Author Archives: Nicole Trachman

The placebo effect

I’m sure we’ve all heard of the placebo effect before, but if you haven’t don’t worry I’ll fill you in. We’ll start with what a placebo even is. It was first discovered during World War 2. With so many soldiers to treat, doctors were running low on morphine and other necessary medicines and needed to improvise. They tried administering fake drugs and telling the soldiers it was morphine. Fast-forward to the current time and this idea is still being used, all thanks to the majority of those soldiers that were lied to and still somehow got better. In drug testing, a placebo is a pill that contains no medication. It is simply just a sugar pill with no actual benefit to the person taking it. When drugs are experimented on, they usually involve a, preferably double blind, placebo test. This means that some participants are given a placebo and some are given the real drug, but neither the participants nor the experimenters know who is receiving each one. Here’s the cool part: the group receiving the placebo almost always also sees success.

barney-whaaat image found here.

I know, it sounds crazy but it’s true. Our brains are a lot stronger than you may think. When someone of authority, like a doctor, tells you that something will fix your problems it probably will. Think about it: doctors are known to have been in school for about half of their lives and we all know medical school is no walk in the park. So when a doctor is claiming something is good for you, you are easily inclined to listen simply because they are respected and qualified and therefore are probably right.

There’s even a more concrete explanation for this phenomenon. In the case of painkillers, our brains are preconditioned to release endorphins  (natural painkillers) when we are in pain/ taking painkillers. So, when the pills being taken are fake, we still see reduced pain. This is a very common cause of the placebo effect. When we think we are being treated for something, our brain acts accordingly by sending the necessary chemicals out into the body.

It’s not all about chemistry though, placebos also work simply because we are expecting them to. Expectation and anticipation are strong components in understanding how this whole thing happens. When we are anticipating that something will happen our brain is more likely to connect the dots and make it happen. This expectation is arguably the most influential part of the placebo effect.

Now that we know how the placebo effect works, it is important to understand why it matters. Of course it’s cool that no drug can do as much as a real drug sometimes but why do we care? We care because this can actually save thousands of lives by eliminating the risk of someone becoming addicted to a particular drug. When people have to rely on strong painkillers or other strong medications for long periods of time, they become increasingly likely to get addicted. Luckily, if they were instead administered a placebo that addiction risk goes away while still hopefully easing the pain.

This phenomenon is truly amazing. On a broader spectrum, the placebo effect is saying that if you truly believe in the validity of something, it could become real. Now this sadly doesn’t mean that we can just strongly believe we’ll be millionaires and then it will happen, but it does mean that there is something to be said for believing. We’ve all heard the many “mind over matter” lessons, but the placebo effect is a scientific way to prove that your mind is actually the strongest tool we have.

raw Image found here.

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Can physics explain why LDRs don’t work?

When you think about physics and feelings they don’t seem to cross often. But, there is a physics principle that might be able to explain why long distance relationships don’t work.

Many college students embark on the long distance relationship train when first entering college. They believe their high school sweetheart might just be the one. For some, it works out. But for others, it becomes a complete disaster. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try, but I am saying that science might be able to prove that this won’t work.

Physics is an interesting sub division of science since its theories can actually be proven. Physics is a science that can be seen everywhere in our daily lives and therefore leads us to believe that it is accurate. It is made up of many theories and interestingly, laws. Most parts of science are more hesitant to say that something is true beyond any reasonable doubt, but physics is able to do this since its findings are tangible.

One physics law, Newton’s law of universal gravitation, might be even more relatable than we thought. This lesser-known Newton law, accompanied by the equation F=Gmm/ r^2 , explains a phenomenon that many college students have been on the forefront of. This equation shows the attraction between any two particles in the universe. If you play around with the trends of the equation, you’ll see that as the radius gets larger, the value for F gets smaller. Let’s break down what this means. Ignore G, it is just the gravitational constant so it never changes. The radius in question here would be the distance between the two particles (which are ‘m’ and ‘m’ in the equation. What this is calculating, F, is the attraction force between the two masses. This means that as two masses move further apart (causing a rising value for r), their attraction force weakens.


This equation was so important that there’s even another one, Coulomb’s law: F=kqq/ r^2. This version of the equation shows the same trends but this time measures how that trend is also consistent in quantum physics with the forces between charges. This is interesting because not many trends are constant through different subsets of physics but this one manages to hold true.

Contrary to the belief that absence makes the heart grow fonder, Newton’s law and Coulomb’s law say that distance in fact makes any two particles less attracted. But as we know, love is much deeper than the attraction of particles. So what does this mean for all the hopeless romantics out there that are praying their LDR will work? It means you should still give it a try. While physics seems to say this is a no go, many studies prove otherwise so don’t let physics discourage you completely. I mean it worked out for Erin and Garret in “Going the Distance” so who’s Newton to say it won’t work out for us?


If I just totally bummed you out about your own LDR, you can read more about how to make it work here.

Images found here and here.

Presidential candidate Clinton has pneumonia and now we’re all a little more curious…

First, lets catch up on some current events. The other day, Democratic Presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, collapsed which was apparently due to a pneumonia diagnosis earlier this week. But, it’s just an infection that will go away with some antibiotics, right? Wrong. Pneumonia can actually be life threating to young children and the elderly; and since Clinton is 68 years old, this diagnosis definitely matters.

Pneumonia is primarily caused by bacteria but can also arise from viruses, fungi, and parasites. Note that pneumonia is not actually caused from being out in the rain. This is a widespread misconception about the infection. That correlation comes from the fact that being in situations that increase your chances of catching a virus or cold also increase your chance of getting pneumonia since those (colds and viruses) can put stress on your lungs and create a better environment for pneumonia germs to infect. Once infected, the air sacks in your lungs called alveoli fill up with fluid and make it increasingly difficult to breathe. This is why pneumonia is accompanied by a long-lasting, gross-sounding cough. But, that’s not all. You’ll also be visited by a high fever, fatigue, shortness of breath, and nausea.


I know what you’re thinking… How do we know the difference when those symptoms sound like every other infection? Bad news: you pretty much don’t…until you do. Let me explain. I was lucky enough to catch this last year at good ‘ole State. In my particular case, I thought I just had the usual Penn State plague until my fever reached 103 and I hadn’t eaten in three days. The biggest difference between pneumonia and every other infection is the dramatic toll it takes on your body. If you can’t walk to class because breathing has become super difficult and staying awake for more than two hours is equivalent to running a marathon, you might have pneumonia. Don’t panic though, we’re young and healthy and can beat this infection with the help of some antibiotics. But, if you recall earlier in this post I claimed that pneumonia is more than something treated with some medicine and I wasn’t lying, just building suspense. In our case, don’t sweat it too much. Get the necessary medical attention and you’ll be alright. But, what about Secretary Clinton? She’s a more interesting case.

To understand how pneumonia can be deadly, let’s take a closer look at what’s actual;y happening when you get it.


When compared side by side with a normal lung in an x-ray, it is easy to see why this is so problematic. With so much fluid build up, it’s hard to imagine that breathing would even be possible. In younger people, the lungs rarely ever get this bad since their immune systems are better at fighting the infection, even before the use of antibiotics. The reason this is such a problem in elderly people is simply that they do not have those strong immune systems anymore and often have other health issues tampering with their treatment of the infection. The real kicker here though, is that pneumonia decreases your immune system even more, leaving you in a vulnerable state. Under these conditions, it is easier for the pneumonia to spread to both lungs and throughout the body. Without treatment, this will drastically decrease the oxygen levels in your blood and can ultimately cause death. While this is an extreme case, it is common that pneumonia can lead to death in the elderly either this way or by allowing other health issues to take center stage while pneumonia keeps weakening the immune system from fighting the other issues.

So, should we be concerned that one of our Presidential nominees has been diagnosed with such an infection? Yes. But, is this definitely the end? Most likely no. While pneumonia is very serious and can be deadly, it usually doesn’t work alone in cases with fatal outcomes. This means that we will all just have to turn on the news and see what happens in the coming days/ weeks. And now that we all know a little more about pneumonia, we’ll actually understand what they’re talking about on the news.


Although we’re at an awesome age where our bodies can fight some tough stuff, you still do not want to catch pneumonia (trust me on this one). You can find some ways to prevent pneumonia here.

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One time in the 5th grade…

I failed my science test about the cell diagram when I was just about 10 years old and at the time, failing was pretty much by biggest fear (well that and dogs). I remember coming home from school crying and swearing that I would NEVER fail again. I wish this was some cute story about how I failed as a child then worked hard and became the next Einstein but it’s totally not. It actually went a lot more like me struggling through 5th grade science and hating every second of it. I did eventually get over it and took some AP science classes in high school but they were far from enjoyable. I thought for about .5 seconds last year that I might want to be an engineer but that was all fun and games until I remembered how much I hated calculus. That all pretty much leads me here, in science 200 fulfilling my natural science requirement and actually being excited for it which is awesome.

Now that I’m done re-living that horrible elementary school experience, I’ll share a little bit about myself. My name is Nicole Trachman and I’m from Toms River, NJ.I’m a sophomore this year and I’m intending to declare a double major with IST and economics. When I’m not here at PSU,  I spend a lot of time at the beach and helping to coach at my old cheer gym. I’m probably the most cereal obsessed person out there (seriously, if I could eat cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner I would be in heaven) and I watch Netflix slightly more than your average 19 year old, which is a lot. I’m always looking for new show suggestions so let me know if you have any good ones!


Here’s a picture of a chocolate cake because who doesn’t like chocolate cake, right??



You can find the recipe HERE 🙂