Author Archives: zvk5072

Should People Begin to Think About Colonizing Space?

This question has been around since space travel actually became a tangible concept in the mid-20th century. After John F. Kennedy proclaimed “We will go to the Moon”, the space race was in full swing. As time has passed, the depth of the space race has continued to increase, as the US and other countries have continued to push the “Final Frontier” and explore as much of outer space as possible. With inventions like the Mars Rover and the Hubble Telescope, exploring space has become a more realistic opportunity. But what happens in the event that Earth is no longer inhabitable? Should humans try to colonize space, and even if they tried, would they be able to?

The first place to find the answers to a question like this is NASA. The organization has already put out information for those who are looking to settle in outer space. While mostly mentioned in a joking manner, some of the information could seriously be useful if humanity were to find itself one day having to find real estate in outer space. Even if space colonization were to happen, would a different type of person have to exist to be able to survive?

Business Weekly decided to look into this issue for themselves. They remarked about how a number of scientists think human colonization will be inevitable. For this to occur without spacesuits and various other parameters that current humans would have to work around, some scientists think that humans will be forced to evolve. “These people will become an offshoot of the human tree, they will probably evolve into something else,” said Chris Impey, a professor at the University of Arizona quoted in the article. While his ideas might be a bit far-fetched, he has much more knowledge on this subject than most.

Between NASA, astronomy professors, and other speculators on the subject, the possibilities of the future are endless. Whether they involve NASA and other space travel associations across other countries, contingency planning is certainly underway. Between those who are merely speculative conspiracy theorists, and those who have extensive knowledge on the subject of Earth’s future, both might be on to something when it comes to space travel and potential space colonization.


A future Manhattan on a different planet? Link:


Dickerson, Kelly. “Moving to Mars Could Create a Whole New Breed of People.” Business Insider. Business Insider, 12 June 2015. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

Globus, Al. “Space Settlement Basics.” NASA, 2016. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

Can Traumatic Experiences Affect Future Generations?

Behavioral epigenetic expressions. I’m sure you’re thinking, epige-what? Just under 25 years ago, two scientists begin to realize the impact that certain events can have on specific races/ethnicities in each generation. Moshe Szyf and Michael Meaney, both of McGill University in Canada, began to realize the idea that events like the Holocaust, atomic bombings in Japan, the Vietnam War, and many other critical events of the 20th century could impact the next generation literally in terms of DNA. While obviously these events had effects in the lives of each affected group in terms of socio-economic and political factors, Szyf and Meaney started to develop the idea that it could literally change the .1% of DNA that can be altered.

To put behavioral epigenetics in simpler terms of nature vs. nurture, it is basically the idea that the nurturing affects the nature, rather than vice versa. According to the Oxford Journals, most of the research in the field focuses on early development of organisms. “Behavioral epigenetics refers to the study of how signals from the environment trigger molecular biological changes that modify what goes on in brain cells.” (Powledge, 2011). The hardest part of conducting research in a field as big as epigenetics is navigating the human genome.

The regulation of the structure of the genome is three-dimensional of course, adding an extra layer of difficulty as to mapping out where the discrepancies are inside the DNA itself. Regulating the physical structure and the chemical adjustments that are made, they are the two most frequently utilized processes. The most important development in epigenetics began with discovering where the changes came from with the parents (Oxford).

According to Oxford, the foundation for how epigenetics would be connected to parents and their children began with Meaney studying rats and how their parents could pass down responses to stress for their children. The journal cites that the scientists were able to study the brains of the rats, and following this discovery, continued to develop their ideas, eventually coming upon the process of imprinting as they discovered how different animals can become hybrids of one another through genomic imprinting. As for the future of epigenetics? Well, the hurdles to having meaningful research in the subject are numerous, according to the author, Powledge. But as far as cell biology goes, this could very well be the next big thing in the field, especially if hybrid traits continue to unravel with humans. While epigenetics still has a ways to go, it is heading in the right direction.


Mapping out the epigenetics. Link:


Hurley, Dan. “November 2016.” Discover Magazine. Discover Magazine, 25 June 2015. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

Powledge, Tabitha M. “Behavioral Epigenetics: How Nurture Shapes Nature.” Behavioral Epigenetics: How Nurture Shapes Nature. Oxford University, 2011. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

Can Human Memories Be Reliable?

Can Human Memories Be Reliable?

In casual conversations with friends, people are naturally nostalgic and often like to talk about memorable moments they’ve had. Everyone likes to remember the times they have enjoyed with friends and family while also remembering times of trouble and difficulty getting through day-to-day life during periods of grief. But for better or worse, could our memories be letting us down? Are we really remembering past events in our lives or are people merely remembering what they want to? Some recent research has pulled up some interesting figures that are different than what many would imagine.

According to Psychology Today, neuroscientists have been able to show that when humans remember something, they naturally will reconstruct the event in their heads. They also mentioned how people will suppress memories that are painful, and that memory may just be adaptive to the situation, and therefore has to be considered as unreliable. While it is not surprising that people suppress painful memories away, it is unsettling to me how the memories of normal people cannot necessarily be considered reliable.

The New Yorker also had an article just last year stemming from an experiment on how people remember tragedies. According to the article, back in the late 1980’s, Prof. Ulric Neisser of Emory University began to look at how people reacted to “flashbulb memories”. He put this in context by asking his students to write about what they remembered when they heard about the Challenger explosion in 1986. His students were asked to do this the day after the tragedy. Two and a half years later, he again asked the students who completed the first reflection to make a second one. It seems pretty surprising that when the psychologists rated the accuracy of the students on a 1-7 scale, the average was less than 3. But on a 1-5 scale for confidence, the students rated themselves on average at about a 4.17, showing their confidence/inaccuracy.

I thought this result was somewhat surprising. Granted, I don’t have any background knowledge on human memory, but given that so many people trust the memory of others fairly easily, this study would definitely show otherwise. One would think that people would have the same memories about their reaction to a national tragedy, be it the day after or 11 years later. With that being said, it also makes it comical that statistically, the students can be quite confident with how inaccurate they end up being. In my research, I could not find a more recent study than after 9/11, where the neurologists had pretty similar findings, generally speaking.

Human memory can also fog things up in our legal system. The Psychology Today article also reported that in the United States, false confessions can happen in just under 25% out of 289 criminal convictions in an average year that were eventually expunged due to DNA evidence. Why does this occur? Possibly out of fear or intimidation from others. But you can’t rule out that it relates back to memory, because even if a suspect were lying, they would still have to remember their story and have a motive for doing so.


Eisold, Ken. “Unreliable Memory.” Psychology Today. Psychology Today, 12 Mar. 2012. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

Konnikova, Maria. “You Have No Idea What Happened.” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 04 Feb. 2015. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

Can People Alter Endings to Nightmares?

Can People Alter Endings to Nightmares?

Regardless of whether people are young or old, people still have nightmares whether they are 8 years old or 88 years old. Nightmares are a part of sleep, for better or worse. As far back as dreams have been studied, people have been associating their bad dreams with an assortment of factors like stresses of daily life, trauma, and various other items. But are all nightmares related simply to our day-to-day lives? Not necessarily. In fact, there are researchers who say that nightmares could be helpful to the survival of humans, in terms of making important decisions and serving as a redirection to more important issues in the personal lives of people. In fact, some neurologists are arguing that people can use different endings to dreams to determine solutions to traumatic times, as well as every-day problems, in their real lives.

So how can nightmares actually help people get through difficult times? According to Deirdre Bennett, a psychologist at Harvard, nightmares have probably remained a part of mankind for so long because they are helpful to human survival. “Nightmares probably evolved to help make us anxious about potential dangers,” Barrett said. “Even post-traumatic nightmares, which just re-traumatize us, may have been useful in ancestral times when a wild animal that had attacked you, or a rival tribe that had invaded might well be likely to come back.” This interpretation of dreams is intriguing as it offers a more holistic approach to thinking about dreams, even if those of prior generations had no knowledge of the science behind dreams. I believe generations of the past probably related the dreams to religious purposes as these generations had a higher dependency on religion and lower emphasis on science than society today. An interesting phenomenon that has begun to unravel recently with dreams is the power to potentially control at least the ending of the dream itself.


Can people really control their dreams? Link:

Perhaps partially taken from the plot of the movie Inception, Barrett also discussed the potential humans have to change the endings to their nightmares. “Some people prefer to fight off an attacker, some people would rather be rescued by someone else. Some want a realistic solution, for others, a metaphoric resolution is more satisfying.” She goes on to explain that analyzing a bad dream can help people see the correlation between that dream and the impact it can have on their day-to-day lives. So how can these “lucid dreamers” alter their dreams? According to a recent study, people who have a larger anterior prefrontal cortex are able to have lucid dreams. The correlation between the two stems from this part of the brain being responsible for self-reflection. Therefore, the correlation would make sense.

The problem with people claiming they are lucid dreamers is natural skepticism. Neurological studies can only go so far to show evidence that people really can have lucid dreams. Barrett argues that once people come up with the ending they desire, “they can rehearse this while awake and then at bedtime, to remind themselves that they want to have this ending, should the nightmare occur again.” At this point in neurologic studies, it is hard to determine how realistic lucid dreaming and dream-altering can be. But rest assured, this area will continue to be looked at over time and people could have some answers to this question over the next 10-20 years.


Melina, Remy. “Why Do We Have Nightmares?” LiveScience. LiveScience, 28 July 2010. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.

“People With This Special Quality Can Control Their Dreams – PsyBlog.” PsyBlog. PsyBlog, 26 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.

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Does Practice Really Make Perfect?

In any sport, coaches talk about it all the time. “Practice how you play, practice makes perfect, to become a master at something, you must practice 10,000 hours at it.” But is that always the case? To the contrary, a recent study said the opposite. A Case Western Reserve University study claims that practice only accounts for 1 percent difference in individual performance and even that starting sports at an earlier age does not necessarily equal success in the sport, contrary to the belief of many soccer moms and obsessive parents across the United States. So how were scientists able to come to this conclusion?

According to the study, the researchers were able to reach this conclusion based on analysis of 52 different data sets looking at how practice translates to performance. While this study would be monumental if true, it seems a bit unrealistic at first. And even if it were proved correct, would it change the culture around youth sports in the US? There is no doubt that many parents would still continue to push their children to be the best at their respective sports, having them “specialize” in a specific sport and pressuring them into joining AAU teams and practicing 7 days a week, year-round.

In general, the study estimated that only 18% of why athletes preform better than others is due to practice. The other 82% can apparently be attributed to other reasons that were not specified. Brooke Macnamara was the lead author of the study and she spoke about a limitation of the study. “The concept of 10,000 hours taps into the American ideal of hard work and dedication leading naturally to excellence. But it does not account for the inherent differences across people and across sports.” So where do these differences come from? According to ScienceAlert, it could come from various intellectual, psychological and genetic factors like muscle mass and memory capacity.

The second main idea from the study was the finding that beginning to play sports at a younger age does not necessarily have an impact on being a higher-skilled athlete further down the road. The findings do contradict prior research by others in the field that say starting sports at a younger age does help athletes. The argument from the CWRU study stated that the mantra of starting youth sports earlier can lead to a burnout as parents are unsure of whether their child even likes the sport. So is there a way to determine whether any of these findings have basis?

The main limitation of Macnamara’s study and the field as a whole is the absence of a mechanism to measure the accuracy of any findings. While parents who are sport-obsessed and want their kids practicing constantly might be unethical, they could still be making the right decisions if they want their child to become an elite athlete in a given sport. While Macnamara thinks that more effort could be put into this research, she admits that there will never be complete certainty as to predicting the future of an athlete, whether it spells failure or success.


They congregate in large numbers at youth sporting events. Link:


Hrala, Josh. “Sorry Guys, Practice Alone Won’t Make You Good at Sports.” ScienceAlert. ScienceAlert, 17 June 2016. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.

“Sports Practice Accounts for Just One Percent of the Performance Differences among Elite Athletes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 June 2016. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.

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Can Prayer At Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings Reduce Cravings?

“Hi, I’m (insert name here) and I’m an alcoholic”. We’ve all heard it plenty of times in movies, TV shows and other mediums. But can going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and maintaining prayer actually help victims of alcoholism? According to one recent study, the answer is yes. At the NYU School of Medicine/Langone Medical Center in Manhattan, researchers found that members who recited prayers after viewing images of alcohol had less craving for the drink as compared to them simply reading a newspaper rather than viewing the images.

Even long-time AA members can still be addicted or have trouble staying away from alcohol and drugs, without the danger of a relapse. But at NYU, the researchers wanted to investigate how the brain responds to triggers for alcohol, with tragic/upsetting events and even seeing alcohol on television or out in public possibly cueing relapses for victims. The study reported that every single research participant/subject reported some degree of craving for alcohol while seeing the images, but less after reciting AA prayers following the sight of the images. While many would call this a placebo effect, essentially that the alcoholics can believe what they want to, the researchers wanted to see if there was scientific evidence to show that the prayer can change the way that alcoholics think.

In my opinion, the evidence is inconclusive. Dr. Galanter, one of the heads of the experiment has been investigating how AA has worked for people over the course of time. His research, while promising, doesn’t necessarily provide evidence we can’t already just imply about the organization. His argument that the current findings open a new field of inquiry does have some basis to it, but with his current evidence and argument, its hard to find where anyone would disagree with the fact that prayer can help those who believe in it.

Galanter also describes how his study would support the validity of long-term AA experience equaling physiological changes inside the brains of alcoholics. While his experiment is interesting, and study of alcoholism should expand so lives can be saved from this disease, there needs to be new research to the table as to how the numbers for alcoholism can be reduced. Raising the drinking age or changing policies won’t help as people who want alcohol will always be able to find it if they look hard enough. When it comes to prayer from Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, you truly get out what you put in. “It works if you work it”, as they say in the AA chapter on the TV show “House of Cards”. Hopefully research can come out related to alcohol that can truly change people’s behavior, not just make it harder for them to buy alcohol.


Is It Better For Gay Politicians to Come Out of the Closet?

A recent political science study in Ohio has shown something that even 10 years ago was seen as unimaginable or even “committing political suicide”. Incredibly, a study from the University of Cincinnati has shown that sexual orientation may no longer hurt candidates aiming to win public office, and might even help some candidates win. For context, most political advisors advise LGBT candidates who run for public office that they will have to overcome and downplay the fact that they are LGBT. While there are caveats to this research, if this trend continues to emerge in American politics as time goes on, it could change the way voters look at their candidates for office.

The recent study was undertaken by David Niven, an assistant professor of political science at UC. Niven decided to conduct the study with a legitimate race for public office. He was lucky to find a Democratic primary for Franklin County, OH recorder, a county that includes part of Columbus. In the race, the incumbent was an openly gay man named Terry Brown and a challenger, Danny O’Connor who is straight. This presents one of the big caveats to the race. Both men were Democrats, a party that LGBT voters clearly favor in higher numbers than they do for Republicans.

When conducting the study, Niven chose 30 different precincts to conduct the study on, according to the article. In half of the precincts, three different mailings were sent to households. One included only the candidate, while the other two included a photo of him and his partner. Photos of each mailing are copied below. In the other 15 precincts, no mail was sent at all, so those precincts were the control group for the study. It should also be noted that only houses with a registered Democrat in residence were included.


A photo of the first mailing, showing only the candidate.


A photo of the second mailing, showing the candidate and his partner.


A photo of the third mailing, showing the candidate and partner, but also affirming his support for marriage equality.

In the end, Brown, the gay candidate, lost to O’Connor, but Niven, in charge of the study, claims that it was not because of sexual orientation. Here’s why: according to the article, Brown actually received less votes from people who received the first mailing, with just a picture of him, than people who did not receive any mail. Also according to the study, the numbers between voters who received a mailing of Brown and his husband were very comprable to those of the control group, who received no mail at all. The most interesting revelation from this study is how voters who received only the third mailing, which shows Brown’s husband and lists in a bullet how committed to marriage equality they are, actually received 4% more votes than any other mailing or the control. While these are only numbers from one race, 4% is enough votes in a close race to swing voters in either direction.

While there are many caveats to this study, the progress it shows in the American electorate could be staggering someday. It represents a major change in behavior that people will even consider, let alone vote, for an LGBT candidate for office, something unheard-of until the last decade or so. Obviously, this was one study done with only voters of one party, but it could show early signs of change that would impact American politics as a whole.


How Do Soccer Balls Swerve?

During the 2014 World Cup, people around the world watched as 32 countries competed to be the best in the world at soccer (or football as most of the world calls it). With each World Cup, the host country typically designs a ball that ties in part of the country or region’s heritage. In 2014, it was no different as the Brazuca ball was used. MIT scientists, caught in World Cup fever, decided to investigate how a soccer ball swerves. Using the “Jabulani” ball from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and the “Brazuca” from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, research was conducted to investigate how soccer players are able to curve the ball into the top corner of the net, away from many diving goalkeepers.

According to the article, variations in the different soccer balls can determine how predictable the ball will be in flight. It is also mentioned that the Brazuca ball has seams that are more than 50% longer than the Jabulani, a feature that John Bush, a professor of Applied Math at MIT, says makes the ball bend the wrong way. That’s right, its possible that two similar balls kicked the same way can curve in opposite directions varying on the surface of the ball. This .gif gives a visual example of the phenomenon occurring.

What makes this interesting is how the phenomenon could take different forms around the world. Soccer is a global sport played by people who are very wealthy and people in poverty. Most are able to play the game in North America on well-manicured turf or natural grass fields with authentic soccer balls. On the contrary, in less fortunate parts of the world, one can often find children using balls that are taped together on fields that might have a sand or clay surface that differs significantly from wealthier areas.

For a such a familiar phenomenon to many soccer players around the world, the explanation for it can seem pretty complex. Known as the Magnus Effect, the article claims that renowned scientist Isaac Newton was the first to describe it. He first noticed in tennis that topspin to the ball causes it to dip, while backspin will flatten out the trajectory. This application is brought to soccer, most commonly with free kicks, corners, and crossing passes. According to the article, a right-footed player will have a “right-to-left” hook, while a left-footed player will have the opposite.

The wrinkle to the Magnus Effect is how the direction of the curve can reverse. In the article, Professor Bush discusses how a completely smooth ball may change the curve direction. He explains this as a result of the ball surface creating a boundary layer. This essentially means the ball will curve in the expected direction. So why isn’t the reverse Magnus Effect a bigger deal? Its because soccer balls have never been completely smooth until only the last few years. It will be interesting to see if technology continues to emerge, and soccer balls evolve to eventually curve in the expected direction. If new, smooth soccer balls are manufactured and sold, would it change the way soccer is played in some parts of the world?  Would poorer places around the world still have to play with older soccer balls and therefore an older version of the game? Only time will tell as to what emerges for the game of soccer and its principal object.

Not My Cup of Tea

Hi everyone, my name is Zach Kaplan and I’m from Needham, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. I am a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To be honest, a large part of the reason I found this course was online research into “gen ed” classes that would be interesting, especially in science. I wanted to take classes my first semester of college that would make me think and see the world in a different lens than before. I found a description of SCI 200 ironically in a different blog. The line that grabbed my attention was: “This is more of a thinking-based class rather than a formula plugging class. If you still aren’t sold, I’m told the professor has an awesome accent.” (Onward State, March 21, 2013). The first week of class certainly confirmed both of those ideas. It has been eye-opening to finally have an educator in science who understands what students truly need to know about the subject if they are not choosing a scientific career path.

When deciding my major, I knew I wanted to become a journalist, a passion I followed through high school and will continue to at Penn State.  I want to cover sports, because they make a difference in people’s lives and I have a passion for them. As a result, I am not a science major because I do not have any expertise in science and I struggled throughout high school in most of my science classes. I had great science teachers in 6th and 7th grade who I still visit to this day, but after that it was all downhill. I took biology, physics and chemistry in high school, and each year my patience continued to grow thin, to the point where I chose not to take a science course my senior year.

While I don’t have a vested interest, I am curious to learn more about our world and become more open-minded towards science that will impact my generation and our every-day lives. Many of the discussion topics from the schedule attached to the syllabus seem incredibly interesting and engaging and I look forward to discussing these topics in class. Science has and will continue to change lives in the future. While the subject matter taught in schools is often useless, I look forward to diving into important, controversial and interesting discussions this semester. I end this blog post with a meme with one of the most well-known scientists in the field at the moment, Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Here’s to a great semester in Sci 200.