Author Archives: Michael Bliss

Popcorn Lung


On par with ramen noodles, microwave popcorn is one of the top snacks consumed by college students. However, there is a serious condition associated with this microwave popcorn that you may not have heard of. It’s called bronchiolitis obliterans, but it is better known as popcorn lung.

Popcorn lung is an irreversible and severe condition. It is caused by inhalation of the flavoring ingredient, diacetyl. With popcorn lung, the small air sacs in the lungs become scarred. The early symptoms of popcorn lung are coughing and a shortness of breath. Later symptoms have been reported such as fever, loss of weight, and night sweats. Those with very severe cases may experience inflammation of skin, eyes, nose, and/or throat. If diagnosed early enough, avoidance of diacetyl may cause symptoms to decrease, but the condition is not currently reversible. Diagnosis of the condition is also very difficult. It is necessary to perform chest X-rays, lung function testing, and CT scans. An open lung surgery is also needed to confirm the diagnosis.

This condition first became noticed in workers of microwave popcorn factories in August of 2000. After more cases were reported, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) did in depth research on this condition and issued a report called NIOSH Alert: Preventing Lung Disease in Workers Who Use or Make Flavorings. They had found that these cases of factory workers getting this condition were all involved with flavoring. They cited a study done on animals that showed breathing in vapors from diacetyl caused damage to  air pathways.

The condition first became widely known to the public in 2012 when a man named Wayne

Wayne Watson, who contracted popcorn lung after eating 2 bags of popcorn every day for 10 years.

Wayne Watson, who contracted popcorn lung after eating 2 bags of popcorn every day for 10 years.

Watson sued popcorn manufacturer,  Gilster-Mary Lee Corp. for giving him popcorn lung. Watson was awarded a settlement of $7 million. Watson had reported eating 2 bags of microwave popcorn daily for 10 years. Popcorn lung had not been reported outside of popcorn factory workers because the condition is only brought on by large amounts of inhalation of diacetyl vapors.

But this story made headlines, and public outcry led the most prominent popcorn manufacturers to remove this flavoring agent from their recipes. But that doesn’t mean that diacetyl is removed from all popcorn brands. Unfortunately, the food labels won’t tell you if diacetyl is an ingredient in your popcorn. FDA regulations allow companies to list diacetyl as “natural and artificial flavorings” because it is deemed safe to use by the FDA.

So in conclusion, if you are eating microwave popcorn made by the popular companies such as Orville Redenbacher, Act II, Pop Secret, and Jolly Time you have nothing to worry about. These brands have removed the dangerous flavoring from their recipes. If you are eating microwave popcorn made by a smaller company, you may not be able to know if the product contains diacetyl. But if you eat popcorn in moderation, unlike Wayne Watson, you are also at a very low risk of contracting this condition. Although the hazard of contracting popcorn lung is very serious, the overall risk of contracting this condition is very low if you expose yourself to low levels of diacetyl.

Why Did the Dinosaurs Go Extinct?


You likely learned in elementary school that the dinosaurs went extinct because of a huge asteroid hitting the earth. While the impact theory is the most widely accepted theory today, the theory is a bit more complicated than a massive impact killing everything. The impact theory is also still just a theory, and not proven to be fact. This is still a debated topic and there are many other plausible theories circling around the scientific community.

One theory attributes the extinction to climate change. During the dinosaur’s time, scientists believe that the planet slowly became cooler and less humid. This change may have led to the change in vegetation, killing much of the food for the herbivores. When herbivores died out, their carnivorous predators would also follow. The change in vegetation and climate may not have been adaptable for the cold-blooded dinosaurs and caused many of them to die over time. It also makes sense that many species of mammals survived and thrived after the extinction of the dinosaurs. Warm-blooded mammals would able to regulate their internal temperatures and adapt to climate change.

Another theory points to disease. Sea levels had fallen at the end of the Cretaceous period, and land bridges between continents had surfaced, allowing dinosaurs to travel to new continents. Diseases had been present in all regions of life, but in their native areas, dinosaurs had adapted immunity to these diseases. But when the dinosaurs brought these diseases to new areas, the inhabitants of these areas did not have immunity, and were vulnerable to being killed by these diseases. Smaller animals’ survival is explained by the fact that these animals were less capable of making these long intercontinental journeys, and thus did not spread their diseases as much. Blood-sucking insects were also becoming more prevalent during this time. These insects increased the spread of malaria and other pathogens.

Another widely known theory  is that a series of volcanic eruptions caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Scientists have found lava flows in India that provide evidence of volcanic activity greater than humans have ever seen. Volcanic eruptions would have sent dust and ash into the atmosphere. This debris can stay in the atmosphere for several years. If enough debris collected in the atmosphere during a period of time, sunlight may not have been able to reach the surface of earth. A lack of sunlight would explain the extinction of many plant species. This lack of food would again also cause many herbivores to starve, followed by the carnivores. Blocked sunlight would also cause the climate to be very cold, which again would make it difficult for cold-blooded dinosaurs to survive.


This brings us to the most widely accepted theory, the impact theory. This theory says that the extinction of the dinosaurs was brought on by the collision of a massive meteor with the earth. This theory was first formulated when Luis and Walter Alvarez discovered a thin layer of iridium-rich clay in Italy in 1981. Iridium is an element that is very rare on earth, but if much more common in space. From this, the Alvarezes published the theory that this iridium was brought to earth because a meteor collided with the earth and killed all of the dinosaurs. In 1991, a giant crater with a diameter of 110 miles was found in the Yucatan Peninsula. Scientists believed that the meteor that must have caused this crater would have been 6 miles in diameter. This meteor would have collided with the earth at 40,000 miles per hour, and it would have been 2 million times more powerful than the most powerful nuclear bomb. The intense heat would have caused wildfires across the world, sending ash and dust into the atmosphere, causing similar effects to what the volcano theory describes.

But, there is a newer theory. In October of this year, the journal Science published a study that claims that the extinction of the dinosaurs was caused by a massive meteor and a series of volcanic eruptions at the same time. The scientist in charge, Paul Renne of UC Berkeley says that the impact of the meteor sped up volcanic eruptions worldwide. He says that volcanic activity doubles in the 50,000 years following the impact of the meteor, and that the dinosaurs became extinct within this 50,000 year period. Since this theory claims that the effects of both the impact and the series of volcanic eruptions happened at the same time, the catastrophic circumstances of both theories would be included. The meteor would have had a powerful impact, shaking the earth, creating extreme heat and fires, and sending large amounts of debris into the atmosphere. Many volcanoes would then start erupting worldwide, sending even more debris into the atmosphere. Sunlight would then be blocked from reaching the earth’s surface. The lack of sunlight would kill plants and cause a cold climate that would kill dinosaurs unable to adapt and it would eliminate the food for herbivores, and then carnivores.

The extinction of the dinosaurs is a debate that has gone on in the field of paleontology for hundreds of years. Although we still don’t have a definite answer, we find more and more evidence over time. Someday maybe us humans will face a threat of mass extinction by way of climate change, volcanic eruptions, or meteor impact. Knowing more about the past may help prepare humankind for the future.





Is Lab-Grown Meat the Food of our Future?


Many vegetarians chose their diet choice for ethical reasons. Many are opposed to the way animals are kept in crowded, unsanitary conditions and are killed in large amounts to feed us. Many also point out that world hunger problems could be alleviated if  many of us switched to a vegetarian diet. Meat production costs a lot of resources. It makes up about 18% of all of our greenhouse gas emissions. This doesn’t even include methane and nitrous oxide, which are even more powerful in warming the global climate than carbon dioxide. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, livestock consume 7 times more grain than humans in the United States. They also found that about 25 kilocalories of fossil fuel are used for every 1
kilocalorie of meat that is produced. Finally, 1 kilogram of meat requires 100 times more water than it takes to produce 1 kilogram of grain. With a rising population and a rising demand for meat in developing countries, we find ourselves looking at an unsustainable process.

However, in 2013, the world saw a new option. Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University unveiled a hamburger that was grown in a lab using stem cells. This burger cost $330,000 at the time, but since then he has improved the process and has brought the price down to around $10 per burger with hopes of lowering it even further though scaling up production.

To make this work, a small sample of muscle tissue is first removed from an animal. Naturally, when muscle tissue is damaged, it is repaired by a type of stem cell, called myosatellite cells. These cells work to grow back muscle tissue. The scientists have to be separated from the tissue and put it optimal conditions to multiply and differentiate. When cells differentiate, it means that they take on different functions, and then they form muscle fibers and proteins. These muscle fibers make up tissue, and over 20,000 of these tissues were put together to make this hamburger.

Lab-grown meat would be dramatically more economically friendly.  Synthetic beef uses 45% less energy than farming real cattle. It produces 96% less greenhouse gas, and it uses 99% less land.

Meat Comparison

But this first burger was just protein. This artificial meat did not have fat or blood, which gives a hamburger a lot of its flavor. So, Post and his fellow scientists plan to add lab grown fat cells into the mix of the meat in order to give it flavor. Post also looks for ways to produce the meat in greater quantities at a time. This would require a way to deliver lots of oxygen to the cells to keep them all growing at once. He also wants to get this product in stores within the next five years. But first, the product will be required to be tested by the Food Standards Agency

This is a revolutionary idea that would change many aspects of our world as we know it if it is successful. It would change the face of agriculture, eliminating the large amounts of space, food, water, and animals needed to meet the meat needs of the public. It would also change our planet’s environment by reducing our output of greenhouse gas, animal waste, and again would decrease our land usage.

A problem that could face this movement is whether or not this would become socially acceptable. An instinctual fear of unknown and strange things is present in our society. Many people are currently wary of other genetically modified foods. The public must be able to be confident that this meat is safe. As Post identified, the taste must be good as well for this to become the new norm.


Are Video Games Good for You?

In my last blog, I found strong evidence to support a theory that violent video games cause people to be more aggressive. After writing that blog, I was still interested in finding out what other effects video games might have on the brain. What I found is many different effects that video games have, but this time the effects are beneficial.

A study by the Max Planch Institute for Human Development asked 23 young adults to play the video game “Super Mario 64” for a half hour per day for 2 months. There was also a control group who did not play video games for this period. In MRI scans after the 2 months, the researchers found that there was an increase in gray matter in the right hippocampus, right prefrontal cortex, and the cerebellum in the brains of the video gamers. These areas of the brain are involved with spacial navigation, memory formation, strategic planning, and fine motor skills of the hands. The fact that video games actually increase the size of the brain in some regions led these scientists to suggest that video games could be used for patients with mental disorders who suffer from a lack of the aforementioned skills. This study was a randomized unblinded control trial. This experiment is more compelling than an observational study, because it rules out reverse causation. But one concern I have is about the sample size. 23 is not a large group, so it may be possible that the correlation that they found could be due to chance.

Another study done at Tel Aviv University by Doctor Debbie Rand found that video game is a more effective form of therapy for stroke victims than traditional therapy. This was also another randomized unblinded control trial. People who had suffered from a stroke one to seven years prior to the study were randomly assigned into video game therapy or traditional therapy. Both groups would receive two sessions per week over a period of three months. Both groups ended up improving their grip strength over the next three months, but only the video game group saw improvement in grip strength for the three months following therapy. The researcher also noted that video game therapy made the experience more enjoyable for the patients. She also noted that the group environment involved in the video game therapy was beneficial as well. This study concludes that the physical act of playing the video games caused grip strength to increase over a longer period of time. But I can imagine third variables being involved. I believe it is possible that the enjoyment and social interaction involved in the video game treatment caused the patients to be happier and have a more positive mindset. As some of my fellow classmates have pointed out in their blogs, a positive mindset is important in many aspects, including medical recovery.

Yet another study found that video games help dyslexic children to improve their reading skills and spacial and temporal attention. 20 dyslexic children were part of this study. 2 groups of 10 children were assigned to play either action or non-action games. These two groups were equally balanced on the basis of age, IQ, reading severity, and phonological skills. During the pre-test, the groups scored very close to equal with each other. Each child played the game for a total of 12 hours through 9 sessions of 80 minutes per day. The researchers found that only those who were assigned to action video games improved reading skill and attentional skills. In this study, I feel as if the study size and length should be extended to minimize chance and see more long term and deep results. A group of 20 kids playing a video game for only 12 hours total does not seem like a large enough study to draw big conclusions out of. However, the other procedures of the study would be good to replicate in a larger scale study.


Do Video Games Make Kids Aggressive?


video-gamesThe effect of violent video games has been a hot topic in the last few years as a result of increasing incidents of violence in schools. Many studies have been done attempting to find a link that would explain these violent acts. Many people blame violent video games because there is a positive correlation between the number of violent acts in schools and the realism and popularity of violent video games. On the other side, many proponents of video games claim that video games have many positive benefits such as improved cognitive and coordination function. But does the research back up these claims? Could this virtual pastime affect the minds and bodies of young people in a significant way?

A meta-analysis done at the University of Innsbruck, Austria in 2013 analyzed data from 98 different studies, with the total number of participants accumulating at 36,965. This meta-analysis concludes that video games have negative social consequences. The studies found that violent video games increase aggressiveness and decrease prosocial outcomes. However, video games that are considered prosocial do have the intended prosocial consequences through a decrease in aggression. Meta-analysis of such a large scale like this one are very useful in drawing conclusions and eliminating the possibility of chance significantly . Of course, the file drawer problem could be present here. Studies that conclude that video games have no effect on aggression may have been thought too boring to publish, and were thus not included in this analysis.

An individual study in search of a similar answer was conducted at the University of Valle d’Aosta in Italy in 2013. This study measured 217 high school students and their behaviors after playing either a violent or non-violent video game. The students were randomly assigned to either a violent or non-violent video game for 35 minutes. The students were then tested on the grounds of self control, cheating, and aggression. The self control test set a bowl of M&M’s next to the participants and said they could eat them, but advised the students that eating too many in a short period of time is unhealthy. The amount of M&M’s the participants ate was a measurement of self control.For cheating, participants took a quiz and were asked to grade their own answers afterwards and for each correct answer, the participant earned a  raffle ticket that could win them a prize. The conductors of the experiment knew how many responses each participant got right and how many tickets each of them took, so they could figure out by what degree the participants may have cheated.

For aggression, participants took a survey asking them how much they agreed with certain statements such as “It is okay to insult a classmate because beating him/her is worse”. In another measure of aggression, pairs of participants faced off in a reaction time test. After each round, the participant who had the better reaction time could inflict his/her opponent with a loud noise in their headphones of varying volumes and durations.

Through these tests, the study found that a person who recently played a violent video game did show a correlation with less self control, more cheating, and more aggression compared to those who played a nonviolent video game. By measuring so many different variables, this test may have been victim of the Texas-sharpshooter. However, each of their findings supported their hypothesis that violent video games were having negative effects on behavior.

In today’s changing world, we must be aware of the unintended consequences that technology may take on society and individuals’ behavior. The possible link between violent video games and violent real-life acts is still a hot topic. Studies like these may be helpful in guiding the conversation and sparking more interest in this interesting topic.


What’s Going on During Hibernation?


You probably learned in elementary school about how many mammals take a long “sleep” during the winter. But hibernation isn’t just a long sleep, but the changing of many different internal factors to conserve energy, and the animals isn’t usually unconscious the whole winter. Additionally, hibernation isn’t quite the same in all hibernating animals.

All animals require energy to perform every body function. This includes breathing, pumping blood, digesting food, and maintaining body temperature. When food is plentiful, most animals have no problem acquiring enough energy through food to drive all of these functions. In the winter, however, food is not plentiful enough for these animals to get enough food to drive their normal functions. By hibernating, animals go into a coma-like state in which their body functions perform less and require less energy. This means that their breathing slows, their heart rates slow down, they digest little to no food, and they allow their body temperatures to drop dramatically.

Up until 2011, scientists didn’t know very much about the hibernation of bears because of the dangers that would be involved in trying to monitor a bear’s bodily conditions. Scientists found that studying zoo bears wasn’t suitable because their internal cycles are disrupted when they are held in captivity. So scientists studied mostly small mammals because they would not be dangerous to hook up to measurement apparatuses.

However, in 2011,Oivind Toien of the University of Alaska Fairbanks acquired 5 black bears from the wild and surgically put sensors in them. They were then re-released into a protected area of woods where artificial dens were placed for them. They found that the black bears’ body temperature fell only to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to smaller animals, whose temperature falls to borderline freezing during hibernation. Their metabolism also only fell to 25% of the normal function compared to smaller animals, which usually let their metabolisms fall to 2%. However, I have to wonder if any confounding third variables took part in this observational experiment, because the conditions were not exactly natural. Firstly, is there a possibility that the surgery and implementation of the monitoring devices could have interfered with the bears’ normal function? Could medication used on the bear for surgery have affected the bears’ internal functioning? Also, could the artificial den have made a difference in the bears’ conditions?

In addition, you may not have known that all hibernation does not happen during the winter. Some animals do a form of hibernating during the summer, called estivation. Many animals who estivate do so because they cannot survive in the intense heat, and burrow underground and enter a dormant state to stay cool. Some animals can also enter this coma-like state for less than a 24 hour period. This is called a daily torpor. The edible dormouse is actually capable of entering all three of these dormant states.

Edible dormouse

The edible dormouse can enter hibernation, estivation, or daily torpor.

Hopefully you’ve learned that hibernation is a bit more complicated and varied among animals than just a long sleep. Some animals hibernate more or less intensely, shorter or longer, or even at different times of the year and for different purposes.


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Early Birds vs. Night Owls

They say, “the early bird gets the worm”, but inherently, not all of us are early birds, or people who perform best early in the morning. On the flip side, some of us are night owls, people who perform best later in the evening. But why do people get placed into these categories? Why do people typically lean one way or the other? Is it simply a habit that formed, or were we always in our classification?

Firstly, to understand these habits, you should know that these habits are better described as people’s circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are our internal schedules that cause us to act certain ways based on a 24-hour clock. Its primary function is driving our body to maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Circadian rhythms have an origin in your genes, which means that your circadian rhythm was more or less passed down to you by your parents.

This means that many people are born either a night owl or an early bird. This may have a basis in evolution. Individuals may have evolved to have varying sleeping patterns so that people in a group could always have someone awake and on guard at all times. But although circadian rhythms are based in genetics, a person’s rhythm may vary over their lifetime. As a result of hormonal changes, young kids tend to be more of early birds, and teenagers tend to be more of night owls. When a person reaches adulthood, their inherent tendency is more visible.

But does this make early birds and night owls different people? Actually, these types do tend to have different personality traits and commonalities. Since the world we live in today is typically centered on a 9am to 5pm work schedule, early birds have an advantage. Night owls need to push themselves harder in order to adapt to this social norm. Night owls additionally tend to be more depressed, impulsive, creative, and prone to addiction. They also tend to be more likely to take risks and they stay alert for a longer length of time during the day. Night owls are also more likely to develop mood disorders and ADHD. Early birds have all of these traits in the opposite way. They tend to be more optimistic, have less anxiety, and are more satisfied about their life.

Since both sides of the spectrum have both their pros and cons, it is helpful to figure out which side you’re on. Knowing what time of day that you’re most productive can help you to use your time more efficiently. This information is also useful for dealing with a roommate or future spouse who may be of the opposite type. So when your roommate is way too cheery for their 8am class, or your spouse stays up late at night watching late night TV, make sure you respect them, because whether they’re a morning or a night bird, it’s in their genes.


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The Science of Cool


With temperatures sitting in the 80’s these past few weeks, you’ve probably needed some way to stay cool. The most popular way on campus to stay cool in your room is usually to get a fan. But how does a fan actually make you cooler? Why does the pushing around of air make your body so much more comfortable? You may also have broken a sweat a few times walking to classes. How does this cool you off? Isn’t sweat usually just warm water anyways? Interestingly enough, these two processes are somewhat similar in the way they cool us off.

First of all, sweating happens when our brain recognizes that our body temperature is higher than it should be. The brain then activates our sweat glands, which are found all over our bodies except for our lips. Sweating cools us when the water droplets absorb heat from our body. The heated water molecules move more rapidly, and it is easier for the molecules to break away and become a gas, also known as water vapor, in a process called evaporation. The heat leaves the surface of our skin in the form of a gas and leaves behind cooler water droplets and less body heat.

Fans work with this process by increasing the rate of evaporation. If we are sweating a lot, and a lot of sweat is turning into water vapor, that vapor may be hanging around in the air around our bodies, causing us to be in a humid air space. Evaporation works significantly slower if the surrounding air is too humid. In order to speed up evaporation, fans push this humid air away from us and replaces that air with normal, dry air. Evaporation then speeds up so we can get more heat away from us more quickly through sweating.

But fans also work even if you’re not sweating in a very similar way. Our bodies are warm, and they are constantly giving off heat that flows into the air around us. This happens because nature is constantly trying to make everything the same temperature. Heat naturally moves and heats up cooler things to try to make it even. So when we are hot, our heat transfers to the cooler air around us. But as it was with sweating, when this heat hangs around in the air around our bodies, the process of transferring heat becomes slow. Again, the fan pushes this hot air away from us and replaces that air with normal, cooler air. This makes the transfer of heat more efficient as heat transfers faster to colder substances.

However, fans actually don’t decrease the overall temperature of the room at all. In fact, they might actually raise the temperature as a result of the electricity powering the fan. But what fans actually do is create a wind chill effect. If you pay attention to the weather at any time, you may hear the forecasters talk about wind chill. This isn’t an actual change in temperature, but it is a change in how the world feels to us. You may notice the weather people sometimes post the real temperature, and then they post a “feels like” temperature beneath it. This is because the wind works in the same way fans do at cooling you off. As mentioned before, the warm air surrounding your body is pushed away and replaced by normal air. This speeds up the transfer of heat from our bodies to the outside world.

The next time you feel a gust of fresh air from the wind or a fan, remember that it isn’t simply “giving you cold” but instead it is helping to take away the heat from your body by pushing away that uncomfortable, warm air that won’t leave you alone and replaces it with nice fresh air that you can release more of your body heat to.


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How Bad Can Stress Be?


Everyone on earth who has ever lived is subject to stress on almost a daily basis. We all know that it isn’t very fun. But how bad really is stress?

First of all, stress isn’t exactly bad as long as you have time to cool down after a stressful situation. Stress is an evolutionary function that helped our ancient ancestors to face dangerous and stressful situations. Our bodies do this by producing the hormone cortisol, which helps to move energy to parts of the body that need it. More oxygen is routed to the brain, heart and breathing rates increase. Your liver produces extra glucose in order to give you a boost of energy. Your muscles tense up to protect you from injury and your immune system is stimulated to protect from infection and to heal wounds.

What goes wrong is when a person experience stress for prolonged periods of time. Stress also wasn’t meant for dealing with things like homework and tests. It was purposed more for fighting off an attacking lion or some other short, intense event. Large amounts of stress continuously over a length of time is called chronic stress. With too much stress, the earlier benefits of stress turn harmful. Like in many other areas, too much of anything is bad for you.

First off, if you have a respiratory problem like asthma or emphysema, the increased intake of oxygen may make it harder to breathe for you. Your heart rate increasing is also bad if done for a long period of time. Blood vessels constrict during stress, raising blood pressure in order to route more blood to the brain. Making your heart work too hard for too long also leads to possible heart problems and an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. Your liver pumping out too much extra glucose isn’t good either. Glucose is sugar, and too much sugar in your blood may lead to type 2 diabetes. All of this activity for too long of a time period can also cause heartburn and acid reflux by disturbing your digestive system. Muscles staying tensed for too long causes aching in your head, back, shoulder, and body. Cortisol’s boost to the immune system is good for a short boost, but too much cortisol in the immune system will hurt its function by hindering the secretion of histamine and the inflammatory response to defend against outside threats. This makes it hard for the body to defend against new diseases from entering the body, and it also extends the time it takes to recover from an existing illness.


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Science of Crying

"I made this one with my tears"

“I made this one with my tears”

The old saying goes “there’s no use crying over spilled milk”. But if there’s no use in crying, why do we do it? What evolutionary or scientific reason is there for us to pour water out of our eyes when we feel sad? Why do some of us cry when we’re happy also?  Keep reading to learn more about this strange phenomena.

First of all, there are more than one type of “tear”. The first type of tear is called basal tears. This is the lubrication on our eyes that are always there. They form in three layers. The first layer, the mucus layer, keeps the basal layers attached to the eyeball. The second layer, the aqueous layer, keeps the eye hydrated, and protects from bacteria and damage to the cornea. The final layer of the basal tear is the lipid layer, which a thin, oily layer which keeps the other layers from evaporating and maintains the surface of the eyeball smooth to assist with sight.

The second type of tear is called a reflex tear. These type of tears would be produced when something irritates your eye and must be removed. Some irritants include wind, sand, dust, or the chemicals released by onions when you cut them. These tears also contain more microorganisms than basal tears, which allow them to fight against possible bacteria.

Most obviously, the third type of tear is the emotional tear. The reason why we cry emotional tears is more controversial. Tears contain a chemical called leucine enkephalin, which is said to be a “natural painkiller”. Some sources also say that tears are a way of expelling stress hormones and toxins from the body to calm you down. It is believed that crying is a part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is used to calm down the body after being in a stressful situation. The parasympathetic nervous system also accompanies an increased heart rate and slower breathing. This can also explain why we cry when we are very happy. When the body is overly emotionally stimulated, the body must do what it can to return the body back to normal.

These emotional tears may also have evolutionary and social purposes also. Crying is a signal of distress towards others. This is why babies cry often. Crying is their only way to signal to their caretakers that they are in need of help. Before language, early humans may have cried in order to get help. Animals also cry when in distress by making noises, but they do not produce emotional tears. Emotional tears might also be a way to manipulate others. If you’ve ever argued with someone and they started crying, you may have noticed that it is difficult to continue aggressively arguing with them. Crying can be helpful to us humans in these varying ways, but the primary reason is still debatable.

For a more colorful description of the three types of tears, watch Alex Gendler’s TED talk on the subject.

So don’t be embarrassed when you shed some tears when you’re preparing onions or if you get dust in your eye. Your eyes are only trying to protect you. Also, remember that emotional crying is a fast way to get your emotions under control. Although it’s not always socially acceptable and makes others uncomfortable, Suppressing your tears will just make the calming down process slower, so cry when you can. The next time you spill milk, go ahead and cry about it. Crying will surely help you get over the traumatic event, and will help you to calm down faster.

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Why Do We Shake Hands?


If you think about it, shaking hands is a bit of a strange idea. But as long as anyone can remember, people have always been grasping hands, and shaking up and down as a way to meet and greet each other. Theories of the origins and reason for the handshake are extremely varied.

This practice may even date back to around 1800 BCE in ancient Babylon. In Babylon at this time, it was believed that the gods could transfer power to a human through clasping hands. This is why every year at the New Year’s festival, the king would grasp hands with a statue of a god, and it was believe that the god’s power would be transferred to the king for the next year.

Another theory is a bit more logical and survival-based. It is believed that the ancient Romans would extend their hands when meeting another person to ensure them that you were not carrying a weapon in your hand. The Romans also may have clasped arms so they could check if weapons were up the other’s sleeve. This practice evolved in medieval times, where the acquaintances would clasp hands and shake as we do today. This was meant to shake out any hidden weapons that the other might have up their sleeve. This seems similar to today’s practices in which we shake hands to establish trust when meeting someone new.

The third, and most interesting theory is based wholly in science. At the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, researchers found that people instinctively smell their hands after shaking hands with someone. They found this by filming 271 subjects as they were sat down in a room, then an experimenter came into the room and shook their hand, and then the experimenter left again. These subjects were unknowingly filmed and the amount of times they touched their face was recorded from one minute before the experimenter entered the room until one minute after the experimenter left. The study found that the subject smelled their hand 100% more after they shook hands with the experimenter than they did before shaking hands. Some subjects were also equipped with an apparatus that recorded their nasal air flow during the experiment. They found that large inhales (sniffs) coincided with the time when the subjects touched their faces. This means that the subjects were in fact smelling their hands. They also found that when the subject shook hands with someone of the same gender as them, they were more likely to smell their right hand (the shaking hand), and when the subject shook hands with a person of the opposite gender, they were more likely to smell their left hand (the non-shaking hand). This study may lead us to believe that humans, like animals may receive information through pheromones and chemosignals by smelling each other. But this study also raises many questions to be answered. Why do we smell the opposite hand when shaking with the opposite gender? Is this mechanism possibly intended for us to scope out our competition within our gender? Does sexual orientation affect the outcome of a study like this? Would the results be similar if we shook hands with our left hands? All of these questions could be answered by future studies that should be implemented to further understand this strange instinct.

Whether you believe that the custom of handshaking came from the Babylonians, the Romans, the medieval knights, or our neanderthal ancestors who wanted to smell each other in a more classy way, handshaking is deeply rooted in human history. Possible reasons for handshaking include religious ceremonies, self-defense, and smelling each other. The next time you shake hands with someone new, notice if they touch their face within the next minute or so. Your new friend just might be trying to catch a whiff of your pheromones.


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Initial Post

Hey everyone, my name is Mike Bliss. I am a Freshman enrolled in the College of Communications. I am taking this class mostly to fill a gen-ed requirement, but the topics described on the syllabus seem interesting. For example, I am very interested in finding out if a zombie virus could exist. But I guess I’ll have to wait until November 10th to find out that answer.

Science never interested me very much in school. I wasn’t terrible at it, but I didn’t particularly enjoy the class. My least favorite science class was biology, where we learned about all the microscopic things going on all the time. These concepts seemed almost unbelievable. The fact that millions of little tiny circles were doing jobs constantly was just plain strange, and I didn’t care to learn much more. Mitochondria

What I am interested in is the field of communications. From advertising, to public relations, to film, video, and news, it all interests me. I took classes in both TV and video production in high school. I have been making videos with my friends since I was in the 6th grade. The most recent video I made was for my AP Government class, where my friend and I went to a nearby parking lot and asked random people whether certain people was a “President or Not”. You can watch that video here

Thank you for your time reading my post. I’ll see you all in class!