Author Archives: Angela Maria Napolitano

Beam Me Up Scotty

You have no idea how many times in my life I have wished that teleportation could be a reality. I love to travel, as in I love to be where I’m traveling to, however the traveling itself has gotten a bit tedious for me. I’m sick of long car rides, and I hate having to go through the struggle of airports. It would be incredible if I could have a little teleportation device to simply push a button on or hop into a teleportation machine and it would send me wherever I want to go in barley any time at all. Unfortunately, this technology doesn’t exist. We are on the way there though! I was curious, so I tried to figure out what sort of research is being done on teleportation technology.

Image result for teleportation

I found one research paper published which reported that a group of European researchers managed to successfully complete a quantum transport of photons a distance of about 88 miles between to Canary Islands! This article discussed how this success was accomplished and reported just a few short days after Chinese researchers reported transporting photons about 60 miles. The process of quantum teleportation means the information can be sent between two locations helped by a previously shared relationship between the sending and receiving locations.

It’s taken years to even get to this point, and we’re only just now figuring out how to send tiny little photons very short distances. It took the European researchers close to a year just to develop systems that could withstand the weather conditions they would encounter. They also used single-photon detectors to detect the information teleported across the two points, and synced the clocks between these two points.

Both of these successful attempts at quantum teleportation have set the basis for future attempts. We now know the fundamentals behind quatum teleportation. We can really only move forward from here. However, like this article says, neither one of these reports published have been peer-reviewed. This does mean that reports in the future may show slightly different results. The reports are basically just proving that a concept for quantum teleportation is one that can actually be used.

Keeping all of this in mind, we can still hold high hopes that researchers will accomplish some incredible things in regards to quantum teleportion in the coming years. We’re one step closer to a real life Star Trek…

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Cupping Season

Recently, a post about this past Summer Olympics showed up on one of my various social media news-feeds. Unsurprisingly, it was Michael Phelps. In it, he had those round marks all over him like we saw quite a few athletes bearing during those games, left there from the physical therapy technique called cupping therapy. Cupping therapy isn’t a new thing, though it has recently been experiencing a revitalized popularity; it dates back so far that there are records of the ancient Egyptians using it in 1,550 B.C. This therapy technique involves placing special cups on a person’s body, using heat or air to create suction. Many people use it to relieve pain, help with inflammations, blood flow, or as simply a deep-tissue massage. In all methods of cupping therapy (dry, wet, flash, moving, needling, etc.) a therapist lights a flammable substance inside a cup and as the fire goes out, places the cup upside down on the patient’s skin. A vacuum is created by the air cooling inside, which causes the blood vessels to expand and the skin to rise and turn red (that’s the red circles we saw covering all those athletes). Sometimes, a rubber pump is used to cause the suction instead of fire. Now, we have the anecdotal reports of many Olympic athletes, as well as quite a few celebrities, who claim that cupping therapy really works to help relieve them of stress, soreness, and other ailments. However, I wanted to find some actual research to support their claims. I mean, the method has been around for thousands of years right? So it has to have some truth and effectiveness behind it.

I found one study that focused specifically on how traditional cupping therapy effects people who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). CTS is a condition caused by a pinched nerve in the wrist that leads to numbness, tingling, and other such things in the hands and arms. This study was a randomized, controlled, open trial that involved 52 CTS patients who ranged in age all the way from 18 to 70 and who met certain required criteria. 52 is a rather small sample size, which I did not really like to see. Before the trial itself started, each participant went through a physical examination and were told to fill out a questionnaire sheet. Then, the participants were each randomly assigned to one of two groups, wet cupping or local thermal therapy (the control group). The former group went through one treatment of wet cupping, and the control had one local application of heat over their trapezius muscle. Seven days after the treatment, the researchers performed a follow-up.

The results showed that cupping therapy was very significantly more beneficial to the patients than the heat treatment. There was also a lessened amount of disability in daily life among the patients who underwent the cupping method, as well as a lower amount of neck pain, which they had all suffered from at the start of the trial. The results did take into account that around 80% of the patients in both of the groups though that their respective treatments were going to be effective and statistical adjustment for this didn’t change the outcomes. So, it cannot be said that the results were due to the patients’ expectation bias.

Another study, this one also a randomized control trial, was done in Taiwan. The researchers’ goal was to study how effective cupping therapy is for relieving chronic neck and shoulder pain. On a personal note, being someone who has suffered for quite a while with intense neck and shoulder pain, I would love to try out cupping therapy. This study was done as a single-blind experiment in which 60 people (another unfortunately small sample size) were randomly assigned to two different groups. The first group, the cupping group, received fire cupping therapy at three acupuncture points on their shoulders and necks. The control group, on the other hand, was simply told to rest for 20 minutes. This, to me, does not seem like a very effective way to conduct an experiment. The results of this study did show a significant relief of pain in the neck and shoulders due to the cupping therapy, which lends to the support of cupping as an acceptable complementary treatment for pain and other ailments. However, we do have to keep in mind that while the results were significant, this study was done with only 60 people. Results are always, always more reliable when a sample size is bigger.

Because the sample size for the first study was only 52 and the sample for the second was 60, I cannot confidently say that the results of these studies are decent enough proof of cupping therapy effectiveness. There are quite a handful of anecdotal reports that support cupping, and very few reports that do not support it. However the research just is not definitive enough for me. I would need to see better, and larger tests done to really make a statement supporting or rejecting cupping therapy.

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That eyewitness sketch looks a bit too accurate…

I watch a lot of crime shows. I don’t know what it is about them that makes them so entertaining but I just can’t seem to tear myself away. Currently I’ve been binge-watching NCIS, and I noticed something that happens a lot when they’re getting eyewitness reports on a suspect. So many times they’ll show a sketch of a suspect’s face, recalled from the witness’s memory hours, sometimes days after the incident, and it ends up looking nearly exactly like the person they catch. That is just so hard for me to see as believable. Very few people have memories good enough to make recalling all the details perfectly a possibility. Even if we are extremely confident that what we are remembering is what we actually saw, chances are we’re at least a little bit off. As soon as we experience something, our mind immediately begins to forget the details. Now, I strongly believe our ability to remember things is greatly influenced by stress as well. So, how much to eyewitnesses to crimes, especially murders, really remember?

So first off, we need to form a null and an alternative hypothesis. Our null hypothesis is that the accuracy of an eyewitness’s claim is not affected greatly by high emotional levels, such as stress. Our alternative is that the accuracy of an eyewitness’s claim is affected greatly by high emotional levels.

This study about eyewitness memory was done using a group of people who had witnessed a shooting four to five months before the study. 21 people witnessed a shooting which killed one person and seriously injured another; they were all interviewed by the police during the investigation. The shooting happened on a major street outside of a gunshot and so each of the 21 witnesses saw the incident from various vantage points. 13 of these witnesses agreed to participate in this study months later. The researchers took into account inevitable losses or changes in the memories of the participants by looking at the interviews done by the investigating officers in addition to the ones the researchers themselves conducted. The results of both of these interviews ended up showing that the witness’ reports were usually very accurate to the actual incident. The lowest accuracy level, at around 76% for the police interviews and 73% for the research interviews, came from the descriptions of people, while the object descriptions resulted in about 89% accuracy on average for the police and 85% for the researchers. I noticed that there wasn’t much change in the eyewitness reports even after 4 or 5 months. I believe this may be due in part to the fact that people wouldn’t often forget the details of an experience such as this, but also because the researchers asked quite a few in-depth questions that had to have led to memories resurfacing. In regards to stress, the five witnesses who had direct contact with something pertaining to the shooting ended up reporting the most amount of stress during and after it. In this study, stress is recorded as a confounding variable. This unfortunately means that stress was not greatly taken into consideration during the research. However, the witnesses who reported the most amount of stress had memory accuracy levels that were around 70-80%, which was the average. The results of this study do show that there is some inaccuracy in eyewitness reports due to the eyewitnesses being unable to retain some details in their memories, particularly after some time has past. However, the inaccuracy is not as great as I would have thought it would be, which is reassuring to hear. And, it does not seem to be that stress or other such high emotional levels affected the witness’ abilties to recall details of the incident. At least that means that we can usually trust eyewitness accounts to be accurate in most cases.

Police line-up ... a famous scene from the film The Usual Suspects.

Now, this article is a review of a few other studies that have been done on stress as a factor in eyewitness reports. Quite a few of the studies themselves were done around the 1960s to 80s and each was published in credible research journals. The review states that many studies showed that memories before and after an event are occasionally less accurate or forgotten altogether (at least for a temporary time) if the witness was at a high emotional level at the time of the event. But on the other hand, details of the event itself were usually very well retained, even when the event caused high emotional levels. These various studies show that there is less loss of detail in high emotion causing events than there is in events where the witnesses did not feel high emotional levels. So it seems that high emotion responses to events actually increase a witness’s ability to accurately recount details, not decrease it.

I suppose this means that I was wrong. Stress and other such factors do not seem to hinder a person’s ability to recall details of an event. This means that we must accept the null hypothesis. I am, however, disappointed that I wasn’t able to find more studies done on a topic like this one. I would think that it would be an important subject, especially to forensic scientists and investigators. It’s possible that this topic suffers from the file drawer problem, and that studies have been done that were never published.

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Jammin’ and Drivin’

Personally, I like driving. I particularly like driving alone. My reasons for this have to do in part with the fact that I love having that extended period of time where I have the chance to sit and listen to music and jam out in the car by myself. Music just makes me a lot more laid back and happy in general. However many people, such as my own father, believe that listening to music in the car leads to distracted driving. My dad likes to tell me not to listen to music in the car. Sorry dad, but I’m not about to sit in utter silence for long drives, even if I do think you might be right. It makes sense logically that music would be distracting while driving, or would at least affect our driving, however I wanted to find some actual research that back up this anecdotal claim.

I formed the null hypothesis that listening to music in the car does not affect our driving, and the alternative hypothesis that listening to music in the car does affect our driving in some way.

First I found this study, the purpose of which was to look at the braking response time in relation to music volume levels. The study was done with 16 men and 11 women, all licensed drivers, and all between the ages of 19 and 23 years old. They were tested with a driving apparatus in a laboratory that imitated movements involved in driving a car. They went through the test four times, once without music, two more times with music increasing in volume each time, and a forth time while holding a phone conversation with one of the researchers. I was highly disappointed to see that the results of this study showed that listening to music did not greatly affect response times. However, it would be logically to say that these results may be due to external variables. For example, the participants may have been so focused on doing well that they just tuned out the music. They knew they were being tested on driving accuracy so they focused more on the driving and not as much on the music than they normally would have. The music may have also had something to do with it. I know if I’m listening to a song playing that I don’t know, I’m less likely to pay much attention to it. Maybe if the participants were allowed to pick their favorite song to play, like they would do if they were actually driving in their own cars, it would’ve shown how distracted people normally get by music in their cars. I do think that if they used a larger sample size, the results may have been different.

Image result for music in car

Another study, done in the UK with around 1000 participants ranging through all ages, had similar results. The way they gather their information, however, was almost solely through anecdotes. The researchers had the participants answer questions on what music they were listening to, how loud it was, how it made them feel, and other such things. So basically a lot of the information was based on whether or not the person claimed that music made them feel for relaxed, focused, distracted, etc. They did look at driving records and accident reports for the participants. 23 percent of the drivers who had been involved in accidents reported that music had been playing at the time.  Considering this wasn’t the majority, it cannot be said that music had a clear direct causation with the accidents. The results were essentially non-conclusive. It could not be said whether or not music made drivers more distracted or not.

Altogether, I’m disappointed that all of the studies I was able to find did not give me conclusive results. It seems that either the wrong studies are being done, not enough studies have been done, or there aren’t enough people involved in the studies to really get good results. I can neither accept nor reject my null hypothesis, because in some cases, music seemed to affect driving while in others it did not. I do believe though, and I’m sure many people would agree with me, that music does affect driving even if there isn’t solid evidence to support this claim.

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Go to Bed!

I am the sort of person who can more easily stay awake until eight in the morning than wake up at eight in the morning. I go to bed late, and wake up late (at least when I don’t have any where to be). However, one of my roommates likes to go to bed before 10:30 and wakes up at 9:00 nearly every morning. Putting aside the fact that I don’t understand why anyone would willingly get themselves out of bed early in the morning when they could be asleep or how they manage to be friendly, productive people before noon hits, I do wonder how sleeping times affect people’s overall health. Now, my roommate is a very fit, healthy person anyway because she eats well and works out, however I wonder if her sleeping habits have positively affected her as well.

So the null hypothesis is that sleeping times do not have any real, significant affect on people’s health, and so it does not actually matter what time you may decide to go to bed. The alternative hypothesis, on the other hand, is that sleeping times do in fact affect health in some way, and it does matter when we go to sleep. See, I’ll get nine hours of sleep a night and yet still feel exhausted the next day. I’m almost convinced this is because I went to bed at two in the morning and woke up at eleven. I had read things about this before, and I knew it had something to do with circadian rhythms and the like, however I did not know enough to fully understand. Circadian rhythms determine if we prefer to stay up late or wake up early. This is called our chronotype.

Morningness Map 23andMe

First off, according to this study, whether we are “morning” or “night” people, so to speak, has in part to do with our DNA. The study, called a genome-wide association study (or GWAS), was done by 23andMe, a consumer genetics company. A sample of nearly 90,000 people submitted their DNA through spit samples, making  this one of the largest studies about circadian rhythms done using human subjects. The people in the sample were narrowed down from about 135,00 who had taken a survey asking simply if they thought of themselves as night people or morning people. Those who answered neutrally were removed from the experiment. The study’s intention was to find links between various versions of genes and traits specific to being a “morning” or “night” person. It found connections between fifteen different versions of genes, of which seven were close to genes already known to be linked to circadian rhythms. The nearness of the genes indicates that they have similar functions. What I took from this is that, with more research and more studies, scientists could eventually prove with near certainty that being a morning or night person has a direct causation with our DNA. Unfortunately, however, this topic does seem to suffer from the file drawer problem. I believe only the studies that got the desired results have been published.

Now, this study did indicate that what I had previously stated in my alternative hypothesis is correct. Sleeping times do in fact affect our bodies and our health. People who described themselves as “night” people were close to two times as likely to suffer from insomnia, and nearly two-thirds as likely to be diagnosed with sleep apnoea. “Morning” people were less likely to need more than eight hours of sleep, to sleep walk, or even to sweat while they are asleep.

It also showed that “morning people” usually had a lower body mass index than “night people”, and that they were less likely to have depression as well. However, though the two things are correlated, scientists could not find a causation between BMI or depression and being a morning person. Basically, we can’t say that being a night person causes depression, or causes a person to be overweight.

Another study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, was done by Korean researchers with a sample group of 1,620 middle-aged men and women and showed very similar results. As in the above study, they asked their participants to answer a survey to indicate if they thought of themselves as night or morning people. Variables like smoking habits, exercise frequency, alcohol consumption, hypertension, blood pressure, BMI, and other such things were measured beforehand and taken into consideration. The results of this study showed that men who were classified as night people were more likely to have diabetes. And women classified as night people high blood sugar levels and excess body fat around the mid-section. The scientists were unable to find a sure mechanism, however they did state that it was likely these metabolic affects were quite likely related to the consumption of calories after eight at night and being exposed to more artificial light.

Based on the research done by these two groups of scientists, I think we can safely say that sleep times do affect our health; specifically, going to bed later at night affects it negatively. I, personally, would love to do what is best for my health and go to bed earlier. However, being an over-worked college student does not really allow for that.

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Fiber One for Breakfast

I am definitely one of those college students whose diets has suffered immensely since coming to college and no longer having the luxury of healthy home-cooked meals every night. I simply don’t have the time or the resources to eat good, hearty, healthy meals. Instead I find myself turning to things like Fiber One bars for a quick and easy snack. Now, I did used to eat these at home too, but not nearly as often. So I started wondering if these bars are actually good for me. I figured I should do some research for myself instead of relying on the package.

So, as can be inferred, Fiber One bars are not meant as substitute for meal. I can tell you that there definitely isn’t enough to them for them to be able to substitute for a meal. And in addition, we should be looking for other sources of fiber to add to our diets instead of just relying on one bar. The human body needs fiber, and it should always be included in our daily diets because it lends to the health of our digestive systems. Now, Fiber One bars contain about 9 grams of fiber. However, it’s recommended that men eat 38 grams and women eat 25 grams of fiber a day. So don’t rely on one Fiber One bar to get you all the fiber you need for the day! Consider throwing some fruit in your diet, specifically apples; their skins are rich in fiber.

I was really hoping to find some studies that either proved or disproved the hypothesis that Fiber Ones help contribute to a healthy diet. Unfortunately, I found none. If I were to do a study like this, I would have tImage result for fiber one barswo groups, both eating the exact same diet, but with one group eating one Fiber One bar a day while the other doesn’t. However, third variables like starting health, previous dietary habits, hereditary conditions, and more would need to be taken into account. It may well prove difficult to conduct a study like this, especially because I have limited scientific knowledge and cannot form a better idea for an experiment or study.
Now, though Fiber One bars provide us with good nutrients such as fiber and calcium, as well as helping to lower cholesterol, they do of course have some downsides. This article talks about how fiber can be bad when had an excess, particularly when had after not eating enough fiber for a while. Too much fiber all at once can lead to the following: bloating sensations, abdominal cramps, an increase in flatulence, and even the rare occasion of intestinal obstruction. Most of these side effects are temporary, and they do not mean that eating Fiber One bars are bad.

So, in conclusion, it turns out that Fiber One bars are a good thing to eat for a grab-and-go snack. As long as they’re eaten in moderation, and followed by a full meal.

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What is it About White Noise?

When it started storming tonight, I grabbed my laptop and immediately sat right by the open window. I’ve always loved the sound of rain; I’m the sort of person who goes and sits outside on the porch during a thunderstorm just to relax. But why does the sound of rain and other white noise help me and so many other people to relax and to sleep better? Before I even started researching this, I inferred that it’s because white noise reminds us of certain atmospheres that we find relaxing. For example, laying on the beach in the early morning listening to the waves crashing and the seagulls chirping. Or, people watching at an outside cafe where all the sounds of traffic and people eating and talking meld into one. I’m feeling relaxed just thinking about it. However, it’s difficult to say that white noise helps all people relax and sleep better. There are too many variations in people’s preferences and how their mind reacts to things to prove that white noise is good for all.

I listen to white noise (rain, waves, campfires, etc.) a lot, and I think some of the main reasons white noise relaxes include the following:

  1. It blocks out all other noises around us if we have it loud enough. That way, if we’re trying to sleep, no other sudden noises will jerk us back to consciousness.
  2. It’s extremely easy to become used to the sounds playing in our ears when they play at constant levels, so we have it blocking out noise but not distracting us.
  3. It also definitely still keeps us engaged even if we’re sleeping, which is something our brains need.
  4. I’m hoping to find out some other reasons why white noise effects us the way it does.

Image result for why does white noise help you sleepWhite noise, in terms of audio, is all the different frequencies of sound that we’re able to hear combined into one. The white noise that we talk is what happens when all the frequencies that humans can hear and perceive are played together at similar levels. The white noise we hear is the sound of all the frequencies between 20 and 20,000 HZ. Basically this means that we’re hearing around 20,000 tones at once. That’s sort of like when we’re standing in the middle of New York City surrounded by 20,000 different noises combined into one. The traffic, the honking, the yelling, the construction, the talking, all mix together to form one constant tone, from which we can’t easily distinguish separate sounds.

According to the same article as above, white noise (and pink noise, and brown noise, but let’s not get into those) does in fact help us to sleep by masking the unwanted noises in our surroundings like I had said at the start! Another theory that mentions the same thing I haImage result for campfired said is that our brains are highly active when we sleep, and playing white noise keeps our minds stimulated. Now for some people, pure white noise by itself is not enough to find relaxation. So of course there’s nature’s white noise for us to listen to. Forest sounds, ocean waves, campfires, and more are all examples of white noise also. This article also gives quite a few of the same reasons for why white noise helps us to sleep.

However, while white noise can be a fantastic thing to listen to for some people, others believe that it may harm our concentration. In this article, Mark Andrews talks about how stress from repeatedly playing white noise releases cortisol, which is a hormone that helps restore the body to homeostasis. But, an excess in cortisol damages functions in part of the brain that helps to regulate planning, reasoning, and impulse control.

This is why it’s so difficult to form and prove a hypothesis on something like this, because the effectiveness of white noise differs from person to person. Doing a sample test with a hypothesis like “White noise does help people get a better sleep at night” would be hard to do simply because of all the variables. The sample may end up having more people who are less inclined to enjoy white noise playing in their ears. Or, it may have a bunch of people with higher stress or anxiety levels than others, which would definitely affect the results of the experiment.

I, personally, will continue to listen to white noise. It really does help me to relax, it makes me happier, and it blocks out the constant noise that comes from living with four roommates. However, if you believe that white noise is not something that will help you, I’m sure there are dozens of other things out there that can help you concentrate, relax, or sleep almost as well. Sweet dreams!

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The Evils of Solitary Confinement

Last year in my political science class my teacher showed us a documentary on solitary confinement in prisons. I don’t remember why he showed us this, I just remember the video and the impact it left on me. In the documentary, they interviewed a few of the prisoners housed in a prison that was entirely solitary confinement. The impact that being in a prison like this had on these men was staggering. It actually had me tearing up at some points. I felt pity for these men. Many of them didn’t commit crimes that I believed deserved that sort of punishment. I looked for the documentary and I ended up finding where you can watch clips from it here. I highly recommend you watch these if you’re curious on what made me start thinking about this, it’s intriguing.
solitary-chart-bigConstant solitary confinement is truly a horrible thing; humans are social creatures, we actually need to socialize to stay mentally healthy. It used to be, back in the 20th century, that solitary confinement was relatively rare and rather short. It would be used, and still is, either to keep inmates from harming the staff or other inmates, to keep inmates from escaping, or to punish them for misconduct. Solitary confinement used to last only a few days, or even weeks. Now, however, inmates are kept in solitary for years at a time. Some are even kept there for more than twenty years.

While solitary confinement used to be somewhat sparse, there are now super-maximum security facilities in more than forty states. These facilities are also called “supermax” facilities, and were actually designed for the purpose of holding people in isolation for long periods of time.

But what exactly is it about solitary confinement that is so bad? What are the effects that solitary has on people? Well, when inmates are held in solitary, they spend 22-24 hours a day locked in a cell that’s only about 84 square feet. These cells only have a bed, sink, and toilet. Inmates get their food through a slot in the door, and are allowed only an hour of exercise a day. They have extremely limited contact with other humans, and oftentimes the contact that they do get is negative in nature. They get very few personal effects, no contact with family, horrible medical and mental health treatment, and are frequently subjected to physical and emotional torture. This, as anyone could guess, is very detrimental to the physical, and especially mental health of all inmates who go through it.

Dr. Terry Kupers, a professor of psychiatry, has spent over forty years studying the effects of solitary confinement on the mind and body by interviewing thousands of inmates. In this article, Kupers talks about the human need for social interaction and activity. Socialization and creation are two ways that we learn about ourselves and stay self aware. Inmates in solitary are deprived of both of these things; they spend their days alone and inactive. I can only imagine what this means for the people who go through this.

Kupers describes long-term confinement as being about three months. Studies have shown that nearly all inmates who are kept in solitary for that long begin to experience high anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia, anger, and compulsive tendencies. Inmates often start to pace or repeatedly clean their cells. In addition to these affects, they suffer from dulled cognitive functions; for example, when reading a book they tend to forget what had happened just a few pages before. Actually, in the documentary I mentioned at the beginning of this, I remember watching clips of the prisoners pacing back and forth along their tiny cells for hours. In some cells, the floors were literally worn down from their footsteps. The only thing these prisoners have to do is sleep, pace, work out, and repeat.

One of the effects I find possibly the most horrifying is what happens when inmates who suffered through solitary are finally released from isolation. While in solitary, their brains have been put into a stupor; they’ve been pushed nearly to the edge of insanity. This delirium is something many cannot and will not recover from. So, when inmates are let back into even just the general population, not even the outside world, they become overwhelmed by their surroundings and can’t handle the environment they haven’t experienced in months or years. Their brains waves go all over the place. Inmates have said that it’s a terrible experience, and often will not leave their cell for fear of being around everyone else in the general population.

Another psychiatrist, Stuart Grassian, has conducted studies and interviewed hundreds of prisoners. One of these studies yielded results that showed that about a third of the inmates showed psychotic and suicidal tendencies. Grassian has also concluded that being in solitary confinement can cause a psychiatric syndrome in which inmates experience hallucinations, panic attacks, and many other symptoms consistent with those that Dr. Kupers observed.

Grassian and Kupers are in no way the only people to conduct studies on solitary confinement that came to same conclusions. Hundreds upon hundreds of studies have been done in dozens of prisons. Solitary confinement and mental health issues in inmates clearly share a direct correlation. Solitary is, almost without any doubt, the cause of so many mental health problems within prisons. There is nothing really that could be considered a third variable that may be causing these problems. Solitary confinement is at fault, no question. But the question we can ask ourselves is, do we condone the use of this form of torture in prisons?

 

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http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/trapped-in-the-hole-america-solitary-problem/

Gettin’ That Vitamin D

I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by the abundance of different skin colors in our world. We all originated from the same part of the world, so why do we all differ so much in our skin tones? I wanted to know more about the science and evolution behind it all.

map of the world showing the distributiion of human skin color in about 1500 A.D.--darker skin colors are found mostly between 20 degrees north and south of the equator

So like I said, we all came from the same place. About 50,000 to 80,000 years ago (scientists argue about exactly how long ago), humans migrated from Africa out into the rest of the world. Something happened between then and now to change our skin colors and, as many intelligent people could probably infer, it has to do in part with where each group of people ended up settling and the characteristics of those places.

According to this article, there are three main factors that led to the emergence of multiple skin colors. Differences in skin tones correlate very closely with the following:

  1. Geography
  2. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun
  3. And! A third factor many would most likely not think of: diets that are rich in seafood (another way to get vitamin D than from the sun).

As can be inferred, geography plays a big part because, of course, climates are in no way consistent all across the globe. The temperatures and environments found in Africa are entirely different than those in, say, Northern Ireland. So, when humans began to migrate from one climate to another, their bodies needed to cope with the significant changes. For example, dark skin came from the need to stay cool. As humans settled into hot, wide open environments like those in Africa or Australia, they eventually evolved to have an increase of sweat glands on the skin as well as a decrease in body hair. Both of these things served to make cooling off easier in hotter temperatures. However, these humans now lacked the dark body hair needed to protect them from the sun’s rays (UV rays in specific). Instead, they evolved to have permanently dark skin to protect from the dangers the sun’s rays posed. This dark skin came from an abundance of melanin, a brown pigment found in our skin that acts as that protection from the sun.

Now on the other hand, we have the groups of people who moved further north. Up north, further away from the equator, there’s a lot less UV rays to cause damage to the human body. We need a healthy dose of vitamin D from the sun in order to stay healthy, and darker skin prevented early northern settlers from getting it. So natural selection favored the genes that carried pale skin and fair features. That’s why the further north you travel, the lighter skinned people get. Take me, for example. I’m half Italian, so I’ve got dark hair and eyes and somewhat tan skin. But, I’m also Irish, so that means that I’ve got lighter skin than my father, who is full-blooded Italian. Why? Because Ireland is more north than Italy, and people there have lighter skin tones than found in a southern European country like Italy.

The human body is a fascinating thing, huh? Just think for a moment about how incredible it really is that  evolutionary advances like this happen entirely on their own.

And what about that third factor? How does sea food have anything to do with skin color? That’s what I was wondering. It all comes back to vitamin D. Seafood is very rich in vitamin D. This means that native coastal people whose diets consisted mostly of seafood didn’t need to depend on the sun to get their daily dose of vitamin D. This explains why the people who settled in Arctic environments like Alaska or Canada could afford to have darker skin than others. Even though they lived in these low UV places, they still were able to get enough vitamin D through the seafood they ate. And another interesting detail that same article from above mentions is that their dark skin also helped protect them from UV rays that would reflect off of ice or snow!

So what’s the take away from all of this? Just remember that we all came from the same place. We really are not that different, some of us are simply better protected from the sun then others!

 

Picture Source:

http://anthro.palomar.edu/adapt/adapt_4.htm

Sources:

http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/genetics/human-skin-color-variation/modern-human-diversity-skin-color

http://www.ancient-origins.net/news-evolution-human-origins/white-skin-developed-europe-only-recently-8000-years-020287?nopaging=1

http://anthro.palomar.edu/adapt/adapt_4.htm

http://www.livescience.com/50326-what-is-ultraviolet-light.html

 

 

Coral Reef Relief

So we all heard about the Great Barrier Reef thing right? Yeah? But guys! It’s not dead! The reef is in some serious trouble obviously, but it hasn’t quite reached the point where we need to be playing a funeral march. (The panic over the coral reef started because of this article from Outside Magazine, which was written almost jokingly).  What I have been wondering lately is what exactly it is that has been causing the demise of the coral reef. I read a short snippet of something a few days ago that seemed to claim that our attempts at cleaning our pollution from the reef are actually what is killing it. It got me thinking.

Is there a direct correlation between pollution/climate change in the environment caused by us, the human race, and the deterioration of the coral reef? Is the oceanic environment going through natural changes that we simply don’t understand and are viewing as bad? Or is pollution/climate change simply correlated with, but not the cause of, the reef dying? Perhaps there is even a third variable at play.

Now I am not a science-minded person AT ALL, so those may not even make any scientific sense. Maybe that third variable is the actions we take to clean up the ocean; our attempts at cleaning up the reef may actually be what is killing it, and not the pollution itself. However, the fact of the matter is, it’s been basically proven that humans and the damage we do to our environment are most of what is causing the reef’s demise. For the sake of this blog, let’s bundle climate change and pollution together, since they do sort of go hand in hand. According to this article, there is an at least 95% probability that the changes in climate occurring are due to humans. Because of these climate changes, the ocean temperatures are rising drastically, but coral reefs can only handle small temperature ranges. The above-average sea temperatures are causing the coral reefs to bleach (coral bleaching, basically, is the loss of tiny, colorful algae called zooxanthellae) during the hotter summer months. It’s not just hot temperatures that cause bleaching either; algae can be killed by drastic cold temperatures as well, because this is still a large change in temperature that coral reefs simply cannot deal with. Bleaching is one of the biggest things killing the coral reefs around the world and it’s caused by climate change, which is in turn mostly caused by human beings polluting the atmosphere. So, that’s strike number one against humans and our pollution.

TMap of the Great Barrier Reef showing results of aerial surveys for 911 reefs.his past April, Australian scientists released information saying that 93% of the reef had been affected by bleaching. That means that only seven percent managed to avoid bleaching!! The scientists conducted in-depth aerial and underwater surveys to discover the large-scale bleaching happening off the coast Queensland. On the bright side, they also stated that some of the reef only experienced minor bleaching and that it should recover shortly. So considering this study was released six months ago, bits of the reef have recovered at this point. But this was still strike two against climate change.

 

Now there are of course other things that are damaging or killing our coral reefs. Some of which include farm pollution, governance, fishing (specifically fishing with explosives), and industrialization. However, climate change remains the biggest evil. Especially because of climate phenomenons like the El Niño, which brings extremely warm water to seas near the equator.

So it seems to be that the damage to the Great Barrier Reed has mostly been caused by pollution and climate change, which are two things that humans are greatly at fault for. There clearly is a direct correlation between climate change and the decline of the coral reef. A very large and significant correlation, in fact. Climate change and pollution are very much to blame for the reef dying, and it’s up to us to fix it.

Picture Source:

http://www.coralcoe.org.au/media-releases/only-7-of-the-great-barrier-reef-has-avoided-coral-bleaching

Sources:

http://www.coralcoe.org.au/resources/for-managers/coral-bleaching-and-the-great-barrier-reef

http://www.coralcoe.org.au/media-releases/only-7-of-the-great-barrier-reef-has-avoided-coral-bleaching

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral_bleach.html

http://www.wwf.org.au/what-we-do/oceans/great-barrier-reef

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/03/el-ni-o-s-warmth-devastating-reefs-worldwide

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/05/business/energy-environment/the-horrors-of-fishing-with-dynamite.html?_r=0

 

That Southern Draawwl

So, I heard this audio clip a few years ago of some woman explaining the origins of all the different types of southern accents and doing some very good imitations of them. I had forgotten about it until it just popped back into mind when I was racking my brain for a topic to write about. It’s really very cool to listen to her go so smoothly through the whole thing.

I have always been quite fascinated by accents and languages and the origins of all of them. I am actually fairly decent at imitating some accents. Part of my love for accents and languages came from my parents who, combined, can speak/understand six languages. What I find particularly interesting is the fact that there are simply so many different accents just within one language. For example, we can’t really say “Oh, they have a British accent.” There are countless different accents and dialects in Great Britain. Did you mean a Cockney accent? A London accent? The goes for the U.S. What does anyone mean when they say “American accent?” We have California accents, Philly accents, New York accents (not to mention the different accents for each borough within the city itself…), Southern accents, etc, etc.

Now, Southern accents are, in themselves, very complicated. Like the woman in this video clip says, there is not just one generic Southern accent, and they did not all derive from the same language.

This article from Penn State News, mentions a statement by Professor James Lantolf. He talks about the same thing the woman in the video does, that accents are mostly based on who settled the area and what language they spoke. Like how the Creole accent in New Orleans came from the French speakers who settled in that area, in addition to Irish, Spanish, and other European influences. Other things affect the development of an accent too, of course, such as isolation from other speakers of the same language, socio-economic standing, education level, and other such things.

Languages are such a complex, fascinating subject. It’s incredible that so many different ones exist, and yet we are all still able to communicate with each other despite these differences.

Image result for accents

Sources:

Etter, Sarah. “Probing Question: How Did Regional Accents Originate? | Penn State University.” Penn State News. 59, 29 Aug. 2005. Web. 16 Sept. 2016.

Pianoplaya399. “A Quick Lesson on Southern Linguistics.” YouTube. YouTube, 03 Nov. 2012. Web. 16 Sept. 2016.

Life on Mars

Will we ever actually make it to Mars like so many people like to talk about? Will we ever explore the Universe? For decades it’s been considered pretty much the general consensus that humanity’s end game is to end up out in space. It seems an accepted notion that humans will travel away from Earth and discover other planets, possibly even habitable ones on which to settle. But how realistic is this? Can we, the human race, actually leave this planet? I think it would be incredible if we could “go where no man has gone before,” but in all reality the technology needed for us to succeed in space travel may well be beyond our reach.

Image result for space the final frontier

When people first began to dream about and speak about space travel, they did not take into account the incredible vastness of space, as this article so kindly points out. Space is endless and infinite, which they did not know at the time. It would take decades, though more likely centuries, for us to develop the technology and space crafts we would need to be able to survive long-distance space travel, if we even can develop it. To build a craft capable of withstanding the Earth’s atmosphere, the dangers of space itself, and the atmospheres of any currently unknown planets, that can still house families of human beings and sustain them for long periods of time, would take an immeasurable amount of money and knowledge. Not to mention the fact that while this craft must be big enough to do all of that, it must also be small and dynamic enough to accelerate at relatively high speeds and move quickly across the universe. That above article mentions, in depth, quite a few conflicting details that would need to be considered and solved if space travel were to ever occur. It even compares space crafts to islands on Earth, using the islands as models of what could potentially occur on a space craft with an ecological system created to support human lives. The whole idea is just so complex that it is very very likely that space travel may never be accomplished.

What may be even more important is that space travel can have some serious affects on the health of humans who participate in it. A study done by NASA, showed that the immune systems of astronauts in space altered while on long-term missions aboard the International Space Station. Discoveries like these open up a whole new world of unknowns in regards to human health. We don’t know the mechanism behind why the immune system may have been altered, so we cannot account for it during health care. Before even considering sending masses of humans into space (if we ever had the ability to do so), extensive health research would need to be done to account for changes in the body that would occur in space.

This post could go on forever listing the thousands of “if, ands, or buts” about space travel but all-in-all, there are just too many variables and unknowns to account for. Space travel just does not seem likely.

Sources:

“Study Reveals Immune System Is Dazed and Confused During Spaceflight.”NASA. NASA, 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Sept. 2016.

Robinson, Kim Stanley. “What Will It Take for Humans to Colonize the Milky Way?” Scientific American. N.p., 05 Jan. 2016. Web. 15 Sept. 2016.

Bach or Beyonce? Mozart or Miley?

For years I’ve heard how classical music is a wonderful thing to listen to when studying or doing homework, and that it should be played to infants to help them become more intelligent. But is this true? Does classical music actually make you smarter? Does it help you when you study, or should you just keep blasting out those R&B tracks as your background noise? Is there science to back up the the claims that classical music is superior, or did they simply stem from the differences between socioeconomic standing, education level, and music tastes?

Personally, I like to listen to music without any words when I study, because the words are much too distracting when I’m trying to form my own thoughts. Incidentally, I’m listening to Beethoven as I write this post. Classical music is very calming to me and it does actually help me concentrate. I am not alone in this, either.

This study, done by a University in France and published in Learning and Individual Differences, showed that students who listened to classical music during a lecture scored higher on a quiz directly following the lecture than students who did not. The 249 students who participated in the study were split into experimental and control groups. The experimental group sat through a lecture with classical music playing in the background, while the control group attended the same lecture without the music. Afterwards, they were given a multiple choice quiz about the lecture to complete. The scores belonging to the experimental group were significantly higher than those of the control group. As stated in this article, the researchers formed the idea that the music had put the students into a slightly more relaxed state, which in turn made it easier for them to receive new information. I really believe this to be true, it’s much easier to think and concentrate when your mind and body are relaxed. Not to mention the fact that the addition of the music changed things up a bit for the students, and they no longer had to listen to just the droning on of the lecturers voice. Which, we can all admit, can be a bit tedious.

Image result for beethoven with headphones

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another study, done by the Duke Cancer Institute, found that classical music can drastically reduce stress, particularly for people about to undergo a serious operation. 88 patients took part in this study, randomly assigned to three groups. The men in the two groups without music had blood pressure levels that remained high throughout and after their procedures, while the men who wore headphones playing Bach concertos had no spike in blood pressure. Our blood pressure frequently rises as a reaction to stress and anxiety, therefore this study showed that classical music helped to reduce both of these. The men who listened to Bach even reported that they had not felt as much pain as the men who did not listen to music.

So, if you’re ever cramming for an exam, or scrambling to finish homework last minute and you find yourself being unable to concentrate, crank up some Brahms or Bach or Mozart. Give classical a try, you might find it helps you out.

Sources:

By Duke Medicine News and Communications. “Headphone Music Eases Anxiety During Prostate Biopsies.” – Duke Medicine. N.p., 09 Jan. 2012. Web. 15 Sept. 2016.

“ERIC – Music during Lectures: Will Students Learn Better?, Learning and Individual Differences, 2012-Apr.” ERIC – Music during Lectures: Will Students Learn Better?, Learning and Individual Differences, 2012-Apr. N.p., Apr. 2012. Web. 15 Sept. 2016.

“Studying for Finals? Let Classical Music Help.” USC News. N.p., 05 Dec. 2014. Web. 15 Sept. 2016.

Science Ruules

Hi! My name is Angie Napolitano. I’m a freshman from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I’m majoring in Marketing (most likely). My brother graduated from PSU about six years ago and he is still soo in love with it. He got a fantastic job before even finishing college so it’s sort of because of him that this school was even on my radar (besides of course, the PSU logo being so common in Pennsylvania that you see it more than the Nike logo). Six years later and we’re still buying him PSU gear for Christmas. I am very, very glad that I chose to come here. So far it’s been fantastic and the classes seem to have a lot to offer, particularly SC 200.

Honestly, I was never a big fan of science classes.  I knew I would never be able to be a science major. It’s just not something I could ever see myself having a career in. I love science, I think it’s absolutely fascinating, but science taught in school was Hell on Earth. I had maybe one good science teacher in all my years of public school, and that was 6th grade Biology. Biology has always been the one science I was actually decent at and found fun. I want to learn more about the history of life and how it functions than I do about the equations and numbers of Physics and the technical bits of Chemistry. So, I chose to take this class. I heard about it because it was on a list of good classes for non-science majors to take that the student advisers at Smeal gave me.   I love to think about the extensive possibilities for life and innovation that we could discover in the coming years. I want to hear about what discoveries are being made every day, I do NOT want to hear about any equations on how to find the velocity of a tennis ball. Sorry, I just do not care about that.

Image result for velocity of a tennis ball

I’m always fascinated to hear about what’s been happening in the medical world, and what kind of potentially world-changing, life saving ideas are being thought of every day. I found this one very recent article here about how an ultrasound was used to jump start a coma patient’s brain! Cool huh?