Author Archives: Ajay Shethna

Sugar Solutions: The Fight Between Real and Fake Sugar

I distinctly remember when I was a kid my mother told me never to use artificial sweeteners or aspartame as its also known and my first reaction was “Why?”. Aren’t aspartame and sugar the same thing? They taste the same and they have the same sweetening effect so what makes them different? Well for one aspartame is created by humans meaning it’s chemically engineered in a Equal lab somewhere in the world versus real sugar which is harvested directly from a natural source: Sugar Canes. One of the biggest discussions of our era is whether these artificial sweeteners actually cause/lead to health problems in the future.

An article written by The Mayo Clinic says otherwise, in the article they list some pros of aspartame like for example how it is actually sweeter than real sugar and contains little to no calories and some cons such as how a study conducted on labs rats showed that saccharin(a component of aspartame) lead to bladder cancer in rats. Yet even among those cons researchers have stated that there is no legitimate scientific evidence to prove that aspartame is actually harmful to the human body. Now while this isn’t a pass on aspartame(since there could be potentially long-term consequences) we can all rest a bit easier that after evidence-based research was done with the conclusion that aspartame is no more harmful to the body than sugar.


According to an article by The American Cancer Society aspartame is synthesized using two amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine. The article refers to aspartame as being about 200 times sweeter than sugar meaning simply that you would get more sugar with less calories, likewise the ACS has the duty to determine if this substance is a carcinogen or a cancer-causing agent and from multiple tests and studies performed both on animals and humans they have determined that there is no sign of increased cancer in those who use aspartame over sugar. At the same time aspartame was reported to cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and digestive problems but none of these have been scientifically linked to aspartame itself. So all in all we can conclude that aspartame is not really as harmful as people make it out to be and that the people telling you it is are probably relying solely on Hypothesis-Base Testing over Evidence-Base Testing.

Video Gains: What You Stand To Gain From Video Gaming

Video Gaming has been negatively stigmatized for so long due to a multitude of factors ranging from increased violence in children to social isolation from staying indoors too much. While these factors may show up in some cases the general trend has actually strayed away from these problems and research has found that video games can in fact actually improve cognitive functioning. In an article by Psychology Today they set out to prove that rather than having a multitude of negative affects on children video games can actually improve a multitude of cognitive functions, the article lists perception, attention, memory, and decision-making as a few examples.

According to both the article by Psychology Today and the American Psychological Association perception is increased because video games bombard the player with visual stimuli, especially action-games such as Call of Duty and other shooters which require quick decision-making and the ability to receive and process all that visual stimuli in a very short amount of time. Likewise what is so interesting about this theory(in my opinion) is that each genre of video gaming strengthens a new area of cognitive functioning. For example a role-playing game would increase the decision-making skills of the player as many role playing games give players a wide variety of options to choose from. This is especially the case with MMORPG’s(Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) where players can increase not only their decision-making skills but their social skills as well when they are required to join other players to win promoting teamwork and a group mentality. This is also the case with puzzle based games which would improve memory and information-processing skills. Even IOS games such as Flappy Bird would improve cognitive function since hand-eye coordination is a necessary requirement to be good at the game which can translate to increased motor skills outside the game. video-games

BBC News wrote an article about an observational study performed on children at the Max-Planck Institute of Human Development by Professor Simone Kuhn where she studied children for a two month period as they played Super Mario 64 DS and her results line up with the theory of this article, in the end of the two month period she used an (fMRI) functional MRI to note the effect on the patients brains. She found that in the brain the Prefrontal Cortex, Right Hippocampus, and Cerebellum all grew after the two month period each one involved in motor coordination. Now while the take away of this article is inherently about the benefits of video gaming there is of course such a thing as too much video gaming, I do not encourage people to play video games to the point where it becomes detrimental to productivity. I am merely trying to prove that the negative stigma around video gaming is incorrect and people playing video games aren’t going to grow up being violent social outcasts with a weight problem rather if video games are played in moderation there is a lot of evidence for an increase in basic human functioning meaning video games can in fact enhance learning not deter it.

Why Are Dogs “Man’s Best Friend”?


Depending on the type of person you are when the word domestic pet comes up the first thing usually thought of is dog. Dogs are loyal animals that if treated properly love their owners unconditionally. But why do we consider them “Man’s Best Friend” when they’re just animals?  PBS states that the heritage of dogs traces directly to that of the gray wolf, meaning that many of the biological behaviors exhibited in wolfs are transferred directly to dogs, for example wolfs are primarily pack animals meaning they hunt in packs and are extremely loyal to each other. They use their numbers to survive in the wild and are very feral because it is necessary for their survival, however dogs are also pack animals that have been domesticated, so while they do not have a need for that kill or be killed instinct that is so common in wolves they are still fiercely loyal to those they consider part of their pack i.e. humans.

Likewise according to Psychology Today a study published in the Applied Animal Behavior Science Journal stated that dogs seem to have similar personality traits to their owners. The study was conducted on five major personality traits:

1) Neuroticism- a persons innate disposition towards sensitivity or confidence

2) Extraversion- whether a person is open and social, usually associated with bubbly personalities

3) Agreeableness- how kind or socially inclusive someone is, whether they have a nice/friendly personality

4) Conscientiousness- which determines how proactive a person is in all aspects of life

5) Openness- this refers to the subjects willingness to try new things but according to the journal it also refers to the subjects level of intelligence.


These were all measured in the study by having the dog owners rate themselves in each of these categories and then rate their pets in the same categories. What the study found was each owner rated their pet very similarly to their own personality but researchers understood that there could potentially be some bias involved in what they referred to as “Projection” or the owners translating their own personality traits on their dogs. So to account for this bias the study also took data from other family members having them perform the same procedure in order to get a better estimate of whether or not these dogs really did manifest the same personality traits as their owners. They were shocked to find that in 4 out of the 5 personality traits even the other family members saw similar characteristics in both the dog and its owner meaning that dogs did in fact inhabit their owner’s personality traits. This is another good indicator of why dogs are our best friends, if our dogs inherit our personality traits then we are prone to loving and caring for our animal companions as they are an animal representation of ourselves.

Ibeyi, a Siberian Husky dog waits to be groomed before competing at El Salvador Kennel show in San Salvador, on February 24, 2008. Over 200 breeders of El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica participate in the canine beauty contest organized by El Salvador Kennel Club. AFP PHOTO/Jose CABEZAS. (Photo credit should read Jose CABEZAS/AFP/Getty Images)

Not only that but a recent study by NPR shows that dogs understand the human language much better than we previously thought. According to MRI scans of dogs brains they get a surge of dopamine every time a praise is said with positive intonation. Scientists have recently studied dogs brains and have come to the conclusion that dogs process language in the same way that humans do, their left hemisphere processes words while their right hemisphere processes intonation so dogs are actually rewarded by their pleasure pathway every time they are praised by their owners. They only respond to praise with proper intonation though meaning that dogs can actually pick up when their owner doesn’t mean something he/she is saying. For example if the owner said “Good Boy” with a flat tone the pleasure pathway would not respond and there would be no rewarding feeling for the dog. We can conclude from this study that the way we speak to our dogs has a big impact on their levels of happiness and that when we praise our dogs properly they respond in a way that is similar to a human if we were being praised for a job well done. So all in all the take away message should be, treat your dogs right because if you do they will always have your back and they are smarter than you think.



Is Procrastination a good thing?

Well that depends!

According to UCSD professor Frank Partnoy procrastination is split into two different levels, one being Active Procrastination and the other Passive Procrastination. Usually when we think of procrastination we think of a lazy dude chillin out on his sofa as he eats potato chips and watches Netflix all day. This stereotype is best characterized as passive procrastination where procrastination is just an excuse to be ultra lazy. This sort of procrastination is clearly a problem. We’ve all heard, taken part in, or bore witness to passive procrastination but what about active procrastination, what makes that different?


Professor Partnoy characterizes active procrastination as the idea that “active procrastination means you realize that you are unduly delaying mowing the lawn or cleaning your closet, but you are doing something that is more valuable instead.” For example, you have a homework assignment thats due in 40 minutes but you also remembered that today is trash day, its very clear that doing your homework is far more important than taking out the trash so you choose to ACTIVELY postpone taking out the trash in order to as Professor Partnoy puts it “[do] something that is more valuable instead”. Partnoy advocates that we should analyze how much time we have to make a decision or perform a task and then wait until the last possible moment to do it. Partnoy argues that procrastination is “a universal state of being for humans. We will always have more things to do than we can possibly do, so we will always be imposing some sort of unwarranted delay on some tasks”. Research into decision-making across multiple fields of work found that many professionals follow this exact same mindset. Partnoy delved deep into research in fields like sports, comedy, medicine, military strategy, and even dating to examine the decision-making process that each of these industries rely on and he was shocked to find that the overall trend in these industries is to procrastinate until the last possible moment before making any decisions.

For example Partnoy uses the idea of a professional tennis player saying “a professional tennis player has about 500 milliseconds to return a serve. A tennis court is 78 feet baseline-to-baseline, and professional tennis serves come in at well over 100 miles per hour. Most of us would say that a professional tennis player is better than an amateur because they are so fast. But, in fact, what I found and what the studies of superfast athletes show is that they are better because they are slow. They are able to perfect their stroke and response to free up as much time as possible between the actual service of the ball and the last possible millisecond when they have to return it”. This idea can best be explained by the fact that when we take the most available amount of time to make a decision we give ourselves the most available amount of information about that decision and we allow our minds to process the information and compare it against other decisions we may have made. Partnoy believes that “Innovation goes at a glacial pace and should go at a glacial pace” meaning that no one really thinks of a spectacular idea on the fly, great ideas and great decisions are based on carefully thought out plans and DELAY.

If this subject interests you check out these two books listed below:

  1. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
  2.  Wait: The Art and Science of Delay by Frank Partnoy

For more sources:

Try Fitting A Round Peg in a Square Hole

Hi! My name is Ajay Shethna and I don’t think I will ever be a science major. Try fitting a round peg in a square hole and you’ll understand the relationship between me and science. However I’ve always been interested in the questions science can answer and its ability to explain the natural world, I like that science is always about speculation because nothing is permanent. Likewise while there are so many questions that humanity has answered there are twice as many questions that we have not and science provides an outlet for those answers.

Image result for galaxy image

Yet I still can’t be a science major because when I take the classes and learn the lessons it becomes less about what questions do I want answered by science and more about learning an endless amount of facts that usually just go right over my head. However SC200 provides exactly what im looking for in a class about science, its less about fact retention and memorization and more about the limit of our classes creativity in what we choose to talk about. I feel like thats an amazing concept because it gives me the ability to think scientifically even though im not looking at formulas or calculating for molar mass. This is a link to something I have always been interested in, this link talks about the formation of a dark matter galaxy and I personally am interested in how dark matter is created and how an entire galaxy could be created out of dark matter. Im looking forward to working with all of you in class!