Category Archives: The Brain & Learning

Medicine for the Incurable Disease

Recently one of my closest friends was diagnosed with epilepsy. Prior to this, epilepsy treatment had always been an unknown topic and I was fairly sure that the treatments were very limited if not ineffective. I’d heard about treatment medicines to slow down your brain, making you sluggish, dull, and personally thought that the side effects outweighed the benefits. As I was told his news, I decided that as I spend a deal of time around him that I should really be aware of what to do in the event of a seizure. While doing this, I came across treatments for epilepsy and was surprised to see abundance treating its symptoms. I became interested as to how effective the current treatments for epilepsy are, as my friend began his drugs this summer.

Epilepsy can be defined as “a common serious neurological condition where there is a tendency to have seizures that start in the brain.” (Epilepsy Society, 2013) There are 40 types of epilepsy (Epilepsy Society, 2013), all without known cures but with a large amount of preventative medicine to stop seizures and treat symptoms. For the sake of my search, I focused upon the most common drugs used to treat epilepsy; Depakene ® (valproate, valproic acid) and Zonegran ® (zonisamide), which my friend is currently taking. Depakene works to target epilepsy by increasing the “level of gamma-aminobutyric acid in brain” (Farlex) thus reducing seizure activity. “ Gamma-Amino Butyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid which acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. It inhibits nerve transmission in the brain, calming nervous activity. “ (Denver Naturopathic Clinic) Zonegran is also known to affect the levels of this acid, however its precise method of preventing seizures is unknown. It is thought that zonisamide prevents the movement of sodium and calcium, as they must move into nerve cells to build up an electrical signal to throughout the brain. By stopping nerve cells from firing rapid electrical signals this stabilizes brain activity and prevents seizure-causing signals from spreading. (Netdoctor) Although Netdoctor at first seemed to be an unreliable source, I noted that “Over 250 of the UK’s and Europe’s leading doctors and health professionals write, edit and update the contents of NetDoctor.co.uk.”(Netdoctor) and the information, particularly the one I took note form, is not written by the general public. 

I dove deeper into the adverse reactions stemming from the use of Depakene, which were copious. Notable common side effects included but were not limited to “vomiting, hair loss, and a decrease in thinking speed.” (WebMD) Long term usage of the drug led to possible hearing loss, liver damage, decreased platelets (clotting cells), bone thinning and pancreatic issues. (WebMD). WebMD, like Netdoctor, turned out to be a reliable source when i was researching as many of their articles were written by experts in the field. Depakene turned out to not be the only epilepsy treatment with severe side effects, as the use of Zonegran can induce metabolic acidosis, fatal skin rashes, kidney stones, reduced white and red blood cell counts, and problems with concentration, attention, memory, thinking, speech, or language. (FDA, 2012)

Treatment for epilepsy, though abundant, is still limited. Many medicines counter the symptoms of epilepsy, but do not actively cure the disease itself.

For 70% of patients with epilepsy, drugs can control seizures. (WebMD) Medicine to prevent epilepsy, though beneficial, is still very limited as it does not cure the disease and has severe side effects.  As these medications are dangerous and do not cure epilepsy, are they worth taking at all? These medications do actively prevent the biggest symptom of epilepsy, seizures. I can conclude personally, that they are worth taking, as the risk of having a spontaneous seizure is reduced if not eradicated. Nevertheless, takers should be fully aware of the side-effects and take these medicines with caution and be fully aware of the risk of severe side effects. Seizures interfere with daily life, preventing the epileptic from daily activities such as driving or swimming for the fear of having a seizure and crashing or drowning. Though the medications have severe side effects, the implications of these medicines mean that people with epilepsy can continue to have a regular lifestyle without worry of personal injury. Currently treatments for epilepsy are effective to an extent, and I do hope that research into the disease yields brighter results for cures in the future.

Work Count: 628

References:

References

Denver Naturopathic Clinic. (n.d.). GABA.  Welcome to the Denver Naturopathic Clinic . Retrieved September 6, 2013, from http://www.denvernaturopathic.com/news/GABA.html

Epilepsy society. (2013, May 5). What is epilepsy | Epilepsy Society. epilepsy society | Epilepsy Society. Retrieved September 6, 2013, from http://www.epilepsysociety.org.uk/what-epilepsy#.UhGGNKA2W0s

FDA. (2012, January 24). Medication Guide ZONEGRAN®. fda.gov. Retrieved September 3, 2013, from www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/DrugSafety/UCM152828.pdf

Farlex. (n.d.). Depakene – definition of Depakene by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia.. Dictionary, Encyclopedia and Thesaurus – The Free Dictionary. Retrieved September 6, 2013, from http://medicaldictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Depakene

NetDoctor. (n.d.). Zonegran (zonisamide). NetDoctor.co.uk – The UK’s leading independent health website. Retrieved September 6, 2013, from http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/brain-and-nervous-system/medicines/zonegran.html#ixzz2cOMj5wr

WebMD. (n.d.). Common Epilepsy Seizure Medications: Types, Uses, Effects, and More. WebMD – Better information. Better health.. Retrieved September 6, 2013, from http://www.webmd.com/epilepsy/medications-treat-seizures

Brain Chemistry

Being from the United States, a country that is facing the harsh issue of obesity, I decided that it would be very interesting to research about exercise. Caroline wrote a blog post about brain chemistry and she put much emphasis on dopamine.  I found it very interesting that altered levels of dopamine can have such a large affect on the body.  I wondered what kinds of chemicals and neurotransmitters were released when someone exercised.  When you think about it, many people get incredibly positive effects from exercise, meaning that it must force a release of something in the brain to induce this.  But which neurotransmitters and hormones are responsible for this? Since we just recently did the medicines and drugs unit, I thought it would be beneficial and quite helpful to be able to research about exercise and be able to truly understand what it all means.  When I was doing my primary research, all kinds of things came up about how exercise makes you smarter, fixes health problems, reduces stress, helps you become more fit, and much more.  Wouldn’t everyone be exercising a very large amount if they knew this?


To begin, regular exercise can alleviate anxiety and boost energy. When you exercise, you work your heart, thus making it stronger, but also increased heart pumping increases the release of certain types of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, norepinephrine and GABA. Even small amounts of activity can help the body be more resistant to stressful situations even hours later. To expand on the effects of these neurotransmitters, serotonin (C10H12N2O) leaves you happier and more relaxed after working out. (Branch, S.) This is because the physical activity stimulates the release of these chemicals. When reading about this, I automatically thought of all of the drugs we learned about.  I went back to the mouse party simulation and reviewed how these drugs work. I noticed something in common with all of these drugs; they all have relate in the way they work with chemicals in the brain. All of the drugs either work with serotonin, dopamine or GABA receptors. For example, LSD deals with the serotonin receptors.  It binds to serotonin receptors and it binds to various ones, sometimes inhibiting them and sometimes exciting them. LSD excites a particular part of the brain, the locus coeruleus. This area of the brain forms feelings of wakefulness, etc.  LSD also has effects such as changed body temperature and heart rate which also occurs when you exercise.(Mouse Party)  To connect this to exercising, when you exercise, serotonin is released, making the person who was working out feel more relaxed and happy. Even though exercise is not a drug that chemically alters the brain, it certainly acts in similar ways as many drugs are meant to act.


Although exercise is certainly not a drug and usually it can be closely connected because it has many of the same effects and usually creates better moods, more relaxation, and a more stimulated brain. With this being said, it is not to get mixed up because drugs also have many negative effects which are not associated with exercising.  Additionally, norepinephrine is a very important neuromodulator in the brain.  Many scientists believe that the norepinephrine concentrations are much higher in the brain during physical activity, thus leading to the body being able to deal with stress more effectively. 50% of norepinephrine is created in the LC (locus coeruleus) and this area of the brain is “involved in emotional and stress responses.”(Dishman, R.)

Serotonin

Serotonin Structure

Serotonin Neuron

Serotonin Neuron

Endorphins also play a key role in helping to decrease stress levels.  Endorphins are created in the “pituitary gland in response to stress or pain. They bind to opioid receptors in neurons, blocking the release of neurotransmitters and thus interfering with the transmission of pain impulses to the brain”.(McGovern, M.) When you exercise, the activity stimulates the release of endorphins and these help you to deal with the stress and pain dealt with during exercise. For example, “runners high” is considered to be because the increased release of endorphins is responsible for the euphoria feeling after running and thus the runner feels a very happy, relaxed feeling. (McGovern, M.) Endorphins are much like drugs in the way that their effects have a very addictive effect and the person exercising builds a tolerance to these, and must exercise more to get the same euphoria feeling over time. “In fact, endorphins attach to the same neuron receptors as opiates such as morphine and heroin.” (McGovern, M.) Many scientists believe that only a small amount of people exercise regularly because the endorphins take about 30 minutes to kick in.  This means that the person doesn’t feel these positive effects until a while after their exercise and only associates exercising with stress and pain.


To continue, exercise and physical activity can also make your brain stronger, thus leading to a more efficient brain. “Exercise slows the loss of gray matter in the brain.” This is because the chemicals that are produced and released while exercising help to fight brain-killing chemicals that are produced during stressful periods. According to Forbes, “ In the long term, it [exercise] can even help starve off brain aging and Alzheimer’s. This works on the cellular level through neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to improve itself with blood flow and levels of brain-derived protein. He calls it “miracle-gro” for the brain, and it all comes from regular exercise!” Neuroplasticity changes the neural pathways when changes in behavior, environment, or even injuries.  Neuroplasticity is very recognized “in healthy development, learning, memory, and recovery from brain damage.”(Branch, S.) I think that this is very important because when you exercise and work your body and strengthen your brain, very complicated processes take place to alter and help the brain to possibly recover, and or build cells, etc.


To continue, when exercise takes place, the stress you put on your own body forces the brain to create new neurons (called neurogenesis) “especially in the hippocampus- the area in charge of learning and memory”.  This happens because when exercise occurs, you are stressing your body and it’s systems and in order for it to recover, it needs to repair this damage.  This is significant because it leads to an “increase in brainpower” and thus makes the brain more efficient and stronger. (Andersen, C.) This gets mixed up very frequently with the thought that if you exercise enough, you will be a genius. This is not true.  If you overexercise, it is possible that your brain will actually become weaker and it will be more difficult to learn.

hippocampus

Hippocampus in the Brain


While it may not be possible to exercise enough to become a genius, it is definitely possible “to exercise to happiness.”(McGovern, M.) To understand how this works, when a person becomes depressed, they show a lack of vital neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and serotonin.  As said before, exercise increases the concentration of these neurotransmitters in the brain, thus leading to an increased mental health and stimulating the brain.  As seen below, the depressed brain has much less activity in it, while the “not-depressed” brain has much more activity.  When exercise occurs and the concentration of positive neurotransmitters increases, depression can be alleviated.


c7_pet_depression

Effects of Depression on the Brain


When I did my research, I couldn’t help but connect this to economics.  Even though this is a health aspect, it has many economic effects. Every year, the United States spends millions, even billions on health care and running can have so many positive effects on the body that could potentially lower these costs. If physical education and exercise was incorporated into schools more, depression rates could drop, obesity could start to plateau and stop growing, and the government in turn could save large amounts of money on healthcare and put it to other causes, such as research and development to help healthcare in the future.  But first, the mentality needs to change.  People have become lazy and thus don’t have any motivation to exercise.  More education needs to take place to educate children and adults on the dangers of obesity, and also the positive effects of exercise on your body.

References

Websites:

Andersen, C. (n.d.). Exercise and the Brain: 4 Ways Working Out Changes the Human Brain – Shape Magazine. Shape Magazine – Diet, Fitness, Recipes, Healthy Eating Expertise. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/your-brain-exercise


Branch, S. (2011, February 24). How Exercise Alters Brain Chemistry | LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM – Lose Weight & Get Fit with Diet, Nutrition & Fitness Tools | LIVESTRONG.COM. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.livestrong.com/article/390773-how-exercise-alters-brain-chemistry/


Cohen, J. (2012, May 8). 6 Ways Exercise Makes You Smarter – Forbes. Information for the World’s Business Leaders – Forbes.com. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennifercohen/2012/05/08/6-ways-exercise-makes-you-smarter/


Dishman, R. (n.d.). Exercise Fuels the Brain’s Stress Buffers. American Psychological Association (APA). Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/exercise-stress.aspx


Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity – MayoClinic.com. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise/HQ01676


Girdwain, J. (2013, May 28). How to fix health problems with exercise – CNN.com. CNN.com – Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/28/health/fix-problems-exercise/index.html?hpt=he_t2


McGovern, M. (n.d.). The Effects of Exercise on the Brain. Serendip Studio. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro05/web2/mmcgovern.html


Mouse Party. (n.d.). Learn. Genetics. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/addiction/drugs/mouse.html

Images:

N/A. PET scan of the brain for depression. N.d. Mayo Clinic, N/A. Mayo Clinic. Web. 30 May 2013.

N/A. Hippocampus. N.d. Memory Loss & The Brain, Rutgers University. Memory Loss Online. Web. 30 May 2013.

N/A. Serotonin. N.d. Serotonin, N/A. Chemistry-Reference. Web. 30 May 2013.

N/A. What is Serotonin?. N.d. N/A, N/A. News-Medical. Web. 30 May 2013.

The Pursuit of Happiness

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” This is perhaps the favorite question all my relatives prefer to ask me. My answer, ever since childhood, has never changed. I said I wanted to be happy. But as the years go by with increasing amounts of schoolwork, I cannot say that I’m well on my way to achieving this goal. To help myself on my way, I thought I’d do my first blog post on happiness…

To be happy, one must know what causes it. So what causes us to be happy? Luckily, studies in modern psychology have provided us with some startling but profound answers.

According to Time magazine, A study done by David T. Lykken tracking happiness levels of identical twins found that over 50% of happiness levels throughout life depend on your genes. Genes decide if you’re an extrovert or an introvert, a pessimist or an optimist, a glass half full or half empty person, and all this correlates very strongly with one’s satisfaction and happiness found in life.

Lykken
David T. Lykken (1928-2006) was world renowned phychologist and a pioneer of behavior genetics and psychophysiology.

So does this render all our after-birth efforts in searching for happiness futile?

The answer is unsettling. Contrary to popular belief, Lykken’s study shows that only 10 – 15% of happiness is linked directly to one’s wealth, possessions, socioeconomic status, and health. But how could this be? According to the research of as written about in Time magazine, Dr. Seligman, sources of happiness include three main categories: pleasure, engagement, and meaning. Material wealth and contingent circumstances fall into the first category of pleasure, which only accounts for a small part of our happiness. Ultimately it is in our relations and interactions with others, engagement, from which we are able to use our abilities to participate the macroscopic world that then gives us meaning that makes us truly satisfied individuals. In other words: we are most happy and satisfied with life if we can find a meaning…or purpose – if you will – to live for. This is often achieved by having a long term goal, or simply being in the pursuit of some aspiration or desire.

The remaining 40-35% from Lykken’s study of happiness factors is tied to one’s actions and reactions throughout life. It has to do with what a person chooses to do that could make them happier or more depressed than others. Highlighting this is the different types of ups and downs we all must go through, but the paradox here is that, depending on our genes, different types of individuals are better equipped to go through these ups and downs. Some, for example, may be better suited to dealing with stress, and others with death.

glass-is-half-full
Is the glass half empty or half full? Your answer may reflect more about your genes than your outlook...

So should the elusive enigma of happiness be a cause for alarm? Is our happiness levels forever bound by strands of DNA? No need to worry, there is ultimately one thing we can always count on for happiness. According to New York Times author Natalie Angier: Dopamine is a chemical neurotransmitter produced in the brain that acts like a “reward system” for our body. When this chemical is released, the paired dopamine receptors in our brain receives them and we experience pleasure (refer to picture 2 below). The pleasure we get from eating, shopping, sleeping, is the result of a release of dopamine.

dopamine
Where Dopamine is produced in the brain.

dopamineowrks

So next time you’re feeling down: eat a piece of chocolate or prepare to take a nap. Be warned though, dopamine levels have been shown to be higher when we anticipate to do a pleasurable thing, so chances are, opening the wrapper of that chocolate will make you happier than actually swallowing it.

To me, this knowledge about happiness is both disheartening and encouraging. On one hand, it is good to know that there are things (or chemicals) that we can always count on for a “rush” of happiness. And yet, I can’t help but be slightly disoriented after finding out that contingent surroundings (wealth, material things)only account for 10% of happiness, for this may just change my whole outlook on life. Instead of focusing my attention on my surroundings, I think from now on I will turn my attention to my inner self, and (though my genes may get in the way of this) focus on how to see that half empty glass as still half full.

These recent studies into happiness embody a new and exiting field in contemporary psychology, transforming this entire field’s focus away from psychological diseases and abnormalities of the human brain into areas more likely to benefit everyday humans, such as, according to the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, how stress can reduce illness, and improvements which can be made to workplaces or schools to increase mental health. As Aristotle once said, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” One can’t help but be excited as leading psychologists make breakthroughs that ultimately will help to make life more, for lack of a better word, happy.

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Wallis, Claudia. “The New Science of Happiness.” Time 09 Jan 2005: 1-4. Web. 1 Nov 2010. <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1015902-3,00.html

Herper, Matthew. “Happiness Is Mostly Genetic .” Forbes Magazine 23 Apr 2009: 1. Web. 1 Nov 2010. <http://www.forbes.com/2004/09/23/cx_mh_0923happiness.html>.

Angier, Natalie. “A Molecule of Motivation, Dopamine Excels at Its Task .” New York Times 26 Oct 2009: 1. Web. 1 Nov 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/27/science/27angier.html>

“psychology: Modern Psychology.” The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. © 1994, 2000-2006, on Infoplease. © 2000–2007 Pearson Education, publishing as Infoplease. 18 Nov. 2010                                                                            <http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/sci/A0860568.html>.

To Sleep or not to Sleep

It is amazing to think that we spend roughly a third of our lifetime asleep (the vast majority of animals do), but have no clear idea why we do.  Despite popular misconception, research shows that sleep is not necessarily to ‘refresh’ the body.  No vital function is shown to be restored through sleep and the whole body continues to operate regardless of whether the brain is awake or asleep.  Furthermore, sleep loss has not been shown to cause death in well-controlled studies in vertebrate species meaning it is not an essential function.  Although scientists are not entirely sure what sleep is for scientists have developed multiple theories.

Hypnogramme.svg

One theory is that sleep works as a restorative function refreshing the mind.  Studies have shown that while sleeping the brain recognizes connections between neutrons, consolidate memories, and synthesize proteins and cholesterols important in tissue repair.  It is also suggested that sleep enables the brain to flush out waste and gather fuel.  A more popular hypothesis conjectures that sleep “operates in some mysterious way to help you master various skills, such as how to play the piano and ride a bike.”

A second theory states that sleeping evolved to protect animals from disease.  A recent study examined 30 mammalian species and found that there was a relationship between the amount of sleep the animals received and the amount of their immune cells.  Animals that slept the longest had up to six times as many immune cells as those taking short naps and those with the least amount of sleep had 24 times as many parasites as well rested species.  A similar study was conducted to show the relationship between sleep and a human’s immune system.  People getting less than seven hours of sleep were three times as likely to get a cold as those getting more than 8 hours of sleep a day.

These examples are only two of many theories attempting to explain the need for sleep, but, despite the number of theories, at this point science is unable to provide a definite answer to the question: why do we need sleep?  This is one example reminding us that science is far from infallible.  And especially in the western world where science is high prized and trusted it is humbling to know that our science is not perfect.  Perhaps it’s better to disregard the scientific reasoning and just follow your body’s instinct and get a good night’s sleep.

Ambiguous Science

An earlier post by cajo discussed the reliability of information from the mass that is Wikipedia, but what of the depths of the World Wide Web?  Facts collected in a manner which hints at science come from every direction with little to no authority, and the resulting mess can get confusing at times.  Pseudoscience, like the footbaths Anna mentioned, is presented with the same language and the same authority, and this accessibility to too much information is harming the clarity of “online science”.  As a side note, the predicament is worsened when many published and accurate sources of scientific knowledge keep their articles reserved for those who pay, and are thus inaccessible to a large amount of people.  A good example of this is the collection of newspaper articles found on the subject of mobile phone radiation after a search on the search engine Google.

*I understand the use of Google is hardly scientific, and thus is probably why the material I found was so contrasting and variable, however it cannot be denied that Google is one of the most widely used search engines by the public*

Now from the imaginative “Star Wars” of the Cold War, to the weapon of choice on Star Trek, the idea of “death rays” has captivated fiction writers, the military and children alike for many years. Nowadays it apparently exists as an emblem of fear, the wariness that the wireless connection our generation now seems to expect as holding a hidden danger.  The results found on the 1st page of results found by Google included articles on how the radiation affected sleep, acted as a spermicidal, had biological effects but not health effects, caused cancer, and that the radio waves emitted in the electromagnetic spectrum by the mobile phones also had no effect whatsoever on the user of the phone.  This image in particular came from a website that discussed research funded by the cell phone industry which reported that mobile phone radiation harms sleep, and can cause depression and confusion.

radiation

All of these reports are, of course, signed faithfully with the mark of a science.  Whether research groups are actually coming up with these conflicting findings or if they are geared towards finding a specific conclusion cannot be said. But by beginning this research, I too, am unsure as to the effects of mobile phone radiation as I was presented with such an array of sources when I tried to find the information.  So what are the implications of this? Well, it has given rise to the very things science once strived to conquer – unfounded almost superstitious beliefs. 

The modern power of the internet is being abused in such a way that science is now hazy. I understand of course that scientific knowledge is liquid, ever changing as new discoveries challenge and confront the ways our world, our universe and even our bodies work and function, but something needs to be done to clean up this mess of misleading information on the web.  However, due to the open format of the world wide web, I believe that for many years to come such information will continue to appear contrasting and conflicting each other, and the public might very well be kept in the dark as to the actual effects of mobile phone radiation on the body.

Websites Used

http://www.abc.net.au/health/thepulse/stories/2005/01/27/1285335.htm

http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,23083534-2,00.html 

http://www.epa.sa.gov.au/mobilephone.html

How do we remember?

Have you ever wondered why some things you seem to remember and some you forget easily? How come some experiences are remembered in the long term? When I started doing my homework today, I wondered why some ideas were easy to remember and some I totally forgot. Also, I thought about how the brain initially stores experiences in the brain.

You might think of each individual memory as a thought, but instead each memory is composed of many aspects. Instead of having one place in the brain for memory, the process is brain wide. A different part of brain remembers a different sense of perception at the time the memory was received. The brain pieces together all the senses to give you one single memory. At first, the hippocampus and the frontal cortex helps analyze all your sensory inputs. The memory is encoded and stored using electricity and chemicals. Nerve cells connect to other cells at synapses, where electrical impulses leap between cells to carry messages. The electrical pulses release neutrotransmitters that travel across cells and attach them to surrounding cells.

 

There are three kinds of memory: sensory memory, short term memory and long term memory.  Sensory memory contains the stimuli from your senses you receive at the moment of the experience and lasts up to 3 seconds. If you don’t pay attention to what is happening, the sensory memory will not even be transferred to short term memory. This is why sometimes you may think you remember how something appears, but once you try to remember, you cannot describe it. Short term memory usually lasts from 3 to 20 seconds, and is lost due to decay. About seven pieces of information is able to be held at one time. Grouping(the use of chunking) thoughts together can cause the brain to increase the amount of information remembered. For example, our initial reaction to a phone number such as 7346682066 is 10 different numbers, ten pieces of information(too much to remember at one time). However, we group the phone numbers into three chunks: 734-668-2066, making the information easier to memorize.

How is short term memory changed to long term memory? The short term memory is not transferred to long term with more time, but rather with how it is organized. The importance, relevance or emotional content of the thought affects how it is remembered. This is why sometimes we cannot remember facts from school work we think as boring, but we can easily remember the name of a new student we think is interesting (this more readily affects our lives). Also, your brain cannot comprehend too much material continuously. Studies show that studying too long tends to lead to the reduction of chemicals in the brain that process information efficiently(neutro-transmitters). So next time you decide to cram for a test the next day, remember to take breaks frequently so your brain’s ability to remember does not suffer. Or better, to not cram at all and to have used the information frequently beforehand, helping the information transfer to long term memory.

Chemistry in Love

During one of my breaks between one homework assignment and another, I was watching a show called Gossip Girl (a very shallow, yetGossip Girl addictive show). Just like many shows, this show contains fashion, drama, friends, revenge, and most importantly love. Sometimes it is love between social classes, while other times, it is the forbidden love. I thought to myself, “How can these people actually fall in love so quickly? Does this show actually represent love in real life?” Then I began my search for what the true meaning of love is.

There are 3 stages of love: Lust, Attraction, and Attachment. Psychologists have found that it only takes 90 seconds to 4 minutes before you decide if you like someone. And it only takes 34 minutes to become deeply attracted to someone, click HERE to learn 3 steps to falling love. This answers my question; it is possible to fall that quickly in love, but I decided to pursue this topic further.

Have you ever been in love? Do you know why your heart races, and your palms sweat when your seeDopamine is released into our brain. or talk to your new love? Do you know why your new love constantly pops into your mind? I always thought it was all purely a mental thing, nothing actually related physically to my body. I was wrong. Attraction, the second stage of love answers all of these questions with just a few chemicals that are released into our brain. As we fall in love, Adrenaline enters our brain as a stress response. It accounts for our speedy heart, our sweaty palms, and that tingly feeling that we get from talking to that special someone. Dopamine Dopamine, the organic name is 4-(2-aminoethyl)benzene-1,2-diolis another chemical that is released into our brain. This chemical has the same effect as a rush of cocaine does; it generates pleasure. Finally there is Serotonin, a chemical that causes us to constantly think about our sweetheart. Now you know why you can’t focus in class when all you can think about is that special someone. You can blame Serotonin!

So now we’re down to why do we fall in love? It’s all part of evolution. Nature wants us to fall in love so we can reproduce. Attachment is the last stage of love. Oxytocin,Oxytocin a chemical responsible for our nature of cuddling with our sweethearts, is released into our brain and creates a deeper connection between lovers. It is also accountable for the bond between mother and child. This attachment is nature’s way of allowing couples to stay together, at least long enough to raise their child.

Through time, love has said to be one of the most powerful things on earth because of these chemicals. People are willing to die for love. But love is not an emotion; love is a drive.
Helen Fisher of Rutgers University said

I’ve come to think that [drive] is the most powerful [brain] system in the world.

Fisher is an expert on romantic love; her video has more information on different kinds of love.

Love is just like chemistry, a mixture of emotions that synthesizes something completely new. Have you ever felt this chemistry?

What is high school science really about?

The field of science is growing and expanding, which is good for society, but stressful for the students who try to grasp scientific knowledge. Check out this video for surprising facts about this change. What science we learn now will hardly apply to what we will do in the future, with the constant evolution of technology and the constant expansion of knowledge.  After all, scientific knowledge is nothing more than the theories and ideas that explain and expand things in our world.  We now know that the world is not flat.  We carry iPods which exceed the capacity of computers that once took up entire rooms and cell phones that have a better camera than top of the line digital cameras a decade earlier.The world is changing and what we learn now will inevitably become obsolete.  So I come to wonder, what is the point of high school science?  Is it to get good grades?  Well that is important to get into college.  Is it to memorize the “facts” of science?  Well it can’t hurt.  What is the most important thing for high school students to get out of their science class, whether they want to pursue a career in science or not?  It is the development of how we learn that is important.  Learning to question the “truth”, learning to have an open mind and accepting that you are not always right, and learning to test your ideas- these are all important things to learn as a high school science student.Personally, I have always believed that grades are the most important thing at schools.  What do colleges want from students?  Results.  SAT results.  GPA results.  What does this mean for the insightful student?  That he or she needs to focus on results, thus resulting to students losing sight of what high school is really about- to prepare for the future.  There are thousands of competitive students who are forced to ignore learning in order to achieve results, an unfortunate reality.  But when we actually get to college, it is not going to be the scores and facts that get us through, but instead the habits and ideas we learn from high school.  In order to survive in our ever changing, we ourselves need to learn how to change and adapt.  Teachers know this, and try to convince their students of this secret. According to Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher:

There is nothing permanent except change.

So what have I concluded?  You decide.

Wikipedia – should we trust it?

Wikipedia is a powerful force on the internet.  By this I mean it appears near the top of many google searches and is often the source of choice for many students. However, Wikipedia needs to be used with caution. It is not a source that can be considered as having high validity. Even Wikipedia make this claim.  They say:

WIKIPEDIA MAKES NO GUARANTEE OF VALIDITY. Wikipedia is an online open-content collaborative encyclopedia, that is, a voluntary association of individuals and groups working to develop a common resource of human knowledge. The structure of the project allows anyone with an Internet connection to alter its content. Please be advised that nothing found here has necessarily been reviewed by people with the expertise required to provide you with complete, accurate or reliable information. That is not to say that you will not find valuable and accurate information in Wikipedia; much of the time you will. However, Wikipedia cannot guarantee the validity of the information found here. The content of any given article may recently have been changed, vandalized or altered by someone whose opinion does not correspond with the state of knowledge in the relevant fields.

Nevertheless, in Wikipedia’s defense they are constantly trying to improve the validity of their information by working on ways to identify reliable versions of articles and by monitoring new and changing content.

But, where does it leave us?  Well, we need to be discerning about what information we choose to use.  For example when I googled Amedeo Avogadro, Wikipedia was the first source on the list.  I clicked on the link and at the top of the page there is a warning from Wikipedia

This article includes a list of references or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations.

. . .this prompted me to search elsewhere for reliable information about Avogadro and not rely on Wikipedia as my primary source.

Curious, this time I googled Galileo Galilei. Once again Wikipedia was first on the list, but this time there was no disclaimer like I had seen for Avogadro.  However, still being conscious of reliability issues, I went one step further and looked at the bibliography at the bottom of the page for the sources cited. Many looked very reliable – University of St Andrews, Cambridge University, Stanford University, as well as many scholarly articles giving more credibility to this particular Wikipedia entry.

Could I have found reliable sources of information on Galileo and Avogadro without Wikipedia? Maybe, but herein lies one of its strengths – it lead me, through citation linking to some very good sources – credible enough for even the most discerning researcher.