Why Jet Lag Sucks: Your Body Clock and You

One weekend in early May, I endured one of the most confusing experiences in my life: a two-legged, 24-hour flight across 13 time zones. I took off from Chicago on Saturday evening, and 24 hours later, I arrived in Bali on Monday morning. In that 24 hour period, I ate two dinners and two breakfasts, while lunchtime didn’t exist. I couldn’t tell when I was supposed to be hungry or go to sleep, so I ate when food was placed in front of me and I tried to sleep when I got tired. Continue reading “Why Jet Lag Sucks: Your Body Clock and You”

Did Climate Change Fuel Hurricanes Florence and Michael?

At 7:15 AM ET on Friday, September 14, Hurricane Florence made landfall along the coast of North Carolina as a Category 1 storm. Although, by this point, it had weakened from its peak intensity as a Category 4 hurricane, Florence still inundated communities in the region with torrential rains and a sizeable storm surge before dissipating over the east coast within a few days. Despite its monopoly over the airwaves in September, however, Florence was only one of four storms in the Atlantic at the time of landfall (the other three being tropical storms Helene, Isaac, and Joyce). Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Olivia (which was a Category 4 storm at peak intensity) had just dumped copious quantities of rain over Hawaii, and Typhoon Mangkhut in the west Pacific was still threatening populations in southeast Asia. This month, Hurricane Michael made landfall over the Florida panhandle with wind speeds only 2 mph shy of a Category 5 rating, making it the most powerful hurricane to hit the US since Andrew in 1992. How could so many terrible storms develop in such a short time span? To figure that out, we first need to learn about what hurricanes are and how they form. Here’s an overview: Continue reading “Did Climate Change Fuel Hurricanes Florence and Michael?”

Diabetes in Low-Income Communities: Its Causes and Its Solutions

According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2014, over 29 million people had diabetes in the United States – a disease that is more common among the poor, the less educated, and racial and ethnic minorities. While some people inherit genetic susceptibility to Type 2 diabetes, the onset of this disease can be exacerbated by factors that are all common to underserved neighborhoods, such as poor diet, lack of exercise, and limited access to quality healthcare. This is a complex problem that requires a multifaceted solution. Continue reading “Diabetes in Low-Income Communities: Its Causes and Its Solutions”

Tardigrades: The Animals That Defy Nature

Picture an animal that can live anywhere: hot springs to solid ice, mountaintops to the deepest sea levels, spanning a temperature range of -458 °F to 302 °F. Imagine that this animal can survive in outer space, live through global mass extinctions, and persist for 30 years without food or water. Sounds like science fiction? Well, these animals are real, and they’re known as tardigrades. Continue reading “Tardigrades: The Animals That Defy Nature”

Chemical Warfare: an Assault on your Nervous System

You’re out protesting for a cause that’s near-and-dear to your heart.  You’re used to getting jostled around in the crowd, but this time things are getting out of hand.  What began as an afternoon of impassioned speeches interspersed with emphatic chants has devolved into yelling, chaos, and panic.  Suddenly, you’re drooling and your muscles are gripped tighter than ever before, paralyzing you.  Everything goes out of focus as your pupils constrict.  Trying desperately to breathe, you tumble to the ground and succumb to seizures.  You’re terrified.  Is this the end? Continue reading “Chemical Warfare: an Assault on your Nervous System”

The Science of Grilling vs. Barbecue

Autumn is officially here, and if you’re anything like me, you’re a little sad that the smell of charcoal and mosquito spray is going away with the summer. I’m also always a little sad knowing that I won’t have the treat of my husband’s latest barbecued meal on my Dixie plate when dinner time rolls around in the winter months. Whether it is the hundreds of pounds of pulled pork he makes for our family’s annual pig roast in Michigan or a simple charred salmon with fresh corn on the back porch, the fish skin delicately charred and greasy as you flake it onto your fork, I will surely miss it. Continue reading “The Science of Grilling vs. Barbecue”

The Genetics of Bliss

The phrase “nature vs. nurture” calls to mind the idea that the traits that make us who we are, such as our strength, weight, and personality, result from a complex combination of genetic factors and life experiences.  This combination is so, well, complicated that scientists still haven’t entirely figured out where genetics ends and environmental contributions take over in the way our traits develop. After all, our genetics and life experiences are constantly influencing one another throughout our lifetime.  
Continue reading “The Genetics of Bliss”

Alzheimer’s Disease: Causes, Preventative Measures, and Ideal Outcomes

Have you ever wondered how people develop Alzheimer’s disease? Is it something that begins before the person or anyone else around them fully realizes that someone’s memory lapses are actually a symptom of something bigger? Is it all at the mercy of our genes, or can we take actions that lower the chances, or better yet, prevent the disease from occurring altogether? Finally, if a close family member or friend is diagnosed, what can we do to help alleviate the symptoms and slow down the pace of the illness? Continue reading “Alzheimer’s Disease: Causes, Preventative Measures, and Ideal Outcomes”

Go Home Food, You’re Wasted: What You May Not Know About Food Waste in the U.S.

In the last several years, I, like many others, have become increasingly aware of and concerned with the issue of food waste.  In 2014 (the most recent published data), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that, of the 136 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) sent to landfills that year, food was the largest component, accounting for over 21 percent of the total landfilled MSW.  Continue reading “Go Home Food, You’re Wasted: What You May Not Know About Food Waste in the U.S.”

Finding Balance and Harmony in a Diverse Ecosystem

Front and center in the news today is the fact that climate change and various human activities are posing a hazard to the health of major ecosystems across our planet, threatening the survival of life on our planet as we know it.  But what makes a healthy ecosystem, and what does it mean for life when ecosystems undergo major changes, such as deforestation in rainforests caused by industry or a sudden decline of coral reefs due to the rise in ocean temperatures?  How far does the damage reach?  To understand these catastrophic events, we must take a step back and first consider ecosystems in more theoretical, less extreme terms. Continue reading “Finding Balance and Harmony in a Diverse Ecosystem”

Eating Bugs: A Diet That’s Hard to Swallow

According to a common piece of folklore, you swallowed eight spiders in your sleep last year. Urban legend or not, the very thought of spiders crawling into your mouth while you slumber likely triggers many unpleasant sensations, from mild discomfort to outright repulsion. After all, insects and spiders are gross critters that belong outside in the dirt, not inside our home. And certainly, not inside our mouths while we sleep.

…but who says they can’t also be food? Continue reading “Eating Bugs: A Diet That’s Hard to Swallow”

A Brief Guide to the 2018 Perseid Meteor Shower

For those who enjoy observing the night sky, summer is a great time of year to look for meteors blazing through the atmosphere, also known as shooting stars. Because of the favorable weather, more of us get the chance to go outside at night to look up. The Perseid meteor shower takes place each year from mid-July through late August, peaking in mid-August. With up to 100 observable meteors per hour, this particular meteor shower is easily among the most spectacular of the year. Additionally, the peak of this year’s shower coincides with a new moon, when the sky is much darker, so the 2018 Perseids will be especially exciting for stargazers. Continue reading “A Brief Guide to the 2018 Perseid Meteor Shower”

What Draws Us to Science?

What draws us to science?  Oftentimes science gives us a glimpse of the vast workings of the natural world, showing us the enormity of the system in which we live and, if we peek inside, all the spinning cogs and gears that work together and allow that system to exist at all.  Those insights make our hearts skip a beat and our hair stand on end with excitement and awe. It feels profound, and we are humbled by the thought that, even if just for a moment, we have grasped an idea that is so much bigger than ourselves. The humility grows more once we realize that our lives here on Earth are minuscule compared to the vast complexity of the universe.   Continue reading “What Draws Us to Science?”

The Science of Fireworks

This Fourth of July, many families will be wrapping up their festivities by going to see a blazing, brilliant firework show.  No matter if it’s your local community or Navy Pier in Chicago, people of all ages marvel at the stunning displays of color and sound.  Firework displays have become very sophisticated, and every year you many notice some shapes that you have not seen the previous year.  Have you ever wondered how those shapes and colors are made?  Well, you have science to thank, particularly chemistry.  Continue reading “The Science of Fireworks”