Saturday, April 15, 2017

Keep It All Inside

As it stands, the environment is in dire straits, but new energy innovations, like those at Netpower, are encouraging. Netpower, a clean energy company, has developed a turbine that can be retrofitted to existing coal burning plants in order to use the emitted high-pressure carbon dioxide (CO2) to generate power, instead of releasing it into the atmosphere, removing the need for the smokestack entirely. This process is known as the Allam Cycle. 

The Allam Cycle, courtesy of

Containing the CO2 generates power at no additional cost to the system. It totally removes emissions and yields enough wattage to power thousands of homes. Current power plants exhaust nitrous oxide, carbon and sulfur dioxide, mercury, as well as a myriad of particulate matter. Extant clean energy efforts use a Band-Aid approach to reducing these harmful emissions. The equipment used to do so is expensive and energy-intensive to operate. The Allam Cycle removes this inefficiency from the equation by using the emissions as the propulsion agent to power turbines, rather than clunky and costly steam heat. 

Netpower operates out of Durham, NC and is planning on installing a demo plant this year in order to convince investors that their power is worth putting money towards. I'm holding out hope that they will be able to persuade potential investor to reach deep into their pockets. In the thick of the new coal-fetishizing administration, coal isn't going anywhere, but this offers a realistic compromise. It is unlikely that special interest groups lobbying against its implementation, as the industries with the most power are the ones who will benefit most. 

Posted by Owen Mulledy (C)


Thursday, April 13, 2017


Image result for chemo brain

I’m sure almost everyone reading this knows someone who is currently being, or has been, treated for cancer using chemotherapy. There are terrible side effects that can occur during treatment that can include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, sores, weight changes, and mood changes. What you may not know, are some of the effects that chemotherapy can have on the patient even after it is over. “Chemobrain” is the cognitive impairment that effects up to one third of cancer patients after chemotherapy is finished. This is a relatively new thing that doctors decided to research because patients were complaining about it. It is still scientifically debated whether this is a real side effect of chemotherapy or not, though many patients would argue that it is. Symptoms of “chemobrain” include visual and verbal memory loss (causing issues recalling conversations), attention deficit (causing issues paying attention to tasks), decline in processing speed, and trouble remembering words.

Serotonin is related to depression as well as cognitive function and can be significantly impacted by chemotherapy. In the model rats who received chemotherapy, scientists found a 42% decline in dopamine release and a 55% decline in serotonin release. Tests have only been done in model species such as rats, but these rats show that some biochemical markers of “chemobrain” include higher levels of hydrogen peroxide in the brain, and impaired release and uptake of neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Higher levels of hydrogen peroxide in the brain could be potentially dangerous because it is a reactive oxygen and could cause issues with cognition. The neurotransmitter, dopamine, is present in many different parts of the brain, like the striatum. The striatum receives inputs from all over the brain, filtering unwanted inputs and amplifying wanted inputs. These inputs get translated into actions. So, decreases in dopamine could possibly affect cognition.
Image result for dopamine in the brain 

A possible preventative treatment for declining cognition due to chemotherapy includes KU-32. KU-32 works by inducing heat shock response, protecting cells and possibly counteracting the damaging effects of hydrogen peroxide. In rats, it has been found to prevent cognitive decline caused by chemotherapy, possibly by preventing increases in hydrogen peroxide production in the brain. This drug is still very new and in the preliminary steps of research, but it is a good step forward in figuring out a way to prevent cognitive decline in chemotherapy patients. Patients already go through so many difficult things during their treatment, they do not need to continue to suffer afterwards, too. 


Posted by Jordan Milone (C)

Caffine Feign

We could all use an extra boost of energy in the morning or even in the middle of the night when you're trying to stay up late to study. But why does coffee or tea keep us awake? What is it about caffeine that somehow provides us a second wind to get us through that tired phase?

It all has to do with the chemistry of your brain. When you get tired your brain releases a chemical called adenosine that binds to a receptor in the brain; specifically the A1 receptor. This chemical reaction slows down your nerve activity, which causes you to become tired. When you drink or eat something with caffeine in it, caffeine is able to act as a neurotransmitter. It acts as an antagonist by blocking the receptor so that adenosine can’t bind to the receptor and therefore prevents the “drowsiness” feeling.
Usually it is hard for foreign substances to enter and gain access to the receptors in your brain, but caffeine is different. It is fat-soluble so it can pass easily through your cell membranes and even the blood-brain barrier, which is designed to protect your central nervous system from unwanted substances.

Due to caffeine blocking adenosine it also has affects on other transmitters such as dopamine. It does this by activating noradrenaline neurons and those neurons release dopamine into those areas. This is the reason why you might feel in a better mood after a cup of coffee.

However, if you drink too much coffee all the time you can become hooked on that caffeine. If you try quitting coffee you might get irritable or get frequent headaches. Since caffeine acts as an antagonist, your body actually up-regulates the amount of receptors it has and in this case it would be A1 receptors. If you drink a lot of coffee each day your body becomes used to having all those receptors activated all the time and when you try quitting, your body’s nasty response is due to those receptors not being activated. 


Posted by: Kate Masterson (Group C)

Taking Care of Our Bivalves

Posted by Anna Potorski

Growing up, I spent the majority of my summers in Rhode Island because two of my dad’s favorite things are fishing and clamming. My dad is a pretty cool guy and although I know he loves me, I’ve come to terms with the fact that he loves fishing and clamming more. From May to October the only conversations we have revolve around how many clams he caught and how large the fish were. However, his interest extends further than just what he can catch, but also how the ocean works. For us, the air we breathe is incredibly important to our health. Similarly, the water which clams live in is crucial to their health.

Clams live in what is called an estuary. An estuary is a partially enclosed body of water which may connect to the ocean or have rivers or streams running from it to a larger body of water. Because of this, pollution to this body of water may cause severe problems for the clams. The pollutants fester in the water which the clams live in. There are four factors which directly affect a clam and may be changed due to pollutants.

First off, the temperature of the water must maintain between forty-eight degrees and eighty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. The idea temperature is sixty-eight degrees. Temperatures too high or temperatures too low may cause growth to stop.
Secondly, the salt content of the water is also crucial to health of a clam. The average salinity of the ocean is thirty-five parts per million. The estuaries in which clams grow generally have a lower salinity, ranging between twenty and thirty parts per million. This salinity is the ideal salinity to promote clam growth.

In addition to temperature and salt content is turbidity. Turbidity is the term used to describe how clear the water is. Clams are filter feeders meaning they filter water through and strain out the nutrients in the water. Too much sediment in the water may damage the clams ability to filter properly.

Lastly, there must be a proper nutrients source, as with any organism. Clams eat phytoplankton which, as their name suggests, grow through photosynthesis. The nutrients in the water is also concerning. When water is too nutrient, algae will compete with phytoplankton and usually outgrow the plankton. Clams can still eat the algae but, if the algae grows too uncontrollably the clams may not be able to keep up. Too much algae in the water can choke out other forms of aquatic life.
Maintaining the health of the water is crucial for clam survival. It is so easy to see clams as a tasty deep-fried food. However, it is important to recognize their impact on their ecosystem. As previously mentioned before, clams help control the algae population. A population of algae which is too abundant chokes out the life of other aquatic organisms because it can decrease the level of oxygen. 

As filter feeders, clams are promoting a stronger penetration of sunlight which aids in the growth of vegetation in the water. Clams also remove carbon dioxide from the water by incorporating the carbon into their shells.

A clam filters fifty gallons of water a day. That is a ton of water for such a small organism. However, when we pollute the water, the nutrients, salinity, turbidity, and temperature are affected. In turn, the health of the clam is compromised. A clam can survive for a few days by closing its valves. However, a few days is not enough time to repair a whole body of water.

As time goes on, the acidity of the ocean is changing. The pH levels have lowered and this is particularly dangerous for bivalves. Carbonate ions are the building blocks for the clam’s shell. The growing acidity of the ocean has resulted in weaker shells. On the West Coast, the Netarts Bay in Oregon featured a loss in oyster larvae population. The oyster larvae could no longer form shells due to the lowered pH levels on the water.

The distribution of clams may also be affected by the rising sea levels. As the sea levels rise, the patterns of tides change as well. Clams favor sand or mud flats, found in estuaries. These flats are directly affected by the tides of the ocean as they are connected. Scientists are not entirely sure how the sea level rise may affect these estuaries. Should the sand and mud flats maintain elevation relative to the tidal levels, the clams will remain production and growth in a happy manner. However, this is not what scientists are hypothesizing. For the levels of flats to water must maintain the proper ration dependent on sediments. The faster the sea levels rise, the less likely these estuaries are able to retain the correct ratios and the more likely it is that clam populations, along with other shell fish, will become less productive.

Efforts to protect clams are made. For instance, to allow clams to grow and reproduce, the times in which you may catch clams for your own pleasure is limited. However, this is not enough. We must make more conscious efforts to protect our water. It is not just a clam, it is a stepping stone for so many other organisms in the ocean to survive, reproduce, and grow.


Life is Better with a Dog


            Of the many people who own a dog or have grown up with a dog in their household, researchers have said that those people have a decreased chance of having asthma and allergies as they grow older. An article called “Microbiome: Puppy Power” talked about how babies or children who were exposed to a dog at an early age were able to enrich their microbiome which later showed a decrease in the number of them getting asthma and allergies. Researchers showed that “children who grow up with dogs have lower rates of asthma than those who do not.” These researchers have thought that when people are exposed to a little dirt when they’re younger, their bodies can build a better defense mechanism and enhance their immunity.
Having a dog can increase a person’s chances of their body fighting off diseases or allergies and viruses better than the people who grew up with parents that kept them in a bubble and made everyone sanitize their hands prior to holding their child. The research showed that families who had pets, with 70% being dogs, also had higher levels of Firmicutes microbes. Among these microbes are Ruminococcus and Oscillospira and they are associated with lower risks and reducing allergic diseases and even decreasing obesity. So if you have a dog, hug it a little tighter and appreciate all they’re doing for you even if they just sleep all day long and eat your homework.

Posted by Ana Carolina Nepomuceno




Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The power of a nap

Nap time, my favorite part of the day. Naps are almost like a reboot button for your body when the day just seems way too long. 85% of mammalian species are polyphasic sleepers which means that they sleep in short segments throughout the day and humans are the minority. Because of our busy lifestyles most people are sleep deprived and cant find the time to get in the full 7-8 hours needed every night for our bodies to function normally. Well that's where naps come to save the day. Taking a short "power nap" of about 20-30 minutes can restore alertness, enhance performance and mood. It might seem difficult to only nap for such a short period of time but that's because if you napped anymore your body will go into REM sleep and if the body can not go through a full cycle of REM sleep it gets out of whack. That's is one reason why its bad to be woken up by an alarm and you may feel irritable when woken up suddenly and that's because your body is actually mad at you. Not only do naps have beneficial effects physically allowing you to finish your day well but emotionally they are pleasing. Finding that short amount of time to spend in a quiet, dark place can improve your mood drastically. Many cultures utilize the power of a nap and shut down all stores and stop working for a siesta.
There are a couple different forms of napping. Habitual napping is when you nap at the same time everyday which is what kids mostly do to set a routine. Emergency napping is when youre so tired that you cant make it the rest of the day without a nap to give you that energy boost. Planned napping is when you know ahead of time that you will be up late so you give your body sleep now. There can be drawbacks to napping also. If you nap too close to bedtime then you might not be able to fall asleep easily and will loose a good nights sleep. So next time you body needs a quick pick me up to feel more alert, help with cognition and improve your mood try setting an alarm for 30 minutes and take a nap! As difficult as it may seem to get out of bed after those short 30 minutes of sleeping your body will thank you.

Melissa Stephens

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Re-domestication of wolves into dogs?

Thousands of years ago, the evolution of dogs from wolves occurred, giving humans one of the best pets we could’ve ever asked for. A new study suggests that this may be happening again. In various regions of the world, these animals are increasingly dining on livestock and the garbage we leave behind, straying away from their typical meal of wild prey. Day by day, they are moving closer to the human world.

But what could actually become of it? Evolutionary biologist, Thomas Newsome, examined studies done previously on other large carnivores close to human contact. He found that the Asiatic lions of western India have grown to be less aggressive towards people that tourists can even visit them by foot. On the other hand, the black bears of North America are more likely to die young because they get hunted. Newsome also conducted a study in 2014 on a dingo population in Australia and found that the wild dogs became fat and less aggressive after regularly feeding on the junk food left behind at a waste management facility. He found that they were more likely to mate with local dogs and were more “cheeky.” They formed a genetic cluster different from other dingoes, indicative of genetic isolation which could potentially lead to the formation of a new species.

The diets of grey wolves around the world is already at 32%, and they are expected to change in some way because of it. Their pack sizes as well as social behaviors could be altered drastically. However, another evolutionary biologist, Robert Wayne, says that the dingoes in Newsome's study were more likely to become genetically isolated because of their reduced territories whereas garbage-eating-wolves as a whole are very widespread, making them less likely to become genetically isolated. But Wayne and Newsome can come to the agreement that the best outcome for these animals is not domestication.

So what could actually become of this? What will happen to the wolf population around the world in the upcoming years? What new species could possibly arise?

Source of article and image:

Posted by Natalie Nou (group C)