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Student Contributor to Biology 103's blog

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The Sound of Music: Infrasound and Humans

Have you ever watched that scene from [insert movie or discovery channel] where a bunch of elephants are standing together, going about their normal elephant activities, and then suddenly, they stop and run away together?  When I first saw this scene, I was puzzled as to why this happened.  It was quite strange to see these large but peaceful animals just instantaneously disperse for no good reason.  In actuality, however, the elephants did have a reason for running off.  They responded to a message sent to them by another elephant through infrasound. [1] Elephants are able to detect and send infrasound.  Humans, on the other hand, cannot pick up or produce infrasound the same way elephants can.  For any noise that is between the ranges of 20 to 20,000 Hz, we have no problem audibly hearing these sounds.  Anything that is higher or lower than that range will not be heard by humans.  Infrasound has a frequency that is below 20 Hz and usually, humans cannot detect audible infrasound. [2] However, although we cannot audibly hear infrasound, we are still able to feel the effects of this low frequency.  What are the impacts of infrasound on humans?  And how it is that if we are unable to hear it, it still has an impact on us?
Infrasound is found in two forms, it can be ‘man-made’ or created by ‘nature’.  Extreme examples human productions of infrasound include aircraft and fireworks.  The noise from factories and engines also attribute to making these low frequencies. [3] Natural productions of infrasound basically occur all the time.  Weather disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions emit infrasound.  Phenomena like meteor impacts and aurora also create this low frequency.  On a less extreme and more relatable scale, anyone who has ever been in a thunderstorm or very strong winds is likely to have experienced infrasound. [3] Instruments can also create these low frequencies.  Organs pipes and bass instruments can produce infrasound as well. [4] As mentioned before, elephants are able to create and detect infrasound.  They are the not the only species who have this trait.  Pigeons, squid and rhinos are just a few among the many other animals who can participate in infrasonic communications. [3] And although many animals can use infrasound to speak, humans still cannot communicate through these low vibrations.

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Where Do You Go After Death?

In the beginning of the semester, we tackled the debate of what it means to be ‘alive.’  Mary Roach’s book “Spook” takes a spin on this ‘alive’ and examines whether or not there is an afterlife.  Rather than choosing a textbook, I picked this book in the hopes that it would answer this question that is not usually covered in biology textbooks.  Roach narrates her research in the antithesis of a textbook fashion.  Instead, she tells a story about science, much like in a way similar to Biology 103: Basic Concepts.

From the very start of her narrative, Roach states that she is looking for proof, for some form of evidence that a soul exists after a person’s body dies and stops functioning.  However, she acknowledges that scientific answers are not absolute and these answers are changeable when more data is presented.  Roach sees the science that Professor Paul Grobstein introduced to us, the ‘seriously loopy science.’  Scientific truth, as learned in class, is only as truthful as it can be for the men and women who choose to believe in it.  There will always be a different perspective to answer the questions of ‘life’ and those answers are truth for those people who select it.  For Mary Roach, she accepts that not everything taught by science is true but science is the closest thing she can find to help her answer her question.  She writes this book for the people who want to believe in an afterlife but need more than just faith.  Her approach to answering her question then, was to research the already conducted scientific studies done on afterlife ‘experiences’.

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Hey, Pass Me a Light Please

What Causes Smoking Addiction:  Nicotine or Dopamine?

Growing up, I have always been told that smoking is bad.  Smoking is hazardous.  Smoking costs money.  Smoking looks unappealing.  Smoking kills.  Yet, despite all of these warnings and lessons, that surely most people have heard before, millions of people still light up.  Why, why do people continue to participate in an activity that is commonly associated with health risks such as cancer?  The most frequently used answer is an addiction to nicotine.  And this notion that nicotine causes addiction was continuously lectured to me in past mandatory health classes.  Yet, at the same time nicotine was used as an explanation, it was an incomplete reason.  What role does the substance play to result in this need for a cigarette?  Nicotine stimulates dopamine, a chemical in the brain that affects learning, motivation and pleasure [1].  Scientists have further explored the role of dopamine on addiction and are now suggesting theories that dopamine is the cause of addiction.  So, perhaps it is not nicotine that causes the addiction, but the role dopamine plays that causes the need to smoke.

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The Abortion Pill

For the past few years, the introduction of RU-486 has caused heavy debate throughout
the country. Also known as the ‘abortion pill’, the use of the drug has become an
alternative to having a surgical abortion. RU-486 made the access of having abortions
easier for women to obtain. However, there are some severe consequences to taking the
abortion pill. Part of the debate over this drug is because of the health factors that it
poses and the other parts are of outside reasons. While there are dangerous side effects,
the Food and Drug Administration has allowed for the continual use of the drug and
through this approval, has made the drug legally okay to use. However, the legality of a
drug does not always mean that the drug is acceptable in or for society as some would
argue. There are people who believe otherwise, and so, this debate still continues.

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