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)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Neanderthals Eating Neanderthals

Neanderthals Eating Neanderthals

The exact relationship between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens has never been truly understood. As more and more scientific evidence comes pouring in, it becomes more and more apparent that it is nearly impossible to draw a clear line between us and them. According to John Shea, an archaeologist, Neanderthals and Homo sapiens performed so many similar tasks and both survived and thrived under conditions that would have killed off people nowadays, even with the incredible extent of our technology. One thing that is for certain is that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens interbred to some extent, and people from areas like the Middle East tend to have some amount of Neanderthal DNA within their genomes.

Image result for neanderthals cannibalism

Recently, new evidence has been found that adds a new dimension to the presumed lifestyles and habits of Neanderthals, as it has become seemingly "irrefutable" that they partook in cannibalistic behavior.

In the caves of Goyet, an archaeological site in Southern Belgium, the bones of at least 4 adults have been found and studied to show signs and markings that "provide clear evidence for butchery activities." These bones displayed signs of cutting that were indicative of flesh being stripped from them, and they were broken in ways similar to those of horses and reindeer, presumably in attempts to access the nutritious marrow within.

It doesn't stop there, though. Apparently, Neanderthals also used the bones of their kin's remains to make tools, with clear indications that they were used to sharpen stone.

According to Antonio Rosas, this practice was not limited to the Neanderthals of Belgium, as many other populations have shown signs of cannibalistic behavior.

Ultimately, the precise reasons behind why Neanderthals were participating in such behavior remains unknown. There were definitely some periods of intense starvation that would have potentially driven them to eat their peers for food, though it cannot be ruled out that they may have been doing so symbolically as some form of ritual.

Posted by Peter Makhoul (3)

Spinach Hearts

Spinach Hearts

Scientists at WPI have recently discovered a way to turn an ordinary spinach leaf into a beating heart. The idea to use a spinach leaf came from a common problem that tissue engineers face when synthesizing tissue. They explained that one of the main limiting factors in creating tissues has to do with a lack of a vascular network. Similar to animals, leaves have their own vascular networks that consist of veins. The researchers have replicated the way blood moves through the heart using the delicate network of a spinach leaf. 

The process of turning a spinach leaf into a functional heart involves the removal of plant cells from the leaf. This leaves behind a frame of cellulose, which is a material used often in tissue engineering for artificial cartilage and wound healing. The cellulose was soaked in human cells which grew on the frame. After the cellulose has been turned into a mini heart, the researchers injected fluid and microbeads through its veins to show that blood cells can flow through the veins. The goal of this research is to find ways to replace damaged tissues in humans. The scientists hope to experiment with other plant materials such as wood to repair bones. Overall this research is very promising for the future of tissue replacement procedures. 


Posted by Sierra Tyrol (C)

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Celiac Virus

Celiac Virus

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition where those inflicted suffer symptoms that  can range from drowsiness to sever gastrointestinal pain, malabsorption and diarrhea. These symptoms are due to the immune response to gluten. Gluten is a protein present in wheat, barley, rye and other gains. This protein is what notably gives dough its “stickiness”. When eaten by someone with the condition however, the body’s immune system views it as a threat, similar to the effects of an allergy. 
The cause of this disease was always viewed as genetic, however this article asserts that a virus is able tigger the same response. The genetic cause is indicated by two genetic features, and while many people express one or both, only 1% of the population have been diagnosed with Celiac disease. With the virus as the cause, the immune system is triggered. The virus acts to trick the immune system to view gluten as harmful. The ingestion of gluten would “cause the immune system to react to gluten as if it was a dangerous pathogen instead of a harmless food protein”. This reaction damages the lining of the stomach as well as the intestines. This is what causes the majority of symptoms. While the virus itself is common and usually harmless, infection of this reovirus is suspected to be a probable cause.
While this disease affects many, there is still not much known about the causes of Celiacs. Although there are genetic tests, they are not 100% accurate. Which is the reason diagnosing this condition can be difficult. Testing for the genetic markers, blood work, endoscopy, and well other tests do not always give a complete answer. Usually a change in diet will be put into affect as a test as well, this usually will give the best results. While the ultimate causes are still not completely known, whether it be genetic, environmental, or viral, it is important that this research continues.


Posted by Logan Lassin (b)

Friday, April 7, 2017

Creationist Ideas on Evolution

Natural selection is one of the driving forces behind evolution, but it is not the only force influencing the evolution of species. Mutation, migration, and genetic drift also play crucial roles. Darwin’s theory of natural selection can be confusing and it is often misunderstood, especially by creationists. Many creationists believe that natural selection is a God-ordained process that allows species to survive post-flood. It is true that natural selection can help organisms with certain heritable traits to survive and reproduce more successfully than species who lack certain traits. However, the term natural selection should not be confused with evolution because they are not the same thing. In order for natural selection to occur, certain criteria must be met. For example, there must be genetic variation among traits, selection pressures causing there to be differences in reproductive success among species with different traits, and the ability of traits to be passed on from generation to generation. One of the arguments in this article is that natural selection cannot lead to evolution because it is nondirectional when selection pressures are removed. While this idea is true, when there are no selection pressures the traits that get passed onto the next generation are random, it is important to remember that natural selection does not always lead to the evolution of new species. Therefore, natural selection does not have to be unidirectional to help drive evolution. Another argument is that speciation has never been observed to form an organism of a different kind, such as a dog species producing a cat. However, evolution does not work this way. Instead, evolution is the gradual change in a species genetic makeup that leads to the evolution of new species. An organism like a dog would not suddenly evolve into a cat. Instead, genetic mutations accumulating over many generations would gradually lead to changes in species and the evolution of new species. Many of these species being links, or common ancestors, in a phylogenetic tree.  

Posted by: Katie Kossack


Conservation Success

Conservation Success

It is difficult to be unaware of the fact that the Earth is going through a mass extinction because of human activity. There are currently over 41,000 species listed as endangered and a fourth of these are threatened with extinction. Many of these species will go extinct despite the efforts of conservationists. Despite this large number of threatened species there are some success stories.
March 3rd was World Wildlife Day and the WWF wrote an article sharing good news of conservation efforts from the past year. One huge accomplishment is pandas are not longer listed as endangered after 30 years of effort. They were first listed endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1984. Wild tigers also showed an increase in numbers, which hasn’t happened before. The ivory trade market in China will be closing by the end of this year, hopefully helping with poaching of elephants. There has been an effort to save world heritage sites, basically referring to what is left of the natural world. This will help to preserve places all over the world that are home to thousands of different species.
It is hard to stay hopeful when the world is losing so many different species, but these stories help to show that the efforts made to save endangered species are not totally pointless.


Posted by Hannah Jordan (group B)

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Migraines vs. Anxiety

Migraines vs. Anxiety

Most people tend to experience migraines on a daily basis, but little do they realize that due to having these migraines, it can create a generalized anxiety. As a man who gets migraines on a weekly basis, I can completely understand how people connect migraines with generalized anxiety. I too have generalized anxiety, and it is not an easy thing to deal with. When I have a migraine, it feels like i have a knife stabbing into a portion of my head constantly, for hours on end. When this happens to me, it makes it impossible for me to do anything. Having the lights on makes the migraine feel worse, and even the softest of noises sounds like someone is yelling and makes it feel like someone is digging the knife into my head even deeper. When feeling that type of pain, it feels almost impossible to move, never mind trying to go to work, school, or trying to clean the house. Not being able to do these things, makes your head hurt more because you're stressing out over everything that is going to need to be done after the migraine finally goes away. Sometimes a migraine can even last days, which makes you feel really behind.

As I was reading an article on the connection between migraines and generalized anxiety, I had learned a lot of new information on this issue I tend to deal with on a weekly basis. University of Toronto did a research that shows that 6 percent of people with generalized anxiety also would get migraines verses the 2 percent of people who don't get migraines but still have generalized anxiety. What really surprised me was how the study discovered that men with migraines have twice the risk of having this anxiety than women with migraines. One of the co-author's, Senyo Agbeyaka, had explained that even though women have a larger chance to be diagnosed with generalized anxiety in the general population, it is because men are less likely than women to take medication to treat the migraine. This will cause the disorder to possibly become more painful and less controllable, which will eventually lead to anxiety.

In my case, I tend to stay as hydrated as possible to keep away my migraines at all costs. If that does not help, I would see a doctor and get treated, even if it means taking medicine. It is better off to take medicine to help the migraine than it is not to take medicine, because then it could cause the migraine to get worse, and eventually lead you into having anxiety.

Posted by: Givenchy Humes (B)



Love at First Bite?

Love at First Bite?

Ladies, have you even been on a date or eating with your guy friends and noticed that they’ve eaten a whole lot more than you have? Guys, have you ever wondered why the girl you’re eating with decided not to go for seconds?  Well it turns out males aren’t simply hungrier than females, there’s actually a biological reason for why men eat more food in the presence of women.

In an experiment from the Cornell Food & Brand Lab, researchers determined that on average, while in the presence of the opposite sex, men will consume more food.  This experiment was done in an all-you-can eat Italian buffet style restaurant.  105 individuals were observed over the course of two weeks. Information recorded by the researchers involved the gender of the subject as well as how many slices of pizza and bowls of salad they consumed while dining. In addition, each subject was given a short survey as they left the restaurant answering questions like: how hurried did they feel while eating, how comfortable were they, and how full did they feel when they were done?

What the researchers found was a significant increase in the food consumption by men dining with at least one women.  Men ate 93% more pizza and 86% more salad when with a female companion compared to eating with only other males.  Whereas for females, there was no significant difference in the amount of food they ate depending on who they were with.  From the surveys, it was found that women felt that they overate and felt rushed when eating with men. It is interesting that this article does not mention the men’s feelings of fullness or hurriedness while they ate. 

A conclusion drawn from this experiment was that men tend to eat more to show off when they dine with females.  This is also evident in food competitions, where there are mostly male competitors.

Why would men eat more than women in the presence of the opposite sex? While the article does not bring up any ties to evolution, I think it is an interesting point to bring up, and really the only explanation.  In the context of natural selection and female choice, we know that females will choose the most qualified and usually the most impressive male to mate with in order to produce offspring.  So perhaps males have a biological tendency to impress females with the amount of food they are able to consume in an effort to win them over.  So guys, next time you’re on a date, just remember that even though evolution might be telling you your date will be impressed with all that food, she might think otherwise.

Posted by Taylor Irwin (Group B)

Source photo & article: