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del norte high school





NUCLEAR ENERGY The answer or an impending disaster?

volume 2 | issue 3

Editor-in-Chief Christina Cheng


Editor-in-Chief Ajay Nathan Design Editors Kate Jeon Rachelle Juan Sami Chang* Aishwarya Kudrimoti* Abhi Nathan* Gokul Swamy* Carolyn Wu* Principal Artist Rosa Chung Copy Editors April Shewry Nicholas Villalobos Marie Jung* Michael Jung* David Tao* Sona Trika* Daniel Zhang* Content Editor Tristan Reinecke Srujan Vadlamudi Raymond Deng* Benjamin Li* Austin Shih* Alan Tang* Writers Murray Andrews Ahana Chakraborty Hannah Glover Sukruth Kadaba† Hannah Leung Tony Liu Ashwath Raj Armaun Rouhi Chelsea Song Nathan Wang Roy Wang Advisor Frank Liao

*Editor candidates for the 2014-2015 school year †Beaker Jr. Essay Competition winner

letter Letterfrom the editors

from the editors Dear Readers, Dear Readers,

It’s finally here: the third issue of The Beaker this 2013-2014 Welcome to your first issue of The Beaker in the 2013-2014 school year. school year! As the school year comes to a close, we used this issue to help at The Beaker butBeaker one mission: to inspire you to selectWe a leadership teamhave for The next year. Prospective have a passion for science that is as infectious as our staff’s. Our editors and designers had the ability to showcase their skills and magazine is aimed at an audience with all levels of experience played a big role in finding writers, editing articles, and design- in science, from a middle Earth peek Science student a senior ing spreads. This issue isschool just a sneak of what Theto Beaker will taking AP Chemistry. Because writers reflect personal interests be like next year, and trust us when we say that it will be in good in their articles, each issue will have something for everyone. hands. The Beaker has grown considerably in featured the months since we You’re going to love the content we have in this issue. published issue. In order to foster a deeper connection We all haveour ourlast guilty pleasures, ranging from chocolate to video to the community the magazine’s original mission, we’ve games, but what and if wefurther told you that these weren’t so “guilty” after expanded into a non-profit organization Education, all? Read our interesting articles to find outcalled more.Radix If you’re a fan of dedicated togot spreading the message STEMabout to thethe community at space, we’ve you covered: read ourofarticle recent findlarge. ings confirming the Big Bang. And to our green and not-so-green readers, check out we Thecover Reaction, which features a debate on the In this issue, a broad array of topics—everything viability nuclear energy. from theofcolonization of Mars to the prehistoric origins of flight. Finally, we’d excited also liketotointroduce recognizeathe valuable We’re also very new sectioncontributions of our of our staff, sponsors, and donors. Special thanks to Dr. Kevin magazine called The Beaker Jr. As part of our goal to encourage Reeder, Summa Education, Rakesh Jain, and Mukesh Jain. This issue younger students to get involved in STEM, middle schoolers will wouldn’t have been possible without them. get the opportunity to write for our magazine and become published authors. Look for their articles at the end of this issue. Sincerely, We’d also like to recognize the valuable contributions of our Christina Chengand anddonors. Ajay Nathan staff, sponsors Special thanks to Dr. Kevin Reeder, Editors-in-Chief Mr. Senthil Nathan, Dr. Chuck Wells, and Summa Education. This issue wouldn’t have been possible without them. Visit us online at to read our previous So, once again, welcome to another year of The Beaker. We issues. If you would like to join our team, sponsor, or advertise, contact us hope that your interest in STEM grows with every issue to come. at


Christina Cheng and Ajay Nathan Editors-in-Chief

Visit us online at to read our previous issue. You can contact us at

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Embrace the Darkness Today’s Special: Electricity The Power of L-Theanine Cancer Myths: Debunked




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The Reaction: Nuclear Futility The Reaction: Nuclear Energy Understanding the Universe Suspended Animation


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C. Elegans Reconsider Gaming Humans of the Sea Citations



Embrace the Darkness Chocolate: healthy or not? by CHELSEA SONG Ooh. That gooey deliciousness that melts in your mouth, dispelling all your worries, anxieties, and stresses as you indulge in the happiness of… well, chocolate. But your temporary euphoria is overwhelmed with a wave of guilt. You try to remember how many pieces you have already consumed. You count the calories. You reach for your face and swear you feel a new pimple. But is this guilt necessary? Is chocolate really your enemy? Now, there are two types of chocolate: the good and the bad. Let’s talk about the bad. The bad chocolate is the kind of chocolate you see while you wait in line at the supermarket. You know... the Hershey’s, the Mars bars, and the M&Ms. These chocolates contain low amounts of cacao (lower than 70%) [1], a whole food ingredient that provides the benefits of good chocolate. Instead, these “chocolates” are loaded with milk and sugar, which suppress our immune system by weakening our white blood cells [2]. Our body is unable to fight viruses and harmful substances effectively, causing it to become weak. Also, bombarding our bodies with sugar can cause it to become a toxin to our bodies. This, in turn, can have negative consequences such as kidney stones, the hardening of arteries, and arthritis [2]. Bad chocolate prevents the enzymes that break down our food from working correctly and sends undigested food back into the bloodstream, where our body identifies the food as a lethal foreign substance, causing headaches, inflammation, and fatigue [2]. Bad chocolate

prevents the enzymes that break down our food from working correctly and sends undigested food back into the bloodstream, where our body identifies the food as a lethal foreign substance, causing headaches, inflammation, and fatigue [2]. Thankfully, there’s the good chocolate. However, good chocolate is criminally neglected. Maybe because of its bitter taste? Maybe in this economical society, we are repelled by its luxurious packaging. But this is no reason to be intimidated. Embrace the chocolate. Forget the rumors and let the chocolate stand innocent until proven guilty. The “good” kind of chocolate should contain more than 70% cacao, specifically dark chocolate, to have any real benefits [1]. This kind of chocolate has naturally occurring antioxidants, called flavanol and epicatechin, that help our blood run smoothly through our bodies, lower blood pressure, and prevent heart attacks and clogged arteries [1]. These antioxidants can also protect us against the effects of harmful cigarette smoke and can be found in four times the amount of green tea, meaning dark chocolate can help protect us from cancer. Recently, a study found that the consumption of this “good” chocolate could potentially help prevent type 2 diabetes because of the glucose-tolerance it equips us with [2]. Dark chocolate can do miracles for looking healthy as well. The same flavonoids can help protect our skin from UV damage, which means less wrinkles and an even complexion.

Girls, forget the foundation and concealer and pick up the chocolate! Not only that, but cacao-rich chocolate can actually prevent acne. The antioxidants contained within chocolate can help keep our skin looking fresh and new, while the milk and sugar-loaded chocolate makes us prone to breakouts and painful zits [3]. The vitamins and minerals found in chocolate, such as iron, magnesium, and calcium, can help our joints and nerves function, making us look, and feel, youthful [3]. People are misinformed about the effects that chocolate can have on dental hygiene. Dark chocolate does not give us cavities. Although chocolate contains fermentable carbohydrates, which are the true cause of cavities, cocoa butter in good chocolate overrides the cavity inducing carbs and coats our teeth to keep our pearly whites clean [3]. So don’t be afraid to indulge... your teeth will be spared. But wouldn’t indulging have us packing more weight? Research says otherwise. After a test led by researcher Andrew Neilson, scientists discovered that feeding rats cacao-rich chocolate containing oligomeric procyanidins (PCs) helped keep their weight down, even when they were on high-fat diets [2]. So, next time you have a chocolate craving, stop by the store and get some. Your body deserves to be rewarded. Just remember, if the first two ingredients on the packaging are sugar and milk, make a mad dash towards the door and never look back.


copy: MICHAEL JUNG | content: RAYMOND DENG | design: ABHI NATHAN

Today’s Special:



LIVING ENERGY! Food. The basic, delicious, biological resource that every organism ‘–Š‹•’Žƒ‡–ϐ‹‰Š–•ˆ‘”–‘•—”˜‹˜‡Ǥ Every organism has its own dietary ’”‡ˆ‡”‡…‡Ǥ ‘”Š—ƒ•ǡƒ‹ƒŽ•ǡ and some microorganisms, we like ‘—”ˆ‘‘†–‘„‡…ƒ”„‘Ǧ”‹…Š™‹–Šƒ †ƒ•Š‘ˆŽ‹’‹†•ǡ–‘’’‡†‘ˆˆ™‹–Šƒ‹…‡ •‡ƒ•‘‹‰‘ˆƒ••‘”–‡†…Š‡‹…ƒŽ•Ǥ ‘” others, it’s simply water, sunlight, or •‘‡‡š‘–‹…•—„•–ƒ…‡Ž‹‡•—Žˆ—”‘” methane. Whatever it is, an organism must consume a physical substance, be it hamburgers or carbon-dioxide ‰ƒ•ǡƒ†—•‡–Š‡‡Ž‡…–”‘•ˆ‘—† ™‹–Š‹–Š‡•—„•–ƒ…‡–‘ƒ—ˆƒ…–—”‡ Dz‡‡”‰›dzˆ‘”‹–•‡ŽˆǤŠƒ–ǯ•–Š‡•…‹‡–‹ˆ‹…†‘‰ƒ™‡ˆ‘ŽŽ‘™‡†ˆ‘”…‡–—”‹‡•Ǥ Then came the day when we discovered a bacterium that ate something ‘ˆˆ–Š‡‡—ǤŽ‡…–”‹…‹–›Ǥ On March 10th, 2013, scientists Dz•Š‘™‡†–Šƒ––Š‡…‘‘Ž›ˆ‘—† bacterium Rhodopseudomonas palustris can use natural conductiv‹–›–‘’—ŽŽ‡Ž‡…–”‘•ˆ”‘‹‡”ƒŽ• located deep in soil and sediment…” [1]. In other words, RP bacterium can essentially turn into a battery and suck up electrons to produce energy, without the physical process ‘ˆ…‘•—‹‰’Š›•‹…ƒŽ•—„•–ƒ…‡•Ǥ

ˆ‡ƒ”–Š‡•—”ˆƒ…‡ǡ–Š‡„ƒ…–‡rium requires sunlight to produce •‘‡†‡‰”‡‡‘ˆ‡‡”‰›ˆ‘”‹–•‡ŽˆǤ

Š‡ǡ‹––—”•–Š‡•‘‹Žƒ”‘—†‹–•‡Žˆ into a mini, circuit-like apparatus by converting the iron in the soil into iron-oxide. As time passes, the iron-oxide crystals grow and begin –‘ƒ…–ƒ•…‘†—…–‘”•ˆ‘”‘–Š‡”‹‡”als in the earth. As the minerals give –Š‡‹”‡Ž‡…–”‘•–‘–Š‡‰”‘™‹‰™‡„‘ˆ iron-oxide crystals, the “circuit” the RP bacteria has built begins to transˆ‡”–Š‡‡Ž‡…–”‘•‹–‘–Š‡…‡ŽŽ‹–Š‡ ˆ‘”‘ˆƒ…—””‡–ǡ‘”‡Ž‡…–”‹…‹–›ȏͳȐǤ ––Š‡Š‡ƒ”–‘ˆ–Š‹•†‹•…‘˜‡”› is a process called extracellular ‡Ž‡…–”‘–”ƒ•ˆ‡”ȋȌǤ•–Š‡ƒ‡ suggests, this process describes the method in which cells move ‡Ž‡…–”‘•‹ƒ†‘—–‘ˆ–Š‡•‡Ž˜‡•Ǥ This discovery has lead scientists to gain new insights on the interaction ‘ˆƒ‡”‘„‹…ƒ†ƒƒ‡”‘„‹…™‘”Ž†•Ǥ ‡ˆ‘”‡ǡ‹–™ƒ•ƒ••—‡†–Šƒ––Š‡ only way oxygen rich environments and non-oxygen-rich environments ‹–‡”ƒ…–‡†™ƒ•–Š”‘—‰Š–Š‡‡ƒ•‘ˆ chemicals. Certain substances would †‹ˆˆ—•‡–Š”‘—‰Š–Š‡ƒ”–Šƒ†”‡ƒ…Š areas where little oxygen is present [1]. However, the RP bacterium has shown that an organism can bypass the barrier between anaerobic and ƒ‡”‘„‹…™‘”Ž†•–Š”‘—‰Š–Š‡—•‡‘ˆ EET. This new insight could potentially alter the way scientists mea•—”‡–Š‡…›…Ž‹‰‘ˆ…Š‡‹…ƒŽ•„‡-

tween aerobic and anaerobic worlds ƒ†…Šƒ‰‡‘—”—†‡”•–ƒ†‹‰‘ˆ the interactions between these two environments [1]. This discovery also has a more direct application into society. Scientists are trying to create bacterial ˆ—‡ŽǦ…‡ŽŽ•Ǥ›—•‹‰–Š‡•ƒ‡’”‘…‡•• „ƒ…–‡”‹ƒ—•‡ǡ™‡Š‘’‡–‘ϐ‹†ƒ ™ƒ›–‘†”ƒ™‡Ž‡…–”‹…‹–›ˆ”‘–Š‡ earth as well [1]. By hooking these cells onto electrodes, we can harness –Š‡‡Ž‡…–”‹…‹–›’”‘†—…‡†‹–‘ˆ—‡Ž …‡ŽŽ•Ǥ —”–Š‡”‘”‡ǡ–Š‡ˆ—‡Ž…‡ŽŽ•ƒ”‡ biodegradable due to their content [2]. Essentially, what this will provide us with is a living, energy ˆƒ…–‘”›–Šƒ–Šƒ•ƒ‡‰Ž‹‰‹„Ž‡‡˜‹”‘mental impact. With this promising research, perhaps one day the RP „ƒ…–‡”‹ƒ…ƒ„‡ˆ‘—†‘–‘Ž›”‡•‹†ing in the soil, but also in the many electrical appliances that society today is so dependent upon.


copy: MICHAEL JUNG | content: RAYMOND DENG | design: CAROLYN WU


P O W E R of L -

Introducing a friendly new study buddy by Hannah Glover


               Hey  kids,  drop  your  street   Adderall;  there’s  another  study   tool  that  is  all  natural,  proven  safe,   legal  for  everyone,  and  effective.   L-­‐Theanine  is  an  amino  and   glutamic  acid  analog  found   primarily  in  tea  and  in  some   uncommon  species  of  mushrooms.   Recently,  scientists  have   discovered  that  when  taken  in   conjunction  with  coffee,  L-­‐ Theanine  may  be  an  all-­‐powerful   study  buddy.  By  enhancing  the   positive  effects  of  caffeine,  such  as   focus,  energy,  and  increased   memory  capacity,  while  all  but   eliminating  the  negative  side   effects,  such  as  jitteriness  and   headaches,  this  unusual   combination  has  the  primary   result  of  creating  a  calm,  focused   energy  within  the  consumer  [1].                    It  may  sound  too  good  to  be   true,  but  the  experience  of  an   inevitable  crash  after  a  coffee   fueled  and  sleepless  night  of   studying  may  soon  become  a  thing   of  the  past.    A  health  conscious   supplement  that  can  make  those   all-­‐nighters  a  little  less  painful   seems  pretty  stellar,  and  the   experts  seem  to  agree.  The   American  Society  for  Nutrition   conducted  a  study  to  test  the   effects  of  L-­‐Theanine  on  attention   span:  alone  and  in  conjunction   with  caffeine.  The  study  featured    

Sixteen neurologically  normal  and   paid  volunteers,  aged  21  to  40   years  old.  In  the  experiment,  the   subjects  were  asked  to   concentrate  on  a  white  cross  in   the  center  of  a  monitor  at  all   times.  Then,  an  arrow  appeared   on  screen,  marking  either  the  left   or  right  side  as  “valid.”  In  other   words,  the  side  marked  with  the   arrow  was  to  be  noted  as  “valid.”     When  a  visual  cue  appeared  on   the  “valid”  side,  participants  were   to  shift  their  attention  to  the  cue   and  respond  by  pressing  a  mouse   button.  If  a  cue  appeared  on  the   “invalid”  side,  participants  were   instructed  to  entirely  ignore  the   visual.  The  study  required  the   subjects  to  perform  twenty  runs   of  this  simple  task.  During  the   study,  participants  were   monitored  with  various  pieces  of   neurological  equipment  in  order   to  track  the  attention  task.  After   four  days  of  testing,  researchers   found  that  the  caffeine  and  L-­‐ Theanine  combination  enhanced   attentional  resources,  or  the   abilities  of  the  senses  regarding   attention,  while  L-­‐Theanine  alone   had  virtually  no  effect,  unless   taken  in  an  extremely  large  dose   [2].                    The  NYU  Langone  Medical   Center  reviewed  similar  studies   and  published  an  article    

THEANINE describing the  effects  of  L-­‐ Theanine.  The  combination  of   caffeine  and  L-­‐Theanine  improved   speed  and  accuracy  in  an   attention-­‐switching  task,  as  well   as  reduced  the  likelihood  of   distraction  during  memory  task.   In  addition  to  enhancing   cognition,  L-­‐Theanine  taken  alone   is  thought  to  have  a  repertoire  of   other  impressive  health  bene>its,   such  as  antioxidant  and  relaxant   effects,  lowering  lipids  in  the   blood,  >ighting  obesity,  and   preventing  cognitive  dysfunction   and  stroke.  It  is  also  suggested   that  L-­‐theanine  can  increase  the   anti-­‐tumor  activity  of  two  cancer-­‐ >ighting  drugs@  doxorubicin  and   idarubicin.  Primarily,  these   studies  have  used  isolated  caffeine   in  conjunction  with  isolated  L-­‐ Theanine.  The  health  bene>its  are   thought  to  have  originated  from   its  natural  presence  in  green  tea,   an  already  amazing  source  of   vitamins  [3].                    After  evaluating  the  evidence,   this  supplement  gets  an  of>icial   thumbs  up.  So  Adderall  addicts   and  caffeine  pill  a>icionados,  you   can  now  get  good  grades  and  not   wreck  your  beautiful  bodies.  I  can   guarantee  that,  come  >inals  week,  I   too  will  be  downing  some  L-­‐ Theanine  along  with  my  morning   cup  of  coffee.            

10 copy: MARIE JUNG | content: ALAN TANG | design: SAMI CHANG

Cancer Myths: Debunked

Clearing up a few misunderstandings on the deadly disease

By: Murray Andrews

! Cancer.!That!one!word! inspires!more!horror!and!causes! more!pain!than!possibly!any!other! word!in!the!English!language.!And! with!cancer!rates!on!the!rise,!it!is! now!more!important!than!ever!that! we!understand!this!disease!fully! and!debunk!the!myths!that! surround!it. ! The!>irst!of!these!myths:!that! cancer!is!a!modern!disease.!Though! it!is!true!that!modern!lifestyle! choices!like!smoking!and!the! increasing!global!temperature! caused!by!industrialization!have! increased!rates,!cancer!is!an! epochal!disease.!Ancient!Greek!and! Egyptian!physicians!described!the! disease!thousands!of!years!ago,!and! scientists!have!discovered!proof!of! cancer!in!a!3000DyearDold!corpse.! Cancer!is!simply!a!blunder!of! biological!processes,!and!to!think! that!the!human!race’s!biological! processes!existed!perfectly!up!until! recent!centuries!is!an!act!of!sheer! folly![1]. ! The!second:!that!superfoods! prevent!cancer.!Although!people! would!love!to!believe!that!the! blueberries!and!acai!in!their! beloved!acai!bowls!can!prevent! cancer,!that!is!simply!not!true.!Don’t! get!me!wrong,!acai!is!delicious,!but! cancer!is!an!incredibly!complex! disease,!and!believing!that!a!single! food!can!prevent!it!is!an! oversimpli>ication.!It!is!true!that!a! healthy!diet!can!help


!to!avoid!cancer,!but!don’t!>ill!your! diet!with!a!single!food!to!attempt! that![2]. The!third:!that!sugary!diets! cause!cancer.!This!idea!is!inspired! by!the!thought!that!feeding!cancer! cells!sugar!will!increase!their! liveliness.!What!this!idea!fails!to! realize!is!that!cancer!cells!are!just! like!every!other!cell!in!the!human! body;!the!only!difference!is!that! cancer!cells!have!gone!awry.!Yes,! more!glucose!equals!more!energy,! but!that!does!not!mean!that! increasing!the!amount!of!sugar!in!a! diet!will!help!cancerous!cells.!All! cells!demand!energy,!and!the!body! does!not!give!sugar!to!only!cancer! cells.!Sugary!diets!are!generally!less! healthy!than!nonDsugary!diets,!but! sugar!is!a!vital!part!of!a!healthy! lifestyle!and!should!not!be! discounted![3]. The!fourth:!that!cancer!is!a! fungus.!This!“theory”!is!based!off!of! the!observation!that!tumors!are! white.!There!is!one!fundamental! >law!with!that!logic:!not!all!tumors! are!white.!Proponents!of!this!theory! also!argue!that!cancer!is!a!result!of! an!infection!of!the!fungus!Candida,! but!Candida!infections!can!occur!in! people!that!are!perfectly!healthy,! which!con>licts!with!the!clear! correlation!between!smoking!and! cancer.!!There!is!simply!no!evidence! to!support!this!theory![4].!Finally:! that!cancer!research!has!gotten! nowhere,!and!treatment!!hurts

more!than!it!helps.!Oncologists,! doctors!who!specialize!in!treating! cancer!patients,!take!pride!in!their! work!and!rightly!so.!Survival!rates! have!doubled!and!death!rates!have! fallen!by!10%!in!the!past!decade![5].! Though!treatments!like! radiotherapy!and!chemotherapy! have!terrible!side!effects,!their! bene>its!outweigh!their!faults.! Because!of!modern!therapy,!75%!of! cancer!cases!in!children!are!cured,! and!96%!of!testicular!cancer!cases! have!been!cured![6].!But!the!most! exciting!thing?!The!most!fantastic! discoveries!are!yet!to!come.

12 copy: MARIE JUNG | content: ALAN TANG | design: GOKUL SWAMY

nuclear FUTILITY Are nuclear efforts a waste? by TONY LIU

As our breathtakingly beautiful planet ages and its blue, green splendor wanes with the relentless demands of its inhabitants (specifically you and me), the search for an effective energy source becomes an increasingly urgent concern for the vitality of our planet and our posterity. With the amount of once-abundant fossil fuels quickly diminishing, more and more scientists have turned to nuclear energy as the solution to the arising energy crisis. Without dispute, nuclear reactors generate an unparalleled amount of energy that our society demands, designating nuclear energy as the most viable method to address the proliferating demand for energy. However, proponents of nuclear energy often fail to note the substantial drawbacks that come with nuclear reactors. One of the most glaring hindrances that detract from nuclear energy’s viability is the radioactive waste produced. Nuclear waste is extremely hazardous as a result of its


radioactive properties and, if not stored properly, can also contaminate nearby resources, further endangering lives [1]. Unfortunately, nuclear waste exhibits a lifetime upwards of several thousand years before it is reduced to a harmless composition. Were it not for the time required to nullify the effects, perhaps nuclear waste would be a viable energy source. Another blatant liability of nuclear energy lies in the detrimental effects of an accident. While many precautionary measures have been taken to ensure the stability of nuclear reactors and diminish the possibility of such an accident, even the smallest and supposedly most insignificant leak of radiation can pose detrimental effects and culminate in a litany of problems. In the event of an accident, the repercussions of a damaged nuclear reactor can encompass more than just a town or city but rather, an entire nation, as seen in the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that resulted in a meltdown and the

hurried evacuation of 160,000 nearby inhabitants. Even so, to this day we have yet to formulate a remedy to effectively counteract the negative effects of such disasters [2]. While fossil fuel is readily available in most countries, “nuclear fuel,” uranium, is a limited resource only available to a few countries and is far more difficult to come by. Its limited supply and scarcity presents the same issue that currently confronts fossil fuels: nonrenewability [3]. Ultimately, it is clear that the vast supply of energy generated by nuclear reactors appeals to an element of human nature we cannot ignore, but similarly, we surely cannot ignore the consequential monstrosity that accompanies the lauded benefits. All in all, the benefits of nuclear energy are short-lived while the corresponding aftermath, threatening to forever mutilate our beloved home Mother Earth and its inhabitants, is all but temporary.

THE REACTION The Reaction is a mixing pot of our school’s various viewpoints on important scientific issues. In this issue, we'll be exploring the viability of nuclear energy as a solution to our energy crisis. Want to be a reactant in our next issue? Email with your thoughts on nuclear energy, and your opinions may be featured!

nuclear ENERGY The solution to our energy crisis by HANNAH LEUNG

Ever since the Chinese government announced that it is working on a thorium nuclear energy program in an attempt to undercut smog and a coal based economy, the viability of nuclear reactors as an energy source has been underscored. While some may dispute the safety and environmental effects of nuclear energy, many of these claims go unsubstantiated. With the growing fossil fuel crisis, the need for alternative energy sources increases with each passing moment. Although the media may portray nuclear energy in an unfavorable light, it offers solutions to a litany of problems involving the current fuel crisis, and many of its supposed drawbacks are merely perpetuated by stigma. The state of the international energy crisis is dire. The use of fossil fuel not only damages the environment but is limited by finite resources. No one can deny the tragic truth that our current main fuel source, coal, has created massive issues for the environment. Resources such as coal, oil, and petroleum are nonrenewable, meaning they are limited in nature and cannot be quickly or easily replenished [1].

Over time, fossil fuels will become increasingly expensive and dangerous to extract [2]. As the stores of fossil fuel run low, the focus has shifted to finding alternative sources of energy, where nuclear energy appears to be the most optimal. One of the main flaws of fossil fuels is their environmental impact. Fossil fuel emissions cause air pollution which has been attributed to global warming. Nuclear energy on the other hand, is a clean-air source of energy. Nuclear energy is also far more efficient: “A single uranium pellet the size of a pencil eraser contains the same amount of energy as 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas, 1,780 pounds of coal or 149 gallons of oil.� This efficiency allows for nuclear reactors to occupy much less land while having a greater output of energy [3]. There is a large misconception that nuclear reactors carry with them a constant threat of radioactive explosion. However, nuclear energy is actually much safer than many believe. Nuclear plants store fuel in steel lined concrete vaults that are surrounded with water as a cooler and radiation barrier [3]. The

waste is stored carefully in similar containers underground, then submerged in circulating water to reach a stable temperature [4]. Fuel storage is painstakingly designed and engineered by teams of scientists and is regulated and monitored by governments. Despite the stigma that is attributed to radioactive products, the waste produced exposure to the environment is minimal, as well as the possibility of an accident due to modern safety procedures. Although nuclear reactors are often portrayed as unstable atomic bombs, modern technology and safety procedures allows for nuclear energy to be harnessed in a safe and efficient manner. While nuclear energy carries an inherent risk of radioactive leaks, the similar risks apply to many other alternative energy sources as well as fossil fuel. The pros of nuclear energy evidently outweigh the cons: it is far more efficient than fossil fuel and has minimal environmental effects, showing that it is clearly the most viable solution to our international energy crisis.

14 copy: DANIEL ZHANG | content: AUSTIN SHIH


UNIVERSE How the Big Bang actually works


BY ASHWATH RAJ Zero seconds after the universe’s formation, or time t = 0, is an enormous mystery: the universe was condensed into an amalgamation of seemingly infinite temperature, density, and pressure. But during the Planck epoch (t = 0 to t = 10-43 seconds), gravity and the other fundamental forces were unified, and cosmic inflation — the expansion of the universe — began at rates faster than the speed of light. Soon after, all existing matter was smashed together and torn apart in a violent, superheated cloud of plasma. This cloud was composed of electrons, quarks, leptons, baryons, protons, neutrons, positrons, neutrinos, are more subatomic particles, but there were no balanced atoms. Balanced atoms wouldn’t exist until much later; the universe was much too volatile for that. And, during this period, light was impossible to perceive because the particles of the plasma caused an extreme scattering effect [1]. This was the Big Bang, a theory proposed by Georges Lemaître in 1927 and republished by Edwin Hubble two years later. More specifically, Lemaître hypothesized the misattributed Hubble’s Law and Constant — that deep space objects have a Doppler Shift, which gives them a relative velocity away from Earth, and that the universe is expanding. A few minutes after t =

0 came the process of nucleosynthesis — when some stray particles came together to form deuterium (hydrogen-2) and helium nuclei, or just remained as protons. Only after a few hundred thousand years did electrons and the aforementioned nuclei come together to create stable, neutral atoms [1]. This process provided the first major piece of evidence in support of the Big Bang: cosmic background radiation (CBR). CBR, discovered and hypothesized in 1964 by American radio astronomers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, refers to the faint, uniform glow that can be seen when observing the sky with a sensitive radio telescope. This radiation had no apparent source, so it was attributed to the Big Bang; it was the result of the plasma cloud dispersion, which prevented atoms from absorbing radiation from the initial expansion. In other words, a “photograph” taken of the universe during its initial expansion was uniform, providing evidence of the plasma cloud that initially formed [1]. As time progressed, the universe grew colder and colder, continuing to expand. Slowly, dense regions of matter began to form larger celestial bodies: asteroids, planets, stars, nebulae, etc. However, there are still holes in our understanding of the Big Bang. We are still finding out new things about the expansion of the universe, and bit-by-bit,

the pieces of the puzzle are falling nto place. “On March 17 a team of astrophysicists working on the Background Imaging of the Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization (BICEP2, a radio telescope) experiment announced the discovery of gravitational waves. These waves are, as their name suggests, ripples in space-time caused by gravity that propagates outwards from a source” [3]. In this case, the gravitational waves discovered belonged to the Big Bang and they seem to provide the first conclusive evidence of the event. The researchers found the waves by analyzing data on CBR since 2010. The waves set the still charged particles of the plasma into motion, thus causing B-mode polarization (charging) of the CBR; this ends up looking like vortexes or swirls on the data charts. This also ended up supporting the theories of the Russian-born, Stanford professor Andrei Linde. His theory, known as chaotic inflation or eternal inflation, details that certain areas of the universe with faster rates of expansionwill continue to expand forever, eventually dominating the universe. To summarize, the gravitational waves could have only existed if inflation occurred, and these waves polarized the Big Bang’s radiation by sending out ionic particles. Still, the Big Bang, in all its glory, is still a theory. But perhaps that’s the beauty of it: the Big Bang is as abstract as space itself.


SUSPENDED ANIMATION Purgatory in the ER 17

by ARMAUN ROUHI The emergency room is one of the most hectic areas of any hospital. A multitude of patients with varying conditions are rushed in on a daily basis, battling time and struggling to even make it out of the ambulance. These patients, many of whom have suffered severe injuries such as gunshots or lacerations, only give doctors minutes to perform the necessary life-saving operations before they succumb to their wounds [1]. And unfortunately, in most of these cases, death is triumphant. However, surgeons at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Presbyterian Hospital, lead by Dr. Samuel Tisherman, have recently developed a treatment that could potentially save the lives of those who would have previously perished by placing them in suspended animation, a groundbreaking surgical procedure that seems straight out of science fiction. Suspended animation is a technique which works by replacing all of a patient’s blood with a cold saline solution which quickly cools the body and halts all cellular activity, rendering the patient “clinically dead” and giving doctors additional time to perform medical miracles [2]. The procedure begins by first placing a large tube containing the 10°C solution into a patient’s aorta, the main artery of the heart. The solution is then released and

circulated through the body, first cooling vital organs like the heart and brain and the rest of the body after. This process takes 15 to 20 minutes, at which point the patient will have no blood, no breath, no movement or any other external signs of life [3]. Furthermore, almost no metabolic reactions happen in the body, causing cells to begin producing energy through a process called anaerobic glycolysis. At normal body temperatures, anaerobic glycolysis can sustain cells for only two minutes but at low temperatures, glycolysis rates are much lower: so much so that cells can thrive for hours [2]. The suspension of a patient’s cellular and brain activity effectively freezes his or her internal clock, making him or her neither dead nor alive [3]. This, in turn, gives surgeons ample time to stabilize the patient and control any bleeding. Once the patient has been stabilized and the necessary treatment is completed, the surgeons infuse blood back into the patient, replacing the cold saline solution. They will then restart the heart, letting the patient slowly return to a normal body temperature over the course of the next two hours. If the procedure works, the patient will return to normal, even after being considered “clinically dead” the hour before [3].

This Frankenstein-esque procedure of meddling with the boundary between life and death was born in 2002 at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where scientists successfully reanimated a Sus scrofa domesticus, a North American pig, after it was sedated and beaten to mimic the effect of gunshots. Its blood was drained and replaced by cold potassium, which acted as a cold saline solution, rapidly cooling the body to around 10°C. After treatment, the animal was gradually warmed up and the solution was replaced with blood. The pig's heart then gradually started beating again and eventually regained all psychical function and ability [2]. Since then, the procedure has received FDA approval, and a future meeting at the UPMC Hospital will determine whether an adequate team of doctors is fully prepared to try it. After that, they will just have to wait for the right patient to arrive [2]. In its entirety, this unique combination of raw science and the latest advances in surgery allows suspended animation to potentially be something truly groundbreaking. Not only does it have the capability to set a scientific precedent, but it also yields the power to save millions of lives around the world, an animated example of science at its best.

18 copy: DAVID TAO | content: BENJAMIN LI



Studies and connections by AHANA CHAKRABORTY

Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), a most peculiar creature, is more commonly known as the nematode or roundworm. The nematode can be found in a variety of environments, even in your own backyard. Its purpose in life is simple: eat and avoid being eaten. The C. elegans spends its days scavenging for food, and in the event that it comes across a foe, particularly the larger worm called Pristionchus pacificus, it immediately changes direction in order to get away [1]. How does this minuscule creature relate to the perplexing and complicated work of the revered Salk Institute in San Diego? Dr. Sreekanth “Shrek” Chalasani, the assistant professor of Salk’s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, made the connection. Dr. Chalasani uses C. elegans as a model to explore a simpler representation of a well-defined nervous system. The nervous system is a person’s communication center [2]. The central nervous system (CNS) is a connection between the brain and the spinal cord. The human brain contains about one hundred billion cells; each of these cells are connected to thousands of contact points. These contact points pile up to cover a distance of an additional million miles of wiring (roughly enough to cover a track from earth to the moon). Combined, these cells, points, and wiring enable us to harbor a profound sense of direction. Information and data gathered by our eyes travels through nerves. Once this information is gathered, it travels to the brain in the form of electrical pulses. There, the brain processes the information and stimulates a response. All these complexities make it difficult to track exactly how information travels from one neuron to another. Dr. Chalasani uses C. elegans as a model to explore a more simple representation of a well-defined nervous system. His key objective is to utilize the worm in understanding more about the human body’s reaction to fear. When C. elegans

encounters Pristionchus pacificus, it takes a whiff of the chemicals the bigger worm excretes and immediately turns away. This is a similar to a reaction humans have: when we “smell” danger, we do our best to flee. Not only is this a great reason to use the nematode, but it also helps that every single one of the 302 neurons in the worm has already been mapped. This is precisely why the nematode serves as a perfect example of a nervous system capable of integrating information, as opposed to other potential model organisms [3]. C. elegans’ neural circuits utilize numerous sensory inputs in order to generate its actions. Dr. Chalasani has discovered that these sensory neurons utilize neuropeptides, which are signaling molecules that collect and analyze information for the nervous system about the identity and strength of outside stimuli. Neurons use them to communicate with each other. Dr. Chalasani and his group have also recognized an interesting relationship between C. elegans and its predator, Pristionchus pacificus. They found that when C. elegans encounters its predator, three previously undiscovered sensory neurons detect and help avoid the larger organism. More interesting is the fact that worms who receive human anti-anxiety drugs have delayed responses to fear factors [3]. The next question is: if antianxiety drugs are administered to humans, will they have the same response, or lack thereof, as the worms? Clearly, this organism possesses exceptionally advanced neural foundations. Perhaps it seems strange that our brains can be compared to the nearly nonexistent one of the nematode. However, the truth remains the truth, and it is obvious the nematode will be used for future observation. C. elegans, although small, provides a big scope for scientific research. Hopefully, the nematode will continue being used to uncover more about the most famous mystery known to 20 mankind: the human brain. copy: SONA TRIKA

GAMING Don’t hate, appreciate by NATHAN WANG


Video games are most often regarded as useless and a waste of time. We hold games, including first person shooters, role-playing games, and even puzzle games like 2048, close to our hearts, and we all would like to believe that video games have a positive impact in our lives. A recent study conducted by the American Psychology Association has an argument in our favor. Studies conducted in The American Psychologist report that video games strengthen critical cognitive skills, including spatial navigation, reasoning, perception, memory, and problem solving ability. In a meta-analysis conducted by Dr. Isabela Granic in 2013, first person shooters were shown to improve one’s three-dimensional image processing ability at the same level that an academic course would [1]. In her study, Dr. Granic wrote that simple games like Angry Birds can improve a player’s mood, promote relaxation, and ward off anxiety. She noted that facing failure in video games can even help people cope with their own failures in real life and build emotional resilience. Video games have created

virtual social communities that 70% of gamers participate in, whether it be Farmville or World of Warcraft. While playing games that require multiplayer participation to achieve a goal, gamers are able to develop leadership and decision making skills. A 2011 study found that games that encouraged cooperation were more rewarding than those which are played individually [1]. Dr. Nick Taylor, assistant professor of communication at North Carolina State University and lead author of the scientific paper “Public Displays of Play: Studying Online Games in Physical Settings,” argued that gamers are no longer the basement dwelling nerds seen in pop culture but highly social members of their communities instead. Gamers used in Dr. Taylor’s study were observed participating in various social behaviors at once: watching games, talking, drinking, and chatting online. Video games were not limiting their social capabilities, rather, they were supplementing them [2]. Video games also serve as motivation for hospitalized patients to improve their health. In the game “Re-Mission,” child cancer patients command robots that perform tasks to destroy cancer cells, as well as

fighting other barriers that are common during treatment. An international study conducted in 2008 across 34 medical centers found that children exposed to ReMission were well-versed in their disease and adhered better to treatment as opposed to children who played different computer games [1]. In our technologically advanced world, video games are becoming a more accepted social norm. Integration of video games through classroom application can further bridge a teacher’s lessons for students. Students can be taught in a more relatable fashion, thereby creating a new generation of education where hands-on learning is prevalent. While common beliefs have us geared towards associating video games with time consumption and wastefulness, studies and data have shown that the numerous positive benefits outweigh the norms. In our evolving society, video games not only nurture sociability, but can also be used to strengthen our educational experience, encourage growth, and foster innovation.

22 copy: SONA TRIKA

Humans of the by SUKRUTH KADABA


Dolphins are among the most intelligent creatures that live on the Earth. They are faced with a constant struggle for survival in which they must use teamwork and brains just to survive. Sounds like the beginning of a success story: in fact, the same success story that Homo sapiens, our species, had. These creatures are more like us than we suspect. Emory University dolphin expert Lori Marino’s findings suggest that dolphins are very similar to us. They have big brains compared to the size of their bodies. Dolphin brains are structured to allow complex emotions and awareness of self. They may even surpass human brains in some areas, such as having a more convoluted neocortex [1]. So, when did this incredible increase in intelligence for these marine mind-blowers happen? Thirty-nine million years ago, the ancestors of modern dolphins had a decrease in body size and an increase in brain size. Echolocation was also developed in this period, so this increase in brain size was probably linked to better communication. These dolphin ancestors were now better equipped and ready to take on anything the sea threw at them. But just how smart are dolphins? Kelly, a dolphin from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, shows intelligence in numerous ways. The dolphins at this institute have all been taught to trade trash for fish and, in this way, they keep their pool clean. Kelly has learned that big pieces of paper are worth as many fish as small ones, so she rips paper into tiny bits and trades them individually. She once also captured a seagull and traded it for a lot of fish. Since then, she has turned to seagull-baiting into a food source and taught her calves how to do the same thing: they were

Dolphins: more than meets the eye


successful as well. This proves that dolphins are smart enough to try various things for more food and can also teach their more successful habits to other dolphins [2]. But does this mean dolphins are as smart as people? That is the very same question that Thomas White, a philosopher at Loyola Marymount University in Redondo Beach, California, is trying to answer. He argues that dolphins are smart enough to be called “nonhuman persons.” They certainly meet the requirements: to be called a nonhuman person, something must be alive, aware of its surroundings, and have emotions. These sets of traits are fairly easy to come by, but the next set of requirements to be a nonhuman person isn’t so simple. They also have to have personalities; they must control themselves when necessary, and must treat others the right way. This raises a lot of important questions. If these dolphins are “people,” then are we immorally killing these “people” and keeping them in captivity [3]. Dolphins today are facing numerous threats. Climate change is forcing them to colder waters in search of food. Scientists fear that the dolphins cannot evolve fast enough to compensate for climate change. As a result, they may even go extinct. But that is not the only danger in the seas. A lot of fisheries catch more than what they want, and to get rid of these dead fish, dolphins, sea turtles, and seabirds, they simply throw them overboard [1]. If these threats continue, dolphins may not be around for long, and one of the Earth’s most intelligent species will be dead. To make sure this does not happen, we must try to conserve and protect this wonderful species before it is too late.

The Beaker Jr. The Beaker Jr. is a section of The Beaker which regularly features articles written by middle school students. The article featured was selected as the winner of an essay competition for students at Oak Valley Middle School, which tasked them with writing an article on a topic in science that interested them. Congratulations to the winner Sukruth Kadaba (8)! If you are in middle school and want to be featured in our next issue, contact us at for more information.



Embrace the Darkness by Chelsea Song [1] “Good Chocolate, Bad Chocolate, and How to Tell the Difference.” The Dr. Oz Show. Harpo Inc. Web. [2] “World Chocolate: Dangers of Chocolate.” ThinkQuest. Oracle Foundation. Web. [3] “Melting Away the Chocolate Myths.” Kidzworld. Kidzworld. Web.

Today’s Special: Electricity by Roy Wang [1] Harvard University. “A Shocking Diet: Researchers Describe Microbe That ‘eats’ Electricity.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily. Web. [2] College of Engineering. “Microbial Fuel Cells.” N.d. MS. Penn State, Pennsylvania. Penn State Edu. Web.

The Power of L-Theanine by Hannah Glover [1] “L-Theanine.” Drugs. Web. [2] Simon P. Kelly, Manuel Gomez-Ramirez, Jennifer L. Montesi, and John J. Foxe. “Journal of Nutrition.” L-Theanine and Caffeine in Combination Affect Human Cognition as Evidenced by Oscillatory Alpha-Band Activity and Attention Task Performance. Web.. [3] “L-Theanine.” NYU Langone Medical Center. Web.

Cancer Myths: Debunked by Murray Andrews [1] Arney, Kat. “Claims that cancer is only a ‘modern, man-made disease’ are false and misleading.” Cancer Research UK. [2] “’Superfoods’ and Cancer.” Cancer Research UK. [3] Arney, Kat. “Alternative Cancer Treatment Claims in the Media Are Damaging and Misleading.” Cancer Research UK. [4] Winter, Lisa. “Don’t Believe the Hype-10 Persistent Cancer Myths Debunked.” IFL Science. [5] Johnson, Peter. “Hard Evidence: Are We Beating cancer?” The Conversation. [6] Perry, Vivenne. “The Enemy Within.” Vimeo. Dependable Productions, 2013. Web. Nuclear Futility by Tony Liu [1] Kukreja, Rinkesh. “Nuclear Energy.” ConserveEnergyFuture. [2] “Fukushima Nuclear Disaster.” Greenpeace International. Greenpeace International. Web. [3] “Where Our Uranium Comes From.” Energy Explained. U.S. Energy Information Administration. Web. Nuclear Energy by Hannah Leung [1] “Energy Basics.” EIA Energy Kids. U.S. Energy Information Administration. Web. [2] “Activity 3 - Fossil Fuels - The Pros and Cons.” Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. EU Structural Funds Program. Web. [3] “FAQ About Nuclear Energy.” Nuclear Energy Institute. Nuclear Energy Institute. Web. [4] “Radioactive Waste Management.” World Nuclear Association. World Nuclear Association. Web.

Understanding the Universe by Ashwath Raj [1] Gabel, Ed. “Creation of a Cosmology: Big Bang Theory.” Creation of a Cosmology: Big Bang Theory. Web. [2] Cowen, Ron. “Gravitational-wave Finding Causes ‘spring Cleaning’ in Physics.” Nature Publishing Group. Web. [3] Pond, Matt. “Pop Science: First Tangible Evidence of the Big Bang Discovered.” The Muse RSS. The Muse. Web. Suspended Animation by Armaun Rouhi [1] “In between Life and Death: Doctors Will Attempt to save Gunshot and Stabbing Victims by Putting Them in ‘suspended Animation’” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers. Web. [2] Thomson, Helen. “Gunshot Victims to Be Suspended between Life and Death.” NewScientist Health. NewScientist. Web. [3] Henig, Robin M. “Surgeons to Put Gunshot Victims Into Suspended Animation.” National Geographic Daily News. National Geographic Society. Web.

C. Elegans by Ahana Chakraborty [1] McKay, David, and Martin J. Davies. “The Worm In Us – Caenorhabditis Elegans as a Model of Human Disease.” TRENDS in Biotechnology. Web. [2] “Salk Institute - Faculty & Research - Faculty.” Salk Institute - Faculty & Research - Faculty. Web. [3] “Tag Archives: C. Elegans.” Nature Afield Notes on Biophilia. Web.

Reconsider Gaming by Nathan Wang [1] Granic, Isabela, Adam Lobel, and Rutger CME Engels. “The Benefits of Playing Video Games.” American Psychologist 69.1 (2014): n. pag. American Psychological Association. Web. [2] Taylor, Nicholas, Jennifer Jenson, Suzanne De Castell, and Barry Dilouya. “Public Displays of Play: Studying Online Games in Physical Settings.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication (2014): n. pag. Print. Humans of the Sea by Sukruth Kadaba [1] Viegas, Jennifer. “Dolphins: Second-Smartest Animals?” DNews. Discovery Channel. Web. [2] Rohan, Anuschka De. “Deep Thinkers.” The Guardian. The Guardian, n.d. Web. [3] Grimm, David, and Greg Miller. “Is a Dolphin a Person?” Science News. American Association for the Advancement of Science. Web.

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The Beaker May 2014  

This is Volume 2, Issue 3 of The Beaker, a science magazine created by high school students.