Category Archives: Science

Parental involvement promotes academic success

It seems obvious that children with parents who are involved in their education would have better academic success. They have a good support system, someone to help them with homework and projects (maybe too much) and the motivation to make their parents proud. An interesting question, however, is how does their performance compare to children who go to good quality schools but have little parental involvement? With a good school comes good teachers, a positive learning environment and encouragement to do extracurricular activities, which would certainly help children academically. Continue reading Parental involvement promotes academic success

Near-death experiences: Haunting or hooey?

Roughly 3 percent of Americans claim to have had a near-death experience (NDE). For the “survivors,” such experiences are unforgettable, and are often touted as peeks behind the mortal veil. Science has once again dared to put the supernatural under a microscope, however, and it turns out there are some pretty concrete biological causes for these supposed voyages into the nether realms. Continue reading Near-death experiences: Haunting or hooey?

Vampires: Myth or misunderstood?

Vampires have been part of the human menagerie of nightmares for quite some time, and have experienced a recent surge of popularity due to books like Twilight and shows like “True Blood” and “Supernatural.” But while these dangerous (and oft-times charming) denizens of the night are ubiquitous in modern culture, one can’t help but wonder what spawned the myth in the first place. Before vampires were demons, fiends and forbidden lovers, what were they? Continue reading Vampires: Myth or misunderstood?

The biology of fear

It’s the little chill that goes through your body on dark nights. It’s the tingle at the back of your neck when you feel watched by hidden eyes. It’s the feeling that comes during a confrontation that lets you know somewhere in the distant past, your ancestors are raising their hackles and baring their teeth. The culprit, of course, is fear — a force as old as conscious life itself (or maybe even older).

Everyone knows what fear feels like, but what’s actually going on behind the scenes? What in our bodies and brains drives such a powerful and necessary emotion? Continue reading The biology of fear

The biology of a hangover

Many college students are intimately familiar with the suffering that comes after a night of drinking. When it happens, all you’re really interested in is waiting for it to pass (or maybe forswearing such behavior forever, or at least until next weekend). But if you’ve ever wondered in more sober moments about the science behind a hangover, we here at Whim have got your back. Continue reading The biology of a hangover

A once-liquid Mars

The search for water on Mars has gone on for almost as long as humanity has been traveling beyond our own planet. While tantalizing hints have been uncovered at various stages in this search, NASA’s latest baby, the Curiosity rover, has finally unearthed conclusive evidence that flowing water once existed on the red planet. Continue reading A once-liquid Mars

Enhanced senses in the deaf and blind

We have all heard that the other senses in deaf or blind people become stronger to compensate for the loss of vision or hearing, but how? It has long been thought that people deaf or blind from birth have learned to make better use of their other senses. For example, a blind person will learn to pay attention to the sounds of their environment to help them navigate the world better. However, recent studies show that it is more than just learning; the brains of people who are born deaf are actually able to reroute themselves to make better use of the areas of the brain normally used to process auditory information. Continue reading Enhanced senses in the deaf and blind

Facebook makes you vote? Scientists say yes

Social media has changed our world forever. Whether for good or bad is still hotly debated, but every day more areas of life are discovered to be affected by Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the like. It turns out it’s not just our personal lives social media affects; It’s our civic lives too. A recent study indicates that Facebook can motivate people to vote. Continue reading Facebook makes you vote? Scientists say yes

Britain may legalize three-parent fertilization

Genetic modification and childbirth are two subjects fraught with emotion under any conditions. Combine them, and you’ve got one doozy of a discussion on your hands. Scientists in Britain have done just that, launching a public consultation to ask whether a currently forbidden technique of “three-parent” fertilization could be used to eliminate certain hereditary diseases. Continue reading Britain may legalize three-parent fertilization

Build-a-mammoth

Jurassic Park just got hairy.

Scientists are one step closer to cloning a woolly mammoth, after finding well-preserved remains of the gargantuan beast deep in the Russian wilderness.

The team that made the discovery included scientists from Russia, the United States, Canada, South Korea, Sweden and Great Britain. These intrepid explorers unearthed the remains of a woolly mammoth – including fur and bone marrow, with some nuclei intact – in the Ust-Yansk area of the Yakutia region along Russia’s arctic coast. If they can just find one living cell among the material preserved by Siberia’s permafrost, they’ll have the recipe for making an entire mammoth. Continue reading Build-a-mammoth

BPA increases anxiety, soy protects

What do water bottles, food cans and paper money all have in common?

They all contain BPA, also known as bisphenol-A. A recent study done on rats by researchers at North Carolina State University shows that exposure to the chemical early in life can affect gene expression in the amygdala, an area of the brain known to process emotions. The study also showed that a diet rich in soy seems to mitigate the harmful effects of exposure to BPA.

About 93 percent of Americans have detectable levels of BPA in their bloodstreams. The chemical has been linked to behavior and brain alterations, alteration of infant prostate glands, breast cancer and early puberty in girls.

Is the BPA in your products doing something to you? Graphic by Brad Wolfla.

This particular study examined how exposure during gestation, lactation, and throughout puberty influenced the rats’ brains and behaviors. Subjects were divided into four groups, the first of which was fed only soy, the second a soy-free diet, the third fed only soy and exposed to BPA, and the fourth fed no soy and exposed to BPA.

The fourth group showed higher levels of anxiety than the others. Researchers think this was due to alterations in two genes, estrogen receptor beta and melanocortin receptor four. Both of these genes are involved in the release of oxytocin, a hormone that influences social behavior and bonding. Altered oxytocin release can cause abnormal social behavior.

The third group  (rats exposed to BPA and fed with soy) did not show increased anxiety. Researchers aren’t certain how soy protects the developing brain, but they hope to find out with future research.

The study was lead by Dr. Heather Patisaul, NC State associate professor of biology, and was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

BPA is found in many products including food containers, water bottles and even epoxy resins; BPA can actually transfer from the containers to the food or drink inside. Rats and mice exposed to BPA in the study were found to have levels of the chemical comparable to what is commonly found in humans.

The study focused on the effects of BPA during early development, and did not provide information regarding the effects of a soy-rich diet in adulthood. Researchers are currently searching for ways that soy can be used to prevent and negate the effects of BPA, but consumers should practice common-sense safety and avoid products likely to contain the chemical. While not all products containing the chemical are marked, some manufacturers cater to health-conscious customers by labeling their products as BPA-free.