Author Archives: Daniel J Lehecka

The World’s Wish for Water


With more inhabitants on this planet daily, we are being forced to re-evaluate how we use our fresh water.  It is a necessary part of our daily lives, from drinking, washing hands, showering, cooking, and so much more.  But there’s going to come a point, accelerated by climate change at this rate, where we won’t be able to sustain society with the fresh water we have.  So scientists have been working to create more advanced water desalination plants across the world.  Desalination is the process of removing sodium from any substance, in this situation I am talking about salt water.  In areas that don’t have a lot of fresh water and are situated near an ocean, desalination is a realistic way for them to sustain their needs without having to take water from elsewhere.  But it’s not easy to remove salt from large quantities of water, especially at the rate entire countries need o keep up their use.  So I wanted to look into how this technology is evolving, and just how far it can take us.

Science of Desalination

The process of desalination has become somewhat streamlined in modern times as a result of much research into the process.  The current methods involves pumping salt water from the ocean (or any other non-fresh body of water), and doing one of two things with them.  The first is that you can heat up the water to a boiling point, where you will be left with a tank of pure salt.  You then have to capture that water vapor and chill it back down in a separate tank to get fresh water.  There are a few major issues with this method, in that you need a large amount of electricity to boil that much water, it takes a lot of space to have so many different holding chambers, and it’s nearly impossible to capture back all of the water that you have just boiled.  This is the method that is used in the Middle East most often because it is quicker to do then the other one, and they don’t have an issue with creating energy because of their abundance of oil.

The other method that can be used to desalinate water is Reverse Osmosis. This process is considerably more complicated then simply heating the water up.  Once you get the water into the plant, you have to use chemicals to make sure you have the right pH balance,  pump it to the filtration area, use membranes to filter out the salt (which is around 99% effective at removing salt), and then gets minerals and chemicals added back to make it suitable for consumption.  This method does however take considerably less energy, and is somewhat self sustainable.  Recently built plants have started using the flow of water as a way to self power themselves, thus cutting down on the environmental impact from energy.  However, they do use more chemicals which if not properly regulated could end up back in the water stream  These plants tend to be more expensive, but are popular in Europe where there are tighter environmental restrictions.

Reverse Osmosis Plant in Spain

Reverse Osmosis Plant in Spain Source

Downsides to Desalination

While it does provide us an incredible outlet to get nearly unlimited drinking water, there are some concerns with desalination.  The first is that it causes significant harm to the environment.  Sabine Lattemann wrote a paper entailing some of the biggest environmental threats posed by desalination, among which were harming natural habitats by draining their water, chemical refuse from the plants, and the massive energy use.  The one that I find most poignant is the chemical refuse argument, because in the process of making the water safe for consumption these plants are using a lot of chemicals, many of which end up getting dumped back into the ocean.  It is also alarming how much energy needs to be used to fuel the plants that heat the water to desalinate, because they are not currently using renewable forms of energy like many reverse osmosis plants are.  One final argument is that the companies/governments that run these plants would have complete control over the drining water for an area and that is too much power for them to have.  I think with a proper set of checks and balances this could be controlled, but it is something to keep in mind.

Environmental Harm from Desalination Plants

Environmental Harm from Desalination Plants Source


I came into this post not knowing much more then what the concept of desalination was, and I came out conflicted.  It provides areas that don’t have access to fresh water a way to get it, and that means that society can exist in more places.  However, it does pose a threat to the environment if not properly controlled.  These plants dumping chemicals into oceans and lakes will only kill off natural wildlife, and the massive energy use to create the fresh water will only contribute to the growing threat of global warming.  Also, it is disconcerting knowing that access to water will become a more politicized issue, but I think that’s unavoidable either way.   I believe that these plants provide a great opportunity for civilization to thrive, but at the same time we should look into making them more environmentally conscience and sustainable.


Expected to Perform


We’ve all heard a variation of the phrase “If you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to get it”.  But is there any truth to this statement, does having high expectations for yourself actually translate into a tangible level of higher success?  Having pressure to live up to expectations is something that I’m sure many of us experience, but does it actually cause us to do any better?  If we look at this as a study, the null hypothesis would be that expectations don’t change performance, and the alternative would be that they do.


In order to help eliminate confounding variables, I first wanted to get an idea of the general expectations that parents of different ethnicities have for their children.  I found this study by Christopher Spera that examined what sort of education parents of different ethnicities expected for their kids and what they were hoping for them to accomplish with those educations.  What they found was that parents of ethnic minorities have much higher aspirations for their childrens education, but caucasian parents had the same leevels of expectations for their children outside of academics.  They also studied how expectations affected the perception of success and found that parents who felt their children were doing well in school had higher goals for them in life.  This was also related to many other things like parents education levels, socio-economic status, and others.

Parental Education vs Expectation for Childrens Performance

Parental Education vs Expectation for Childrens Performance Source


For the purpose of this write-up, I am correlating self esteem with expectations because they have been found to be closely related.  In a study conducted regarding self esteem and performance, they found that having good school performance boosts your self esteem, which in turn boosted peoples expectations for themselves.  They believed that their opinions were more valuable and were more willing to make major decisions in their lives.  I interpret this data as students doing well causes them to put higher pressure on themselves to do even better, because they like the feeling of success. A study titled Cause or Effect? A Longitudinal Study of Immigrant Latino Parents’ Aspirations and Expectations, and Their Children’s School Performance ” showed that in general, parents with no expectations for their children forced them to work less hard an in turn their children performed worse.  However, they also discovered that this pressure doesn’t just have to come from a parent, it could come from a teacher, coach, or any authoritative figure in the students life.


I think from this data it’s safe to say that there is a correlation between expectations and performance, thus confirming the null hyphothesis.  However, I don’t think the definition of “expectation” is very clear cut.  This could be what your parents want from you, what you want from yourself, or what any figure of authority assumes you to be capable of.  I think this aligns with what I’ve experienced in my own life, up until 11th grade my parents always pushed me hard to do well in school, and then they stopped doing so and I noticed my performance starting to slip.  I think that without a push from someone else, or even yourself, to perform then you will have a tougher time doing so.

These Fires are Wild

Something that has been all over the news for the last year is the massive surge in wild fires that we have experienced in America and all across the world.  Just the other day there was a massive wildfire in Tennessee that has, at this point, left 7 dead and 53 injured (source).  So why are these infernos becoming more common, more destructive, and ultimately causing more deaths?  There’s a lot of reasons we understand and many more that aren’t fully mapped out yet.  Below I am going to map out the major reasons for this change, and what we can do to stop it.

Climate Change

The largest reason that we are seeing wildfires continue to burn is the effects that climate change is having on forests.  With hotter and dryer conditions, small flames can quickly grow and spread across dry forests.  According to ClimateCentral, Spring and Summer are the two most common times for wildfires, and we have seen a  2.1°F raise in the last century.  One place that has been devastated by these conditions is Alaska, where melting snow is leaving less land properly hydrated, causing massive death in their forests.  In 2015, around 6 Million acres of woodlands burned down in Alaska, making it one of the worst years on record.  That trend has continued in 2016, with continually rising temperatures causing more and more brush to light on fire, and because the forests are dried out the fire is being quickly spread by wind.


Much of the Western United States is currently being decimated by one of the worst droughts in history, specifically California.  They have been in a drought for 6 years now, and 2015 was oficially their hottest year on record. (source)  Because their land isn’t being properly irrigated, plants are dying, leading to dry brush that is easily combustible.  There has been a noted issue with arsons setting fire to trees and campers making fires over night only for it to catch the forest on fire. (Arsonist charged for starting forest fire) Alabama, also facing a draught, has taken matters into their own hands with their governor outlawing all types of outdoor fires unti lthe drought is declared over. (source)  This is obviously an extreme step, but it’s also a very serious situation.  Also, there is less rainfall to naturally put out any small fires, so unless a fire crew can get a helicopter with water to the effected area within an immediate time frame, the fire will spread.

Tennessee Wild Fire

Tennessee Wild Fire Source

More Fuel

As growing seasons continue to get longer because of diversified crop lineups, there will be more fuel for these fires to continue burning.  Additionally, the firefighting efforts in the past allowed some of the underbrush to burn in order to save the forest as a whole.  But now, this vegetation has grown back more plentiful then it was before and has not been addressed.  Many climate scientists believe that because we never addressed this issue, the wildfires won’t stop until the forest self regulates it’s vegetation growth.  Another large contributor to increased burning material is civilization existing near the border of these forests.  National Geographic published an article in 2013 before this major batch of wildfires started happening explaining that eventually the fires would reach these towns and burn even hotter then they would in a natural setting.  Because of this, firefighters are unable to get into these towns safely to extinguish the fires and they will continue to burn.


Aside from trying to stop people from leaving exposed fires in nature and getting to the fires quick enough before they spread, there isn’t much we can do to stop these fires from raging on.  If we are to believe some of the climate scientists, it will naturally sort itself out once enough of the brush that has grown in the last couple decades has burned away.  But many other scientists argue that climate will only continue to get hotter and drier and that fires will continue to burn if we don’t take major steps towards changing that.  Overall, I think either way is a scary prospect that this is a natural cycle or that it’s unavoidable and is our new reality.  I think more in depth educational programs into having exposed fires in nature would be beneficial, and there needs to be more extreme laws and fines so that people are very cautious about doing it.


What Causes Pain Tolerances

Something that I’ve always found interesting is the different levels of pain people are able to endure.  Most of the people in my family are extremely good about tolerating pain, in fact my dad broke 4 ribs and didn’t want to go to the doctor because he felt that it would just be a nuisance.  (Don’t ever do this)  So I wanted to know why is everyone able to withstand different amounts of pain, and what are the causes behind it.  I focused my research mainly on genetics, because there is an already documented difference between genders.  The null hypotheses here would be that genetics don’t play a role in pain tolerance, and the alternative would be that they indeed do.


To understand why people have different levels of pain tolerances, I think it’s first important to understand what causes us to feel “pain” as we know it.  In a very general description, pain is caused by μ-opioid receptors in our central nervous system.  When the body receives these signals, it tells the brain that we are experiencing something that is causing pain to our body.  I also learned that this is how pain-killers work, things like morphine suppress that receptor so that the signals of pain aren’t sent to the body (


The first study that I chose to look at was one about different ethnicities having differing levels of pain tolerance.  The study I am using for this was conducted by Robert Edwards in which he analyzed the levels of pain reported by peoples of different ethnicities.  The findings of his study were that African American patients reported higher levels of debilitating pain.  They also did a test to see how long patients could withstand restricted bloodflow to their arms, and on average White patients were able to withstand the pain for 9 minutes while African American patients were only able to cope for 5 minutes.  This is a pretty significant gap and shows a large potential area for differences between ethnic groups.

Pain levels reported by various ethnic groups

Pain levels reported by various ethnic groups Source

In a study by Christopher Nielsen that dives more into how genetics affect our pain tolerances, he concludes that 60% of the difference in pain felt from extreme cold is genetic and 28% of the difference when its extreme heat is genetic.  This study concluded that a large part of pain tolerance is inherited as offspring, and that it plays a slightly larger part in pain tolerance then your environment does.  This study showed that there was more of a link between genetics and pain tolerance then was previously believed.  However, this study by Mark Litt asserts that one of, if not the largest, indicators of pain levels is a persons mental state.  If the subject expected there to be extreme pain, they were more likely to feel it then someone who didn’t expect major discomfort.


From reading these studies, I’ve come to the understanding that you can’t really pin pain tolerance on just one or two different things.  The evidence shows that the alternative hypothesis was correct, and that genetics do play a role in it.  But there’s more to it then that, things like gender, ethnicity, and psychology also play a major role.  I would say this is about what I expected to find from this research aside from the fact that I never really took the mental aspect into account.  Since there’s no way to pin our tolerance on one specific thing, it’s fair to say that people who can withstand large amounts of pain have a lot of different things going for them.


Is music taste an indicator of personality?


Pop, Hip-Hop, Classical, Rock, Alternative, Metal, Punk.  All genres of music, and everyones taste in them is different.  Some people might be drawn towards pop and rock while others stick only to metal.  But do these preferences reveal anything about our personality and the way that we behave in our everyday life?  This has been a question that is at the heart of many studies, and is something that to this day continues to not be totally understood.


The first study that looked into the link between music preference and personality came in 1953, when researcher Cattell and partner Anderson created the I.P.A.T. personality test ( Cattell)  Through this study they created 12 different personality traits that could be deciphered from peoples enjoyment in certain parts of music.  Further the idea that music causes personality, a 1999 study showed that people used music as a platform to communicate their social values.  (North) However, there are some confounding issues with these studies.  They found issues with self esteem playing a large role into how people perceive music relating to themselves.  They were also studying limited genres of music, specifically in the Cattell study they were only asking how people felt about certain parts of jazz and classical songs as opposed to whole genres.

Still, these studies point out that there is a potential underlying link between personality and music preference.  A comprehensive study conducted by Peter Rentfrow (Rentfrow) at the University of Texas studied undergraduate students and how their music preferences effect their lives.  The majority of students put music as the most important cultural impact on their life, something that has been proven to affect your personality.  They also said that for themselves and others, music is the most important thing that affects their personality, placed above any other form of media.

This study was conducted of many smaller studies that set apart individual genres of music, had participants tell how they felt about those genres, explain what parts of that music was appealing to them, and finally finding a link between them and personality.  Below is the final chart that showed the relation between personality and music types, as was presented in the study.


Image from Rentfrow Study


Ultimately, the study found that there is a link and that it is fairly direct.  Individuals who liked upbeat exciting music tended to be more rebellious and risky in their life compared to people who enjoy mellow music.  One example given in the article is that students who enjoyed upbeat music found themselves to be more attractive and have a higher self esteem, and were also politically more liberal compared to students with different musical preferences.  I would say that this wasn’t different to what I expected, generally people I know who like “faster” music are more into party scenes and as a result see themselves as more popular and likeable.

In conclusion, these studies show that there is a link between music preference and personality, and the link is fairly strong.  I think this is largely caused by the fact that music plays such a major role in our lives and anything you spend that much time on is bound to have an impact on you.  So think about what types of music you listen to and see if it correlates to what they found in the study, maybe it will tell you more about yourself then you thought possible.



Do Cities Foster New Ideas?

Everyday I watch a new vlog from Youtuber Casey Neistat ( , generally a short 10 minute of his life in New York City.  He often talks about how the city is incredibly good for workflow and creativity.  This got me wondering, is there anything about cities that would inherently cause more creative flow and a better work ethic?

For this specific topic, I’m going to define a city as not only a place where a lot of people live, but also one with a high population density.  The Quarterly Journal of Economics contains this piece categorizing cities as the heart of technological innovation, and as a result a place where more growth is expected to happen.  Because cities are tightly packed, you will interact with more people on a daily basis.  Also, the people who are able to afford living there will generally have a better job, meaning they have more ideas.


Post-Rent breakdown of income across the US.  Note the higher income in coastal cities

Post-Rent breakdown of income across the US. Note the higher income in coastal cities Source 

Over 90% of America’s GDP comes from Metropolitan areas, while around 65% of the population live in them.  So what is it about these places that foster success?  This study from notable economists shows that as you increase the population density, efficiency and output increase at a disproportionate rate.  New York, despite it’s absolutely massive population, manages to be 4th in the country in output/worker.  However, it could be argued that since these cities are so massive, they are creating success based on their name alone.

However, it has been proven that being exposed to more culture will make a person more creative.  This article discusses multiple studies that have proven living in more then one country in their lifetime will make a person more creative.  To do this, one of the studies surveyed 205 students and asked them to solve a task in a creative manor.  60% of the kids who had lived over seas figured out the problem, while only 42% who hadn’t could.  That said, it’s not a very large study and there could be a confounding variable such as kids who have lived in more then one country have parents who are in higher ranking jobs.  Another study with 108 college students showed that 70% of students who had lived abroad were able to negotiate a beneficial business deal, while none of the students who had lived domestically were able to.

One major argument is that the type of jobs that exist in cities are corporate jobs, ones that challenge their workers to foster strong ideas and push the boundaries.  According to this article, 33% of people in America are working in jobs that they would define as allowing “creativity”.  These jobs are disproportionately centered around urban areas, and as a result cities are more creative places to exist.  And I guess that brings about the point that it’s not truly cities that make someone creative, but rather the environment that grows around them.  You will meet more people who are in turn more likely to work at a job that pushes them to innovate and be more productive.



In the Pursuit of… Mediocracy?

“Strive to be the very best version of yourself that you possibly can”, a phrase that we’ve all heard countless times and in countless different ways.  This quest to achieve the unattainable, pushing ourselves to constantly improve until there is no possible way to reach the next level.  And as we get further and further up the ladder, it becomes harder to travel less distances.  So is it possible to ever create the best version of ourselves? defines perfection as a level of refinement that surpasses what could possibly be improved upon. If we assume this to be the accurate definition of the word, it stands to reason that there could be two possible conclusions on reaching perfection.  1) The level that we can’t pass is arbitrary, and thus we are the ones that define when we reach it.  2) That level is never attainable because the goal posts will always move. I think both have a reasonable base to stand on and that they both warrant more discussion.

perfect-002 Picture source

The first possibility is that the person assessing perfection is the only one that is capable of defining it in that situation.  In which case, when a person feels that they are unable to make themselves any better, no matter how much effort is put in, then they have theoretically reached perfection.  Now an issue exists here of bias, because people always think more highly of themselves then the rest of society does.  This article from CBS points to the fact that a large majority of people rate themselves as “above average”, which is stastically impossible.  Obviously not everyone can be above average, because then the average would be raised and people would be below it.  Clearly a lot of people have trouble in finding faults in themselves, and that makes the idea of rating yourself as perfect sort of bunk.

The second idea assumes that perfection is an ever moving destination, similar to the concept of infinity in math.  You can get closer and closer, but every time you do it’s value moves further away.  This is the fallacy called moving the goalposts, which is when you demand more and more to come of a situation until the original goal is no longer the same.  In the case of perfection, people expect more change to occur then is reasonably possible.  Whether it’s personality traits or body-shape, people are always going to expect more then can happen.  This study, while not directly related to the idea of being perfect, shows that by changing the way we tell people to think about their weight loss program the less likely they are to have unrealistic standards for the result.  This same idea could be applied to the concept of perfection, where people think that they can make massive improvements in a small amount of time, but in reality it takes an incredible amount of refinement to make even the smallest changes.

I do believe that a person can reach the 1st criteria of “perfection”, a point of refinement where they deem themselves unable to go any further.  If this happens, they have made the perfect version of themselves.  However, the 2nd idea of perfection is unattainable.  People are much quicker to point out faults in other people, and as a result there will always be something to critique.  For someone to be perfect in the general consensus of the world would be a level of refinement that doesn’t exist.  This isn’t to say that you should stop attempting to make yourself a better person, but just understand that there will always be some things you can’t improve upon.




The Dry Facts of Dry Age

Whenever I start to procrastinate I more often then not find myself watching cooking videos.  I don’t know why, but something about them just fascinates me.  A trend I’ve been noticing lately is a considerably larger amount of videos related to dry aging meats.  So I’m curious, where did the process come from, what does it actually do, why is it surging in popularity now, and how far can we go with it.

According to MyChicagoSteak the mainstream use of this process started around the1950’s, when butchers realized that storing their meats in an air controlled area led to a more developed flavor.  But in order to properly dry age, they needed to have good cuts of meat, because a fat marble must be maintained throughout.  As a result, dry aging was (and continues to be) a process that is only used in high-end steakhouses and butcher shops.

So now that we know the history, what is dry aging?  It’s when the cut of meat is taken and hung  in a climate controlled room, with the temperature and humidity set at a point where harmful bacteria aren’t able to get to the meat. This is opposed to wet aging which is the common method for grocery store meats.  (Wet aging is where they take the cut and then vacuum seal it in its own liquids and let it age like that.)  While the meat is hanging there, the naturally occurring enzymes will begin to break down the muscle and fibrous tendons so that the meat becomes more tender.  Also, because it is being stored in a cold chamber, the meat will become dehydrated.  Debragga says that the process will cause a weight loss in the meat of around 10-15%, and then the outside layer has to be removed because it has begun to develop mold which can’t be consumed.  For an in depth look at how the process is carried out, I found this article on the National Library of Medicine website to be helpful.

dry-aged-1Picture source


So then, why is this relevant to today?  Because as this has become more and more popular in the worlds steakhouses many people are trying to do this at home.  But because you need to have extremely precise conditions for the aging process to occur, the tools for the job just don’t exist in many peoples kitchens.  If you do have a way to control exact temperature and humidity, it is feasible to do it at home but again you need a high end cut of meat that is large enough to withstand the shrinkage.  A helpful guide here walks through step by step of how to go about the process, from what meat to buy all the way to how to prepare it.

So then how far can this process go?  The current record is 15 years at a French steakhouse.  But in a practical setting, high end restaurants are pushing for 100 days of dry aging as their new standard.  While there is no technical limit to how far someone could push this process, there certainly would be a point of diminishing returns and it wouldn’t make economic sense to keep going.

dry-agePicture source

Next time you have a fancy steak dinner (which might not happen very often here at Penn State) take time to appreciate that what you are eating is the result of a lot of food science.  There was a lot of thought and effort put into making that cut of meat more flavorful, and hopefully the end justifies the means.

Are AI the future of Wall Street?

As a finance major, whenever news comes out that artificial intelligences are set to become the future of financial trading I get a little nervous.  Many people think that sure, we could eventually create a program that is able to make real time decisions based around the market. But a lot of other people say that while they would be able to analyze concrete data, there is still too much left to interpretation for that to truly happen.  So which side is right, and should I switch my major at this point?

In the world of trading, some tech startups have already begun to experiment with using AI’s as their only way of trading.  Back in January tech startup Aidyia turned on their full tie automated hedge fund program.  On it’s first day of operation they saw a 2% return on their investment.  ( source )  While this isn’t a significant return considering they could make more just investing into a safe S&P index, it does prove that we have the capabilities to make a positive return without human intervention.  According to Preqin nearly 10% of all operating hedge funds in the world make a majority of their trades using computer generated models.  By continuing to allow the computers to create more and more models, firms are hoping that the programs will begin to recognize patterns in the way that humans do and trade on what might happen in the future.

As AI continue to get smarter, their return on the investments will potentially be able to outgrow that of a conventional trader.  This article from August outlines the newest player in the AI trading game, a program called “Emma”.  What they say is different about this program is that it’s programmed to not only look at the securities market, but also what is happening on a global economic scale.  In the six months before they had unveiled the project they had it trading a set of stocks that it determined would be smart investments.  Since then, their portfolio size has grown by 30% and they are donating the extra proceeds that it makes to charity because for now they are just interested in seeing how far they can push this AI growth.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Monday, Sept. 15, 2008 in New York. A stunning reshaping of the Wall Street landscape sent stocks down sharply Monday, but the pullback appeared relatively orderly _ perhaps because investors were unsurprised by the demise of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and relieved by a takeover of Merrill Lynch & Co. (AP Photo/Jin Lee)

Trading floor at the NYSE ( source )

This isn’t just something that is happening in the U.S. market either.  Later this year in Japan a new AI developed by Mizuho will work along side human traders in an effort to help them make more informed decisions.  Their goal with this system is to use the computer to show historical trends and interpret that into the future, and then use the actual trader as more of an evaluation of whether it’s actually worth their investment.

For now I don’t believe that traders and finance students should be worried about AI’s completely replacing them, as they are probably more useful for simply aiding in the job.  But it is an interesting future change in the way the industry operates and will become an important thing for anyone interested in the markets to know how to work with.


Cloning: Science Fiction or Future Fact?

A lot of you have probably thought about the concept of cloning a human at some points.  How cool would it be to have another version of yourself, one that might be able to exist long after you’re dead.  The idea has been toyed with in science fiction numerous times, and I think this article from the Sci-Fi encyclopedia provides a great place to refer to in how often this is portrayed in writing.  One example that a lot of people might be familiar with is from the movie series “Austin Powers”, where Dr. Evil has himself cloned and made into a little person called “Mini Me”.  But is this whole concept of making a carbon copy of you, from physical features down to personality traits and behavior actually feasible?



To understand if humans would ever be able to clone themselves, we have to first understand the basics of what cloning is. defines cloning as one of a few ways of producing identical copies of genetic offspring.  In order for it to be a true clone, it’s genetic sequences have to be the exact same.  This does occur in nature with plants and single cell organisms.  This is a possibility because these life forms are relatively simple compared to everything else.  These organisms reproduce asexually, a process where the single parent splits their cells, leading to an exact copy of themselves.

Cloning multi cell organisms doesn’t, however, happen naturally in nature.  We are able to physically clone animals in a lab setting, however. This was made possible by replacing the unfertilized nucleus of an egg (haploid) with a fertilized nucleus (diploid).  As a result, the offspring will be genetically identical to the offspring. (source) The first time this was actually used on a mammal was with a sheep named Dolly in 1996.  Dolly was an exact copy of the donor sheep’s DNA, but only lived to be 7 years old.  However, many people think that this was due to the fact that the donor sheep was already  fairly old, so that shortened Dolly’s lifespan.



So then the large question that remains unanswered is whether or not we could clone a human.  All signs point to the fact that we could physically clone a human, but would the person have the same mental state?  We don’t know, and it’s very hard to find out because cloning a human would lead to some serious debates about ethical issues.  As it stands, cloning has a success rate of around 1 in 100 (source).  So we would be putting a lot of potential people at risk for the sake of science.  According to this source, human cloning is technically legal in 42 states, but carrying out an experiment on it would be grossly unethical.  The UN, however, has explicitly stated that allowing a cloned embryo to come to full term is a breach of the international laws.

So don’t expect to have a second version of you any time in the future.  However, there is exciting potential for therapeutic cloning, which is where they make an exact embryo of you but don’t transplant it into a surrogate.  The hope is in the future that we can make a copy of you to use in the treatment of diseases.  So while part of cloning might be science fiction, there are definitely some real uses that we will hopefully see in our lifetimes.

Evolution, Pokémon, and Southern America

Evolution has been a heavily debated topic in the religious community since the idea was suggested by Charles Darwin in 1859.  Many people have argued that there’s no way it could exist, we nor any animal could be the bi-product of mere chance.  This debate found its way into Americas public schools as the system began to teach this.  Many parents fought back against it, writing complaints about teachers overstepping their bounds against religious freedoms.

So people in America don’t like the concept of evolution, what’s the big deal?  There are a lot of scientific ideas that people deject, this isn’t a news flash.  But where this becomes interesting is just how far some people went to reject any extension of the idea of evolution.  In relation to the popular video game series Pokémon, many members of the religious community spoke against the game because of the way the pokemon evolve.  In the game, after reaching a certain level a pokemon will “evolve” into a new, better form of itself.  Interestingly enough, this is more like a metamorphosis.  In real life, one animal doesn’t just turn into another instantaneously and we call it evolution.  What pokemon do is very similar to what happens with a butterfly, they start out life as a lower form and eventually become a bigger creature.  In fact, in the game there is a pokemon called “Butterfree” that starts its life as a worm, goes through a metamorphosis and becomes a butterfly.

caterpie-evolutionImage source

But since they decided to call this process evolution in the series, many people took offense to it.  One group that decided to come to the aid of Nintendo in this issue was actually the Vatican, this article from 2000 tells the story of how Pope John Paul 2 gave Pokémon his blessing because he said that it was a “story of strong friendship” and not a game that promoted satanic themes.

So then, if Pokémon really is based on science, what sort of patterns are we able to follow through their lives?  Well one real scientific trait in the games is a concept called “shiny pokemon”. Essentially, some of the pokemon in the game have a recessive gene and when they breed to make a new pokemon, that baby can turn out to be a shiny. A shiny is just a pokemon that has a different color.  This is similar to recessive genes in real life, like how two parents with black hair are able to give birth to a kid with red hair.

Another fascinating evolution is one that a pokemon called Eevee does.  For this section I am getting inspiration from here because I didn’t think about this particular pokemon at first.  Eevee is able to evolve into 7 different pokemon, and while this seems like something that doesn’t happen in real life, it actually is.  This is called a phenotype, and after doing some reading through this study here, I think the easiest way to describe this is that animals metamorphose into forms that best suit them in their environment.  So a grasshopper will have a different skin color depending on if it’s living in a brown prairie or a green forest.  This is similar to what is happening in the game, except there the trainer gets to pick what it will become. So next time you’re playing Pokémon, don’t forget to think about how totally relatable it is to the real world!

eeveelutionImage Source

As the world moves faster and faster…

You’re all ready to go on vacation, the highlight of your entire summer.  You head to the airport bright an early to get on your flight, strapped in for the long haul.  But as you start to board the flight, you realize just how long you are going to be in that metal tube for.  But why does it have to be that way?  With the incredible technological advances we have made in the past few decades, why are airplanes moving at the same speed as they have for a long time?  There’s a lot of reasons for that, some of which are purely up to the airlines and some of the others are due to actual technical reasons.

To talk about why planes aren’t getting any faster, we have to first understand the history of commercial flight.  There has been a refusal to break the sound barrier in commercial flight because of how many inconveniences it causes.  Breaking the sound barrier uses a lot of fuel, causes a disturbance to both passengers and people under the plane on the ground.  Sonic Booms in the air can cause damage to windows and other fragile items on the ground, and as a result peoples homes were being damaged when supersonic flights were flying domestic.

Many of you might be familiar with a flight service called Concorde, they were offering flights from America to Britain because it didn’t cause disturbances over domesticated areas.  According to this article, the main reason that the Concorde was required was because of all extremely high costs.  By the time they had managed to create the plane, they were already three times over their R&D budget.  Supersonic flight also takes a large amount more fuel, and during the 1970’s fuel costs were already extremely high due to the oil crisis.  This made the barrier to entering the Concorde market exceptionally unwise for most airlines.  They also couldn’t fly over mainland America, so these flights were limited to being Transatlantic.

concordeImage Source

The failure of the Concorde has set back the airline industry massively, instead of now going to spend their money to research faster flights, airplane manufacturers are now looking for ways to use less fuel in order to be more cost efficient and save the environment.  Since drag is such a big technical issue when flying, we can look at the fact that doubling our speed will increase the drag force by 4 factors.  This causes fuel costs to rise at a disproportionate rate, and it’s not cost efficient to fly these planes because people aren’t willing to pay first class prices for a simply faster flight.  So until we are able to find a way to break the sound barrier using less fuel and not create a disturbance when flying over land, speeding up our commercial flights will not happen.  Maybe the real future lies in teleportation, then.


Freshman 15… bottles of beer

We’ve all heard the words, whether it be around campus or your parents warning you to watch your food intake before they said goodbye after dropping you off.  The dreaded freshman 15, supposedly a byproduct of a lack of exercise on campus and a considerably less healthy diet (partially in thanks to the buffets in the dining halls).  But another thing that you’ll hear is to be extremely wary of your alcohol intake, not only because it’s not allowed on campus but also because the calories really start to pile on.

According to this article the average calorie count in a 12 oz container of beer is 153 and a shot of liquor is about 100.  If you assume that the average person drinks 4 beers and a few mixed drinks at a party, that’s an extra 1000 calories just from drinking.  Plugging these numbers into a calorie calculator (I used this one here) we can find that on average consuming an extra 3500 calories a week will equate to gaining 1 pound.  I don’t think it’s super unreasonable to think that someone could be going out 3 nights a week, so if you don’t change your diet or exercise patterns you would be putting on 1 pound per week.

According to researchers, one of the main reasons that alcohol causes people to gain weight is because the body makes the decision to break down the alcohol first, so your metabolism doesn’t work nearly as fast for any solid foods that you have eaten.  So if you go out for a piece of pizza after a late night party, your body is going to continue prioritizing breaking down alcohol instead of the pizza, and thus the pizza will be stored as fat. Additionally, there is believed to be a correlation that drinking alcohol, specifically drinks with a higher concentration, causes the body to produce more fat in the abdomen for men and the hips for women.

Alcohol Weight Gain Graphic

Another reason that alcohol can cause weight gain is because of the calorie content in alcohol.  One gram has 7 calories, compared to 4 per gram in proteins and sugars.  In fact, alcohol only has 2 calories less per gram then fats.  Alcohol also causes the production of the hormone called Cortisol.  As a result of higher levels of Cortisol, the body will begin to break down muscle and build less muscle after exercise.  So you are drinking a lot of extra calories and your body isn’t able to build muscle.

So what can you do about this?  The simplest solution is a fairly obvious one, you could just not drink.  But if you do choose to, watch what types of drinks you are having and then make smart choices with foods you eat during/after a party.  Also, the walk to the forum for this class should help you keep the fat down.



Hey everyone, my names Daniel Lehecka and I’m a freshman currently pursuing a finance major at Smeal.  I’m from the suburbs north of Pittsburgh, and I went to a high school called North Allegheny.  If anyone is from Pittsburgh, you probably know exactly where I’m talking about.

So what brings me to SC 200 then, how did this business major with absolutely NO intention to ever do anything science related for a professional career end up in an oversized lecture hall with all of you?  I guess you could call it luck, fate, or pure magic.  This class was not a part of my schedule until the AP scores came out, I originally had Econ 102 as my 5th class.  But we got the scores back, I dropped out of Econ and went looking for a Gen-Ed.  After a lot of emails with my academic advisor (sorry Sarah) I decided that I should go looking for a Science gen ed so I could just get some of those credits out of the way.  I looked on lionpath and saw a whopping 2 options in front of me, Science 200 with very few seats left in the class, or an intro to biology.  I moved that mouse as fast as possible to get myself into this class, and now here I am.  Speaking of this class, I found an article that pertains pretty well to what we talked about in class Thursday which can be found here.

So why then don’t I like Science?  I’m not sure that it’s so much I dislike science as it is I like every other subject more.  Learning science in a public school is like eating pizza at a gluten free restaurant, it’s just not a fun experience.  I’m not interested in chemistry, physics was just a complicated mess and I almost failed out of anatomy.  In fact, I dropped AP chem after 3 days because the room was cold and dark.

Frozen Face for Science 200 Blog

Do I inherently hate science, I guess no.  But would I like to spend as little time in a science class as possible?  You better believe it.