Author Archives: Greg Belluscio

Is There a Different Impact on Exam Grades When Notes are Taken by Pen or by Keyboard?

As college students, one thing that seems like a simple task is note taking. The better notes you take; the better grades you get. One thing that struck my curiosity was how different note taking techniques impact a student’s abilities to perform well on exams. As time goes on, I have started to notice more and more students using laptops in order to take notes in a classroom setting. My biggest question is whether or not taking notes on a laptop is as effective as writing notes down in a notebook.


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Researchers at Princeton University set out to answer to that exact question. In the this study, researchers compiled a group of 66 students who were not told the true purpose of the study. During the study, all of the participants were put into a room with either a laptop or a notebook and shown Ted Talks after being instructed to take notes. After the Ted Talks ended, the subjects were taken into a lab and instructed to complete two distracting activates. After a long enough time had passed since the Ted Talk, the subjects were prompted with a mix of factual and conceptual questions. After the students had taken the tests, their scores were determined by “blind” graders in order to make sure there was no bias towards one group.


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The results of that study turned out to be quite interesting. While the average scores on the factual section of the assessments were about the same, the average conceptual scores turned out to be much higher for the subjects who took notes on notebooks. One of the possible mechanisms discussed in the study was that students taking notes on laptops were writing down exactly what was being said in the Ted Talks whereas students who were taking notes on paper were noting key points and concepts. This mechanism would explain why students taking notes on laptops were scoring equally as well on the factual portion but not as well on the conceptual portion of the assessment.

My take away from this study is that students are much better off taking notes with pen and paper rather than with a laptop. The advantage of handwriting notes is that it encourages students to conceptualize what is being said in a more creative fashion, whereas laptop note taking encourages replication on a presenter’s information. Also I have noticed that, not only is using a laptop often distracting to others, it can lead to students getting distracted by the temptation to use social media or browse the internet.

Does Lack of Sleep Increase Your Chances of Getting The Common Cold?

As a Penn State student, there are two things that I am very familiar with. Being sick; and not sleeping. I think it is safe to say that most college students suffer from lack of sleep. My question is whether that lack of sleep leads to vulnerability to catching the common cold.


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While researching this topic, I came across a study run at the University of Virginia where researchers set out to answer exactly that question.This double blind study was composed of 78 men and 75 women, all of whom were in good health. In order to rule out possible third variables, the researchers made sure that all of the participants had medical histories that would not directly impact their predisposition to catching the common cold. In order to gauge the participant’s sleeping habits, the researchers used the Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index. This gave the researchers an average level of sleep quality over the 28-day study that they could use to compare to immunity to the common cold. In an effort to keep third variables from skewing the results, the participants were quarantined for the duration of the study. On the 14th day of the study, the participants were exposed to the rhinovirus through nasal drops which causes the common cold. The participants were quarantined and monitored for five days after exposure to the virus in order to see if any symptoms would develop related to the common cold.

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After analyzing the results, the researchers found that those participants who got less than seven hours of sleep per night were almost three times as likely to catch a cold than those who got eight hours of sleep or more. While the researchers did not discuss a clear mechanism for why a lack of sleep causes individuals to become vulnerable to the common cold, the only reason I can think of is that with less total energy, the body cannot devote as much energy to the immune system causing a higher vulnerability.

My take away from this study was that it is worth getting that extra hour or so of sleep in order to prevent the common cold. Because being ill can sometimes lead to a harder time falling asleep, becoming sick once could create a vicious cycle of becoming sick over and over again. Just make sure you get an adequate amount of rest to avoid being sick and rest when you become sick in order to prevent future illnesses.


Does Exercise improve our Grades?

As a college student, both exercise and grades are very important to me. A question struck me when I was thinking about whether there was any noticeable correlation between exercise and grades. I wondered whether regular exercise could cause my grades to improve? Before I dove into a discussion on whether the two are correlated, I took a moment  to think of the ways that the two could be connected.

  1.     Exercise could cause students grades to improve.
  2.     There could be some third variable that contributed to both good grades and regular exercise such as an individual’s tendency to be self disciplined.
  3.     Reverse could be ruled out if the passage of time between exercise and improvement of grades were controlled.

A study was conducted by faculty at Texas A&M University in order to try and identify if a correlation between exercise and grades existed. One thing that I found very interesting was that the paper opened by saying that all the students involved in the study gave informed consent before participating in the study. This is important because it ensured that the participants knew all possible outcomes before participating. All of the students who decided to participate were divided into two groups, experimental and control. Because this was an observational study, those conducting the study just surveyed to find out the students’ exercise habits and put those who did exercise into the experimental group and those who didn’t into the control group.


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After looking at the data, there was no clear correlation between exercise and GPA. These researchers, however, continued to discuss that many researchers had found a clear correlation between the two. With so much evidence pointing towards a clear correlation between exercise habits and improved grades in other studies, it made me wonder if this field suffers from the file drawer problem. Perhaps university sponsored researchers are reluctant to publish data that contradicts a more popular view that exercise has a positive impact on grades because universities might want to encourage their student bodies to participate in regular physical exercise.


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In another study published in the Journal of Exercise Psychology, researchers compared students’ scores on a fitness test to their scores on SAT reading and math. While this study yielded a very clear correlation between fitness and grades, the researchers even said that it was very possible that this correlation was caused by a third variable. If researchers wanted to rule out extraneous variables, they could continue to design more well controlled studies and increase the populations studied in order to create statistically significant bodies of data that could reduce the chances of the study showing a false positive.

My take away was that you might as well take time to schedule daily exercise. Perhaps the supposed predisposition of universities is a healthy one–that is that daily exercise is a positive habit in the long term.

Does Breakfast Make Us Smarter?

One phrase that most individuals have heard in their lifetime is, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” As a college student, I find the idea of waking up early enough to grab breakfast prior to class very unappealing. On the other hand, research has shown, missing this important component of your day could be jeopardizing your academic performance

While researching this topic, two questions came to mind. My first question was whether eating breakfast helps college students’ perform better on exams? And my second question was how much of a positive difference does eating breakfast make in college students’ academic performances?


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Gregory Phillips, a researcher at Blinn College, set out to answer the questions stated above. In this study, Phillips gathered a group of 1,259 college students and asked the group whether or not they had eaten breakfast on the morning before their second exam of a specific class. Whether or not the students had eaten breakfast was considered the independent variable. Only about 65% of students stated that they had eaten breakfast that morning.


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When collecting information on the dependent variable–exam performance–Phillips waited until the students were taking their second exams to compare the results of those students who had eaten breakfast and those who had not. The reason that Phillips chose the second exam to collect data was in an attempt to eliminate potential third confounding variables, such as adjusting to a new teacher or adjusting to the type of exams the students would be taking in that class. Some problems I noticed with this study were that Phillips never specified if all of the students had the same teacher or whether the exams were given at the same time of day.. A different professor could have a substantial effect on the scores between classes and differing exam times could change the impact of the breakfast meal.

In the write up of his findings, Phillips talked about some of the limiting factors that he faced while conducting his study. The first thing that Philips mentioned was that he did not know what the students had for breakfast. The students were asked if they had eaten breakfast prior to  the exam, not what they had eaten for breakfast. Because this was an observational study, Phillips was restricted from telling individuals what to eat for breakfast.

After analyzing the data, I feel confident in concluding that the consumption of breakfast does indeed have a positive effect on how well students perform in the classroom. Despite a few minor variables that could have impacted the results of the study, the positive effects were undeniable. It was quite apparent that a full stomach in the morning is positively correlated with a better performance in an academic setting.

Does Having a Pet Keep You Out of The Doctor’s Office?

As college students, stress is a concept that is near and dear to our hearts, literally… The subject of stress relief is very important to deal with on college campuses because stress can have a detrimental effect on students’ happiness and grades while attending college. During the process of researching ways to deal with stress, which involved sorting through the mountains of breathing exercises; I stumbled upon something that caught my attention, having pets might alleviate stress. After doing a bit of research I still had a couple of questions.

  1.     Just how much do pets help relieve stress?
  2.     What is it about pets that makes humans less stressed?

After further research, I came across a study run by Karen Allen, Ph.D. at University at Buffalo. In this study, Allen assembled a group of 48 Wall Street bankers who had histories of high blood pressure. The group was composed of 24 males and 24 females who had no history of smoking and no other current medical conditions. The last important feature of the individuals in this group was that they lived alone and had not had pets in the last 5 years. They were randomly assigned to one of two groups, experimental and control. All of the prerequisites the participants in the study had to meet helped eliminate possible confounding variables. In this study, the independent variable was whether or not the participants were given pets. The dependent variables were blood pressure and heart rate which were both measurements of participants’ stress levels. After 6 months of treatment for blood pressure in the control group and, for those in the experimental group, time with their pets, the blood pressures and heart rates of the subjects were taken. When put under stress, the blood pressure and heart rate of those in the control group jumped up to nearly pre-treatment levels while those who were in the experimental group averaged a relatively healthy 10 BPM increase in heart rate. The experimental group also experienced an average increase in systolic blood pressure of 8 mm/Hg, and an average increase in diastolic blood pressure of 9 mm/Hg, both of which would be expected from healthy individuals.


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After seeing these results, I was shocked by that fact that just having a pet could have that drastic of an effect on your physical well being. While this study did not talk about the P-value that they could have gotten, it seems that with as big of a difference in results between the two groups, the P-value would be extremely small. One problem that could have caused this experiment to show misleading results was the small size of the group that was being examined.


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While having a pet can be a burden for some individuals, the benefits outweigh the time and expenses of caring for an animal. This investment can score you a daily companion, as well as lead you to live a healthier lifestyle. The vast amount of benefits make it hard to argue that owning a pet is not a worthwhile decision for those that are regularly exposed to high pressure environments.

Are your eyes at Risk Reading This Blog Post?

While reading a Forbes article, I found out that Americans between the ages of 13 and 18 spend approximately one third of their day looking at screens. When I first heard this statistic, I had a hard time imagining how someone could actually spend a third of their day looking at mobile or computer screens. However, after taking into account how often teens use technology to keep in touch with each other, stay up to date on social media or news applications, and even take notes; the eight hours teens spend looking at screens daily started to seem more and more realistic.  


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In this post I will not be attempting to persuade you to look at your cell phone and other electronic screens less frequently; I will simply inform you about some of the effects that staring at an electronic screen for a prolonged period of time could have on your eyes. While doing some research, I found a News Medical Article that highlighted some of the issues that could arise from prolonged screen exposure. The symptoms that stood out in this article were eye discomfort and headaches. According to, there are some easy tips to help reduce eye strain and headaches from computer screens. The first tip is to make sure that the brightness of your screen matches the light levels around you. This comes into play at night when you are looking at a bright screen in a dark room. While doing research, I came across an app for Mac and Windows called “Flux”  which will automatically adjust your screen brightness and color based on your location and the ambient light in your environment. Even if there is not strong proof showing that inappropriate brightness directly causes headaches, downloading an app like Flux takes almost no time and could save you time and money in the future. Another tip for reducing eye strain while looking at a computer screen is to increase that size of the text you are reading and if possible, make sure you are reading black text on white background. The last tip to prevent eye strain and headaches is to give your eyes a break. The article stated that a good practice is to look away from your computer monitor every 20 minutes and to stare at an object at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This practice is a good way to protect your eyes from accommodative spasm, a condition that locks your eye into one focus.


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Because the development of devices which rely on backlit screens is fairly recent, it has been hard to gather information on the long term effects of spending so much time looking at electronic screens. Just think about how some of these tips could save you time and money in the future. Good habits today could protect your eyes later in life.





The Science of a Paper Cut

Have you ever taken any time out of your day to research why paper cuts hurt so much? No? Well I have and let me tell you, the science behind a paper cut is much more complex than you may think. When you get a paper cut, not only do you have to accept the fact that you were injured by a seemingly harmless sheet of paper, but you also have to endure the constant pain faced while doing anything involving your hands.


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A combination of the properties of your hand and the properties of paper makes paper cuts the biggest pain of an injury. To start, according to an ABC news article titled “The Peculiar Pain of Paper Cuts”, your hands are full of nociceptors. Nociceptors are nerve endings that shoot signals of pain to the brain if one’s skin is experiencing enough pressure or temperatures extreme enough to damage tissue. Paper cuts are often deep enough to expose these nerve endings, but not deep enough to draw blood. This lack of blood keeps the paper cut from clotting and leaves the nociceptors exposed for longer periods of time. This constant exposure to the air causes dull pain that does not seem to go away until the cut is healed. Humans use their hands for almost everything they do and this constant movement of the skin on the hands causes paper cuts to reopen.

s stated previously, the hand is not the only thing to blame for the pain of a paper cut. Although it may seem smooth, on a microscopic level, the edge of paper is very jagged. This dull serrated pattern causes paper to cut like a saw and leaves a rough cut behind. The process of creating paper also involves many chemicals. When an individual gets a paper cut, some of the chemicals used in bleaching the paper are left behind in the wound causing irritation.


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Now that I have informed you why paper cuts are so painful, I think it would be appropriate to tell you the best way to treat a paper cut if you are unlucky enough to receive one. The first thing you should do when you get a paper cut is flush the wound out with cold water. After you have flushed the cut out with water, gently wash the cut with soap making sure not to reopen the wound. After the cut is cleaned with soap, apply antibiotic cream and apply a bandage.






“It’s Just Like Riding a Bicycle”

Throughout my life, I have heard the expression “It’s just like riding a bicycle” a countless number of times. I never actually thought about what this statement truly meant until I was faced with the challenge of writing this blog. When broken down, the process of riding a bike is very complex. The amount of time one must invest to learn how to ride a bike makes it hard to imagine that the skill could be easily forgotten.


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After doing some research, I came across an article that discussed the neurological processes that lead to the formation of memories having to do with motor skills. In an article, written by Roger Highfield, he references a study conducted by two scientists at Sheffield and Saint Andrews Universities. In these studies, the two scientists observed that the memories recalled when riding a bicycle are sensory-motor memories, also known as muscle memories. Skills such as riding a bike can be relearned easily because these sensory-motor memories are spread across a large number of brain cells and locked into a pattern that can be easily recalled.

A video entitled The Backwards Brain Bicycle, by Destin from the YouTube channel,“SmarterEveryday,” also caught my attention while conducting research on this topic. In this video, Destin taught himself how to ride a bike with backwards steering. On a backwards bicycle, if the rider pushes on the right handlebar, the bicycle will turn right and if they push on the left handlebar, the bicycle will turn left. Initially, Destin was unable to ride the backwards bike, but after eight months of daily practice, he mastered riding it. After learning how to ride the backwards bike, Destin found that he could no longer remember how to ride a regular bike.  When Destin attempted to ride a regular bike, he could not keep his balance and would fall off almost immediately. It was not until Destin practiced riding the bike for what seemed like 30 minutes that sensory-motor memories of riding a regular bike came back to him and allowed him to ride the regular bike without an issue.


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After viewing Destin’s video and reading Highfield’s article, I now understand that it is indeed possible to forget how to ride a bike. On the other hand, this activity can be relearned quickly because of the way sensory-motor memories are stored in the brain.

Learning about sensory-motor memories has given me a newfound appreciation for subconscious activities human in which human beings participate every day. Just take a second to think about how much of an annoyance brushing your teeth would be if you had to think about every stroke you were making with your toothbrush until you finished cleaning your teeth. Think about how long it would take to type an essay or send a text if you had to think about every keystroke you were making. If you were using a keyboard with a new layout, the way Destin was using a new bike, it would take you some time to master the new layout; however, after you learned the layout of the keys, you would no longer have to think about what key you were pressing. And yet due to the miraculous way our brains work, particularly when it comes to the long term encoding of muscle memories, it would not take too long to return to the mindless and lightning fast manner in which I and most of my contemporaries are able to type.



Not a Big Fan of Science

Hello everyone, my name is Greg Belluscio. I am a freshman from Rumson, New Jersey as a prospective finance major, I am taking SC200 in order to broaden my understanding of science as much as possible without focusing on one topic per semester. I believe these blogs will help keep me up to date with what is happening in the scientific world and also, hopefully, improve my writing skills. Seeing Professor Andrews Ted Talk that he showed on the first day of class made me interested in SC200 because it gave us students a little bit of insight as to how he will teach the class.

I am not planning to be a science major because I never enjoyed the way high school science classes or labs were run. A teacher handing you directions to follow leaving no room to use the scientific method made science seem very boring to me. Hopefully the critical thinking aspect of this class could change the way I view science.