Author Archives: Chris North

Hi My Names Dory… Can I Help You?

In my many hours of blog procrastination, I for some reason found myself watching Finding Dory. This got me to thinking, do fish actually suffer from short term memory loss? Shouldn’t Dory have forgotten what her parents look like after all that time apart? I took to Google to find out.


It turns out there is a fair amount of research done on this topic. One specific experiment published in the Australasian Science Journal looked to confirm or deny the old myth that fish only have a 3 second memory and also dove into the idea that fish can remember old faces.

They tested goldfish and determined that the fish can actually recall a familiar environment months later. This is very different from the 3 seconds that everyone gives them credit for. Later, these same scientists came across the information that certain damselfish have complex patterns on their faces that are individual to them alone. The experimenters used two different types of territorial fish to test whether the fish would recognize the intruder as one of their own kind, or a different breed of fish altogether. They set up two different scenarios, one where the fish would be able to try to identify the intruder fish by facial recognicon, and one where the fish would not be able to make out the marking on the intruder fish’s face. They found that the fish could only identify the intruder fish as such when the facial features were visible. This led them to the conclusion that fish can not only recognize old scenery, but faces as well.


I think this experiment was actually conducted reasonably well. The only possible problem with it is that they only tested damselfish against a different breed of damselfish. I think they should have run the test with other territorial fish that would react the same way against an intruder. How are we sure that this result is not specific to damselfish? Is it after all possible, that PIXAR got it right that Dory could remember her parents faces after all those years?

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No Hair? Big Problem

As people get older, their hair eventually begins to fall out, its just a fact of life. Usually genetics determines if it happens early in your life, or later on in life when you are closer to death. But could your hair loss lead to a lower overall quality of life?


study published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology tested 78 subjects struggling with hair loss. The patients were given a weekly questionnaire regarding how they felt throughout the previous week. They were asked if they felt depressed or any decrease in self-confidence. Based on their responses, scientists concluded that 74% of the patients were clinically depressed. In addition, 98% of the patients said that if they had to choose between receiving a permanent cure for their condition, or a 1000 euro payment, they would take the cure. This speaks very strongly to how badly these people want to eliminate this problem from their lives. 97% of the subjects attempted to disguise their hair loss at some point. This shows that people with hair loss have increased levels of self-consciousness and are ashamed of their image so much that they feel the need to alter it.


I think that looking at how this experiment was conducted, reverse causation cannot be ruled out. Perhaps it is the general depression and increased levels of stress that has caused these people to lose hair. This experiment also relies very heavily on people judging themselves and providing qualitative data, so human error could be a factor as it can sometimes be very difficult to accurately judge yourself. The test subjects were also obviously cued in to what the experiment was addressing, so they might have overthought their weekly habits. It would have been more beneficial to the experiment if the subjects were kept blind as to what the experimenters were looking for. Another problem I have with this experiment is that no control group was identified. The experimenters should have given the survey to someone who has a healthy head of hair and is not seeking treatment for hair loss. Without anything to compare the data to, how do they know how much worse off these people are compared to people who are not losing their hair?

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Lucid Dreaming

Ever wake up in the morning pondering what your dream from last night was all about? What about the other five dreams? That’s right you’ve completely forgotten all about those other ones. The average person can have anywhere from 3 to 15 separate dreams a night. Usually only one, if even that, is remembered in the morning. These dreams that you recall, are called lucid dreams. In a lucid dream, you usually have some control over your own actions (even if you for some reason make curiously strange choices). These lucid dreams usually occur later in your REM cycle and last longer than most dreams, usually between 20 and 30 minutes.tumblr_mdrebon0zk1rofwkio1_1280

Many neurological scientists have debated off and on whether lucid dreaming is even possible. If you are capable of controlling your actions and moving your body, are you really asleep? Some described lucid dreams not as dreams, but micro-awakenings in which the brain temporarily comes out of sleep.


In a study put on by the American Psychological Association, five subjects were monitored while they slept using a polygraph to measure small movements and anything else that might indicate a lucid dream. Subjects were also instructed before falling asleep that if they do have a lucid dream in which they can control their actions, to indicate so with a squeeze of the palm or other physical indicator. With the five test subjects, tested across a 34-day window, 35 lucid dreams were reported. 30 times the test subjects indicated that they were aware of their lucid dream. The scientists recording this data looked at when these signals came in and compared that time to where the brain was in the sleep cycle. These signals all fell within the REM cycle so scientists concluded that these signals must not be false positives since they would have seen some signals come through outside of the sleep cycle. Addressing the question as to whether or not lucid dreams are actually dreams and not a temporary wakening, scientists observed that since the subjects had no reaction to movement around them when they signaled, they must be submerged in some alternate reality, therefore, truly asleep and dreaming.

The scientists conducting this specific experiment said that their numbers correspond with other studies conducted similar to this one. This does beg the question whether or not the Texas Sharpshooter Issue could be a factor here. Were these scientists looking for these numbers having already seen the results from similar studies? I think this experiment did a very good job at drawing conclusive data that led to a clear conclusion.


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Can How You’re Treated Give You “The Chills”?

Everyone knows the feeling, that feeling of coldness shoots down your back and a quick shiver to shake it off. But is this sensation actually due to the way you are treated? A study conducted at The University of Groningen tested 40 Duke University Students. An experimenter either greeted each participant with a warm welcoming greeting, referred to as an affiliative experimenter, or treated them to a cold, professional greeting, referred to as a task-oriented experimenter. The experimenter maintained this sense of warmness or coldness throughout the entire experiment.


Once the test subject had completed a series of picture identification in which the experimenter would either mimic the test subject’s behavior and act friendly and open with them, or stiff and professional with them, the test subjects were asked to fill out a survey describing how they feel. Some of the questions on the survey to be completed addressed how warm or cold the participant felt. Subjects were asked to rank their feeling on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being extremely cold, 5 being extremely warm.

On average, the people who were treated more coldly reported feeling more cold at the end of the experiment. The people who experienced the task-oriented, non-mimicking experimenter felt the coldest. The people who experienced the affiliative, mimicking experimenter reported feeling the warmest.


I think that there could be some other factors responsible for making people feel the way they feel. Perhaps the room temperature was lower or higher than what the test subject was used to. If the test subject was from a colder climate, they may perceive a 70-degree room as warm while someone from a much warmer climate may call a 70-degree room chilly. Another potential issue with this experiment is that the experimenter may not have applied equal amounts of stiffness or mimicry to all test subjects. Some that were supposed to receive stiff treatment and no mimicry may have been inadvertently mimicked or treated with warmth. Human error is certainly a factor here.

In conclusion, if you are treated with warmth, you are less likely to feel cold and get the “chills”. If the people you are interacting with do not mimic your actions you, are more likely to feel chilly.

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“Kills 99.9% of germs” Really?

Everyone’s seen the commercials, “Our product kills 99.9% of germs!” What does this really mean though? Are they actually wiping out the acclaimed number of bacteria?image

A scientist from the University of Ottawa put this to the test. He used several students as test subjects. Three household name cleaners were used and the results were disturbing. The cleaners only killed between 46% and 60% of the germs on the student’s hands. So if these numbers are so low, how can companies boast such a high kill percentage?169574-60-of-the-time-it-works-every-5qhy

report by the Wall Street Journal found that since there are no government regulations on what germs cleaners have to kill to report a 99.9%, companies set up ideal conditions in a lab and knock off the easiest germs to kill. These lab tests are nothing like what you would see in real life, the countertops and human hands used for testing are scrubbed completely clean, then reapplied with a weak bacterium that is easy to kill. An article posted by out of the University of Cambridge looks specifically at hand sanitizer and soaps. The state that even if these products could kill as many germs as they say they do, a lot of a lot is still a lot. They credit this to the fact that human hands are very good at retaining bacteria.

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David vs Goliath: Are Elephants Really Afraid of Mice?

It’s the classic Saturday morning cartoon scene… An elephant sees a mouse running around on the ground and freaks out. This couldn’t possibly be real though could it? According to an experiment performed by the Mythbusters, it could have some merit to it.


The Mythbusters tested how elephants would react to a mouse in their natural habitat. They disguised the mice inside a dome of elephant dung, then pulled back the dung, exposing the mouse as the elephant approached. The first test came back surprising, the elephant stopped in its tracks and carefully went around the mouse. The Mythbusters wanted to make sure that the elephants were reacting to the mouse and not the movement of the dung so they tested it again, this time with no mouse only a moving ball of elephant poop. The elephants simply waked right by the ball and didn’t falter for a second. The Mythbusters were shocked by the results, so they ran the first trial a few more times. The same thing happened, the elephants would stop, change course, and cautiously go around the tiny little mice.

Yellow-necked Mouse (Apodemus flavicollis) juvenile

Yellow-necked Mouse (Apodemus flavicollis) juvenile

An elephant behaviorist by the name of Josh Plotnik says that in the wild, elephants are spooked by generally anything small moving around near its feet. Why could this be? An elephant is so large; why does it bother with anything so small as a mouse.  An Irish physician from the 1600’s figured that it must be because elephants do not have an epiglottis, the flap that blocks off your windpipe to prevent anything harmful from entering, the elephants could be afraid of the mice crawling up their trunk and entering their lungs, suffocating them.

I believe that the Mythbusters experiment was slightly flawed. I do not think they did a good job eliminating confounding variables. They did not test a wide array of mice and elephants. They should have tested several other small critters to make sure the case is not what Polnik might suggest and the elephants are simply afraid of anything small moving around them.

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Can Dogs Sniff Cancer?

In an article by CNN, Lucy, a guide dog school dropout, found a new way to serve the community, becoming a cancer sniffing dog. You may think this is silly and impossible, but in fact many dogs can be trained to detect cancer in humans. Lucy, was trained to sniff out prostate, bladder, and kidney cancer. Lucy, along with many other cancer sniffing dogs, are saving lives detecting early stage cancer across the world.


Nose Goes

Dogs noses are unbelievably more powerful than human noses. A human nose has about 5 million sensors in it to control what we smell. A dog’s nose has roughly 300 million sensors. This allows dogs to break down smells into individual parts. Where we might smell a chocolate chip cookie in the oven, a dog smells flour, cocoa, sugar, and butter.

Something Stinks

When a dog sniffs you, it can tell a lot about you. Dogs can pick up on pheromones you release and by these pheromones a dog can tell your gender, mood, if you’re pregnant, and even what you ate for dinner the other night. Some of these pheromones released come from the cells inside your body. Cancerous cells release a different smell from healthy cells, and dogs can smell the difference. The difference between the two smells is very close, but most dogs can detect parts per trillion, the equivalent of two or three drops in an Olympic sized pool.

Saving Lives

The founder and CEO of Medical Detection Dogs, Claire Guest, had her life saved by her dog Daisy. Daisy repeatedly sniffed Claire and lunged at her chest. Claire later discovered a lump and was diagnosed with breast cancer. Because of Daisy’s early warning, Guest was able to avoid aggressive chemotherapy and the doctors were able to treat her and cure her cancer.


Testing the Dogs

A current British study tests if dogs are detecting cancer, or simply detecting other symptoms that cancer patients might also have such as old age. Dogs are sent to sniff eight urine samples, one of them belonging to a cancer patient, and others belonging to patients with similar symptoms to the cancer patient. The dogs accurately identified the cancerous sample 95% of the time.

Going Forward

Guest amongst other scientists believes these dogs can be used to detect many other diseases in the future. With an accuracy rating of 95%, the dogs are actually more accurate than some lab tests. These dogs think of the detection process as some kind of game, so they have no problem processing hundreds of these tests a day.




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Does Eating Chocolate Make You Smarter?

I’m sure everyone has heard the myth that a piece of chocolate and a glass of red wine a day can actually make you smarter. Is there any actual truth to this? Could eating something that your mother always told you was unhealthy actually be beneficial? The research team led by Georgina Crichton of the University of South Austria seems to think so. They studied two groups of people, those who ate chocolate at least once a week, and those who didn’t. They were given cognitive tests and the average score of someone who ate chocolate was significantly higher than someone who did not. Memory specifically was noted to be significantly improved when eating chocolate. Someone who ate chocolate had a much easier time memorizing and reciting a grocery list or a phone number.


Researchers believe that the the cocoa flavonals are what causes the improved brain function. These same nutrients have also been linked to increased cardiovascular system performance. They support the flow of blood through the body which is important for cardiovascular health as well as healthy aging.

Another thing found in this study was that dark chocolate is more beneficial than milk chocolate, supporting the idea that the cocoa is connected with brain function as dark chocolate has a much higher concentration of cocoa.



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How Sleep Could Be Killing You

As I write this blog post, I wonder how I will catch up on all the sleep I’m missing out on right now. Can I catch up on my sleep or will laying here awake at 3 in the morning cause some kind of permanent damage to my brain? How much extra will I have to sleep to make up these lost hours? These questions are all addressed in ASAPSciene’s video on sleep deprivation. Scientists actually studied the effects of sleep deprivation on mice and the results were fairly conclusive. If you fall behind on sleep for only a couple days in a row, your brain can recover quickly without any permanent damage. If you fall behind on a timescale of several weeks or months, the brain can recover, but it will take longer to recover than the amount of sleep lost. If you fall behind on sleep for a number if years, the brain will very likely never fully recover and you will see prolonged symptoms of being groggy or exhausted. fatigue-e1432031522392-2

Here’s where their report get interesting. The next topic they address is how much sleep is actually required for a good night. While I’m sure most of us are not getting the 7-8 hours recommended, it may not be a worst case scenario. Some of the possible side effects to not getting enough sleep can include increased chance of diabetes, heart disease, and even a 12% higher chance of death. Suprisingly, these chances can be even higher if you In fact get TOO MUCH sleep in one night. That scary 12% increased chance of death number jumps to an alarming 30%! So before you think of trying to sleep the day away, consider setting an alarm. It may just save your life.


If you routinely sleep less than 7-8 hours per night and feel no signs of sleep deprivation, turn around and pat yourself on the back because you are the exception. During the mice study, researchers found that some mice had genetic mutations that allowed them to sleep for less than the normal time and not suffer the consequences of missing sleep. This was linked to the fact that they had more intense sleep cycles that put them in deeper sleep and helped them recover quicker.

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You’re sitting on the couch, the fifth episode of your favorite television show is about to come on and for some reason, you haven’t moved a muscle since episode one. Your mom walks by and asks why you haven’t moved your lazy butt all morning. It turns out, it might not be your fault, It could in fact be her fault. Scientists have linked laziness to a gene that can be traced through family ancestry. In a video released be ASAPScience, one particular study uses mice to track laziness running through bloodlines. The active mice’s offspring ran further and more often.


Another interesting study is in preliminary stages at the University of North Carolina. This study is attempting to link the correlation made with the mice to human behavior. The study will be conduced in a similar manner to the one preformed on mice, but humans will be substituted. The research team has laid out genome maps


for test subjects and plans to monitor families to see if similar results occur. Prelimary results are showing that laziness can, in fact be traced back through genes. So remember, next time your mom or dad calls you lazy, turn the tables on them and ask them why they weren’t more active.


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Sorry Mom and Dad, but science is not for me

Hey guys, my names Chris North and I’m from Lancaster, PA. I, like a few others in this class, am majoring in PGA Golf Management. With my father being a thermal engineer, and my mother working in biological research, science was always very present in my household. Not exactly my style however. Nothing against my parents, but planning my evening around when the next iridium flare would be and how bioluminescence works were not my favorite topics of discussion at the dinner table.


Golf had always been my passion and that is why I jumped on the opportunity to study golf in college. Ive always been fascinated with the golf swing and how it works. I’m sure a majority of you have seen the movie Happy Gilmore, or at least know of the swing. At almost every driving range across America, there is some idiot trying to convince their buddies that they can hit one just like in the movie. But does this goofy approach actually add any distance off the tee? if it does why isn’t every professional golfer running up to the ball and whacking it like a slap shot?tumblr_mpu6yr0ovQ1rk5zfdo5_400I looked online to see that the fine folks at Sports Science had already taken the same thing into consideration. They looked at all the data and numbers of a golfer hitting a golf ball from a standing position and a running start. The video does a great job with dissecting the science behind both swings and explaining why one is greater than the other. (Spoiler alert: Hollywood’s portrayal takes the upper hand).