Author Archives: Evan Michael Wentzel

Energy Drinks: Do They Live Up to the Hype?

Today Americans love to get their caffeine in as much as possible, and a relatively new concept that is especially popular with students is the energy drink. We’ve all at least seen them around, with their flashy labels and commercials that preach adrenaline. But with the high levels of sugar and other pronounceable ingredients, I started to think about how effective these drinks actually are. So I decided to do some research to see if energy drinks are worth the buy.

The alternative hypothesis here is that energy drinks do cause your body to provide you with a boost of energy, but while also not causing you to “crash” later on and become much more fatigued than you were previously. On the other hand the null hypothesis is that energy drinks have little effect on your energy level.

One study I found was done by the University of Massachusetts Lowell back in 2012, focusing mainly on a company known round the world, Red Bull. The researches organized it as an experimental study, with three groups: one that drinks Red Bull, one that drinks Starbucks, and a control group that drinks nothing. For my post i will only be focusing on the Red Bull and control groups, although the coffee group also has interesting results, but they are irrelevant to our hypotheses here. Every ten minutes for an hour the participants would have thscreen-shot-2016-12-01-at-2-42-34-pmeir heart rate, reaction time, and saturated oxygen levels measured. All three of these things are a good way to measure energy levels and focus.

Here you can see the results, and the first thing I noticed was the time span, I found it a little surprising that none of the effects of the drinks lasted very long. With the heart rate the Red Bull group rose steadily until peaking at 50 minutes and then dropping sharply to slightly below their staring rate. The control group however, continued to rise throughout the entire hour.

The reaction time test yielded some interesting results, with the Red Bull group immediately descending in their response time and not starting to delay their response until about 40 minutes in. The control group started by slowing their times, but then improved greatly by the end of the hour (keep in mind the dependent variable is response time, so the lower the time the better). I do wish that this study had a longer time period, so that we could see when the reaction times return to around their initial time.

The saturated oxygen tests are all over the place, and it seems that the Red Bull did not have a defined effect on the participants compared to the control group. Overall the results showed more promise for energy drinks than I initially thought, and I do not have enough data to reject my null hypothesis so I will accept the null and say that energy drinks are in fact effective. Although, the study also shows that the control group that did not drink anything still did very similar to the Red Bull drink, so I would definitely not drink energy drinks all day everyday, or even somewhat regularly, as they are high in calories and sugars. But if you need a quick boost in your day it would help you out briefly.

Cell Phones & Cancer

In today’s world I would say almost every college student has some sort of cell phone. We all use them, and with the advancements in smartphone technology, phones are becoming more a part of our daily lives. But there are many speculations about the possible dangers cell phones may have on the human body.

There have been many studies that try and determine if there are any effects of radio waves coming from cell phones, one of which being a recent study carried out by the National Toxicology Program. They preformed an experimental trial in which rats were exposed to different amounts of radio waves. Over the course of the two year study, groups of rats were given doses of radio wave radiation, in addition to a control group which did receive any doses. What the scientists hypothesized was that the more radio waves the rats were exposed to , the higher their chance of developing cancerous cells. The typical rate of brain tumors in rats is about 2%, and the group given the most exposure had a rate of about 2.2%, which is very close to the control rate. In the heart however, the outcome was much more clear. The control rate of tumors in the hearts of rats is 1.3%, and throughout the groups that received radiation doses, the rate ranged from 5.5% to 6.6%, a significant increase in the rate of heart tumor.

Even with clear results from this study, it is still hard to understand what the effects are like on humans. Obviously we are very different from rats, so our bodies may react differently. Also, it is difficult to replicate the amount of radiation we are in contact with because of our phones, and where it is mostly concentrated. For now I wouldn’t be too concerned until a more specific study is published, but it certainly wouldn’t be bad to separate yourself from your phone when you are able to.

Change in Air Pressure Could Cure Jet Lag

As a resident of California, I have a five and and a half hour flight and three hour time shift every time I travel between school and home. Because of this and many other trips both domestically and abroad, I am no stranger to the dreaded effects of jet lag.

Jet lag occurs when your body’s circadian rhythm is interrupted by change in daylight hours. Your circadian rhythm controls many of your normal habits, but mainly your schedule for eating and sleeping. It si your body’s “internal clock”, and when time shifts the rhythm and schedule is interrupted leaving travelers with sleepless nights and drowsy days. But according to a new study, there may be hope for the victims of jet lag.

Scientists developed a hypothesis that oxygen levels may play a role in animal’s circadian rhythm because they observed that oxygen levels in cells would change throughout the day and night, especially when eating and sleeping. So in an experimental study with mice, scientists simulated a six hour time change and observed that the mice that experienced a small drop in oxygen level 12 hours before or two hours after adapted to the change in time significantly faster than the control mice that did not experience a change in oxygen levels.

Of course the next step of this is going to be studies done on humans, and if it proves to work it could change the experience people have while traveling greatly. In addition, airlines are interested in studies like these because there is potential for them to control the pressure in aircrafts that would result in less or no jet lag. I am hopeful that there is a way to prevent or cure jet lag, but just because the alternative hypothesis in this study was shown, humans may react differently or not at all even though mice did.

The Costs of Giving Up Sleep

Being a college student means juggling both schoolwork and social life, and people focus a lot on making sure they are able to do both to the fullest extent. But with this most students are sacrificing an overlooked commodity: sleep. Personally I have had multiple nights of getting no sleep just during my first semester as a college student. With fraternity life and a somewhat heavy school schedule, I find that I am always feeling sleep deprived one way or another. of course I try and compensate with a lot of coffee, but that doesn’t change the fact that my body is running on very little sleep. But recently I have been thinking about the toll that sleep deprivation can have on one’s body, both in the short and long term sense.

As expected, it turns out sacrificing sleep regularly will effect a person’s mood and perception greatly, which most of us have experienced or know someone who acts weird after pulling an all-nighter. But what I did not know was the detrimental long-term effects sleep deprivation can have.

In this article, multiple studies are preformed to test multiple hypothesis about the effects that lack of sleep can cause. Although all these studies suggest a strong connection between variables being tested or observed, it is always important to remember that correlation does not equal causation and there is always a possibility of a false positive or that the results were due to chance.

In the first study, an experimental study is preformed in which healthy patients are deprived of sleep for an unspecified amount of time. Afterwards the patients’ physical well being is evaluated and it was found that most patients suffered from effects linked to an increase in stress level, such as high blood pressure. This article here explains how when your body is experiencing more stress, it releases large amounts of hormones which increase the heart rate as well as constricting blood vessels, causingpart1 blood pressure to increase above your body’s normal rate. What the study does is points out how the putative casual variable (sleep) correlates to an increase in the putative response (blood pressure), which can be used to measure stress. Although this study may seem straight forward, there is most likely a decent chance that the increase in blood pressure could be due to a cofounding third variable that was not taken into account during the study. But just from personal experience, the outcome of the experiment seems to be realistic as I am definitely more stress and anxious after a night of few hours of sleep.

In a different observational, or correlational, study preformed by the same group, they were able to make connections between sleep deprivation and many diseases such as heart disease, obesity, alcoholism, and even decreased life expectancy. This shocked me to see that this study suggested so many diseases could be more prevalent in people getting less sleep (less than five hours a night), but it reassured me to read that the people being observed had been suffering from sleep deprivation for most their life.

These studies have made me more motivated to get to bed earlier, because although they may not been the most well-done experiments or observations, they supply enough data to support their hypotheses. But aside from health effects, the more immediate consequence is that these effects of sleep deprivation typically have college students decrease their academic performance. This really influenced me the most, because it made me realize that my late nights of studying are making my grades worse.

Helmets Don’t Save Lives?

As winter is coming, i felt the urge to find a study related to my favorite sport: skiing. I’ve been skiing since I was about two years old, mostly due to the fact that my mother grew up on a ski team from elementary school through college, and her father did the same and was an active ski patrol until his fifties. With so much history of skiing in my family, I naturally fell in love with the sport. But skiing is a very dangerous activity and can be deadly, so my mother always stressed one thing, and that was to wear a helmet.

I never complained about wearing a helmet, I understood pretty much from the start that a helmet could be the difference between life and death on the slopes, plus it keeps your head warm. So I was shocked when i stumbled across this article from the New York Times, which states that although the percentage of skiers and snowboarders that wear helmets has grown significantly in the past few decades, the number of ski-related brain injuries and fatalities has remained mostly the same. This was very surprising to me, and didn’t make sense at first. The study done is observational, retrieving data from this report (bottom of page 3). Although at first it may appear that helmets are useless, I found that the article does a good job providing third variables that may have an effect on the relationship between helmet use and death. For example, the article talks about how in today’s world we have more advanced gear and equipment that allows skiers and snowboards to explore more dangerous territory, take more risky air time, and travel at faster speeds on the snow. This leads to an increase in people engaging in more dangerous stunts, simply because they are able to.

Not mentioned in the article though, is the fact that they are comparing a percentage to a number value. The putative casual variable is expressed as a percent of helmet users out of all skier and snowboarders, the putative response is expressed as the number of brain injuries and fatalities. This means that the study did not account for increase in population and therefore likely increase in the number of people who ski. So it is possible that if you were to express the dependent variable as a percent rather than a number, there may be a better relationship showing that helmets do prevent serious injury and death.

Despite the data this study provided, it has not changed my stance on helmets at all. Even if there is only a small chance my helmet will save my life one day, I am going to continue to wear it every time I’m out on the mountain. I would personally advise everyone else to do the same, but that’s just my opinion. 

California is Overdue for a Massive Earthquake

I have grown up in California my entire life, and the constant threat of an earthquake really affected my life. I have experienced probably about four or five earthquakes in my life that I can remember, and they are very frightening. My hometown of Lafayette, California is located about 20 minutes from the San Fransisco, which located basically atop of the infamous San Andreas Fault line. Because I lived in such a venerable area I learned a lot about the mechanisms of earthquakes as well as the dangers and how to prepare for “the big one”. For people who are unaware, earthquakes are caused by two tectonic plates moving against one another, and in the case of the San Andreas fault these plates are the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate. Where the two plates meet is called a fault, but there are a few different kinds of faults. The fault I live so dangerously close to is a “strike slip fault”, which means the plates move against each other rather than one submerging beneath the other.

For the past few years, everyone in the San Fransisco Bay Area has been talking about how we are overdue for another large earthquake. The last large one was the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake which was quite deadly and caused the Bay Bridge to partially collapse. Although this Earthquake was quite devastating, it was not the earthquake we are overdue for. This quake is expected to be much stronger and there is really no telling when it could occur. with this in mind recently I found this article that really intrigued me because of my knowledge of what a large earthquake could in damage to the area it affects.

What the article explains is that the San Andreas fault may have triggered a quake about 200 years ago that was simultaneous with a quake triggered by the San Jacinto Fault which runs close to the San Andreas. The result of this was a very powerful earthquake with a massive diameter in which it shook, and now scientists are saying it could happen again. Lozos explains that they are capable of triggering together because they are both under a lot of stress and contain a lot of potential energy, so that if one of them moves it could easily cause the other fault to move too. However even with this new information, there isn’t much they can do with it. Ludwig talks about how there is still no mechanism for predicting specifically when an earthquake occurs. Scientists can only hypothesize and time span of years of when a massive earthquake will hit, and California is past that time span making the threat of a catastrophic  earthquake closer than ever.

A photo taken after a 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit China in 2008. Over 87,000 people were killed.

Affects of Music on the Brain

Anyone who knows me on a personal level know that music is something I deeply appreciate. My life is constantly surrounded by music, whether it be playing music softly in my room, or being at a music festival with 110,000 other people listening to music for 10 hours a day for three days straight. Music alone always makes me feel strong emotions, which vary depending on what I choose to listen to. Music never fails to evoke strong feelings in me, typically feelings of happiness and euphoria, and I have always seemed to take for granted the power that music can have on one’s mind. It amazes me to think about how things such as melodies and lyrical flow exist, and that these things can completely change my mood at any given point. It is because of this power that music has on me that I have become so interested on how music affects your brain and body.

The  psychology of music deals a lot with neuroscience and the brain’s behavior. Music causes different chemicals to be released or reduced, causing one’s brain to behave differently, thus changing one’s overall feelings and emotions. Our brain is what process and makes meaning of everything we hear, including music. Also, different parts of the brain react differently to music. The main effect music has on the brain is reducing stress, and can be seen by the affects it has on the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus determines bodily characteristics such as body temperature and hunger, as well as mood. We are able to neurologically able to see stress be reduced when comparing levels of cortisol, which is associated with stress, in a brain before and after listening to music. In almost all cases, cortisol levels decreases thus showing reduced stress levels (Shafron).

Although we are aware of the effects music has on the brain, it is still not known exactly why we enjoy music so much. It is thought that music has stemmed from earlier on in evolution, that ability to produce music used to show superiority, much like mating calls (Schäfer). Hearing music was then associated with feelings of happiness, and we continued to produce music because others enjoyed to hear it. The feeling of pleasure when listening to music comes because it causes the brain to release dopamine, which is associated with pleasure (Albane). Dopamine is the reward center for the brain, so therefore the when we hear music it almost becomes addicting because we want to hear more, better music. This eventually evolved into the modern complex but stunningly beautiful music we have today.

Why is the Common Cold So Common?

For me these first few weeks of college have been crazy busy. With classes, homework, nightlife and rush events I have been extremely exhausted, and it seems that it has now all caught up to me. I have no doubt caught a terrible cold which is not fun to say the least. But as I sit and try to make myself healthy again by popping dayquil and drinking vitamin c drinks, I keep wondering how there is still no easy cure to the common cold. With all the advances in medicine, the world has vaccines for all sorts of diseases, but not for a simple cold! As I quickly found out through some research was that there is currently no cure, and there is likely to never be one, and here’s why:

According to this article, the common cold is not one disease or sickness, it actually can come from several different viruses that each have many of their own mutations. This makes it incredibly hard for scientists and doctors to develop a vaccine because they cannot simply target one of the specific viruses, unlike other diseases like influenza. It still seems to fascinate me that there is still no vaccine, considering that in the United States alone billions of dollars are lost annually because of employees missing work due to the cold. And not only can the cold be financially destructive, but it can also be quite dangerous to people too.  Similar to the flu, the cold can be deadly to people who are already suffering from medical problems, which makes a vaccine even more valuable. But even with all the reasons to find a cure to the common cold, the bottom line is it’s not going anywhere soon so for now I’m stuck using traditional remedies. 

My name is Evan Wentzel, and I’m from the East part of the San Francisco bay, California. I am currently in the Division of Undergraduate Studies, so I really am not sure what I want to do with my life, but what I do know is that I could not go into a science field. I used to love science back in elementary and middle school, but then I got to high school and realized that science is a lot more complex and difficult than I thought. Although I don’t like science courses anymore I still have a lot of appreciation for the science field and enjoy expanding my knowledge of current scientific events and studies which has landed me into this course. During this course I hope to better grasp many ideas that I know very little about. One of thehqdefaultse ideas is the concept of artificial intelligence, and the advantages and dangers that come from it. You can read about Bill Gate’s thoughts on AI here, which I find interesting considering that Gates was such a pioneer in the computer world but he is now warning about the threats that further development could pose.  This is currently is one of the most controversial topics in science and I would love to learn about it more so that I can have a more educated opinion on the topic. Overall I am really looking forward to my time in Science 200 and getting to know my classmates better.