Author Archive

Letter of Reflection

December 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Dear Professor Myers and Fellow Rebellious Urban Youth,

Honestly, one of my biggest fears coming into college was the research aspect of the dozens of papers I thought I would have to write. My high school library was mediocre to say the least, and was really only used by the middle school and elementary school kids who were required to look for books. Generally, I would go on the Internet and to hours of sifting through material before I found at least five or more websites that would prove to be beneficial. But in the back of my mind were a thought and a fear that only grew as I got closer and closer to college. But this fear soon dissipated as I was writing the essays for this class.

This was not my first choice of a UW 1020 class; but I believe it is the most effective at producing and instilling the necessary writing and research skills for the collegiate level. I learned the how to breakdown and analyze every argument of a source in order to extract the most pertinent information as well as to grasp its strengths in weakness—I would not call this paranoia, but rather heightened awareness. I also came to the realization that when I am asked to revise a paper, I should actually aim to revise more than a paragraph or two. Revising was something I almost never did, simply because I thought that it was too time consuming and was the transcribed version of back peddling. I was far off the mark. In reality, it provides the writer a chance to reassess their possession on the argument, the way in which sources were used and are transmitted throughout the paper, the fluidity, as well as the grammar. My writing as definitely improved since the beginning of the semester partially because of the simple task of revising.

But the main contributing factor to my heightened success in writing can be accredited to the research process, which I will be able to utilize throughout my college career. But this skill was not honed until the second essay. The first essay I will say discombobulated my belief in what a piece of writing was. The topic was so broad, and so unstructured that I felt as if I were dangling over a pit of everything and asked to grab something—too many choices is the same as too few. I stumbled in the beginning of the essay (the best way to write, is to start), but eventually found my stride when I realized that the point of the essay wasn’t to focus on one specific scientific aspect of life, but to find different aspects of life that can be tied together in order to gain a better understanding of science itself (after I made that realization, there was a long “OOOOOHHHHH” afterwards). Strangely enough, it was the degree of disorder—the entropy—of the essay that helped me structure my second essay which was almost the complete opposite of essay number 1. In a way it taught me how to organize the various pieces of an essay, even if they do not immediately seem to connect. But this also turned out to be beneficial for the final collaborative essay, which was on an even broader topic, with even more information than the other two essays combined.

The final project fortunately was a group effort, which meant that the amount of research necessary for discussing AIDS, homophobia, and the New York Times was divided in four (four group members). Although we each had our separate sections with various materials in each section, at the end of the day we still needed to unify our voices so that the final work would be harmonized.

I will still say however that the concept of writing well is subjective due to the fact that the audience is the ultimate deciding factor. One could say that a good writer knows their audience well enough to know what rudimentary prose and what daring risks one could take without losing them. Rhetorical Intersections of Science, Media, and Culture has taught me how to understand my audience—however many there may be—and how to write in different styles to their liking. Bluntly put, this class taught me how to write well.


So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, and adieu,

Douglas Harnett-Robinson

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Just Flip the Switch and You Will Remember

November 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Have you ever starred at a page on a textbook and realized that no matter how hard you tried you knew the information just wasn’t getting imprinted in your memory bank? Well I have. However it may not be any fault of your own, it was rather a matter of whether you are in the right state of mind. (No I’m not talking about inebriation) Researchers have found a neurological signal that is triggered when the brain is suited for memorizing. “Instead of looking at how the information is being processed, we’re looking at how the brain prepares to process the information,” said study co-author Emrah Duzel, a neuroscientist at University College, London.

Some studies have shown that there are numerous signals and substantial neuro-activity during the encoding period of memory, while others have shown signals that precede the formation of certain memories. However, there was a recent study conducted that showed that there is a specific signal that precedes the formation of all types of memory—visual, sensory, verbal, etc. Researchers believe that this signal acts more like a switch than a process that is constantly working. This is because the brain simply does not have the capacity to remember everything we experience in our lives. (Some may think that would be cool, but on the contrary it is not necessary to remember that you poured the last drop of milk into your cereal at precisely 9:14:37am)

The brain is designed to process information that is subjectively important to our lives. It may be important for some to remember where the Post Office is, whereas others are more concerned with where the H&M is. This is why Duzel’s team used a magneto encephalograph to record and analyze the magnetic fluctuation of 24 test subjects during various memory tests. This was done in order to pinpoint the exact moment before each test subject processed information that was later recalled. The results were increased levels of “theta oscillations”. For those non-science people, theta waves regularly occur during deep REM sleep (when your dreaming) and moments of alertness. These signals appear to be localized in the hippocampus—where short-term memory is processed. However, when observing these waves during the experiment, they were localized in the medial temporal lobe (which is fairly close to the hippocampus).

Now wouldn’t it be cool if there were am app that measured our theta oscillations. If this app were made, we would be able to predict whether or not our brains are in the right state—emitting sufficient theta waves—to remember information. So next time you find yourself starring at a textbook page, try your hardest to get your theta waves moving, because otherwise you might as well be putting placing water into a bucket with holes at the bottom.


Questions, comments, something you forgot.



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Uncle Sam reluctant to let Mari Juana cure PTSD

November 16, 2011 1 comment

When you are sick, do you prefer to take one medication that dampens or significantly relieves your symptoms, or take one medication per symptom? Pepto-Bismol for example relieves headache, nausea, indigestion, upset stomach, and diarrhea (YEA Pepto-Bismol!). Now would you rather take Pepto-Bismol or one medication for headache, one for nausea, one for indigestion, etc.? (Also which is more cost effective.) I would rather have Pepto-Bismol personally because it is one substance, with multiple applications, that has a short set list of side effects that can be controlled. Now I want you to imagine that you are an Iraq War veteran who was sent home because you endured a IED attack that left you with only a segment of your right arm, and numerous years of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

I am fairly certain that if any of us were being shot at several times a day, and in audible range of large explosions we would have a quite a few persistent nightmares. This is the life that Sgt. Ryan Begin, as well as an estimated 37% of this generation’s vets, lived for six years before he received his authorization card last March to smoke medical marijuana. However, it wasn’t until Begin reached the bottom before anyone considered the possibility that the 80+ pills a day he was taking was causing him further psychological distress due to the extended list of side effects. He obviously slipped into a long period of drug abuse, overdoses, arrests which landed him in mental institutions on several occasions.

Now Begin has eliminated his dependence on each of the 80+ drugs he was on, and replaced them with four to five joints a day. “Using marijuana balances me out,” he says. “It takes those peaks and valleys of PTSD and it softens them. It makes my life manageable.” If all it takes is a little THC to subtle his PTSD, why won’t the government even allow preliminary studies as to the effectiveness of the drug on PTSD sufferers.

The article provides two of the many flimsy reasons why the government officials of the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA) shut down the first study proposed to analyze and research marijuana’s effects on PTSD— Before I state the reason, I must add that NIDA runs the only source of marijuana for medical studies (makes things a little harder, don’t you think). Firstly, they state that there are too many health, safety and property issues that would arise from allowing patients to smoke outside medical facilities. Second, (when they realized that there were numerous ways around the first statement) they went straight for Dr. Sue Sisley, who was the chief researcher on the study. The officials simply said that Dr. Sisley was too inexperienced in treating PTSD patients and therefore should not perform such a study.

I’m no expert, but if health concerns are an issue for medical facilities, which don’t want their other patients exposed to the marijuana smoke, why not build a room with a window and a large vent. Just as simply, if experience is an issue, why not just let Dr. Sue work with a researcher who is experienced; or two, or three. I think there are many solutions to these bogus arguments presented by the officials at NIDA and I do believe that medical marijuana should be at least tested to evaluate its effects on PTSD patients. Currently, without any research ever done, how can NIDA know what the effect of marijuana will be?


In my mind medical marijuana should be tested to say the least. If its chemicals relieve stress, anxiety, nightmares, and even some of the other debilitating symptoms of PTSD, why won’t officials approve it? What are your thoughts?

Video Games and Surgeons

October 28, 2011 4 comments

Think you’re good at COD and Assassin’s Creed (I’m beter)? Maybe you should invest in a life-changing career in Surgery. Yep, I said it surgery. According to a study done a few years ago, surgeons and surgeon residents who reported on a quiz that they played videogames frequently or during their off time were actually better at laparoscopic surgery than those who were recorded as not playing videogames frequently.

The subjects recorded their individual videogame playing habits on a quiz administered by the researchers. The three distinguishing categories were frequently, less frequently, and not at all. After recording each individual’s information, they put the surgeons and residents through a laparoscopic surgery simulator (thin instruments very similar to to excessively long chopsticks are inserted into one or more small incisions through the skin along with a small camera that is inserted into an additional small opening). This procedure is generally used for gallbladder removal, gynecological procedures, and numerous other procedures that used to require large, invasive cutting and stitching.

(Aren’t you just dying to know what the results were) It was found that the surgeons and residents who used to be frequent video gamers were significantly better than those who did not play video games at all. In fact, on average those video gamers were 33 percent faster and made 37 percent fewer mistakes than those who did not play video games. (Interesting ain’t it) But it is important to also note that these are all successful professional surgeons and surgical residents who simply played a 3-5 hours a week, NOT pale kids who never see any other light besides the television and computer screens. But the results did yield the trend that the more the gamers played, the better their speed and accuracy was on the simulator. Those who were actually avid gamers managed to perform 47 percent faster and with as much as 39 percent fewer mistakes.

On a more serious note, though the subjects may not have been necessarily distinguished, world renown people in their fields, they are still professionals who have worked relentlessly to achieve their respected titles. Although the article does not specify a reason why surgeons who played video games are better laparoscopic surgeons than those who did not, I’m going to infer (as a fellow gamer) that it has to do with dexterity. Video games are designed to be complex worlds with difficult tasks that are only achievable through the player’s understanding of the game, ingenuity, and manipulation skills. But at the same time being smart does not necessarily mean you will be a good gamer, you must also be dexterous and have good hand-eye coordination. These are skills that are developed and modified the more you play. Supposing the simulator and procedure are similar in a gamer’s eye, it is not too surprising that these skills would find applicability in surgery. Who knows, maybe shooting people and racing cars on Saturday mornings may aid my pre-med career.

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“Rabbit Hole in Our Mind”

October 28, 2011 2 comments

Ah, finally a scientific reason why I should daydream. We have all experienced that distant place in our minds that just seems so cozy when we are sitting in class realizing we cannot focus. After all it isn’t our fault that our minds just are not stimulated enough. The poet Joesef Brodsky once described boredom as a “Psychological Sahara”. This is the basis behind the The Importance of Mind Wandering article that inspired this blog today. Instead of playing the role of the concerned teacher, they chose Devil’s advocate and supported Brodsky’s advice to embrace daydreaming as a starting block for creativity.

In the past few years, neuroscientists have become increasingly interested in how the brain actually functions during the mind-wandering phase that is experience 46.9% of the time, according to two Harvard psychologists Daniel Gilbert and Matthew A. Killingsworth. In 2009, a team led by Kalina Christoff of UBC and Jonathan Schooler of UCSB analyzed the mind during a daydream using an fMRI machine. (To my surprise) it has already been known for a decade that mind wandering is actually an intense metabolic process that requires a substantial amount of energy. (So yes, thinking to about all the better things you could be doing besides paying attention in class is more neurologically stimulating than actually paying attention in class) Their findings essentially were that mind wandering stimulates activation of both the default network regions as well as the executive network regions. This finding was also followed by the conclusion that the executive network is most pronounced when the person is unaware of his or her own daydreaming state. (For those who are not as meta-aware as neurologists, the default network is the system that is activated as we drift off into the clouds so effortlessly. But the executive network is the complex network of neurological thinking that would normally be occupied by the thousands of other processes both internally and externally. The fact that the brain prods the executive network for such a “mindless” act suggests that our connotation of daydreaming is actually false.

Australian scientists took a step further and wanted to develop or at least analyze a kind of “gradient of consciousness”. They conducted this research by observing “17 patients with unresponsive wakefulness syndrome (UWS), 8 patients in a minimally conscious state (MCS), and 25 healthy controls”. The prominent difference between these patients was most apparent with the unresponsive patients who could not unengaged their default network from their dazed state and stimulate their executive network to “come back to reality”. It was also noted in this article that some patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia have skewed senses of reality due to their inability to deactivate their default network.

The final research mentioned was that of a scientist named Schooler who stimulated daydreaming in his subjects by giving them an uneventful section of War and Peace to read. This was done to see if creativity really was a by-product of mind wandering. Schooler found two different types of daydreaming. The first type is described as the state in which the patients are unaware that they are daydreaming. The second type is described as the state in which the patients catch themselves daydreaming without the researcher telling prompting them, He concluded that creativity is actually only enhanced when the patients become aware of their own daydreaming.

Mind wandering is our guilty biological need for our brain to be stimulated at all times. Whether we are aware of our mind’s loss of contact with reality or not depends on us, but ultimately it is a feat that we as humans spend almost half the time thinking about. I say that it is ok to drift a little during class, but the most important thing is to bring yourself back. If you let your mind play hard, it must also work hard. (Although your mind is arguably working hard during a daydream…hmmmm)

Any questions, thoughts, or anecdotes on subject are free for interpretation. However I do want to know if this information changed anyone’s perception of their own guilty periods of daydreaming.

Wasabi Fire Alarm

October 2, 2011 2 comments

So the house is on fire and smoke is filling up the kitchen while you sleep. The smoke alarm is whining away trying to warn you, but you took your hearing aid off before you laid down to rest. Oh, and did I mention that you are a heavy sleeper…now what? What do you do when your sense of hearing, seeing, touching, and tasting all fail (which is very likely especially when you are asleep)? Answer: you rely on your sense of smell—I guess you can rely on a fire alarm that pokes you while you are asleep, but that’s a little impractical. By the time the smoke or carbon monoxide (which you can’t smell) reaches your bedroom and gets into your nose, it may or may not be too late, but who wants to take that risk?

But then the follow-up question is: which volatile odor is strong or potent enough to wake you up from a deep sleep. You can’t use a sweet or otherwise nice smell because you would probably just think its something non-threatening on the stove or in the oven. It could be a “nasty” smell, but you could probably just ignore that if you were sleeping deeply enough. Chemicals that are very volatile would work, if they didn’t knock you out. So after doing multiple tests scientists came to the consensus that you need something non-toxic, volatile in low concentrations, and won’t combust.

Scientists found a substance that is so strong that it makes you whip your head back, pucker your cheeks, involuntarily cry, and makes you believe you can breath fire out of your mouth and nose. This magic substance was…(pause for dramatic effect)…ALLYL ISOTHIOCYANATE. If you are still scratching your head you may know this infamous, maybe soon to be lifesaver, as WASABI.

How would you react if you got some wasabi in your nose, chances are you would probably get up immediately and start running (which is the most effective thing to do I’ve found in a fire). “At 1 part per MILLION of air, you can tell it’s there. At 5 parts per million, you know it’s wasabi, and at 10 parts per million, you need to leave. NOW. But despite this, wasabi smell actually isn’t toxic until you get up to 115 parts per million.” (Scicurious Brain) These measurements are actually the results of careful experimentation so the researchers know exactly what’s too low a concentration, what’s too high, and what’s just enough so you react and know to get out fast.

I mainly found this article to be interesting because most people know the effects of wasabi, but it wasn’t until I read the article did I actually start to consider how useful it could be in our everyday lives. My grandpa was hearing impaired and only noticed that the fire alarm was going off when the TV shut off (when he was watching it). Who knows, wasabi fire/Carbon monoxide alarms could be the next generation of fire safety around the globe. Obviously the alarm would still sound and flicker the lights, if set to do so, but the added smell would actually be useful to those who are seeing or hearing impaired

What did Sushi A say to Sushi B….”Wasssaaaa B”

Scicurious Brain. (2011, September 30). IgNobel Price WINNER: Safety in Smell.Scientific American. Retrieved October 2, 2011, from

I Have a Chip in my Shoulder

September 17, 2011 5 comments

While reading the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks I kept thinking to myself, “What would her treatment and subsequent life be like if she were diagnosed today?” Whenever I would read Rebecca Skloot’s explanation of a medical or otherwise pathogen-related discovery, I would always come back to modern times and ask myself what being done today that could have aided doctors and researchers in their attempts to detect, diagnose, and treat these same diseases earlier. After doing this throughout the entire book, I found one point of intersection that never seemed to fail, technology.

Modern day technologies such a Computed Tomography scan (CT scan) and a Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine (MRI) have been used y doctors and scientists for years in the fight against malignant and/or cancerous tumors—such as the one Henrietta Lacks and George Guy developed. However, it appears that scientists in Germany are currently in the animal-testing stages of their new implantation chip that is supposed to read, and transmit oxygen levels in the blood of a localized area to a receiver that displays the information on a screen–it is fair to say that this is a better form of detection than simply realizing that “I got a knot on my womb.” (p. 13) (For those who are unaware, oxygen levels drop significantly during the proliferation and growth of tumor cells.) The chip is called “IntelliTuM”, and the team of developers hope that it will be able to monitor the progression of slow-growing or inoperable tumors that cause cancers such as cervical or pancreatic cancer—the cancers that plagued Henrietta and George Guy respectively. This device is to one day replace or be used in collaboration with the CT and MRI scans, without the high risk of radiation poisoning. It is important to remember however that the chip is still in its early stages and does come with the added risk of some toxic poisoning from the material of the chip itself. Although the chip may seem more science fiction than science at the moment, it is certainly more efficient than placing pure radium rods near the tumors themselves and hoping they are resized to a benign level.

The medical field is a constantly evolving one with twists and turns at every step of the way. When cancer research first began, they were not even considering the use of technology as form of detection. But that was then, and we have come a long way since.

I would say that this article leaves a few open-ended points for discussion specifically the point about Henrietta’s treatment had she been diagnosed today? But I would also like to ask if you believe the doctors did everything in their Hippocratic power to diagnose Henrietta’s tumor, considering the fact that it wasn’t until decades later did anyone care to examine the tumor cells more closely to find that they had been misidentified? But this wouldn’t be a question in 2011 if I didn’t wonder if Henrietta would really receive better care today, factoring in her economic and social status?

Greenwood, V. (2011, September 12). Tumor-monitoring implant could give advance warning of growth. In Discover Magazine. Retrieved September 17, 2011, from









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