Author Archives: mkj5157

The End of Humanity…?


To quote the famous Carl Sagan, “we are star stuff,” and that we are – not that I am in any position to confirm any of what this great man stated during his lifetime, but to acknowledge this fact is to understand that life can be attributed to the existence of stars.

Our lives here on Earth are so tied to the Sun that the maximum time we can live on Earth is until the inevitable supernova death of the Sun which will swallow the earth in an immense heated gulp. Perhaps by that point humans will have discovered a way to inhabit another planet, although by our nature that planet would be well on its way to the same kind of disaster we have inflicted on Earth in the short geologic time that humans have existed.

Humans are the only form of life on Earth that has caused permanent impactions upon the earth. According to, “more than 80 percent of Earth’s surface has been marked by human activity.” We have covered much of the land with pavement, eradicating the habitats of many species in doing this and also through deforestation. Our excessive use of trees and other resources has not only disturbed the other forms of life that share this planet with us; we are also causing our own demise. Resources are limited, and our current consumption rates are only going to grow as population increases if we don’t employ alternatives to our resources (i.e. normalizing the use of battery powered cars to cut down the consumption of gas).

Overpopulation is one of the main aspects of the issue of human overconsumption, and also makes it more costly for people to live. As the amount of people alive grows the amount of demand for products grows, but supply is limited by what resources are available to us by the earth. That means prices will rise and it will cost people more money to purchase just the necessities they need to live. Not to mention how inaccessible freshwater will be, since it makes up only 3% of Earth’s water supply. The extent of human life on Earth is limited by what they can take from the planet, but also by each other.

Hostility among people is predictably more likely when they are overcrowded and in need of scarce resources such as freshwater. As has been observed throughout the history of mankind, conflict results in war much of the time, and war occurs at the expense of human lives.

Of all the possibilities for the future of the human race one thing is for certain: there will come a time when no human can be alive on Earth. The death of the sun is nearly 5 billion years from now, but it seems as though the downfall of humanity may already be underway.

Fungus to Replace Plastic

Penn State has been really good at making strides towards a cleaner Earth, involving methods of both sustainability and recycling. Plastic is a major material that partakes in this need for sustainability, and is a major contender that needs to be changed soon. Plastic hardly decomposes and destroys entire ecosystems. Luckily, scientists are starting to develop a use for fungus, and that use can replace plastic (organically, too!).

Scientists at Utrecht University in the Netherlands have been developing such a replacement for plastic over the past few years. They describe the fungus material as being made up of many filaments. These filaments grow from a core and from some distance they start branching out. Consequently, they grow into a network of filaments. If you would let the fungus grow into a wood pulp, it would decompose the wood while at the same time gluing what is left of the pulp together. This result is called a composite. The name of the fungus most commonly used by these scientists is called mycelium; a material that is light, strong, fire-resistant, and water repellent. The mycelium culture is transferred to a plate, allowing it to grow and spread. Once you want the growing to stop, you must cook the object. Cooking creates an entirely new material for the culture. Depending on how you want to develop the culture, copious amounts of materials can be produced from this single culture; ranging from leathery to plastic to cork-like.

If production with new materials continues, the world won’t be the same anymore. Materials will be reusable and disposable. Everything will be produced differently. I believe more things in the future will be grown into new materials, more than we can imagine.

“Though plastic is useful in many different facets where it’s not meant to break down, packaging is ultimately meant to be thrown away. Creating packaging and other plastic materials along those lines with fungus would put us on the right path to a more eco-friendly future.” –Ada Carr,


Plants feel…pain?

The question caught my eye when I was reading through the VICE archives.

So, do they?

It’s not really a “yes or no” kind of answer. As intelligent life, no. However, they can sense and react to the surrounding world. Plants may not be defined as intelligent life, but they show signs of “intelligent behavior.” Clifford Slayman stated in an interview with The New Yorker that “We do not know what constitutes intelligence, only what we can observe and judge as intelligent behavior.” Thus sharing this definition of intelligent life, plants do not have nerve cells like us, however, they can send electrical signals and produce neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are similar to that of a human’s, sending chemicals like the humans brain sends chemicals as signals.

In addiction to senses, plants have a form of memory. “They store and recall information, but they won’t go talk to their psychiatrist about it. The clearest example would be a venus flytrap. The way a venus flytrap closes is that it has these huge hairs—filaments—along its big open lobe. It looks like two leaves, but it’s one leaf. And when a bug comes along and catches two of those hairs, it’ll close. If it only touches one, it won’t. It touches one, keeps crawling, touches the second. If it touches it within 20 seconds, it’ll close. If it’s within 20 seconds, it’s a big bug, and it’s worth the energy to close. If it’s a longer time, maybe it’s two little things, and it’s not worth the energy to close. It only wants to eat something that’s big” (Daniel Chamovitz, VICE). That’s pretty crazy to me. Not only can plants sense things like gravity, the presence of water, hearing, and taste, but they can store figurative files in their brain. So by combining these senses and their “brain,” plants are able to respond to their environment. Their processing system in response to so many variables such as ;water, light, nutrients, temperature, etc., allows them to create a processing system to combine these senses as date with behavioral responses.

In answer to the blog post’s enticing title, however, the answer is no. I know I’ve been talking about an abundance of sensory receptors in plants, but the truth is just that plants don’t have pain receptors. Pain receptors are different than pressure receptors, and that’s something that plants most definitely have, and most definitely use. Think about all the water pressure they must feel when you forget to water them twice a week.





When I think of walking on coals, or “firewalking” as it’s formally called, I think of something silly like Criss Angel or that scene from The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. However, it is quite opposite. Firewalking is a practice that has been sourced back to 1200 BCE: Iron Age India. Prior to even knowing the proper name for such a practice, firewalking has always been an enigma to me, or at least up until the past few hours until I started to research the physics behind it. Surprisingly, it’s not as painful as it’s made out to be in the media or how it’s depicted spiritually.

Basically, the process starts off with the individual soaking their feet in water. Any moisture on their feet will then evaporate and form a layer of gas beneath their feat. They do this because it takes 4.18 Joules to raise the temperature of 1 cc of water to 1 degree C. Comparatively, the coals beneath your feet have a much lower heat capacity than the water on our feet and the water within our feet. UCLA physicists explained it as “…the same amount of energy flowing away from the coals will lower their temperature much more than that same energy flowing to the feet will raise the foot’s temperature. If the foot stays in contact with the coals, energy will keep flowing until they both reach the same temperature. However, this takes time, and how much depends on the heat conductivity. There are good heat conductors, like water, and poor conductors/heat insulators, such as ash. The feet cool down the local area of the coals they touch, and it takes time for energy to flow from the rest of the fire to the cool spot…Water is a good heat conductor and energy transferred to the foot is rapidly conducted away from the contact points so the temperature doesn’t rise to the burning point.”

I know that sounds kind of confusing, it sounds confusing to me too.

Essentially, the main way heat is transmitted to your foot from the coals is through conduction. Our feet are poor conductors. When we walk across the hot coals, the time spent touching the coals with your bare feet is too brief for any permanent burning to occur.

Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with super cool will power mustered up by Jackie Chan, however, state of mind is still very vital. State of mind allows you to make that first step, and without that first step you are nowhere near walking on hot coals.


The Public’s Infatuation with Trump

I want to acknowledge political subjectivity and that I am in no position to impose on anyone’s decisions they make in the upcoming presidential campaign. However, I believe that stating my subjectivity towards such a matter is an important facet to our democratic system and opposing and similar positions on issues are important for a symbiotic relationship and effective debate discussion.

Okay, that was me trying my best to put out a full disclaimer towards anyone whom I may offend. I know talking about current political events is sensitive and can cause  conflict, but that is not what I am trying to provoke. I am merely trying to incite intellectual conversation and maybe make a few friends in the process.

If you’ve tuned into recent news, I’m sure you’ve heard about several interesting presidential candidates; one of which includes Donald John Trump. He’s been covered frequently in the media for his outspoken opinions and frank mannerisms. I realize I sound outspoken myself when saying this, thus making me a hypocrite, but I am surprised at how high Donald Trump has been polling. He is known for some of his blatantly racist, nationalist, or sexist comments.

I know that it may seem like this blog post is starting off on a very non-scientifically driven foot (which it is), but I think I’m getting somewhere. ScientificAmerica stated in a three-part article explaining the psychology behind Trump that “Trump comes across as the “dependable” candidate –to the extent that you can dependably count on him to consistently say anything and everything on his mind, and you don’t have to worry that he’s trying to hide what he truly thinks or feels. To someone who hates ambiguity, that candidate probably feels a lot more intuitively comforting than a more pleasant, likeable candidate who runs the risk of actually being an authentic-self-masking “flip-flopper.”” So, Trumps very open aversion for political correctness is the crux of his popularity. We’re tricked to assume his opinions are unchanging because he states what is so far right and beyond what is expected. That’s where they get this psychological idea of dependability. His supporters can rely on Trump to state what is on his mind at any given moment with very little or no empathy at all how it will be comprehended. When people are uncertain of how they view the future, this trait (dependability) is vital, and I suppose this is why he is polling so high, unfortunately. In fact, the Psychological Bulletin released studies that essentially reinforced the fact that individuals who are nervous about the future tend to be more politically conservative. 

“There is by now evidence from a variety of laboratories around the world using a variety of methodological techniques leading to the virtually inescapable conclusion that the cognitive-motivational styles of leftists and rightists are quite different. This research consistently finds that conservatism is positively associated with heightened epistemic concerns for order, structure, closure, certainty, consistency, simplicity, and familiarity, as well as existential concerns such as perceptions of danger, sensitivity to threat, and death anxiety.”

-Psychological Bulletin, Josh T. Jost 

I find it concerning to know that since Trump has taken the road less traveled by (in the sense that he speaks his mind, whether or not they are morally right), he may be praised.

Shabani the Gorilla

In recent news, it’s been apparent that Japanese women are going crazy for Shabani the gorilla due to a recent spike in attendance sales for the Higashiyama Zoo. Thanks to social media, we’re able to distinguish why some women (hopefully) are jokingly complimenting this gorilla on his “dreamy sensitive eyes” and “rough good looks.”

Although all in good humor, there still has to be some reason why people are acknowledging the seemingly apparent attractive traits Shabani has. There has to be some kind of biological reasoning behind it! To start off, there’s some kind of evolutionary reason why people are drawn to Shabani. As animals, we are driven by natural selection, which directly correlates with an individuals fitness and health, which is something that Shabani clearly is on top of.

Shabani’s striking appearance also has to do with the sclera and his resemblance to a human in that way. We share a large percentage of our DNA with gorillas and chimpanzees, nearly 97%. With such a large percentage taken into consideration, it’s hard to avoid the many characteristics we see in Shabani and other primates alike. Todd Disotell recently told “One of the reasons people like primates so much is that we see ourselves in them, but they’re apart from us. Here you have this incredibly well-muscled, incredibly well-defined not-human — but still, you’re thinking human. You see these massive chest muscles and super-ripped arms, and the expression on his face. I could see people conflating that.”  So going back to the fact that the whites of Shabani’s eyes are much more prominent, we see external human traits.

As well as external traits, there are some human traits we can see within Shabani due to his actions. has stated that “many of his actions — from flexing his muscles to looking lost in thought to taking care of his young and — are tempting to understand by anthropomorphizing the guy.”

So although it is all mostly just one big joke produced by the internet, it’s hard not to look at this headline from a biological standpoint and analyze where these jokes may be stemming from.

Does Cold Weather Come With a Price?

Some prefer the cold weather, many prefer warmer weather.

Unfortunately, the harsh reality of attending a school in Pennsylvania is that you’ll be faced with quite a few months of a pseudo-“winter wonderland.” Initially, I thought I would be writing a blog post surrounding the negative affects of the cold weather on your school performance and overall quality of life during these upcoming winter months. However, I’ve come across quite a few positive results of being exposed to cold temperatures!

Firstly, I think it’s assumed we’re more alert under colder conditions. I’m not saying you have open up all of the windows in the classroom in the dead of February’s many blizzards. The scientific explanation for this has to do with our body’s temperature regulation: our ability to adjust our core temperature in correlation to external temperatures. We use energy in the form of glucose in extreme weather conditions, like sweating or shivering. As Penn State Students, we’re in luck! It takes less energy to warm the body up than cooling it down, according to a study conducted by Peter Hancock. recently stated that  “…as our bodies work to maintain homeostasis, we use up large amounts of glucose.  Because glucose is also used for mental processes, it may be that the physical demands imposed by excessive warmth reduce our capacity for cognitive functioning, thereby adversely affecting our decision-making abilities.” Therefore, some of those goosebumps in the classroom aren’t such a bad thing after all.

Secondly, the cold weather has a positive affect on your creative abilities. An experiment conducted by researchers at Tilburg University revealed the different types of creativity that can emerge when we are exposed to different temperatures. Individuals in the experiment that were put in a warm environment “were better at creative drawing, categorizing objects and thinking of gift ideas for others.” And when participants were put in a colder environment, they “were better at recognizing metaphors… and planning abstract gift ideas.” For a class like SC200, a colder room seems to be more beneficial for our creative minds.

Initial Blog Post

My name is Megan Jackson and I was just recently switched into SC 200. I’m a freshman and I’m currently majoring in Advertising in the College of Communications. I’m from Katonah, New York, a small town about 45 minutes outside of New York City. I chose this course because I truly am interested in science, but when it comes to applying my knowledge and abilities, I seem to lose all focus. Science was never my strongest subject in high school, however, I enjoy learning about how our universe functions and how we play a part in it. One of my favorite books was actually written by Carl Sagan (The Demon-Haunted World)!

A fun fact about myself is that I was the co-founder of the American Sign Language Club at my high school, however, we nicknamed ourselves “Happy Hands,” after this scene from Napoleon Dynamite. I wouldn’t say that Napoleon Dynamite is my favorite movie, but there are definitely some funny moments that you can find me referencing. I’m also a huge fan of movies, and I try my best to watch at least one movie a day. However, I think this goal may change now that I’m in college. My two favorite movies are 2001: A Space Odyssey and Amélie!

I’m excited to apply what I learn from this class to other topics I may study in my four years at Penn State, and I’m excited to meet all of you!


(That’s me in the middle)