Author Archives: Nicholas Sivak

Light Speed: The Feasibility of Warp Drives in Space Travel

The recent Star Wars Episode 7 trailer reminded me just how much of my childhood was taken up by Star Wars. There are so many aspects of science fiction movies and television that could be explored in a blog format like this. So, I am going to focus on one aspect of science fiction in this blog and may expand on this concept in future blogs. For this one, I will be focusing on light speed travel or traveling space with a warp drive device.


So, basically traveling at light speed or using a warp drive like the one used in Star Trek is basically a way that space ships can cover the vast distances of space in shorter amounts of time, rather than having to wait an extremely long time to make any progress into space like our space ships currently take. To explain how this is technically achieved, I looked at a Wikipedia article covering the warp drive and how it was explained in Star Trek. The article says, “By using a matter/antimatter reactor to create plasma, and by sending this plasma through warp coils, he created a warp bubble which he could use to move a craft into subspace, thus allowing it to exceed the speed of light”. Being able to travel beyond the speed of light requires a lot of energy, and this proposed warp speed engine seems to be grounded in reality with using a matter and antimatter reaction to create massive amounts of energy. But, kind of reaction has some problems, as the video from the Smithsonian YouTube channel will explain. (around 2:15)

Not only is it an engineering mystery as to how one would create an engine that could generate thrust through an antimatter reaction, but also being able to have a suitable amount of antimatter to fuel the reaction is impossible at this stage. This is probably why many experiments regarding this question cannot be conducted. The rarity of the materials required to test this question is a big obstacle scientists need to get around. It would also be detrimental if something were to go wrong with the limited amount of antimatter available for use by the scientists.

However, some designs are being worked on and are making progress into the realm of reality like the one pictured below.

warp-drive-starship explains how this image represents the function of faster than light travel, “This ring, potentially made of exotic matter, would cause space-time to warp around the star ship, creating a region of contracted space in front of it and expanded space behind”. Harold White of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, has adopted this idea created by Miguel Alcubierre, and have run very basic experiments testing its efficiency. These experiments however are very basic and don’t have any astonishing results. The lack of astonishing results would come from the lack of proper or good experiment creation. Similar to the discussion we had in class about doctor Spock’s poor experiment crafting about the babies sleeping on their stomachs, nothing substantial comes out of poor experiment design.

And it seems more recently that other parts of NASA seem to disagree with the idea of light speed travel at least at our current point in time. In a post on their website titled “Is Warp Drive Real?” an editor for NASA describes how the bulk of scientific knowledge points this in the direction of the impossible. The editor uses the article to state that NASA wants to focus on ion propulsion which is a more realistic form of jet propulsion compared to what is written in science fiction. This article was written in March of 2015, meaning this information is very recent, compared to the experiments above being proposed in 2012. It is possible that a lack of any substantial or relevant data in the experiments caused groups like NASA to abandon the idea of using a warp drive for space travel. And NASA is the forerunners in space exploration, so if they state that it is next to impossible in its current state, then there is most likely research and many credible people behind them that support this mindset and way of thinking.

In conclusion, science fiction films, novels, and television are very creative in how they get around restrictions of reality. What makes them so entertaining and believable is how their elements are grounded in actual science and reality. Could a warp drive based on matter reactions that propel a spaceship beyond the speed of light exist in the future? Sure, as research and scientific knowledge grows I could see this being revisited and expanded upon. But that probably would not happen for many years in our future.

The Science of Depth Perception

Depth perception is a key function of our vision and consequently our survival as humans. Without it we would not be able to judge distance of different objects, people, or even how deep something like a pool or a beaker is. Vision is a very complex combination of processes between the eyes, light, and the brain. That prompted me to think of some questions like, how do we use depth perception, and is it something we learn or something we are born with?

Let’s start with an example so that we are on the same page. Take a look at this picture of a road.

bg_road2 See how the sides of the road focus into a point in the middle of the image? We can see this through using depth perception. The farther away the road travels, the smaller the road becomes. It also looks like the sides of the road get closer together. The lines move to a point of reference called the vanishing point. Without the ability to perceive depth, this image would look flat. In other words, we would not be able to see in 3 dimensions. has a clear way of looking at a similar example using a railroad track.

Studies about depth perception have been conducted since at least the 1960’s. Probably the most famous experiment conducted is Eleanor J. Gibson and Richard D. Walk’s “Visual Cliff” experiment. Nature has the report about the experiment which placed infants and animals on a table. Half the table was one pattern while the other half of the table was a pane of glass that had the pattern placed on the floor. The results found that the animals and the infants would not cross over onto the glass side of the table. This can be seen in the video footage below.

The studies like the visual cliff are reputable. Ethically, they are sound because no harm is coming to the infants or the animals involved in the testing. The experiment is manipulates the setting the test subjects are in by using the glass pane, but it is merely an observational test. Not much was known about how depth perception worked back then, seeing as the study of psychology was still relatively new at the time. There was clearly something significant going on which would make the experiment correct of at the least a false positive. The null hypothesis for the visual cliff experiment would be something along the lines of: The height level of the pattern of the floor has no effect on infants or animals perception. I think the experiment accurately refutes this null hypothesis.

One article I found on the topic explains the connection between our eyes and our brain involved in depth perception. “Two Eyes, Two Views: Your Brain and Depth Perception” is an article that discusses the stages of visual-image processing. Authors Vilayanur Ramachandran and Diane Rogers-Ramachandran write, “Visual-image processing from the eye to the brain happens in stages. Rudimentary features such as the orientation of edges, direction of motion, color, and so on are extracted early on in areas called V1 and V2”. This gives a look into the kind of process our brain works to build up our visual perception in layers. Kind of like laying a brick wall, different aspects of how we see the world build on each other to create the 3D perception we view the world in.

So that is a look into how it is we see the world we live in. It does leave some questions unanswered like what it would actually look like if someone could not perceive distance and depth properly. Who knows if that is a question we can accurately answer. Depth perception is a very unique part of human function that I feel is often overlooked.

Stage Fright: Why Does It Happen?

I personally don’t think anybody enjoys standing in front of a big group of people and talking, especially students. It creeps us out, it makes us so nervous we feel sick, and ultimately we are afraid of being judged negatively by our peers. But is this the actual reason why we get stage fright? Or is there some kind of mechanism that causes these weird sensations in our bodies when we get in front of a big group of other people?

Real quick, what is “stage fright”? Stage fright is the common name for performance anxiety. WebMD describes the sensation of having everyone looking at you initiates body’s “fight or flight” mechanism. Some of the symptoms of performance anxiety include:

-Racing Pulse

-Dry Mouth

-Trembling hands, knees, voice


-Vision Changes

Now that we have a basic understanding of what stage fright encompasses, we can start to try and find what causes it.

Erno Hermans of New York University conducted a study that was published in Science back in 2011. In this study, Erno’s team took 80 healthy adult volunteers and showed them violent fight scenes from films followed by neutral scenes from a different film to cause emotional stress. One group watched the violent clips before the neutral ones, and the other group watched the neutral clips first. They monitored this stress and its effects through the use of an MRI brain scan. The results of the experiment found that on a neurological level, stressors in the brain cause your focus to shift away from whatever it is that you are doing. This explains why stage fright happens and we forget what we are talking about, because we lose focus when our brains are exposed to these stressors.

This study may seem relatively small, 80 volunteer individuals. Seeing as the researchers were using volunteers that may be the reason why they had a smaller pool of research subjects. The information is also fairly new, being published late 2011. It is possible that there is no evidence currently denying these findings either.  But the information here is very credible seeing as it is published in Science. The findings are significant enough to be put into Science so it makes it hard to argue with.

Stage fright is rooted in a sense of reputation. This video from TEDed does a good job of explaining the things we think other people are thinking or saying about us while we speak in public. One great example that applies to all of us is when Andrew pulls our names out of a hat to answer a question in class. The stage fright is actually very clear to see, many people whose names are called in class do not answer. One or two people can use the excuse of they were not in class, but when six people are called with no answer, there are some people afraid to speak up. That is a good example to look at and analyze the social factors such as the large room and amount of people which can be considered possible third variables in making the decision to speak or not.

In conclusion, stage fright is in the mind. It is something that we perceive, and something that we allow to come into existence. There are ways of learning to deal with stage fright, but some people seriously cannot get past the fear. It’s what makes online environments like this blog so appealing to people. The anonymity allows people to be more comfortable and willing to talk about their ideas and thoughts they have everyday.

Can We Grow Plants On Mars?

Recently I went with a couple friends to go see the new Ridley Scott movie, The Martian. Based off the book of the same name, it follows a botanist named Mark Watney who ends up being stranded on mars and has to survive until the next manned rescue mission can come to his aid, four years in the future. In order to survive, Mark needs to create a sustainable food source on a planet where nothing grows. This got me thinking, is it actually possible to cultivate crops on a planet such as mars?

W. Wieger Wamelink seems to think so. Wamelink and his team put together an experiment that they claim is “the first large-scale controlled experiment” to test this theory. They filled pots with 100g of moon soil simulant, 100g of their control variable earth soil, or 50g of mars simulant. They had 840 pots in which they placed seeds of various plants into and were blocked off in a random placement. The results came back to say that the mars simulant had actually performed much better than the moon simulant, and surprisingly slightly better than the earth soil control.

I think this is a pretty solid randomized control experiment which makes the date more reliable to me. The size is definitely large enough to see some actual results and the method of completing the experiment makes sense as well. One thing I remain skeptical about is the use of “soil simulants”. These are recreations developed by NASA so they are coming from a very credible place that knows their extraterrestrial soils. But at the heart of it, these are still simulants, not the actual thing. If we were to accept this conclusion for fact and sent up a team to mars, it would not be good if nothing actually worked when we got up there.

Well, NASA wants to set up an experiment to test plant life on mars and the effects the planet would cause to the plants. reports on NASA’s plan to launch a mission to mars in the year 2020 in which a rover would carry a self-contained plant growth chamber, similar to that of a greenhouse. The experiment is being conducted to test if the radiation and lesser gravity on Mars would cause harm to the plants or otherwise cause them not to grow. It is mentioned that they do not want to plant on the Martian soil directly in case the earth life were to root itself and begin to change the ecosystem of Mars. Picture


There is another experiment that has already been completed by NASA titled “Veg-01”. National Geographic writes about how NASA scientists grew lettuce on the International Space Station using drip tubes to deliver the water to the roots of the plant. The purpose of the experiment was to test and prepare future colonizers of other planets to have the ability to produce food on planets that do not provide the necessary elements to grow plant life like oxygen. The experiment was a success and you can see the results in this video below from one of the NASA Youtube channels. (Starts around 2:25)

Looking at all of these proposed experiments, the data seems to be pretty solid especially coming from NASA. They are definitely one of the most credible sources when it comes to all things space. But the fact is that the first manned mission to Mars is still years away at this point. Recently we talked in class about not having enough data in studies like soft drinks increasing people’s weight. There are a lot of experiments being made and tested for the future of Mars, but we won’t know just how everything works until we get there ourselves. Everything is very theoretical and how we “think” things should act. I think that is important to look at when looking at this topic. So to me, I think it is possible in some way that plants will be able to be grown on Mars, but at this point none of the data reflects what may actually happen up on Mars. We will have to wait a little longer for those answers.

Does Doing Nice Things for Others Make Us Happier?

Around Christmas time, all the holiday themed movies about giving and being happy like the Grinch who stole Christmas are played on TV. The Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge learn that giving to others is the true secret to happiness. That got me thinking, does doing nice things for others actually make us happier people? Which method creates happiness or is there a mechanism to feeling happy in the brain? Let’s take a look. (Picture)


Recently I gave a speech in my public speaking class about something I believe in. Through my research for that speech I came across a study written in the Journal of Social Psychology. Acts of Kindness and Acts of Novelty Affect Life Satisfaction, is a study that took 86 participants (38 males 48 females) where half of the group was given the task to complete 5 random acts of kindness over the course of 10 days while the other group was given no instruction. Dr. Anat Bardi, the author of the study does state that the participation was voluntary and that resulted in a shorter turnout than they had anticipated. This would lead to some data that might not be the strongest. After the groups completed their assigned tasks, they took a life satisfaction survey. They did see significant improvements in happiness in the experimental group (the ones doing the acts of kindness), where there was little change in the control group. This is some pretty important information. I think the experiment was constructed well, the study is able to test its hypothesis because helping other people is not a morally questionable area. However, I do believe as stated above that the small sample size of the study is not a good representation of actual data. There was way too little people to justify the relationship between the two variables in an effective way.

Michael Steger, a psychologist at the University of Louisville conducted a similar study in an attempt to differentiate the types of events that cause happiness. In this study, Steger takes 65 undergraduate students and has them complete daily surveys that measure their level of happiness or sadness to the kind of activities they partake in, “Pleasure seeking” activities or “Meaningful” activities. After completing these surveys, the study found that “the more people participated in meaningful activities, the happier they were and the more purposeful their lives felt. Pleasure-seeking behaviors, on the other hand, did not make people happier”. I believe that this study shows that people doing acts that help others out makes them happier individuals, happier than just doing something in an attempt to make us happy. But this study has the same problem as the last, the sample size is too small. These studies would have much greater impact if they involved more people so that the data would be more significant.

Psych Central talks about a survey that has a larger number of participants than these other studies. A Do Good Live Well Survey found that out of 4500 American adults, 89 percent stated that giving in some way to another person improved their wellness or happiness. I think this is a large enough gathering of people to show a significant result. And 89 percent is very high so I think that it entirely possible that helping out others does affect how happy we are.

Through researching this topic, I was not able to find any solid information regarding if there was a mechanism that triggered the feeling of happiness. I did find a section on a page from Explain That that listed some interesting experiments conducted in the research of the neuroscience of happiness. Many of the experiments suggest that different chemical reactions in the brain cause feelings of happiness, but they have not narrowed it to one specific reaction. This may be the case because there are many confounding variables that can be affecting a study of this kind. So many reactions or impulses in the brain along with the outside factors of each of the experiments could cause different results. It isn’t that far off to think that scientists wouldn’t find out this information from one experiment.

In conclusion, I think these studies reveal that the hypothesis of “if helping others makes us happier” is a false positive. All of these studies are providing evidence that something is happening to cause people to be happier after helping people. But there is no specific evidence like a mechanism to describe what it is exactly that makes us happier.

Does Stress Accelerate Aging?

There are many things in our everyday lives that stress us out. Relationships, politics, work, education and so on. Our lives revolve around things that stress us out and some people have it harder than others. Take a look at president Obama. He looks vastly different today (right) than he did at the start of his presidency in 2008 (left picture). His hair has been drained of color and he looks much older. That got me thinking about if stress actually accelerates our aging or not.

obama gray hair

An article written by Vivian Diller for the Huffington post explains how aging can be seen as a series of processes in our bodies. Chemical reactions in the body producing adrenaline and cortisol as well as biological factors like glycation produce effects that give off the appearance of aging.

Looking at aging as a natural process instead of the passage of time makes this situation a bit harder to look at. How do you distinguish the effects of the passage of time from processes in the body producing effects that appear similar to old age?

As it turns out, there is a whole field of scientific study that deals with this question. Britannica defines Gerontology as “the science of the finitude of life as expressed in the three aspects of longevity, aging, and death, examined in both evolutionary and individual perspective. Gerontologists also study the “physiochemical processes of aging” and how those factors affect the longevity of an organism’s existence.

One journal written for the oxford journals of gerontology titled “Stress Biology and Aging Mechanisms” starts to answer the above mentioned question about stress.

Dr. Elissa Epel describes how their basic research has concluded that short term stress builds up cellular responses to that stress, almost like a resistance. This means that the stress would slow signs of aging. But, taking a look at this information, the word “basic” is something that draws my eye. If these are “basic” tests then it is entirely possible that there could still be a myriad of other things they are not looking at in regards to the experiment. Also “short term” draws my attention. In my example above, Obama’s levels of stress would not be considered short term in my opinion. Eight years in office is a long time, and the increased timespan and exposure to stress may have caused the rapidly aged appearance. Another confounding variable may be the level of stress intake. Being president is no easy job after all.

One study in Nature looked at 178 healthy women, 90 of which were mothers with a child diagnosed with autism, and the other 88 were classified as “low stress controls”. They found that the mothers with higher stress levels had a decreased amount of longevity hormones that control aging, thereby increasing the appearance of aging. This study is much more acceptable to look at. The split is almost exactly 50/50 and the sample size seems adequate enough for looking at stress levels in different people. Plus, Andrew talked about how Nature is one of the best when it comes to scientific journals so the information here is solid.

In conclusion, higher levels of stress do affect the appearance of aging in mothers exposed to higher stress than others. Stress also has physical and physiochemical effects on the human body. I think it is entirely likely that stress does in fact accelerate aging and its byproducts.

Are Natural Light and Artificial Light the Same?

As I sit in my dorm, I am surrounded by artificial lights from the lights in the ceiling, my desk lamp, and even the lights out in the hall. My room also has a decent sized window that allows a fair bit of natural sunlight into the room. As I started thinking about it, what is the difference between the artificial and the natural? They are both forms of light, how different can they be?

I started wondering about the energy given off by artificial light and sunlight. We can tell the difference usually between the two when we are exposed to it. Well, it turns out that the two both use energy in the form of photons to emit light. An article on Earthsky talks about comparing the two types of light on their effectiveness of growing plants. It is stated that the sun is much stronger in energy output than artificial light. But what was interesting was the article also said that scientists are able to grow plants in “growth chambers”. Seeing as the actual growth of plants is possible in an artificial setting, it makes me see the two forms of light being more similar than before.

This video by Veritasium on Youtube also helped me understand energy’s role in producing sunlight and heat.

But how about winter? In our area in particular, cloud cover during the winter makes it so we are not as exposed to the sun’s energy. An article from Consumer Health actually details how our exposure to artificial light during this time affects us. “During the winter months, your normal incandescent and fluorescent lighting causes hyperactivity, stress and eyestrain”. So, overexposure in this case is harming us. But sunlight can also harm us in the form of sunburns and in some cases leading to skin cancer. Both forms of light can harm us, interesting.

I also thought about tanning. We have tanning salons that people go inside to lay on a bed of lights to achieve a tan like many of us get outside during the summer months. Oncosec wrote up a very interesting article that compares tanning in a salon to outside. The article says that one of these tanning beds gives off the same amount of UBV light that the sun gives off, but three times the amount of UVA light. Another fundamental difference they highlight is that the tanning bed blasts the light in concentrated bursts that give tanning bed patrons increased risk having to do with the light like skin cancer. This seems to be the first real difference between the two we have come across.

In conclusion, no artificial light and natural sunlight are not the same, but they are fairly similar. It seems that based on the information here that a lot of the benefits and good things like being able to grow plants can be accomplished with both forms of light. But along with the good stuff comes a lot of the same risks such as skin cancer. It was interesting seeing how similar the two forms of light actually were.

Has the Internet Made Us Impatient?

One widespread statement about the internet at this present moment in history is that it is the equivalent to the Wild West. The internet has its dark parts and its weird parts, but we have also seen the benefits and good that has come out of the internet. Netflix serves many of our entertainment needs while twitter and facebook are there when we are bored. But has the presence of the internet made us impatient?

The New York Times seems to think so based on an article written by Tara Parker-Pope. In the article, the author describes how experts seem to believe, “…excessive use of the Internet, cellphones and other technologies can cause us to become more impatient, impulsive, forgetful, and even more narcissistic”. The article goes on to look into the effects of internet addiction and how our brains react to impulses from using the internet. One interesting thing to think about is the effect of instant messaging vs calling people on the telephone. We send text messages in short bursts to get our thoughts to another person. This is much faster than looking up a person’s phone number and calling to have a conversation. In this sense, the internet has had an effect on how fast we communicate information to others.

Another affected area of society in terms of the internet is the traditional news media. Many news outlets over the past few years have transitioned to using twitter to release their top stories of breaking news. A small study by the Pew Research Center actually found that the amount of “buzz” generated on twitter and traditional news media is very similar. This is interesting to look at because on traditional news media (newspapers and the evening news), stories are not out to the public until the next printed issue of the paper is released or the next airing of the news spot. Twitter on the other hand has the ability to present consumers and even non-consumers information as it happens. This is important for news outlets where the goal is to be the first to break a story and get more eyes on your content.

This Ted talk also explains how social media has connected the world in a very unique way and how this is affecting the traditional news cycle.

But what about consumerism? One article from talks about how Netflix releases entire seasons of television shows at one time is changing how consumers watch TV. Subscribers to the Netflix service no longer have to wait for an entire week for the next episode of their favorite show to release, when all episodes are viewable at the same time. And what about Cyber Monday shoppers? There are many reports like this one from Internet Retailer that describe how the transition from in store shoppers to online shoppers increases each year. However there are just as many to counter this statement, like this article from Forbes which claims 90% of their interviewed shoppers across all demographics said they prefer shopping in stores. However, this was a survey of 2,500 people, and as we have discussed in class, cannot begin to account for the billions of people using the internet daily. My personal opinion is that it is more convenient to find specifically what you are looking for online and have it shipped to your doorstep.

In conclusion, I think it is appropriate to suggest that we as a society have become more impatient due to the internet. A lot of this evidence points in that direction and I am sure many of us as a result of growing up with the internet in some fashion have been affected by it as well.

Can Plastic Save Our Lives?

Printing is a word familiar to most people in our modern day society. We use computers to print off important documents, letters, and posters that are passed around and shared in our communities every day. 3D printing on the other hand has only really just started to gain traction and popularity in the past few years. This revolutionary style of printing is not only neat to look at, but is also revolutionizing different fields with new inventions every day. But can it save lives?

A basic understanding of 3D printing is needed to recognize how some of the advancements discussed below are possible. offers in-depth breakdowns of the differing processes different printers use to create their respective objects. In a basic sense, most 3D printers have a tray where the objects are printed onto, and a nozzle that does the printing. Materials such as plastic and metal are fed into the nozzle, and are heated to a point where they melt. The printer then takes 3D model data created on a computer, and starts to build the model in layers. With this understanding we can look at some neat innovations that this relatively new technology is capable of creating.

The field of medicine is seeing some incredible improvements that are literally saving lives this very day. One specific practice of medicine fully utilizing 3D printing is surgery. Scientists and doctors alike have been studying the human body, and have been able to recreate working human organs usable in surgical procedures. Below is a TED talk where surgeon Anthony Atala speaks about the process of 3D printing human organs and shows experimental designs currently being tested for use in real surgical procedures. (Around the 11 minute mark.)

Another field of medicine benefiting from 3D printing is bio medical engineering. This gets down to the really finite forms of printing. People in this field study cellular production and structures. Alan Faulkner-Jones, a research associate at Heriot-Watt University explains how 3D printing is affecting their studies on the body. “…you can use patient-specific cells, and you can work out how a person would respond to a particular medicine and then personalise the medicine for that person.”. Being able to recreate cells that can be placed into the human body can lead to amazing discoveries in the body at the cellular level as well as help solve issues that revolve around cells.

Cells and organs are great, but what about bones? 3D printing has that covered as well. The Salamanca University Hospital in Spain was able to successfully perform an operation that gave a 54 year old man with a tumor in his chest a 3D printed section of a ribcage. It is described on Medical News Today, that the reconstruction process would have been very difficult due to the “geometry of the chest cavity”. The progress in 3D printing has allowed doctors to find new, less problematic procedures to helping injured patients. And on less severe levels, 3D printing has also been used in the production of prosthetic limbs.

At this point 3D printers may seem like little miracle printers, but is this even viable in terms of cost? These kind of procedures cannot be cheap. And in reality, it isn’t cheap. The Harvard Business Review offers some insight, suggesting that the individual materials the printer uses can be expensive, as well as operating costs that are proportional to the cost of any parts printed. We can see this right here at Penn State. In high school, I had the opportunity to go on a field trip to the industrial 3D printing lab located at Innovation Park. The printers there are capable of printing all sorts of different materials, but the main printer was a massive piece of engineering. Our tour guide described to us that the specific printer cost several thousand dollars per minute just to run. 3D printing is still in its early stages, but they are certainly expensive early stages.

In conclusion, our society has seen major improvements in the medical field in regards to the success of 3D printing. So, 3D printing does have the ability to save lives. How effective this process is in its current state is questionable at best. And we are still in the beginning stages. During our conversation about the long term effects of smoking, Andrew discussed how we are now at a stage where we know the risks associated with smoking. It will take many years before an answer to how effective this process will be in the future. But it isn’t out of the question that it will certainly have some impact on the future of saving lives around the world.

Does Everyone See The Same Color?

If we were shown a color wheel and were asked to name the colors, I am sure most of us would be able to name each one, excluding those of us with vision deficiencies. But in the end these are just names. Do we all see the same colors as everyone else? What if I look up and exclaim “The sky is blue”? People would agree that the sky is blue, but what if what is blue to me is yellow or orange to someone else?

A first step into trying to answer this question is knowing how humans can see color. Stephanie Pappas has put together a very interesting page on  that makes this a little bit easier to understand. On the webpage Pappas describes, “When light hits an object – say, a banana – the object absorbs some of the light and reflects the rest of it” (Pappas). The waves of light from the sun project the color onto our eyes and into our minds based on the different types of wavelengths that reach us.

This picture is a good representation of the varying wavelengths in which we see different colors.

                        One aspect of this question that is important to consider is colorblindness. Tom Stafford writing for the BBC explained the differences between “normal-sighted” and colorblinded people by saying, “They [colorblind people] live among the colour-seeing, getting by on the fact that there is usually some other difference between things of different colours that they can use to tell them apart, such as differences in shade or texture”. Humans have the ability to see different shades and tones of color by the way the light waves hit their eyes similar to the example above. So, shouldn’t this ability be able to be applied to color as well?

An experiment involving colorblind monkeys may have some significance. Maureen and Jay Neitz, through using gene therapy and surgery, were able to make colorblind monkeys react to color as if they have always been able to see it. You can view the results in the video below posted by USA Today.

Humans and monkeys are very similar in genetic makeup so it is plausible that a similar approach used on humans would yield some results about the perception of color. But as is mentioned up in the video, it is not very practical in this form to subject humans to.

We also have to consider what is objective and subjective in answering this question. This is detailed on a webpage on stating, “the physical properties of light may be objective (measurable) but the names we give the light we see (e.g., “color”) are entirely subjective”. This being the case, we all reference the colors by name. But if the names and how we classify the colors are subjective, then answering if we see the “same” colors becomes a little muddier.

In conclusion, I am not really sure if we see the same colors. There seems to be a lot of information above that could be considered promising, and also inconclusive. The monkey experiment draws a familiar connection to something we discussed in class. Andrew talked about how animal experiments are specific to the animals and they take a long time to conduct. But the results of the monkey experiment clearly show the monkeys are responding to color. Many factors go into answering this question, and it may be a question we can never answer because we cannot possibly know how or what the people around us perceive.

Are Lasers The Future of Warfare?

Most of us have seen the massively popular science fiction blockbusters like Star Wars and Star Trek. A big part of the action set pieces of these films are the massive battle scenes. The bright colors and loud blasts of the laser weapons stimulate our minds and are a creative aspect of the distant future. But are we really that far off from utilizing lasers to fight our battles?


On December 10, 2014, The United States Navy announced that the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) was stationed successfully on a navy ship. It may not look like the Deathstar, but it is still an impressive looking piece of engineering.


Not only does the LaWS look the part, it also performs with deadly efficiency. Rear Admiral Matthew L. Klunder, the chief of naval research, offered some insight on the importance of laser weapons to the navy saying, “Laser weapons are powerful, affordable, and will play a vital role in the future of naval combat operations”. He goes on to talk about the specific weapons capabilities detailing, “We ran this particular weapon, a prototype, through some extremely tough paces, and it locked on and destroyed the targets we designated with near-instantaneous lethality”.

That “near-instantaneous lethality” can be viewed in this video posted by the US navy research official youtube channel.

However, the initial question was “Are Lasers the Future of Warfare”. Perhaps a new question to bring in is can we ethically use lasers in war?

               New Technologies and the Law of Armed Conflict describes how technologies are considered ethically. “In general terms, technologies which might be thought to lower the political cost of war may raise issues under jus ad bellum, while new military technologies that might be used in an indiscriminate manner or which might cause disproportionate harm (or perhaps cause harm in novel ways), may raise issues under jus in bello”(pg.89). The second part of this is important to consider, these laser weapons can be controlled with a video game like controller seen in the above video. Is this novelizing the use of the weapon? I think that is a possible situation considering how many new military technologies have been moving more towards the autonomous rather than human controlled.

The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons from the United Nations at Geneva is also important to look at. The convention details weapons that are to be restricted from war due to their excessive injuries or indiscriminate effects they cause. One protocol of this convention lists “Blinding Laser Weapons”. Some form of laser weapons are already banned for military use. In the event that the LaWS would not kill a target, the burns and psychological damage the recipient would receive would be enough to harken back to the time of the atom bomb.
In summary, are lasers the future of warfare? I would say so. As technology and science advances, these kind of inventions are inevitably going to be created. If a nation wishes to be in a position of power, their scientific achievements are what guide them to their spot. The matter of how long they will remain the future of warfare is another matter completely.

First Blog Post.

Hello! My name is Nick Sivak and I have lived here in State College almost all my life. I’m majoring in Video and Film Production, and that is part of the reason why I took this course. Filmmakers look at things differently all the time and showing people a new way to look at things is an important aspect of a filmmaker. That is why I chose this class, to look at different topics in a new light. I am not planning to be a science major because science can get very complicated and there is very much that is not known about all of existence. Science classes in high school were interesting sure, but it just didn’t mix well with me. I like a little more structure in my life and being able to entertain people is something I found more interesting.

Speaking of looking at things in a new way, here is a 360° video from the cockpit of a jet that can be watched in virtual reality.

And likewise here is an interesting optical illusion my physics teacher showed us last year.