Author Archives: Christopher Ronkainen

Aspartame and Cancer

Artificial sweeteners have been growing in popularity due to out roars against natural sugar. It seems as though artificial sweeteners are now everywhere. Most diet drinks use them as an alternative to sweeten the drink without using sugar. In particular, aspartame is one the most popular choices.

aspartame-chemical-structureAspartame is created from the combining of two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. It is used in a multitude of products such as Diet Coke and many foods. One of the reasons why aspartame is so commonly used is because it is roughly 200 times sweeter than sugar and therefore much less can be used. Sounds great, right? Not really.

A lot of speculation has been raised about how great of an alternative aspartame truly is. The major discussion going around has to deal with cancer. Does aspartame cause cancer? Does it cause cancer to become more severe? Many of these questions have been discussed and the only way to truly find out is to put it to the test.

As I looked for research on the topic of Aspartame and its relation to cancer I came across an awesome study done in Europe at the Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Center. Their objective of the study to was to quantify the carcinogenic risk of aspartame from prenatal (12th day of fetal life) until the end of the life of rats. The way they set aspartame-effectsup the experiment was with three groups of around 70-95 Sprague-Dawley rats. One of the groups was the control while the other two groups were administered either 400ppm or 2000ppm of Aspartame in their typical food daily.

The results they received were statistically significant to reject the null hypothesis that aspartame had no effect on cancer in many cases. They found a large dose related increase in malignant tumors in males, especially in the group treated with 2000ppm of aspartame with a p-value less than .01. They also found an increase in the same group of males treated with 2000ppm with lymphomas and leukemia (p<.05). The females in the 2000ppm group also saw an increase in lymphomas and leukemia (p<.01) as well as an increase in mammary cancer (p<.05). These results are very showing from a statistical standpoint! The likely hood of these being a fluke (false positive) is 5%

The problem with this experiment however is that it was performed on rats, and not humans. What happens to rats when administered the levels of aspartame close to the acceptable daily intake of humans, is surely to be questioned. If you wanted to see the effects of drugs on elephants, giving the same dosage to let’s say a human that you would the elephant sounds a bit off to me, don’t you think?

In conclusion, I do believe this experiment was run very well. They randomly allocated the rats and controlled the dosage that each group received very well. Overall, the experiment was run very well overall, and I think that the results should be taken into strong consideration. Until more time passes however and we can do observational studies on humans based on their aspartame intake, I believe it will be hard to find a true answer to this question. Until then, lab rat experiments will be the most telling.

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Socioeconomic Status and IQ

Growing up in a popular suburban town outside of Philadelphia, PA I personally never gave much thought to this idea until coming to college and having it discussed in one of my classes. The idea is that your intelligence can be effected by your socioeconomic status. Now when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Without wealth and money, you can’t guarantee the best schooling and teaching that you receive growing up. You also hear a lot of talk about when people decide to buy a new home about which school district they’d like to live in, in order to make sure their children get the best schooling. How17ever, if you don’t have the economic wealth, is your intelligence compared to those that have wealth that different?

When doing research on the topic I came across a study that was done on twins within the United Kingdom. With a total of 7426 pairs of twins, they gathered data on their parent’s education and occupation when the children where 18 months old and recollected the same data when the children turned the age of 7. The family income was assessed at age 9.

To measure the intelligence side, the twins were assessed at ages 2, 3 4, 7, 9, 10, 12, 14, and 16 with a variety of tests. These tests included parent-administered testing, as well as web based and telephone based examinations. A majority of these tests were both verbal and non-verbal and called for their knowledge of vocab and cognitive abilities.

The results did not seem to come as a surprise. As the children got older their intelligence scores were positively inter-correlated. Socioeconomic status also was positively correlated with intelligence at all ages as well and increasingly so. gr2When looking at the p-values, across the two samples in latent growth of IQ and socioeconomic status the value was p<.001.

Many studies are said to have shown similar results to this one as well. This goes to show that income inequality can be an issue when it comes to education. However, this particular study is not the best demonstration of the entire worlds population as a whole. The study was only conducted in the United Kingdom. Not to mention that confounding variables can always be an issue with experiments. For this study in particular, since it is an observational study it is extremely difficult to say that the socioeconomic status is the direct causation of a child’s intelligence. When in reality it could be a numerous amount of things.

In conclusion, the study in my opinion however did show some interesting things. Such as when the children got older, the IQ gaps between those well off and those that weren’t significantly grew between the ages of two and 16. They also pointed out that the children in better off families could have experienced greater opportunities which relates back to the confounding variable issue that I talked about earlier.


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Effects of Music and Studying

Are you a student that likes to listen to music while studying? If you take a stroll through the library, you will see many students with their headphones in. Although some may think it is beneficial, others may find it distracting to listen to music while studying and or doing work. So the question is, does listening to music while studying provide any benefit?

To figure this out I began my search for experiments that involved activities comparing sound and no sound. I then came across a study done at the University of Whales on how background music affects students ability to remember items in a specific order. The study involved 25 students between the ages of 18 and 30. They controlled for several confounding variables such as hearing, vision and language through a screening process. They also did not include those who listed their favorite type of music as ‘thrash metal’.

The study tested the student’s abilities to remember a series of consonants presented through a power point slide while being exposed to different types of sound variations. The different types of sound variations included a quiet environment, a ‘steady state’ speech where the number three was repeated, a ‘changing state’ speech where random numbers between one and nine were repeated, liked music and lastly disliked music. In my opinion having all five of these different states is very useful data. Cause not only will it provide data on whether or not music makes a difference, it will show whether having background noise could be potentially beneficial or not.

The results you may find surprising if you personally prefer studying acp1731-fig-0001with music. The study found that the ‘steady state’ speech and the quiet environment produced statistically higher results when compared to the other three groups. Meaning that under those two environments they were able to recall more during the testing.

Does this mean that you should stop listening to music while studying? Not exactly. Until more research is done and meta-analyses are done of all experiments it is quite unsure what the answer is. Another important fact to consider in this research is the effect of music with lyrics and types of music such as classical which is all instrumental based.

In a study conducted at the University of Maryland they used a sample of 32 students between the age of 20 to 41. Of the twenty-five were females and seven were males which to me does not seem like a good representation in my opinion. They used a song that called “Not Ready to Die,” a heavy rock song, and a classical piano song called “Morning Light.”

The experiment called for the students to perform cognitive tests under five conditions. The control being no music and the other being the heavy rock song and classical song played at both low and high intensity. In conclusion the study found that performance was much better in silence than any of the four music conditions (p<.05). Surprisingly to me however, there was no significant difference between the two songs in the loud music condition (p=.582). This is most likely because loud music should not be used when studying or performing tests.

Overall I still findcover this toping very intriguing. Although I will most likely continue to study in complete silence. I am interested to see if in further testing will find that certain types of music can help benefit my learning. I believe that a lot of testing is required to determine a true result on this topic due to the many potential confounding variables at play such as IQ. Only experimentation will tell us what the true answer is.


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Pets and Mental Health

Those that have pets will surely agree with what I’m about to talk about. Pets are said to be able to improve your mental health! So those of you who do not have a pet should go out and buy one, right? Let’s find out.

The Huffington post lists a dozen reasons how a pet can improve your mental health. For example, petting them can reduce stress, and they help reduce loneliness. The reduction in stress from rhythmic petting, is due to when you connect with your pet, oxytocin, a hormone related to anxiety and stress relief is released and helps to reduce blood pressure as well as lower cortisol levels. The explanation behind them reducing loneliness is essentially self explanatory. They are there when you need them.

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- Gene Mohr, a retired Tech. Sergeant, pets Mollie, a three year old Sheltie at Langley Hospital Jan. 30.  Mollie does about 10 visits throughout the Hampton Roads Area.  This is her third week visiting Langley Air Force Base.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Zachary Wolf)

Is it really true though, that pets can improve mental health? In a research study published on Wiley Online Library, an experiment was done to test the effect of a companion dog on levels of depression and and anxiety in residents living in a long term care facility. For the study the used sixteen residents, 8 men and 8 women. They randomly assigned the residents into a control group and an experimental group that would experience Animal Assisted Activity once a week for six weeks. To determine the results, they used the Beck Depression Inventory and Beck Anxiety Inventory to pre and post experiment.


From this experiment they were able to discover that the difference in depression levels in the Animal Assisted Activity group were significant enough to reject the null hypothesis that dogs would have no effect on depression (p=.017). Besides that, however no other statistical differences were found amongst the control group or the anxiety levels of the animal assisted group.

This experiment did have some flaws however. First the sample size was extremely small. Also the sample of people was very specific since they all lived in a long care facility, this experiment would not have been able to provide a general consensus as to whether pets helped everyone or not. Also, confounding variables could have been another issue. Without further research, nothing can really be concluded from this experiment.

In another study posted in the European Journal of integrative Medicine, they found different results. With 12 patients they created a control and experimental group. In this experiment they tested the effect of animal assisted therapy on the anxiety levels in acutely depressed patients. They conducted a pre and post treatment controlled crossover study that used the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory to measure the levels within the patients. In conclusion, theyfile_20839_column_who-benefits-from-therapy-pets were able to conclude that the reduction in anxiety levels in the patients that received animal assisted therapy was statistically significant with a p-value of .016.

Although this study provides different results from the one discussed earlier, the experiment was set up differently. These patients received two sessions of 30 minutes of interaction with a dog and the amount of interaction was allowed to be determined by the patient.

Overall, until more research is done, the true effects of pets on mental health will not be known. I believe that the studies that have been done so far have been extremely weak. They need truly need larger sample sizes. Doing experimental research on 12-16 people is not going to be very useful.

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The Downside of Sleep

Sleep, I view it as one of the most desired things by my peers in college. After a long week of school work, nothing is better to be able to sleep in for an absurd amount of hours, well past the recommended 8 or so hours. However, oversleeping does not result in the effects you might think, such as feeling well rested a87340385-fnd more awake.

According to an article posted by Wired, our internal rhythms are set by our circadian pacemaker, which is a group of cells clustered in the hypothalamus. The pacemaker is primarily triggered by light signals from our eyes and is able to send out chemical messages keeping the cells of our bodies on the same schedule. According to this published article, circadian rhythms are believed to have adapted through natural selection resulting from the Earth’s rotation around its axis. For this reason, when you oversleep you are throwing off the circadian pacemaker. Although you are waking up later, your cells have started using their energy hours before.

Okay, so you oversleep a few times, not a big deal. If you oversleep (9-11 hours) on a regular basis however, you may develop memory problems. Other studies have concluded that oversleeping can put you at a greater risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, obesity and possibly even cause an early death.

A studies results posted in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society came to the conclusion that extreme sleep durations over time appear to be associated with poor cognition in older women. They concluded this study based on a study of female nurses (N=15,385) aged 70 and older. They attempted to control some confounding variableolder_woman_sleepings such as stroke and depression by making sure they had no history of either at the initial cognitive assignment. The study however only looks at older women, and concludes data only on “extreme sleep durations” which includes oversleeping and under sleeping. The study also fails to control many confounding variables such as head injury (potentially concussions), as well as the usage of alcohol and drugs, that could potentially effect the results. Despite these things, the results of the study had a p-value of less than .001, and the differences in cognition were said to be nearly equivalent to a two-year age difference.

In another study, based on the surveillance of over 50,000 adults over the age of 45, they were able to conclude that long sleepers (4.1% of participants) were significantly associated with obesity, FMD, CHD, stroke and diabetes. The study suggests however that the mental disorders also may mediate the relationships between sleep duration and chronic diseases. The study also concluded the need for more studies to be done to determine how sleep duration is associated with chronic diseases and obesity.

Overall, there appears to be evidence that provides a correlation between over sleeping and many negative effects such as obesity and memory loss. However, without further studies done, it is hard to conclude it being an exact causation. With the inability to control all confounding variables and the difficulty of making this type of research experimental instead of observational, a definite answer is going to be hard to come by.

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Sports and Mental Health

Sports have always been a large part of my life. Ever since a young age numerous hours have been dedicated to practices. Having to balance my time between school work, and sports always felt like a mentally daunting and exhausting task. However, everyone has always talked about the positive benefits of being physically active. So I decided to take a further look.

According to an article written by healthline sports have numerous amounts of benefits. These benefits include mood improvement, reduction of stress and depression, and many more. They claim that from physical activity your mind becomes distracted from daily activities that cause stress, and reduce levels of stress hormones. Although this may be true, from my personal experience in high school sports. Coming home after practice and still having to complete my daily homework assignments and studying caused a significant amount of stress.

ncaalogo1According to the NCAA, mental health issues are a very large issue within collegiate sports. They claim that they face additional factors that causes stress compared to non athletes such as performance pressure and time demands. A USA today article mentions how the rules state that football coaches can only demand up to 20 hours of time per week. It also mentions how almost 66% of Division I athletes considered themselves more as athletes than students. College school work demands an enormous amount of time and effort, and having time to practice, study film, lift weights, and other activities related to your sport sounds impossible.

Recently the NCAA has started to really try and tackle the issue of mental health. With issues that arise from college sports such as hyper aggressive behavior and anxiety due to the extraneous time commitments, it has truly become a major problem. According to an article written by Jake New, the NCAA has released new guidelines to aid the mental health of their athletes. These include mental heath screenings, mental health education for athletes and more.

hovedskadeMental health and sports has also gained a lot of attention due to the medias coverage of concussions. According to Sciecnenordic post, a Danish scientist performed a study that stated that head injuries can increase the risk of developing mental disorders by up an an astounding 439%. That’s terrifying in my personal opinion.

With mental heath being such a relevant issue in todays society, the studies being done and help being provided is very beneficial. Before researching this topic, I would have never known how large of a connection there is with mental health issues and sports. The continuance of care and research is the only way to make sure that the problems we face today can be decreased and or hopefully eliminated in the future.

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The Downside of Styrofoam

Recently, my mom ordered a ceramic lamp from some online website. It arrived a few days later in a cardboard box that looked like it was big enough it could fit a child. The lamp itself was not even very large! However, the massive box it came in was filled to the rim with hundreds of packing peanuts; those messy, lightweight foam “nuggets” made out of expanded polystyrene (ESP). I understand that the lamp is fragile and that it needed to be protected during its shipment process. That being said, the use of such a harmful material seems unnecessary and even lazy.7220

Expanded polystyrene is more commonly referred to as Styrofoam–just as how people refer to a tissue as a Kleenex. Simply put, polystyrene is a type of plastic that is used for an array of different manufactured goods from meat packaging to children’s toys. Polystyrene comes from the organic compound Styrene.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Styrene is a Hazardous material. Styrene has many harmful and potentially cancerous effects, both short-term and long-term, on humans and animals. Short term, styrene can cause irritation of the skin and eyes. But its styrene’s affect on our body’s Central Nervous System that is truly threatening; potentially causing lasting affects such as respiratory issues, frequent headaches and loss of balance, and even hearing loss. Styrene has also been shown to have a negative impact on mental health, having shown correlations with depression (though correlation does not necessarily mean causation).

As most people know, Styrofoam is harmful to the environment because of its inability to decompose back into Earth’s soil. In every stage, Styrofoam achieves no positive contributions for the environment. Instead, it continues to add to the mountains of garbage that sits in country’s Landfills. To make matters worse, Styrofoam cannot be recycled. Expanded polystyrene is plastic unlike that used to make water bottles or plastic bags. Think about it, walking around areas, you will never commonly see a recycling bin that says ‘Place Styrofoam here’.

So why do we keep using it? Styrofoam is time and time again chosen over eco-friendly materials such as recycled cardboard or even plastic due to its cheap appeal. When purchased in bulk, Styrofoam can save up to 5 times the amount of money it costs to purchase paper based or other recyclable materials. To put that added cost into perspective, I will use a common and quite relevant example of how Styrofoam is frequently favored everyday because it is the cheaper option; school lunches.  All over the country, students buyor_15425 their hot lunch at school, which is served to them on a Styrofoam lunch tray. According to an article, in Portland, Oregon, it costs the Montgomery School District a measly 3 cents per Styrofoam tray, whereas their other options of trays would cost 7 cents per day. Now, four cents doesn’t seem like much but…Lets one high school serves lunch to 300 students each day, a school year being roughly 180 days. So each day by the end of one school year, it would cost the high school approximately $1620 to use Styrofoam trays, whereas a more eco-friendly option would cost the high school $3,780.

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Cellphones in the Classroom

One of my personal issues with large group instruction is that I always find my self distracted from using technology. Have you ever sat in the back of a large lecture hall and used your phone for the majority of class? How about having a teacher that restricts technology use as a whole? Within the past several years there has been an extraordinary amount of research on the effects of using cell phones in schools.

Studies have shown the schools with smartphone bans had student receive higher test scores. According to the study mentioned in this article, researchers found that amongst thousands of 16yr olds, schools that banned cellphones saw a 6% increase in their test scores. Even more impressive was that students that had been struggling, and the ban had been put into place during that time, their grades on exams improved up to 14%!

Cellphones however are not just distracting those in high school. According to a study done by Dr. Chris Bjornsen, his results showed that for every time Accounting classa college student checked his phone in his class, their test scores out of 100 on average would decrease by six tenths of a point. From his study he was also able to correlate social media usage in class to a student’s GPA. His findings suggest that students with a 3.0 or higher checked social media an average of 2.99 times a class, compared to students whose GPA below 2.0 checked sites such as Twitter and Facebook approximately 3.8 times a class.

With all of this data supporting the the hypothesis that cellphone usage decreases grades, you may wonder why students still use their phones. According to this article 92% of students in college use their phones to send text messages during their classes. This data was concluded zum_92percentoff of a study that surveyed a total of 269 students. All though their sample size compared to the entire college population is small, I’m sure similar results would be found elsewhere.                        

Although cellphones in classrooms typically have a negative connotation, many teachers use them to engage the class in polls, and perhaps even message boards so students can ask questions without interrupting the class. In my personal experience, this has been very fun and provide a good change of pace to the typical lecture hall class. However, it also allows me to become easily distracted due to the fact that I have my cellphone out and teachers would lack the knowledge if I am using it for the purpose they intended or at my own digression.

At Penn State and other schools across the nation an app called Pocket Points has been fighting the use of cellphones in class. The incentive to using the app includes discounts at local stores and restaurants such as the student book store and Qdoba. The way the app wimg_3077orks is that it recognizes where you are using your GPS location. When it realizes you are on campus you can open the app and then you lock your phone and put it away. The longer you phone is locked while the app is open, the more points you accumulate. With the points you earn you then redeem them at the stores downtown for your discounts.

I would be interested in seeing more data and experiments done on not only the usage of cellphones but on other forms of technology such as tablets and laptops in classes and how student’s performances compare. This data could give teachers better insight on how to run their classes and how to get the best work out of their students.


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How I ended up in SC200


My name is Chris Ronkainen, and I am from Souderton, Pennsylvania which is roughly forty-five minutes outside of Philadelphia. I am a current sophomore and proud to attend such a great university. My choice to take Science 200 instead of another science related course was an easy one. I needed a general education science course and I’m not greatly intrigued by standard science courses like chemistry and biology. Instead I found classes such as astronomy and meteorology in high school to be more appealing. I personally take more of an interest in technology and the amazing advances that we are making. Just recently I ran across an article talking about the next generation apple watch and that it will now include a 334 mAh battery, an improvement from the first generations 246 mAh battery. Being able to pack that much technology into something that is 42mm wide is incredible to me.


More background about myself, I am currently a DUS student pursuing Smeal College of Business. Finance, or accounting to be more specific. Throughout high school I always took an interest in the business courses I took such as Personal Finance, Intro to Business, and both Accounting I and II. When it came to science courses I found myself distancing myself and not engaging in the class or material. For this reason I am currently pursuing Smeal and not a major in the Eberly College of Science.  With that being said, I am very excited to take this course and see what it is all about!