effects
Fatal overdose +++ No case reports 0
Road traffic crashes ++ Cohort and case control 2-fold
Low birth weight ++ Cohort
Chronic effects
Dependence +++ Cohort studies 1 in 10 among ever users
Educational outcomes ++ Cohort and case control 2-fold in regular users
Cognitive impairment ++ Cohort and case control Difficult to quantify
Psychosis ++ Cohort studies 2-fold in regular users
Depression +? Cohort studies Probable confounding
Suicide +? Cohort studies 2-fold in regular users
Chronic bronchitis ++ Cohort studies 2-fold in regular users
Respiratory impairment +? Cohort studies Mixed
Cardiovascular disease ++ Cohort and case control 3–4-fold for MI
Testicular cancers ++ Case–control 2–3-fold
Respiratory cancers +? Case–control Confounded by smoking

Again, though, it is hard to know the reliability of this study, as it was also done in a self reported manner. It does, however, hold much more significance than the study mentioned prior, because it was conducted over 20 years, with many more subjects.

This study  is conducted in a different manner. Its goal was to see if there was a connection between marijuana and growing stem cells to repair the brain after a head trauma. According to this study, “activation of cannabinoid receptors suppresses chronic inflammatory responses through the attenuation of pro-inflammatory mediators.” and directs neural stem cells in the central nervous system, which helps to repair the brain. What differentiates this study from the others is the fact that it is a “test tube” study, done exclusively in a laboratory, with no animals or humans used, just genes. While this should translate to humans directly, often times it does not, so until the experiment is done on actual humans, it cannot be considered to be hard evidence.

This issue is a frustrating one, simply because it is very difficult for it to be studied. I have had several discussions with my father (who is a medical researcher himself) and he believes that the only way to have reliable studies on marijuana is for it to be legalized, despite the fact that morally, he thinks that legalization is a bad idea. Personally, I think it should be legalized as well, but with serious regulations. I think that the only circumstances in which it should be legal are medical, whether it is being used to treat a patient, or to research it. Until it is further studied, I cannot condone legalizing it recreationally. More research is needed on this topic, and I believe that this is the only way to do that.

Is there such a thing as too much water?

From the time that my generation was conscious of our surroundings, we have been told to always stay hydrated, with mothers and grandmothers nagging that we’re never drinking enough, that we’re going to pass out if we don’t carry a reusable water bottle around. All this focus on hydration has resulted in one of the most fully hydrated generations of all time. On this campus, it is uncommon to see someone walking around without some sort of beverage on their person. This constant hydration is said to be good for you, but often times, doing things that are good for you too often results in bad things happening, such as taking too many Gummi-Vitamins (this can lead to internal bleeding, and occasionally death). This caused me to research the potentially harmful effects of over-hydration, and to see if we are an over-hydrated people.

There is a common anecdote about the harms of too much water. In Los Angeles in 2007, a radio station held a water drinking contest, and one contestant, Jennifer Strange, died from water intoxication, or hyponatremia. Strange’s sodium content became so diluted in her bloodstream due to the excessive amount of water that she consumed, which caused her brain to swell, eventually causing her death. This anecdote shows that there are negative consequences of consuming too much water, but I’ll have to dig further to see if there is widespread evidence of overconsumption leading to physical harm.

Joseph Verbalis, the chairman of medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center says, “Every hour, a healthy kidney at rest can excrete 800 to 1,000 milliliters, or 0.21 to 0.26 gallon, of water and therefore a person can drink water at a rate of 800 to 1,000 milliliters per hour without experiencing a net gain in water”. I have a Nalgene bottle which holds 1000 milliliters, and i usually go through one in less than an hour. The daily suggested water intake is within the confines of Verbalis’ suggestion, though, “Today, the IOM liberally recommends an even higher volume of total daily water intake: 3.7 liters (15 cups) for the average adult male and 2.7 liters (11 cups) for the average adult female.”

This suggested amount is far below what is harmful to the human body according to what Verbalis recommends, but the suggested amount is not necessarily what the average American consumes.


As seen in the chart above, neither children (ages 2-18) or adults (19+) have an average consumption that comes anywhere close to being at risk for hyponatremia. Another thing to notice, though, is that the values for average intake are also nowhere near the IOM’s recommendations.

Based off the research that I have done on this topic, I have come to two conclusions. The first, and the most pertinent to this blog is that, yes, too much water can be very harmful to you. There are countless anecdotes of hyponatremia just like Jennifer Strange’s. The second conclusion, though, is that as a nation, we do not consume too much water, and in fact, we consume much less than the recommended daily value, which is FAR below the value that puts you at risk for hyponatremia. I came into this blog with a concern over over-hydration, but now I am only concerned with dehydration, which, by the way, can also cause hyponatremia. Go figure.

Netflix’s Effects

As a college student, I am the target audience for Netflix, the incredibly popular movie and TV streaming site. Netflix used to be a service from which people could rent DVD’s, but since 2007, when they launched their instant streaming service, their popularity has surged.Business Insider reports that the average account watches 18 minutes of streaming per day. With a total subscriber base of 40.4 million, that is a total of 727,200,000 minutes streamed per day, or roughly 34,628,571 episodes of “The Office”, one of the most popular shows on Netflix. This instant service is dangerous, though, because any time that I could be doing work, I also have the option to waste endless amounts of time. In this blog I will investigate the amount of time that college students spend on Netflix, and what that time could have been used for otherwise.

In an article for The Daily Toreador, Texas Tech’s university newspaper, a study done by Geoffrey Graybeal, a professor in the College of Media and Communications at Texas Tech reported that 9 out of 10 students admitted to watching Netflix, among other things shown in the graphic below.

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 12.17.04 PM

The study is self reported, but shows reliable data which reflects the total usage of Netflix. I did an independent study on my floor of Tener Hall, and found that 14 out of the 16 people that live on my floor watched Netflix, which is roughly the same percentage (87.5%).

This study introduces the issue of binge watching, which is considered to be watching three or more episodes of a single show in a row. I also asked my floor-mates how many episodes of Netflix they generally watched in a row, and the average number was just above 4. When you multiply that out to the length of “The Office” again, a show which I will be using throughout this blog as a reference, it equals an hour and 24 minutes. This is time that could have been used to do any number of things, including studying, working on homework assignment, or even doing blog posts. The study that I conducted showed the massive time suck that Netflix creates.

After I saw this data, I was shocked. I never realized what large harm watching just a few episodes could do. So, instead of standing idly by and letting myself waste my time, I decided to track all my activities for an entire week, and see what took up most of my time. From Monday, November 9th until Friday the 13th I tracked my activities, and here were my results: I spent 15 hours and 10 minutes in classes, had 5 hours of music rehearsals for my a cappella group, spent 4 hours watching terrestrial TV (one Eagles game), spent a total of 4 hours working on Econ homework, 5 on English work, 5 on work for this class, and an amazing 10 hours watching Netflix. With all that time, I could have tripled the work I did for this class, and knocked out several blog posts. If I had chosen this path, I could have avoided the stress of having blogs to write at the end of the period. Now, with Thanksgiving week approaching, I will have to do work over the break. I could have avoided this completely if it were not for my procrastination through Netflix.

My story is not an anomaly, though. While ten hours of Netflix may seem excessive, it is actually relatively normal for a college student. In a poll done on an anonymous college campus for Prowl Magazine , 100 randomly selected students were asked how much Netflix they watch weekly, and here are the results, “12 percent reported spending two hours or less per week on Netflix, 71 percent reported between two and 10 hours per week, and 17 percent said they spent more than 10 hours a week on Netflix”. This puts my experience on the top of the majority, but within the majority none the less. This confirms a photo that I saw on Facebook the other day that sums up my experience pretty well. tumblr_nm9rl5RNMM1tyqy63o1_500

This seems to be the norm for most college students, and there is a lot of stress that it does create. Penn State has a statistic on expected workload for students:

“To determine the number of credits to be scheduled in a semester or session, it may be helpful to estimate the academic work load required. This can be accomplished by multiplying the number of credits the student wants to schedule by the forty hours of work which may be required (see Definition of a Credit, above). This total is then divided by the number of weeks in the semester or session of enrollment.

e.g.: 15 credits x 40 hours of work per credit = 600 hours of work
600 hours ÷ 15 weeks = 40 hours of work per week during the semester”

15 credits is a standard number for students here at Penn State, and if 10 hours is around the average for how much Netflix a student watches, 1/4 of a student’s workload could be knocked out in the time that they are wasting by watching Netflix. I urge you to think about this blog post the next time you see the “Continue Watching?” button pop up. I promise you, there are much better things you could be doing with your time.



Do we sensationalize sickness?

It seems like every single year, there is an outbreak of a deathly illness that sends people running mad. In an episode from the TV show “Scrubs” a news reporter announces an outbreak of E. Coli, which sends the entire town literally sprinting towards the hospital. Now, obviously, this is a dramatization for a TV show, but in this blog, I will investigate the real life instances in which this occurs.

Last summer and into the fall, the disease of choice was Ebola. Ebola is a virus which is spread to humans through wild animals, and is very contagious. Originating in Africa, it effects both rural and urban areas. Previous outbreaks of Ebola have spelled near certain death for patients, but recently, a rehydration method has lowered the average fatality rate down to around 50%. This fall, three cases of Ebola were diagnosed in the U.S., and people went ballistic. A WebMD survey  showed that 80% of people were concerned that they were going to contract Ebola. A majority of Americans wanted to screen people flying in from overseas, and a smaller, yet significant, majority wanted to quarantine all passengers coming from Africa. This is quite ridiculous when you consider the very low hazard that Americans had of contracting Ebola. There are over 300,000,000 people in the United States, and three were infected. This puts the hazard at a “massive” 0.00000001. The risk of death once you contract the disease is high, but not as high as many people thought. In another survey done by the Washington Post, it was found that 65% of Americans were worried about a widespread epidemic. This, all because three people in the US had the disease. This case clearly points to the sensationalization of sickness, but it is certainly not the only case.

In 2009, there was a virus called H1N1, referred to as Swine Flu. Swine Flue was first diagnosed on April 15th, and by the 26th of that same month it was declared a public health emergency.  School districts were urged to close for two weeks if a student was diagnosed, but some took liberty to close if a student was diagnosed as “probable” for having the disease. On May 4th,  2009, over 500 schools were closed, leaving 330,00 students without a place to go, and countless parents unable to go to work. My summer camp was effectively shut down for a month due to this virus. This was merely the first wave of the disease, though. On October 24th, it was declared a national emergency by President Obama. With this overwhelming response, one might expect the hazard of infection to be around 60%, with the risk of death being around the same level. For the six months that the disease was raging in the US, only 115,000 people were infected, with 3,400 deaths. This is a hazard of .03833333333%, and a risk of death of 2.956521739% if infected. This is minuscule compared to the reaction that the disease received. The hazard and risk clearly do not fit the response in this case. The common cold, on the other hand, receives no attention at all each year, yet it claims 36,000 lives in the US each year, 10 times as many as swine flu did in its entire existence. This illness has a much higher hazard as well, as the CDC reports that that average adult gets 2-3 colds each year. This is a whopping total of 750,000,000 colds, and that is without statistics on children, who have much weaker immune systems.

The sensationalization of sicknesses is very clearly quite real. Based on my calculations of hazard and risk, when juxtaposed against the responses sicknesses receive shows supreme overreaction, similar to that of the hazard of shark attacks. The CDC, FDA, and many other government organizations put lots of time and energy into attempting to solve these crises, but in reality, there are much more important issues that they could be dealing with.

Anabolic Steroids

Over the last 20 years or so, there has been a large outbreak of professional athletes (mainly baseball players) taking Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) in order to make them bigger, faster, and stronger. This is against the rules of the game, and many players, such as Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds, have had records stripped from their name after the discovery of their PED use. It is clear that Steroids have a positive impact on your performance, but they are also said to take many years off your life. For this blog I will investigate the validity of this claim, and the negative side effects that steroids have on their users.

Because “steroid” is a very general term, I will focus on only Anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are a category of synthetic substances that affect testosterone levels in the body. Because they heighten testosterone levels, they make the process of “bulking up”, or adding lots of muscle in a short period of time, much easier than the natural way. Originally developed in order to treat a disease called hypogonadism, these steroids can obviously be used for a good cause, promoting growth and development in underdeveloped males.

Bodybuilders were the first group to ever use anabolic steroids strictly for muscle growth, but athletes soon followed, and this has since become an epidemic in the sports world. In a 1999 study done on middle and high schools across the nation by the

For professional baseball players, the numbers are shockingly higher. In 2014, ESPN Magazine did an anonymous player poll of 143 Major league players which estimated that 9.4% of MLB players are still on steroids, even after a huge crackdown on steroid use, and the said end to the “Steroid Era”. During this era, players like David Wells said “25 to 40 percent of all Major Leaguers are juiced” and Jose Canseco estimated that nearly 80 percent of MLB players were on steroids. The issue got so bad that the commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig commissioned George J. Mitchell, a highly respected lawyer to write a 409 page report detailing steroid use in the game’s past and present. In this report, 89 players were ousted as steroid users. In addition to this, Mitchell reported that in a random drug test in 2003, nearly 7 percent of players tested positive. This number though is much lower than the actual number of players doping, because until 2008, there was no widely used test for Human Growth Hormone, one of the most commonly used steroids. Doping is absolutely epidemic in the game of baseball, and also in many other areas, and while it does help performance greatly, athletes do not consider the adverse side effects.

The use of anabolic steroids most closely affects the hormonal system. Common side effects, which I will investigate, are testicular atrophy, which results in the shrinking of the testicles and reduced sperm count. Males also often develop female breasts, which is caused by the hormone imbalance caused by the anabolic steroids. In a study  done by Medscape, 500 subjects were chosen due to their activity on an anabolic steroid chat-room. The subjects were issued a 30 question, self reported questionnaire. Here are the results of this questionnaire:


As you can clearly see by only 4 out of the 500 respondents having 0 side effects, anabolic steroids seem to be exceptionally harmful. This survey, while it was self reported, was completely anonymous, and people who have already admitted their steroid use stand no advantage to not reporting the adverse side effects, which differs from those middle and high schoolers who might report that they were not using steroids in fear that the study was not actually anonymous. This study does not suffer from the Texas Sharpshooter problem, for it is a study with 30 very specific questions, not an experiment that could be interpreted in any number of ways. Additionally, because it was published, there is no issue with the File Drawer problem either.

From all of this data, it is clear that anabolic steroids are quite harmful, but their users do not seem to be concerned with this. In the last study, although nearly 100% of users experienced negative side effects, only 61.4% of users were worried about the negative effects that they brought. This is very concerning, because the side effects that they are experiencing are quite serious, yet these users seem to be taking them quite lightly.

In conclusion, due to the overwhelming amount of data, I believe it is safe to say that steroids are quite harmful, and the amount of people still using them is quite concerning. I am not sure there is a way to curb the usage of steroids, for they are already illegal, and carry heavy penalties for possession. People manage to get around these laws, and steroids are still quite present in our nation. Hopefully, soon people will realize the significant adverse effects present, and will make a change for the better.

Does Playing an Instrument Make you Smarter

Over the course of my life, I have heard that playing a musical instrument makes you smarter, and as a potential Music minor, I would like to believe that. Music is a language of its own, and it is universally understood, so it would make sense that learning this “language” has similar effects as a concrete language would.

Because many people, like me, are interested in this question, many studies have been done to see if playing music does, in fact, optimize your brain function. One study, conducted at the University of Montreal, had two groups, one of trained musicians, and one of non musicians. Both groups were subjected to a test where they received one touch sensation and two sound sensations. Because musicians are used to reading music, playing it, and listening for the other musicians that they are performing with, they were able to differentiate the touch and sound sensations, reporting that they felt one touch and heard two sounds.  The non musicians fell for this illusion, though, and believed that they were feeling the touch twice.

Another study that was done having to do with rhythm, which is essential to playing an instrument. Researchers at Northwestern University put together a group of 100 teenagers, and had them listen to a metronome and tap along, recording their rhythmical accuracy. After this test, the researchers hooked up the teens to an EEG, and had them listen to a specific repeated sound for half an hour. After, they calculated how similarly the brain responded to each of these sounds. When they juxtaposed the two tests, there was a clear correlation between the accurate tappers and precise brain reactions. John Iverson, a brain researcher independent of this study said, .”This study adds another piece to the puzzle in the emerging story suggesting that musical rhythmic abilities are correlated with improved performance in non-music areas, particularly language.” This study shows a direct correlation between musical ability and brain activity.

A third study, from the Society for Neuroscience, reflected similar findings, and discovered that children who received musical training before the age of seven reaped the greatest benefits. In China, a group of 48 students between the ages of 19 and 21 were gathered. All of them had at least a year of formal music education, beginning  sometime between ages 3 and 15. Researches examined the volume of grey matter, the surface area, and the folding index of the brain. The students who started before age seven had a noticeable advantage in all of these categories, and also had a thicker cortex. These ares of the brain lead to benefits in executive function, language skills, auditory skills, and self awareness.

A second part of this same study, conducted in Stockholm, Sweden, looked at the benefits of improvisation to the brain. Improvisation is hugely important in music, especially in jazz, where the entire style relies on a musicians individual improvisations. Using MRI, they took jazz piano players and measured frontal lobe activity. In the more experienced improvisors,  higher connectivity and lower regional activity was shown. This means that these musicians were able to effortlessly create complex patterns that resulted in beautiful music. The brain is not very active during this state, showing that ease musicians are so well trained in their craft that they have a feeling of subconsciousness when they play, which is incredible to the layman.

All four of these studies work towards supporting the claim that playing a musical instrument does, in fact, make you smarter. 12080147_10153752471794260_6326312860598736951_o

This graphic shows the many ways which the brain is affected when one plays piano, leading to advancements of nearly every region of the brain. If all of this is not enough evidence to convince you that playing a musical instrument makes you smarter, the look at this list of widely respected geniuses that played an instrument:

Albert Einstein: Violin and Piano

Leonardo Di Vinci: Created many musical instruments, including the flute, played the lyre, and many other instruments

Thomas Jefferson: Violin

Galileo Galilei: Lute, and discovered the correlation between string length and pitch.

For all these reasons, I think it is safe to conclude that music has a strong relationship with brain activity, and does in fact make you smarter. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence for this, so as a parent, I will most certainly be giving my children music lessons, and making sure to start before the age of seven. I think every school should require music classes, just as math and science are required. This should be common sense, in my opinion, for music is a fun way that you can improve yourself for a lifetime, and there is no harm brought from it. Music has played a huge role in my life, and I do not see why the same should not be said for every student in this country.

Does Music Help You Study?


Every time I sit down to do some work, I absolutely must put on some music in my headphones in order to zone in on the task at hand. While my music choice for studying is probably different from most of my peers– Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus– I still have the same need to listen that they do. Because I so often use this study technique, I came to wondering if it was actually good for me or not.

Luckily for me, I am not the only one who is interested in this topic, but also hoards of scientists. Because this technique is so often used, scientists are very interested to see whether or not it is effective. So, they designed an experiment where researchers placed people into five different categories and had them take a memory test. This test was designed as a simple random experiment, with all the students participating in the experiment hating metal. The first group took the test in complete silence. The second with one single word repeated over and over again through the test, called a “steady state” of speech. The third was a “changing state” of speech, which was very much akin to someone having a conversation while you tried to take the test. The fourth group  listened to the music of their choice, which included Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and other pop stars. The fifth group was forced to listen to a metal song. Researchers hypothesized that the group that was subjected to the changing state of speech would do the worst, since it is quite hard to focus your memory with a fully fledged conversation going on right next to you.

The results, however, showed very little difference between the three last groups. With a changing state of speech, music of their choice, or music against their will, students did much worse than those either in the quiet environment or those subjected to the steady state of speech.

Several other studies have been done showing this, but all the groups that have poor results have one thing in common, they listen to music with lyrics. The jazz that I listen to has  no lyrics, and therefor falls under the category of the “Mozart Effect”. This is where listening to lyric-less music can actually help bring about success due to the positive emotions it brings without the negative distraction that lyrics bring.

After looking at several studies, I can determine that while it is a poor choice to listen to pop music while you study, any music without lyrics seems to have a positive impact on study habits. It is an especially good idea when there is a lot of conversation or other auxiliary noise surrounding you, and you need to focus. This supports my choice of music, and hopefully it helps you to create better study habits!

Michael Phelps’ Diet

In recent years, it has been mandated that nutrition labels must be on all individually sold foods. Because of this, people are much more aware of what a day’s healthy diet looks like. The daily values on a label suggest that an average person have 2,000 calories per day. This is the normal amount that a person burns in a typical day, and is a pretty good bet if you are not aiming to gain or lose any weight. There are many exceptions to this rule, though. One such exception is the diet of Michael Phelps.

Phelps, the record holder for the most medals in a single year at the Olympics  (8), consumes six times the daily recommended value of 2,000, at 12,000 calories per day. This is due to his rigorous workout schedule.  In order to be the great olympian that he is, Phelps must stick to this ridiculous schedule to the letter. After his intense workouts, Phelps get down to the serious part: consuming as many calories as humanly possible.

His breakfast includes: Three fried-egg sandwiches loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise. Two cups of coffee. One five-egg omelet. One bowl of grits. Three slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar. Three chocolate-chip pancakes.

His lunch: One pound of enriched pasta. Two large ham and cheese sandwiches with mayo on white bread. Energy drinks packing 1,000 calories.

And while a normal human would be stuffed beyond belief after those two gargantuan meals, Phelps continues with a dinner of: One pound of pasta, an entire pizza and more energy drinks to round him out at 12,000 calories for the day.

(Meals per the NY Post)

Now while many may think that Phelps’ large diet is due to the “munchies,” (Phelps was taken down in a scandal which revealed a picture of him smoking marijuana) he very much needs all 12,000 calories that he consumes each day. Calories are defined as the energy required to raise one gram of water 1 degree Celsius. Because of Phelps’ incredibly intense workouts, he must replenish his body with food or else he will begin to lose muscle mass, which would be bad for his olympic career. Because he swims for five hours a dat six days a week, phelps absolutely must replenish his nutrients in order to recover. His large frame also adds to his need for obscene amounts of calories. Phelps is 6’4” and weighs 194 pounds.

Phelps’ diet each day is an incredible feat. If any normal human attempted to eat his entire menu, they’d fall on their face before they reached dinner. Personally, I eat around 2,500 calories per day, which is just over half of one of Phelps’ meals. Phelps is an American treasure not only for his Olympic prowess, but also for accomplishments in consumption.

Lactose Intolerance

Cheese. Milk. Dairy. The products that everyone around the world loves. Ice Cream, for God’s sake! What would we do without them? Well, unfortunately, lots of people across the globe have  a dairy allergy, called Lactose Intolerance. Lactose Intolerance is the body’s inability to absorb and break down lactose, which results in stomach problems. This results in indigestion and diarrhea.

The cause for this is the body’s lacking of lactase, an enzyme that is supposed to split lactose into glucose and galactose. Because this lactose molecule is not split, it goes down as a whole, rather than lining your small intestine as it is supposed to. The reason for the lacking of this enzyme is due to evolution. As a baby, nearly everyone has this enzyme. This is because babies need to consume their mother’s milk in order to survive. This is the main source of nutrition, and therefore it is necessary that the baby be able to break down the lactose. But as we age, and grow teeth, we are able to consume other nutrients, so our body assume that we should no longer be consuming milk, and gets rid of this enzyme. Unfortunately, people still like to consume all the products that I’ve mentioned, because, well, frankly, they’re delicious.

Because the human body has evolved over time, and this is one of the decisions that it has made, many studies have shown that most human beings are lactose intolerant, whether they know it or not. This article says that some Asian countries report that over 90% of their population is lactose intolerant, which makes sense, for they do not farm many cows, nor do they consume them. Countries that consume the most milk are either Slavic or American, which makes sense, for they produce the most cows. Lactose intolerance is also the lowest rates in these countries.

Lactaid, a company that makes products for the lactose intolerant, has made a fortune making artificial dairy products, such as almond milk and lactase pills.


These lactase pills were revolutionary when they were released in the 1970’s, for they allowed people with a lactose intolerance to eat dairy products freely, without feeling the repercussions. These pills work by adding the lactase enzyme to the human body, which allows the lactose to be broken down into its two halves.

Lactose intolerance is a problem that effects Americans and people around the world every day, but with great advances in medical technology, we have been able to curb its harm. My older sister is lactose intolerant, and whenever she wants to eat pizza, or drink a milkshake, all she has to do is take a tiny little lactaid tablet, and her worries are all gone. She is able to eat and drink freely thanks to companies like lactaid, who work hard in their research each day in order to make live’s like hers more comfortable.

Pandora’s Music Genome Project


In the life of a poor college student, buying music just doesn’t seem economical. Lucky for this generation, Pandora exists. Pandora is a free music streaming site which creates a radio station specifically for your taste. The algorithm they use is called the Music Genome Project, and it is quite interesting.

In order to start a station, you must choose a song or an artist that Pandora has in their lengthy music catalogue to base off of. For this blog, let us use my Allen Stone station as an example. Each time you start a new station, Pandora will play you a song by the artist you’ve chosen, and then the second song will deviate from the artist, giving you a sense of variety. While listening to your station, Pandora allows you to either “like” or “dislike” songs. If you like a song, Pandora will take note, and they will remember that music’s specific genome, and will base future suggestions off of that. If you dislike a song, Pandora will skip the song, and take note that one or more of the traits in the song turned you off to it, and will eliminate those traits from your station.

Unfortunately, because Pandora is free, they do not own all the songs that they play, and therefor you have a limited amount of skips until you are forced to finish a song despite the fact that you disliked it. This is why it is so important that Pandora tailors your specific station to you, for if you dislike too many songs and run out of skips, you will stop using Pandora, therefor leading to the amount of hits on their website decreasing, thereby decreasing their advertising revenue. Pandora relies mostly on advertising, but they also have a premium service, called PandoraOne, which lets you stream songs with unlimited skips.

The music genome works like this: each song that Pandora has the rights to is analyzed by an employee who has gone through extensive music training. Most of these music analysts have gone through four years of music school with a degree in either music theory, composition, or performance. These analysts have an evaluation process with over 450 criteria that include everything from a song’s lyrical meaning to its instrumentation.

On my Allen Stone station, this was the rationale for one song:”Based on what you’ve told us so far, we’re playing this track because it features modern r&b stylings, a subtle use of vocal harmony, mild rhythmic syncopation, mixed minor & major key tonality and mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation.” Each song that pandora plays has a very thorough, detailed explanation for why it is being played for you.

Pandora’s formula seems to work quite well, for many of my peers use Pandora, and their earnings have been increasing to show that. With the release of Apple Music, a streaming service that charges $10.00 a month for unlimited streaming and downloads, Pandora may face some trouble ahead, but the science behind their project is still quite sound.

The Science of Sam Bradford


This offseason, a majority of NFL news has revolved around the Philadelphia Eagles. Despite the madness surrounding the possibility of drafting star quarterback Marcus Mariota to the addition of two starting caliber running backs, the addition of Quarterback Sam Bradford, has taken center stage. The former first overall pick’s powerful arm and pinpoint accuracy have many fans predicting the Eagles to be this year’s Super Bowl Champions. This, despite the fact that Bradford’s career has fallen off quite a bit, mainly due to his lengthy history of injuries, which stretches all the way back to his final year of college.

After Bradford’s sophomore season at The University of Oklahoma, there was speculation that Bradford was leaving for the NFL, but, after much deliberation, Bradford decided to forgo the draft and return for his Junior year at Oklahoma. In his first game that year, Bradford suffered a sprain to his Acromioclavicular joint , a joint in the shoulder that is essential to throwing, effectively ending his season. Even with this injury, he was drafted first overall by the St. Louis Rams, awarded the largest rookie contract in NFL history, and had a very successful rookie season which ended with him winning the NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and leading his team to a respectable 8-8 record. His sophomore campaign, however, was much less successful. From the outset of the season Bradford was bothered by a high ankle sprain, and that combined with injuries to many other teammates led the team to fall greatly, all the way down to a 2-14 record. The 2012 season, the Rams rebounded to a 7-8-1 record, with Bradford posting the best numbers of his whole career. Everything pointed to 2013 being a breakout year for Bradford and the Rams.

For the first 6 games of the 2013 season, Bradford was nearly unstoppable, passing for 14 touchdowns compared to only 4 interceptions. Unfortunately, in the seventh game of the season, Bradford tore his left Anterior Cruciate Ligament, or ACL. The ACL, paired with the Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL), make up the cruciate ligaments in your knees. They control the forward and backward movements of your knee. The ACL in particular keeps the tibia in place, while also supporting the knee when it rotates. This is largely important for a quarterback, because they need to be mobile in the pocket to avoid pass rushers and find the open receiver. This injury ended Bradford’s season, and he had to focus on his recovery for the next year. Unfortunately, in the second preseason game that Bradford played in, he re-tore the same ACL.

A re-tear of an ACL is particularly bad, because in order to repair the ACL the first time, a graft has to be taken, usually from the patellar tendon, the hamstring, the quadriceps tendon, or sometimes even from cadavers. In Bradford’s case, grafts had to be taken on two separate occasions to stimulate (and re-stimulate) the growth of his ACL. The rehabilitation process for this injury is said to be one of the most difficult challenges an athlete can face. While this injury in the past has ended careers immediately, many strides have been taken to reduce recovery time and bring players back to their prior greatness.

Both of Bradford’s ACL surgeries, and his shoulder surgery in college, were done by the legendary Dr. James Andrews, who has had patients such as Michael Jordan, Derrick Rose, and thousands of other professional athletes. Dr. Andrews has a great reputation for repairing ACL’s to their previous form. Adrian Peterson, one of Dr. Andrew’s great successes, tore his ACL and came back the next year to lead the league in rushing. Athletes have been recovering faster than ever from ACL tears.

Despite these great advances in medicine, players who have torn the same ligament twice are still very frightening to NFL teams. The Eagles traded their former quarterback Nick Foles and swapped draft picks with the Rams in order to acquire Bradford in a move that shocked a large portion of the NFL. Because of his second ACL tear, Bradford was said to be washed up, and people considered the Eagles fools for giving up a perfectly healthy Nick Foles in return for nothing. Bradford, though, has impressed greatly in training camp and preseason action, most recently going 10-10 with 3 touchdown passes in last Sunday’s win at the Green Bay Packers. If Bradford is able to come through with a stellar season and lead the Eagles to the greatness that many envision for them, it will be a great feat for Dr. Andrews and all in his field.

Because of the risk that the Eagles are taking with Bradford, as he is damaged goods, they did extensive research on the possibility of him re-tearing his ACL, and came out with a metric that states that he has a 10-12% chance of tearing his ACL once again. That is a high risk for a team who wants to contend this season, but it is risk that the Eagles and Chip Kelly seem to be very content to take due to Bradford’s great talent. This season is the most anticipated season in recent memory for Eagles fans, and has the potential to be either one of their greatest, or a massive train wreck, and, unfortunately for him, most of that hinges on the knees of Sam Bradford.


Initial Blog Post

Hi, my name is Ben Seltzer, and I’m a freshman here at Penn State. Originally, I was going to be in a BIO141 class that dealt with Anatomy and Physiology, but upon second look, this class seemed to be a much better fit. I’m not planning on being a science major because, to be quite frank, science and I never really clicked. I was always interested by the concepts, but could never quite get over the hump necessary to make it something that was particularly important to me. Also, when rescheduling my classes, my advisor raved about Andrew and what a great professor he is.

I’m a huge music nerd, so here’s a picture I took of Arturo Sandoval at the Newport Jazz Festival, one of the great Jazz trumpet players of all time.



Also, here’s a link to one of the coolest musicians out there right now. His name is Jarle Bernhoft, and he uses a looping station to record individual parts of his songs and loop them over each other live. I’ve never seen him live, but I really hope to one day. Bernhoft – Choices – YouTube