Author Archives: Stephen Connelly

Does Adderall Actually Help You Study?

adderall science blog

With finals week coming up, it seems that everyone is cramming to make sure these final three weeks are at least somewhat successful. Between papers, projects, and ,of course, final exams, everyone has something on their plate this time of year. It is difficult to keep up with the load of work that is piled on at the end of the semester, so how do people stay afloat? Apparently, according to one study, 1 in 5 college kids use some form of study drug such as Adderall or Ritalin to focus on the tasks at hand.

These prescription drugs have their dangers, no doubt. However, many feel that the drugs will help them succeed in the coming weeks. Still, will taking an Adderall lead to better grades during finals week?

The question is not whether the drugs will cause the user to focus more. That is what they are supposed to do and they almost always will do just that. But what is the user actually focusing on when they are taking the drugs? Just because you are on Adderall does not mean you will be any more inclined to study. You will be more focused on whatever task you are doing, and they may be something entirely different and unrelated to the school work you need to be doing. This can be nicely phrased as “being productively unproductive.”

In a Quebec observational study done focusing on children with ADHD over the course of 14 years, it was found that despite the increase in dosage of Ritalin, grades were not higher. The same focus issues plagued these kids’ grades whether they were on the medication, had a small dosage, or a large dosage. The changes in individual child’s dosages, whether it be from none to small or small to large, did not impact grades.

This study was not focused on non-ADHD college kids, but it did focus on the same idea of grades. It comes back to the idea of “being productively unproductive.” Your focus level may change, but your interest level will not, which may lead to using this extra-focus on something completely unrelated.

Does Adderall or Ritalin actually help a struggling college student get better grades? There is no evidence that suggests it, but it really isn’t something that can be tested morally with these drugs being illegal without prescription and dangerous to use for non-prescribed purposes.

Is Stopping at Red Lights Bad for You?

red light science blog

The road ahead of you is free-flowing finally! You get passed all that traffic and are finally moving at a good pace. As you come up to the intersection, the light turns yellow. The car ahead of you stops, and if your in New Jersey, you honk because it was clear both of you could have made it through. None-the-less, you are stopped at this red light and it is pretty annoying. But what if I told you it was also bad for your health to be stopped at this light?

A University of Surrey study found that drivers stopped at traffic lights are “exposed to harmful nanoparticles” while stopped at a traffic light. These nanoparticles are being released by the vehicles at the lights. According to the study, approximately 25% of the time drivers are exposed to these nanoparticles, they are at traffic lights. However, they are only at traffic lights 2% of the time they spend driving. That is a significant amount of exposure for an occurrence that only happens 1/50 of the time one spends driving.

So will keeping the windows shut or turning off the fan keep the amount of exposure to these harmful nanoparticles down? The study tested this theory with an experimental trial featuring a control group where the windows were wide open (See Table: Set 1). The trial also featured groups where the windows were shut, but with the fan slightly on with the heat (Set 2) and fully on (Set 3). Another group featured the windows shut with the heat on (Set 4).The last group featured the windows shut and the fans off (Set 5).

Table A explains the Particle Number Size Distribution (PND) which is the exposure to the nanoparticles in each setting. Set 1 is clearly the most exposure, whether it is morning or evening, with the windows down. Using both heat and fan in Set 2 also created more exposure than the other choices. Using the fan and heat individually in Set 3 and Set 4, respectively, created slightly less exposure than the previous settings. The least exposure during the settings was Set 5 with windows up with the fans and heat off.

Table from the University of Surrey Study on

(a) In–cabin PNDs for Set1, Set2, Set3, Set4 and Set5, respectively. (b) Outside ...

This study, even though it is individual, does indicate the nanoparticles are least harmful at traffic lights if the windows are shut with the fans and heat off. The exposure was least in this case. There are not other studies to compare with this studies results or do a meta-analysis on, but the well-done nature of the experimental trial makes its findings somewhat trustworthy. Based on the results, it appears stopping at traffic lights is harmful and it is wise to keep the windows shut with the fans/heat off when stopped at a red light or avoid intersections as much as possible.


Why Do People Choke Under Pressure?

science blog choking

What is it about the big moments that causes pressure? Why is something that you have done thousands of times, on a significantly smaller stage, become incredibly difficult when the pressure mounts? We’ve all been there, whether it be a penalty kick with a game on the line or a test that counts for half the grade in a class. A lot of this pressure has to do with psychology.

When something is incredibly important to you, anything can become difficult. It comes down to this, “Thinking too much about what you are doing, because you are worried about losing the lead or worrying about failing in general.” This is known as “paralysis by analysis.” This occurs when you try to analyze every aspect of what you are doing. While you are hoping to guarantee a successful performance, generally “paralysis by analysis” leads to a botched performance commonly known as choking.

Take a serve in tennis for example. There is a formula to every serve that becomes muscle memory for the player. Everything from the ball toss to the follow through is expected to be one fluid movement. The tennis player can play an entire match just with muscle memory, not having to think about the shot. However, serving for the match at Wimbledon, the process gets tricky. The tennis player will start to analyze how high they toss the ball or when they strike the ball with their racket. This is when the mistakes occur. Muscle memory goes right out the window because of overthinking.

Further analyze this situation with a control group and experimental group. Take shooting a free-throw in basketball for example. The control, being shooting a free-throw under little pressure in a regular game scenario, and the experimental group, being shooting a free-throw in the playoffs with higher pressure. Using the game’s greats, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, as examples, playoff free-throw shooting percentage was lower than regular season in both cases. Bryant dropped from an 85% free-throw shooter in the regular season to 80% in the playoffs for his career, while Jordan dropped from 83% to 79%. While the numbers do not seem like that big of a drop, they are based on thousands of free-throws meaning the difference is somewhat significant.

The stats above are indicative of only two players, but the fact that well-known players regarded as clutch can have a similar drop off in pressure moments is interesting. One interesting study out of Johns Hopkins University found that those who hate losing the most, meaning there is more on the line for them, are more greatly affected by pressure. The study, while observational, investigates the tendency of those who choke to have a greater fear of losing than a desire to win.

With the evidence observed, it appears to all come down to mental viewpoint. If you are driven by a fear of losing, you may incur more pressure. If you incur more pressure, there is a greater likelihood that you will choke.

Whose liver is at Greater Risk? The Obese’s or the Binge-Drinker’s

science blog

If most people could name one thing about the liver, it would probably be its function to deal with alcohol ion the body. Many also know the abuse the liver of a binge-drinker may go through. However, is alcohol doing the greatest amount of damage to your liver?

Studies have shown that there is another possible factor in the damage of a person’s liver. Obesity, it is believed, is more dangerous than alcohol consumption when it comes to liver diseases.

A study was done based on data obtained from the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening database. Over 107,000 women reported their BMI’s and alcohol consumption rates. Without a true control group, this study would be observational.

Through the obtained data, investigators looked at hospital records and death certificates with any mention of liver disease. They proceeded to follow up with the people being observed. The findings can be seen in the table below from

Table. Influence of Weight and Alcohol on Risk for Liver Outcomes


BMI (kg/m²) Alcohol (Units/Week) Adjusted Hazard Ratio (95% Confidence Interval)
<30 <21 1.0
≥30 <21 1.7 (1.4–2.0)
<30 ≥21 1.8 (1.0–3.4)
≥30 ≥21 2.4 (0.8–7.6)



Its findings suggest that non-binge drinking women who are obese are at as great of a risk for liver disease as binge-drinkers who are at a healthy BMI. The findings are surprising because of the amount of attention the affects of drinking has on the liver gets.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is now being more closely studied as a result of the idea that obesity has a great affect on the liver, like alcohol. NAFLD is caused by a buildup of fat in the liver.  Those that suffer from NAFLD are supposedly not likely to show symptoms until the very late stages of the disease.

What about obesity makes it as dangerous to the liver as alcohol? Possibly the fact that the fats go to the liver and cannot be broken down which causes fatty liver, unlike alcoholic fatty liver, which occurs because of the production of toxic metabolites.

To wrap it all up, either way, the liver is under severe abuse when exposed to obesity or heavy amounts of drinking. Both are major causes of the rise of liver disease. source of study

It’s a myth! Drinking Alcohol Doesn’t Actually Kill Brain Cells

We have all had that health class where the motto for about a month was “alcohol is bad!” It does all these horrible things to your body including killing brain cells. There really isn’t any disputing the fact that alcohol is bad for you and it does horrible things to your body, but one of those horrible things might just be a myth.

So wait, where did this idea that alcohol kills brain cells come from? Like many inadvisable substances at very high doses, alcohol can kill brain cells. How high of a dosage of alcohol is needed to kill brain cells? Well, this amount of alcohol would kill you before it gets to your brain cells. So even the heaviest of drinkers really aren’t killing brain cells in their lifetime.

Debunking this myth all started with a study in 1993 by Grethe Jensen. Jensen did an observational study in which he counted the neurons in a group of deceased alcoholics and deceased non-alcoholics. Jensen found that the difference in neurons was non-existent between the two groups.

So could this study have been a false positive? It is possible, but many studies similar to this have been conducted since  with similar results backing up the findings. A meta-analysis was conducted in 2009 which helped debunk the myth with its findings amongst many studies suggesting alcohol does not kill brain cells.

Why would there have been a belief that alcohol kills brain cells in the first place? Remember that alcohol is a disinfectant and has the ability to kill bacteria and cells. However, this fact alone is not enough to leave the impression it kills brain cells. The fact that alcohol affects on the brain can be debilitating probably could lead to the conclusion it has permanent affects on brain cells. Yet, studies suggest otherwise.

The fact of the matter is, alcohol consumption at a humanly possible level does not kill brain cells. Still, keep in mind, alcohol has other damaging affects on the body which have not been disproved… yet.



Science Behind the Header

Having announced her retirement from international soccer on Tuesday, Abby Wambach will go down as one of the greatest goal scorers in soccer history with an international record of 184 goals across her 15 year career. She was known for her ability to head the ball. In fact, 77 of her goals were scored with her head. So what goes into the mechanics behind heading to make a person as dangerous in the air as Wambach was?

On of my previously written blogs discuses the dangers behind heading. It references how learning the proper techniques of heading can decrease the hazard of heading even if the exposure is high. So just to start with some good fundamentals, one should keep eyes locked on the ball when it is in flights and make contact with the forehead. It’s also a good practice to follow-through as the header becomes more powerful and decreases the impact suffered on the head.

Now onto the actual aspect of a powerful header. A good header starts with core strength in the body. The best headers typically have strong necks, shoulders, and cores which allows them to propels there bodies towards the ball. A good header needs the entire body to be involved.

Believe it or not, good headers start at the knees and legs. Whether you jump to reach the header or not, bending of the knees and putting pressure on the legs starts the momentum that with follow up through the body to the neck and head.

  Figure 2

Movement in the torso and back is needed next to continue the power in the header. Arching your back is like winding up to make contact. It provides the initial power that is needed to drive the header.

All of this build-up leads to the neck. The neck is how the head makes contact with the ball and drives it downward. Snapping the neck is a little motion that encompasses all of the power built up through the body to effectively drive through a ball. Keeping the shot down is also effective for creating more pace on the ball and challenging the keeper more with a lower shot.

Finally, the last part of the header is making the right contact. The ball connecting with the head just north or south of the forehead makes the build-up to the header pointless. No power or accuracy can be created this way. To effectively head the ball, it must connect with the forehead. Keeping eye contact with the ball until it reaches the forehead is helpful in this regard.

What should the final product look like?

No Helmets, No Problem

Rugby has a reputation for being a brutal game. Anyone who has watched or played the sport can tell you it lives up to its reputation. One of the major distinctions between rugby and football is the fact that rugby players do not wear helmets and generally do not have any sort of head protection. Yet despite not having the head protection, it has been reported rugby players suffer fewer concussions than their football counterparts.

What is it about the sport of rugby that the concussion problem, while still taken seriously, is not at the high risk level it is in other full-contact sports such as football? Tackling technique in rugby plays a huge role in the lesser impact of head injuries on the sport. Football players tend to tackle in an improper way. The tackler’s head feels the impact of almost every hit. Compare this to rugby where proper tackling techniques are taught. Rugby players get their heads off to the side of the tackle. This helps avoid too much impact to the tackler’s head.

While tackler’s are at risk from bad technique, it’s obvious the person being tackled is similarly at risk of head injuries. In football, it seems that the tackler just slams into the ball-carrier. This puts the person being tackled as well as the tackler at risk. It doesn’t help that football players tackle higher than rugby players do, risking direct head contact. Rugby players are taught a technique called wrapping. This technique has rugby players wrapping themselves around the ball-carrier and brings him to the ground instead of just slamming into him. Rugby players aim lower, and with the wrapping technique, don’t put the ball-carrier at risk of injuries to the knees or legs.

While the rugby technique for tackling is successful, there is a struggle to integrate this exact style to football. As noted, football is a game that is more separated by inches than rugby. Tackling lower in football using the football style of tackling could potentially injure the ball-carrier. Regardless, there needs to be a change in the tackling technique in football if the risk of concussions in the game is to be lowered. Rugby doesn’t have it all figured out either. There are risks of concussions in the sport as well as an increasing risk of other injuries. However, they seem to be a step ahead of football in concussion management, which is becoming more and more scrutinized with each report. 200 rugby

SC 200 rugby (1)

Does Beer Before Liquor Really Make You Sicker?

You may have heard the saying “beer before liquor, never been sicker; liquor before beer, you’re in the clear.” Many feel it is best to start any night out with a few shots instead of beer for this reason. There are definitely cases where the old saying is true, but is this just a coincidence or are other factors involved? Is there actual science to the idea that beer before liquor will actually make you sicker?

Some sources disagree with this theory stating, “it’s the amount of alcohol you consume –- not the order of your drinks –- that matters.” This theory would make sense, but does it explain the correlation between starting your night off with beer then liquor, and ending it with bad experiences on the bathroom floor? The saying is labeled as a myth in most studies with this idea in mind. It doesn’t matter the order in which you drink, but take this idea put forth by The Baltimore Sun.

Let me give you an example of why I don’t believe this WebMD-ness: If I have, say, four beers over the course of a night on the town, and then I take one shot of whiskey at the end of the night, I will be in a bad state. Not because of the quantity of alcohol consumed, but because I just tossed a shot of whiskey on top a stomach full of beer.

Another theory to this idea is that starting with beer, you don’t have the same level of intoxication you may get starting with liquor. Liquor, having a higher alcohol concentration, could possibly sneak up on you later in the night should you decide to weight until after beer to drink it. While you may be feeling perfectly fine after drinking beer, the added liquor could put you over the top. Dr. Rueben Gonzales, a professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Texas, put it this way. “So if you start out drinking beer at a certain rate, and then continue drinking a mixed drink at the same rate, it’s like driving slowly and then stepping on the gas. Your mouth may not know the difference in the alcohol concentration, but your body will.”

In truth, the saying “beer before liquor, never been sicker” is more likely a myth and other factors apply to why sometimes the myth holds true. However, the factors as to why it sometimes holds true can be enough for the saying to be applied when drinking.

What Causes Hangovers?

You wake up on Sunday morning (or probably afternoon). Saturday was amazing. Penn State beat up on Buffalo and you hit up downtown State College in celebration. You should wake up with many good feelings because of the previous night, but the only thing on your mind is “I need Advil right now, why did I slap the bag last night?”

Hangovers are the struggle we all deal with after one of these nights. So what is it exactly that causes these Sunday morning struggles and what can be done to prevent them? A hangover is, for the most part, caused by the dehydrating effects of alcohol. These effects can be best explained that “When absorbed through the digestive system alcohol inhibits the secretion of vasopressin, a hormone which regulates the retention of water in the body. In response the body begins releasing water through the urinary system, which eventually leads to dehydration. This lack of moisture causes headaches, dry mouth and of course, thirst.” Dehydration is a common problem the morning after, which makes drinking water prior to falling asleep after a night of drinking crucial to avoid many of the nasty problems associated with a hangover.

It is not just dehydration that makes people feel off the morning after drinking. When the liver breaks down alcohol, it turns it into acetic acid, which can be more toxic to the body than actual alcohol. This can add to the sick feeling you may already be experiencing. The alcohol still in the body, not broken down can also line the stomach, which leads to the nauseous feeling. Another possible cause of irritation the next morning are high levels of cytokines. These cytokines usually help fight off infections, but can cause headaches and nausea if levels are too high. Different drinks are also rumored to have different affects on hangovers. Chemicals can differ in alcohol and these different chemicals can cause different hangovers. For the most part, the chemicals in “darker and sweeter” drinks cause worse hangovers.

Hangovers are a struggle sometimes we have to deal with. Drinking more water after a night of drinking can help reduce the effects of the hangover the next morning, but not everything can be solved by this remedy.

Is Heading in Soccer Dangerous?

Heading in soccer has become a controversial issue especially at the youth levels with the increased knowledge of concussions in recent years. As a player that was always regarded as tall within any team, I took to heading as an advantage over other players. Being tall and having the ability to head a soccer ball made me a more valuable player. As I play to this day I do not think much about head injuries. I have sustained multiple concussions in my time playing soccer, however only one of which came directly from heading the ball. Personally, the idea of banning headers in soccer even at the youth levels makes me cringe, but there may be some facts behind headers drastically increasing the number of head injuries.

First off, heading might seem like the main danger for concussions. However, studies have shown that there is just as much of a risk in getting a concussion from dangerous and reckless plays in soccer as there are in heading. The teaching of safer play could decrease the amount of concussions in youth soccer more than eliminating heading.

Of course heading a soccer ball can lead to concussions. There is a proper way to do headers though. Most concussions stemming from heading a soccer ball come from improper techniques of heading the ball. If heading is continued to be allowed in youth soccer, proper coaching of heading a ball should be employed. But still, are there unnecessary risks involved with heading a ball?

The biggest risk involved with heading a soccer ball comes from cumulative damage from heading the ball too often. While more commonly associated with football players, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has had cases in soccer from constant heading. That is the main danger of heading in soccer. Constantly smashing your head against something will cause these types of problems. The risk in heading is not from a single header, but the accumulation of headers a player would do. With that being said, it should also be noted that one researcher noted a threshold of 1,100 headers in a single year, which is a pretty significant amount for even a professional player let alone a youth player. It is believed that beyond that threshold, “heading may be problematic.”
Heading in soccer, as with many plays in sports, have its risks. However, eliminating heading from the game would not eliminate the impact of head injuries on the game. To decrease the number of head injuries in soccer, safer play needs to be taught. This encompasses not only toning down excessively physical play, but also teaching better heading techniques to players.

Do Transgender Athletes Have a Competitive Advantage?

During the 1977 U.S. Open, an interesting story arose from the women’s singles competition. Renee Richards, a transgender woman, was set to compete in the women’s tennis tournament after winning a court case giving her the right to partake. Different organizations in sports chimed in on the controversy. The United States Olympic Committee argued that “there is competitive advantage for a male who has undergone a sex change surgery as a result of physical training and development as a male.” Nearly forty years after Richards competed at the U.S. Open, there is still no clear single ruling ac ross the sports world on transgender athletes competing in sports.

While there has not been a prime example of a transgender athlete at the highest level of sport recently, a number of transgender athletes have been involved in controversies regarding their gender status. Fallon Fox, a professional MMA fighter, has been criticized for competing in the women’s division of MMA following a sex reassignment surgery. Those against Fox competing in women’s MMA have argued that she is built differently. from having a greater bone density to having larger hands and wider shoulders. Dr. Eric Villain, a medical geneticist and the director of the Institute for Society and Genetics at U.C.L.A., claims she has “fulfilled all conditions” in reference to competing as a female. Hormone replacement therapy adjusts bone density, muscle mass, and negates many advantages transgender athletes supposedly have according to Villain.

Many supposed unfair advantages transgender athletes have, tend to be regarded as un-scientific and largely myth. As of today, many major athletic organizations such as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the NCAA, which is the largest governing body for collegiate athletics in the United States, have done studies on the subject. Many world sports organizations have released policies based on this knowledge allowing transgender athletes to compete under certain conditions such as having undergone sex reassignment surgery and having had hormone treatments for at least two years. However, other organizations such as CrossFit, which holds the increasingly popular CrossFit Games on a yearly basis, still has not created a policy on the status of transgender athletes. In 2014, CrossFit ruled that Chloie Jönsson, a transgender woman, would have to compete in the Men’s Division of the CrossFit Games “based upon Jönsson being born a male.”

With the evidence presented, it does not appear transgender athletes have a competitive advantage. Many arguments against allowing transgender athletes to compete are based on myth instead of scientific fact. It appears that post-sex reassignment surgery and following a significant amount of time taking hormone treatments, the advantages of being a transgender athlete are non-existent.!policies-by-organization/c1vyj

First Post


Hey everyone, My name is Steve and I’m from Morristown, New Jersey. After a 3-and-a-half hour drive, I ended up here at Penn State. That science gen ed requirement brought me to this class. My academic advisor recommended the class and it fits the schedule so here I am.

I’m definitely not a science person. There was no way any major or minor having to do with science would end up on my degree. There’s that and the fact that I have a passion for journalism. Also a big sports fan, so majoring in broadcast journalism seemed logical.

Oh yeah. I love America. And soccer. So click this link cause we won the World Cup this year.