Category: Science Tuesday

Science Tuesday: The science of sleep

By Sanah Faroke, Staff Writer

If only we could learn in our sleep.../  PHOTO VIA Flickr user Mrehan

If only we could learn in our sleep…/ PHOTO VIA Flickr user Mrehan

Behold! We have entered the ‘week of death,’ i.e. the week before finals week. We’ve entered the dome of late night strategy sessions, unhealthy food choices, and nocturnal raccoon eyes covered over with concealer. Wait, is that just me?

Well, Katniss and I might be BFFs because I feel like I’ve been chosen to participate in the ‘Hunger Games.’ It’s a battle to the death, but really, we’re all just creating this battle with our internal biological clock.

I’ve always been a night owl. I think better and produce higher-quality work at night. However, I’m a miserable troll in the morning when I have to wake up at 8 a.m. for class. I’m such a rebel, defying this clock, but by disrupting these neurons that tell me what to do and when to do it, it puts everything else out of wack.

The neurons in the brain are no bigger than the size of a mustard seed, according to The Atlantic. The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) tells me when I should have breakfast or go to sleep, as well as determining functions like social and sexual behaviors. It’s what makes me a night owl and what makes normal people, well, normal.

According to Seth Blackshaw, an associate professor of neuroscience at John Hopkins University, these characteristics can be genetic, and in a sense, predetermined. In a new study conducted by Blackshaw, SCN deteriorates as you age.

When I was a kid, I hated naps. I’d tell my mom that “day is for play and night is for sleep.” Clearly as a college student, that has changed drastically, but one thing is the same: I fight sleep. Back then, I wouldn’t take naps, and now, I drink coffee instead of giving in. Nevertheless, according to Blackshaw, being awake when our body is obviously tired is bad for you.

For those who pull all-nighters — you deserve a medal. I don’t know how you guys do it, but you do. You better save that medal though because some studies show that you have a higher chance of getting cancer or having a heart attack. So is the medal and a crappy paper worth your health? Probably not, but you’re setting yourself up for it if you stray from the SCN master clock.

In Blackshaw’s study, researchers removed a key gene in mice that helps the SCN communicate with other cells, because SCN communicates with cells in the entire body. He found that instead of the mice operating as if their Monday was a normal 24-hour schedule, they worked as if they have two or three body clocks controlling them at the same time (which kind of feels like my average Monday anyway).

Blackshaw concluded that the clock was still running, but it wasn’t synchronized. It’s why some people are like the living dead during the day, but at night are little miss peppy. I actually live in constant pep, but that’s just because I drink too much coffee, not because I sleep enough. I should probably attempt to do better. I’ll pencil it in … after graduation.


Science Tuesday: Pulling all-nighters doesn’t help you cram

By Sanah Faroke, Staff Writer

When I took my core classes at the beginning of my college career, I pulled all nighters studying for my exams for days at a time. I made immense study guides, until my TA told me that my 32-page guide was equivalent to a grad student’s. My memorization isn’t the best (remember my issue with the Memory Game?) and I didn’t do too hot on my exams.

Turns out, according to a series of recent studies, like one presented at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society earlier this week, lack of sleep is detrimental to remembering things like test answers and where you put your keys.

Sleep, according to the study, not only helps us remember what we did in the past, but also reminds us of what we want to do in the future. Susanne Diekelmann of the University of Tübingen and her colleagues found that there are two ways to remember our intentions. One can be if we internally recite what we want to do, like repeating that “Parenthood” is airing tonight and you need to watch it, or you can store your intentions in the memory network. If it’s stored well enough, then you won’t have to internally remind yourself that your show is coming on later that day.

Diekelmann and her researchers made these discoveries through word pairing: half of the participants were told that they’d have to remember material later and then were either instructed to sleep for two full nights or were kept awake one night and were allowed to sleep the second night. Diekelmann found that the subjects who slept both nights performed better on the test.

I’ve always claimed to be a night owl, because it’s true — I work better at night. But it’s also true that when I don’t get enough rest, I bomb my exams. No amount of coffee could help me there (and trust, me, I’ve tried). So take a break, study with enough time, and make sure you get a good night’s rest. You’re going to need it!

Science Tuesday: Employers rank personality over technical skills

By Sanah Faroke, Staff Writer

The first job I applied to was for a temp position at a Barnes and Noble bookstore in my hometown. I was terrified about the interview process and I tend to scare myself by doubting my qualifications, but once I got in there, I was hired on the spot.  I figured that as long as I didn’t have a criminal record or a really heavy accent, I’d be golden.

The thing is, I didn’t have any real experience in the bookselling industry, and even then, I beamed with excitement about being around books (and possibly finding ones I wanted to buy) and I’m all about working hard, which the manager liked.

According to a recent study from CareerBuilder, employers aren’t just looking for candidates that have the desired skills, but also the personality. They don’t go hand in hand, but they’re measured in importance equally, which is good news for people like me. Having a pleasant personality in a job interview isn’t a new thing, but according to the study, having good humor, good fashion sense or pop culture knowledge can play a part in getting hired. Finally, all that useless pop culture trivia will pay off.

The study, conducted online by Harris Interactive, questioned 2,076 managers and human resource professionals nationwide about qualities they looked for in candidates and what they kept tabs on while the employee was working between May 14 and June 5, 2013.

The top personality traits managers looked for in new employees were:

1. Hard workers
2. Dependable
3. Positive
4. Self-motivated
5. Team-oriented
6. Organized
7. Good under pressure
8. Effective communicators
9. Flexible
10. Confident (ehem, not cocky)

One day, the manager who hired me asked if I’d been manning the phones all day, and I had been. He then told me that a customer called him and told him that he should permanently hire the girl answering the phones and so, I was no longer a temp (and no longer a cashier).

Although I technically didn’t perform well under all tasks, I persevered, worked hard and was always cheerful and motivated.

So although knowing how to code or film with a JVC camera or cook with a skillet are things you may need to know for your industry, remember that hard skills aren’t the only qualities employees look at. And heads up, they’ll also stalk you on social media, so you better fix that up too.

Good luck to all you seniors venturing out into the real world soon. Take note from “Morning Glory”: Becky may be embarrassingly enthusiastic, but the point is, she got the job!

Science Tuesday: How to get your daily dose of vitamin D

By Sanah Faroke, Staff Writer

Sometimes, all we need is a little sun in our lives.

There’s something about the warmth caressing your face and the light that makes everything seem clearer. After a long winter it’s something we start to crave in New England and as summer approaches most people have gotten a head start on the summer clothes despite the fact that the warmest it’s been is in the high 50s.

To the girls wearing spring dresses and the guys wearing pink shorts and polos: we’re not there yet. But when we are, one the best ways to take advantage of the sun is to lie out on the grass (and soon enough it’ll look like a herd of seals took over the COM lawn).

Until it’s actually warm out, I’ve been taking vitamin D supplements every so often, along with fish oil (which apparently is great for you, however it makes my burps taste fishy). As for taking vitamin D, I’ve heard it can do wonders for helping my bones — and according to WebMD it also helps with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, skin diseases and asthma.

So I started taking vitamin D for several reasons on top of the fact that I’m tired of pulling out my asthmatic inhaler and being on Steve Urkel’s level (and I ain’t ready for that).

According to a study published last week in British Medical Journal, researchers evaluated the biases that are associated with the miraculous vitamin and found that it came short of many of our expectations. First, they tackled over 260 previous studies and papers. According to their findings, only ten of the studies lived up to the researchers standards.

According to Discover Magazine, earlier research claimed that vitamin D prevented over 137 conditions like osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, and only one study suggested that vitamin D levels in a mother’s third trimester correlated with birth weight. Other studies claimed that it was possible that vitamin D could be linked to childhood cavities and hormone levels of dialysis patients, but none of the evidence in these previous studies established actual proof.

So is it better to just take vitamin D in the hopes that it’s “good for you”?

The thing is, vitamin D deficiency is a probability and it is more common than you expect, especially for people living in the north (and even people like me who grew up in warm climates could have it too). It’s probably because we stay indoors a lot for fear of getting burned. So if you’ve become a skeptic, there are ways to get enough vitamin D, and hopefully not burn yourself to a crisp while doing it!

Science Tuesday: Are only the foolish fooled?

By Sanah Faroke, Staff Writer

April Fools’ is the day where we all have to be on a constant look-out for the liars, the cheats and the tricksters (and apparently I speak like a 90-year-old woman). Sometimes I forget that naivety can be a little like being foolish. In a previous post, I mentioned that I’m the worst at lying. Well, I’m also really bad at picking up when people lie to me.

Pranks? I get scared every time. That joke about gullible not being in the dictionary? Yeah, I fell for that one too. Here’s the thing to mull over on April Fools’ — are we easily tricked by people, or do we have a knack for tricking ourselves?

It’s possible that we could be eating too many chicken sandwiches at Chick-Fil-A or slurping too many strawberry milkshakes from Johnny Rockets, but according to a study at Oxford University, eating lots of high-fattening food can hurt our cognitive skills. I guess we’re not all that bright, are we?

The researchers studied rats, feeding them at first a low-fat diet and tested their ability to make it through a maze. After fattening them up for about nine days on a high-fat diet, researchers found that the rats were making more mistakes than usual. So, I guess spring isn’t the only reason to be hitting the gym and eating right. A healthy diet makes for a healthy brain.

So what about when we’re voluntarily being, well, dumb?

We’re at such a young age, and even though no one is tricking us into sticking a tongue to a frozen flagpole, it doesn’t mean we don’t do reckless things. According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, teens and young adults can’t help but overestimate the good that can come, with little regard for the negative risk. Mulling over spring break, eh? Yeah, aren’t we all.

And while we can’t help being reckless, more often than not, we tend to fool ourselves. In a study conducted by Louisa Egan, Laurie Santos and Paul Bloom at Yale University, they compared similar behaviors in self-deception in capuchin monkeys with that of 4-year-old children.

They found that when the monkeys were presented with colored M&Ms they chose one color over another, even though all M&Ms taste like a wonderful piece of chocolate heaven. The same scenario happened with children when stickers were used. So it didn’t really matter which choice they made, it was just about coming up with a solution for which one they picked and justifying it, and in a sense, fooling themselves. Come on, we’ve all done it with shoes, handbags, (ehem) boyfriends, so why not M&Ms?

So what has April Fools’ taught us? Perhaps it’s that we fool ourselves more on the daily than when other people try to trick us on this silly holiday. What more could we want than self-assurance from our own self-deception? It’s kind of like saying you’ll eat a salad for lunch, but really, in an hour, you know you’ll be trudging to the kitchen for some left over Pad Thai. So who’s the fool now? Eh, it’s still kind of us.


Science Tuesday: Pee in my pool and you’ll die (literally)

By Sanah Faroke, Staff Writer

Spring has finally revealed itself to Boston (well sort of). I can only think of all the fun things I’ll do once it really becomes warm out. I’ll wear flip-flops and I’ll hide under beach umbrellas, and the pool will become my second home.

As a kid, I thought I could be a mermaid, if I really wanted to, so I did what any nerdy kid would have done — I adapted. I got a pair of swimming flippers, wore blue, shiny swimsuits,  goggles and earplugs. Yep, I was that weird, nerdy Indian chubster who thought she was a fish. So when I said I lived in the pool, I mean it, especially during the hot summer months. My cousins and I stayed in the pool for hours and never got out, except when we were hungry. And I’m trying to beat around the bush, but (here it goes) I know we all probably just peed in the pool between snack times. What was the harm, right? We’re just kids playing ‘Colors’ and ‘Silent Pass’ and ‘Spider’ and we don’t have time to waste to get out of the pool and go the bathroom. The world was our oyster, so what did the pool become? Well, it was the deep ocean and a playground and the Seven Seas where we sailed in a ship, but it also became a potty.

My logic was, ‘Well, the chlorine will kill all the bacteria anyway,’ but according to a study published in Environmental Science and Technology, researchers from China Agricultural University and Purdue University found that when uric acid hits the chlorinated pool, it creates two chemical byproducts: cyanogen chloride and thrichloramine.

Okay, big science words that mean nothing to the average person, but according to Discover, when these chemicals are inhaled, they can affect organs like the lungs, heart and the central nervous system. It turns out, we were all swimming in a toxic waste. And I say ‘we’ because I know you all peed in the pool at least once as a kid, so don’t even play.

In the study, researchers looked at the different levels of cyanogen chloride and trichloramine in correlation to the ratio of the precursors, the pH and the temperature of the water, io9 reports. They also looked into swimming pools that already had these two chemicals and found that when they added more uric acid, the cyanogen chloride increased as well, while trichloramine varied in increase levels.

So, I’m thinking that I’m going to avoid all public pools from now on, but I don’t think I can avoid the seashore. There are all kinds of animals living in the ocean anyway doing God knows what. If they can survive, so can I. After all, I’m a mermaid, remember? I’ll adapt, just not in the kiddie pool.

Science Tuesday: Explore the Universe with Neil deGrasse Tyson

By Chris Lisinski, Staff Writer

Neil deGrasse Tyson wants you to join him on an adventure through time and space. Strange as that may sound, you should accept.

He is not an astronaut himself, nor is he extending a creepy, Wonka-esque invitation; no, Tyson wants to show you all about the world around you in the form of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.

You absolutely, positively should accept his invitation, because the show will instill you with the kind of wonder many of us have not felt since fifth-grade field trips to the planetarium.

Curiosity and intrigue are key characteristics of our status as human beings, and they have brought us every major accomplishment from irrigation to penicillin to leaving footprints on the moon.

It is through this desire to learn more that we expand and refine ourselves as a civilization.

At a time when science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs are so crucial (and perhaps even more available than other fields), “Cosmos” plays the important role of making us care about science in our everyday lives. It validates wondering about the universe as a valid use of free time, not just something for nerds with extra-thick glasses.

The show matters, and it is a bit surprising to see it air first on FOX’s main channel itself rather than exclusively on National Geographic. Hopefully, none of the scientific content will be watered down (and hopefully evolution will not be skipped over), but given the decline of the Discovery Channel, we must be extremely thankful.

Students may have missed the first two episodes while on vacation, but fret not! You can watch it online for free and legally! FOX has taken the extra step of making it available for the next month-and-a-half or so on the show’s website.

And it’s an absolutely beautiful show. The original with Carl Sagan will always hold a dear place in my heart, but “Cosmos” is one of the few pieces of media that may be better as an HD reboot full of zany CGI. You will feel that you are genuinely transported across the universe thanks to the amazing visual effects.

It may have some shortcomings, especially when it occasionally skips over the key details of scientific theories, but regardless, there is one conclusion: you should watch “Cosmos.”

Check out the trailer below:

Science Tuesday: Chill Out Over Break, It’s Good For You

By Sanah Faroke, Staff Writer

Typically for spring break, I go home. Don’t get me wrong, it’s actually amazing. I get to see my family and my friends and drive my own car and not deal with schoolwork and oh, did I tell you I’m from Miami? Basically, I live where everyone vacations. There’s the beach, the parties, the sun, the tan (except I’m already really tan so I hide under an umbrella). I can even wear flip flops, which is obviously a necessity.

The thing is, although I’m in paradise, I still think about all the work I have to do. I plan to apply for jobs this spring break (How much fun is that?). Well, it’s actually pretty exciting because I’m a nerd, who also plans to read for fun during spring break.

But the fact of the matter is, my mind still wanders back to my textbooks, my job apps, my laptop — and anxiety kicks in. I start to remember a time where the week before, I was in the freezing cold, always tired and stressed out and worrying, and you might as well put me in a mental hospital because I’m going ballistic. I freak out like any other normal college student and when it comes down to it, I basically planned my whole “vacation time” around doing work.

The thing is, we actually need to chill out.

This theory of taking breaks goes back to a study in 1999 by Wall Street insurance company New Century Global, who collaborated with the Cornell University Ergonomics Research Laboratory. In the 10-week study, they used a program to remind employees to keep good posture and take short breaks. Researchers found that the workers who took breaks were 13 percent more accurate in their work on average, while other workers who didn’t take breaks slipped up.

In another study published in the journal Cognition, researchers found that if people took short breaks, it would help them maintain focus without losing the quality of their work like it would if they worked overtime.

It’s not like I don’t take short breaks anyway, thanks to my BFF, the Internet.

Let’s be real, you know you take breaks all the time to watch Ellen DeGeneres because she’s hilarious. That’s a given, but seriously, watching those funny Parks and Rec clips do more than waste time — same goes for spring break. Yes, I know, it’s fun to dance on tables and ruin your liver, but remember, spring break is a much needed mental break. This week will actually help your concentration and help with your work performance after vacation. If you drink too much Corona and kill your brain cells, well, I don’t think I can help you there.

Either way, just “Don’t go cray on your vacay, brown suga.”

Science Tuesday: Stress Really Does Cause Headaches

By Sanah Faroke, Staff Writer

Coffee. Can't live without it. PHOTO VIA/ Heather Goldin

Coffee. Can’t live without it. PHOTO VIA/ Heather Goldin

I’m addicted to coffee. The first time I had a drop of coffee, I think the world literally stopped for a split second. It was earth shattering. Now, when I wake up, I can’t live without coffee. And I’m not alone, it is a $30 billion industry after all.

No, but really: If I don’t have a cup of coffee, I’ll have an extreme migraine. I can’t function, I can’t think, I can’t formulate sentences,  I can’t even eat (just kidding, I can always eat). The point is, I’m actually addicted.

The problem is, as if an addiction isn’t a problem in itself, is that even when I have my fourth venti from Starbucks, I still manage to get headaches.

Is it because I spend the wee hours of the night cramming for bio exams, running around interviewing people while under deadlines and constantly reading literature texts with little to no decipherment? Well, BU wouldn’t be BU if it didn’t make its students go crazy. In between all of my work, I have nervous breakdowns. My eye twitches, knots form on my back and the headache creeps back in. No amount of coffee will help, and coffee is from the heavens. It’s the stress I tell you! But actually, Dr. Sara Schramm proves it really is the source of headaches.

According to a study released last week, researchers found that people who have more stress in their lives have more headaches than someone who spends their day on the sofa with their cat. Schramm, the lead researcher from the University of Duisburg-Essen, based her findings off of 5,000 participants in Germany for two years.

Schramm characterizes the level of headaches into four categories: tension headaches, migraines, a combination of both and unclassifiable headaches (I’d add caffeine headaches, but that’s just me). Participants deciphered how many headaches they had during check-ins and rated their stress level from zero to 100 based on a stress measurement scale.

Those with tension headaches, which are the most common, rated their stress at 52 out of 100, while volunteers with migraines said their stress level was 62 out of 100.

There’s always Advil, but why bother with it when there are ways to lower our stress level? Some people run, some do yoga and others sleep. I’m a little less conventional. I’ll drive to the mall, pick up a cup of coffee and head to Brookstone. I eye the room for the closest massage chair and literally sit in one for 30 minutes. Then I scour the store to buy something small so I don’t feel guilty, but guess what, it works (the employees sometimes give me dirty looks, but who cares? I got the best (free) massage #iaintgotnoworries).

So take some time out of studying and relax. I’ll work on my caffeine addiction headaches next, but I can’t fully quit. Fine, we can talk about it sometime over coffee.

Science Tuesday: Memory Games

By Sanah Faroke, Staff Writer

Before I went to school and before I had any friends, my mom was my best friend. We used to play Mario Kart and Street Fighter, which I would always win (probably because she just pressed a bunch of buttons and hoped she wouldn’t spin out on a banana peel or get knocked out).

When it came to games like Monopoly, I’d lose. Unless I use a calculator, I’m not playing. Scrabble? I probably shouldn’t use a dictionary, right? And then there was the Memory game. It was one of my favorites, but I’ve learned (and this is still a problem), my memory sucks.

I could never remember where the other picture of the dumb boy sticking his tongue out at me was. It was like he was taunting me and I’d panic and blank out. If I lost — which happened more than I’d like to admit — I’d cry, like the big baby I was. Then my mom would take pity on me, flip some cards over and we’d play again.

A study published earlier this month in the Journal of Neuroscience explains that our loss of memory is actually our memories getting rewritten.

Donna Jo Bridge, a postdoctoral fellow in medical social sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, conducted a study where 17 volunteers played a memory game. They had to remember where an object was placed on a computer screen with different backgrounds. Once the original background was changed, and participants had to place where the object was, they continuously got it wrong. When they were asked to locate the object in the original place after seeing it in different places on three different backgrounds, they would get that wrong too. The results of the study makes me feel a little better about my childhood.

The good news is, when researchers instructed for volunteers to put the object in a different location that was not the original spot, for some reason the subjects could then remember the original location of the object.

So what this study can infer is that the hippocampus (the area of the brain that deals with our memories) can decide what is important and can build upon that original memory or change it. It makes total sense. I say that I have selective memory just because I can remember in vivid detail in kindergarten when a bully (I won’t name any names) stole my Purell hand sanitizer and then filled it with soap and water and put it in my lunch box. Yup, never letting that go. But there are (multiple) times when I meet a group of people and instantaneously, I forget their names. Yeah, yeah, sue me.

But there are also times when this selective memory can benefit us.

Thanks to the hippocampus, our memory of the past can be altered subconsciously. Think of your ex-boyfriend. Don’t you kind of hate him? Well good. He was a jerk anyway. But if our memory actually remembered all the good things that happened, you’d probably never be able to get over the guy who played you. We tend to focus on the bad instead of that first kiss under a shooting star. Because we focus on the bad, our memory alters toward that, which helps us move on. Can I get an amen?

So although we can remember something from our past, and think we remember it exactly how it went down, it’s possible that we’ve altered our memories. Maybe that bully in kindergarten gave me dirty looks all through grade school because I told on her… or maybe she just had the sun in her eyes? Come to think of it, she made the same face indoors. #hatersgonnahate