Wiki HWK Entry #1: Anton van Leeuwenhoek

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We have been told countless times that Anton van Leeuwenhoek, a tradesman from Holland, was the first to invent the microscope. Yet this appears not to be the case. Compound microscopes, much like those in use today, were in existence in 1595. In fact, scientists such as Robert Hooke were utilizing the scopes long before Leeuwenhoek’s time. Assuming that these claims are true, I feel that Leeuwenhoek should no longer be credited with such a monumental scientific discovery, as historical accounts indicate that microscopes existed nearly forty years prior to his birth.

While Anton van Leeuwenhoek may be wrongly credited for the invention of the first microscope, it should be noted that he did make other notable contributions to science. The microscopes he created, while crudely constructed, had far greater magnification capacities than the era’s compound microscopes. This higher level of magnification enabled Leeuwenhoek to observe various water-dwelling microorganisms, which he dubbed “animalcules”. His curiosity, combined with his craftsmanship in grinding lenses, also led him to discover blood cells and sperm cells, along with other organisms unbeknownst to the naked eye. Finally, Leeuwenhoek was the first to include detailed descriptions of his findings, both in illustrative and written form. His diligence in recording such observations introduced the scientific community to the high standards of meticulousness and order that continue to govern scientific research today.

Ford, B. J. 1991. The Leeuwenhoek Legacy. Biopress, Bristol, and Farrand Press, London. <>

Wiki Entry #2 (Individual): Single-shot Gigapixel Cameras

By now, we’re all familiar with the concept of Google Earth. The site allows users to view satellite images of anywhere in the world, right down to details such as roads and even specific houses. What many of us are not aware of, however, is the fact that these shoots can take hours to complete; the site uses single-lens reflex cameras to take multiple pictures, which are then spliced together to create a unified scene. This process, while well-orchestrated, can pose several disadvantages. In the time it takes to produce shots of the landscape and buildings, lighting conditions are liable to change, and objects may move in or out of the camera’s view, resulting in visual inconsistencies.

That’s where the single-shot gigapixel camera comes in. Determined to equip their country with the best form of surveillance possible, the United States Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency is devoting the next three years to developing a camera that will take shots with greater precision and detail. They plan to accomplish this objective by constructing a camera with a spherical lens. Unlike conventional circular lenses, which sacrifice image clarity at their edges, lenses of the spherical variety produce pictures with consistent resolution, due to their symmetrical shape.

Two prototypes of such a camera have already been developed. Unfortunately, the processors and memory available for today’s cameras are currently incompatible with gigapixel images, which contain far more information than their megapixel counterparts. The notion of gigapixel surveillance has also garnered considerable controversy, with the public voicing concerns for their personal privacy.

Personally, I’d be interested to see how a spherical lens could be utilized in digital photography. It sounds as though the gigapixel camera would be ideal for macro photography, whose clarity is currently limited by conventional lenses.

Greenemeier, L. (2011). Can you see me now?.Scientific American, 2011, August. Retrieved from

Wiki Entry #3 (HWK): Apoptosis

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Apoptosis, which is often referred to as “cell suicide”, is a process by which cells die in accordance with regulated instructions. This occurrence insures the health of multicellular organisms, by allowing these organisms to develop and mature.

The process of apoptosis is set in motion by proteins called caspases, which direct the cell in the early stages of death by separating genetic information (DNA) from the cell. This alters the shape of various organelles, such as the nucleus, causing them to condense and deteriorate. The cell continues to decrease in size to prepare for removal by macrophages, cells whose purpose is to clean up the wastes generated by apoptosis. Often, the dying cells will change their membrane composition in an attempt to simplify their engulfment, or phagocytosis, by macrophages. The end result of apoptosis is usually characterized by blister-like formations and vesicles known as apoptotic bodies.

Dash, P. (n.d.). Apoptosis. Retrieved from

Wiki Entry #4 (Individual): Musicogenic Epilepsy

You know the song “Temperature” by Sean Paul? How about Rihanna’s “Umbrella” or Sean Kingston’s “Beautiful Girls”? We’ve all heard these songs countless times, so much so that we find them annoying (that is, if we didn’t to begin with). But imagine if listening to certain songs drove you to the point of seizures! That’s the case for roughly 150 people who suffer from musicogenic epilepsy, a condition that results in music-triggered seizures. While scientists are unsure as to the direct cause of this rare condition, they have determined that musicogenic epilepsy is related to a person’s emotional response to a given piece of music. And in most of the recorded cases, the seizure is prompted specific genres or songs.

In the case of Stacey Gayle for instance, the song “Temperature”, among other hip hop songs, would instantaneously cause her to convulse. Once an avid music lover, Gayle began to avoid music altogether, which led her to become isolated and depressed. She was forced to drop out of university, as the sound of personalized cell phone ring tones would trigger seizers in class. Discouraged by fruitless efforts to cure her condition and ineffective medications, Gayle’s neurologist suggested surgery to remove the part of her brain involved in the seizures.

By scanning her brain during convulsions, surgeons determined the exact origin of Gayle’s epilepsy to be in the region of her brain behind her right ear. Following the removal of this section, Gayle’s seizures became nonexistent, and she reported no evident memory loss. Her successful surgery has brought hope to those suffering from all forms of epilepsy, and suggests the possibility of a permanent cure for the condition.

Swaminathan, N. (2008). Musicophobia: when your favorite song gives you seizures. Scientific American, Retrieved from

Wiki Entry #5 (Individual): Food Preferences Shaped by Multiple Factors
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With all the importance placed on food in western society, it’s a wonder that we don’t know more about why we gravitate toward certain foods, and yet are repulsed by others. Only recently have researchers begun delving into this intriguing issue. Their findings show personal food preferences to be more complex than we ever imagined. It seems that factors such as one’s upbringing, personality, and ethnicity all play a crucial role in determining favoured foods.

Many of our food preferences are hardwired in us through genetics. Early humans evolved to dislike bitter or sour tastes for the purpose of protecting themselves from consuming harmful substances, such as poisons. For a small percentage of people who are very sensitive to such tastes, bitter foods can be intolerable.

Others (about thirty-percent) are unable to detect these sour compounds, giving them the ability to stomach a wider range of unfamiliar fare. Unlike the typical person, these “adventurous gourmets” tend to share the need for constant stimulation. They are known as “sensation seekers”, and have a tendency to choose spicy foods over bland or sweet foods.

While personality tends to play a key role in determining one’s degree of gastronomic adventurousness, these food preferences actually begin their formation in utero. During pregnancy, the fetus can taste and smell its mother’s amniotic fluid, which is determined by the foods she consumes. A diet rich in a variety of foods will cause the fetus to become accustomed to a wide range of flavours and tastes, thus decreasing a child’s likeliness of becoming a “picky eater” after it is born.

Anthes, E. (2011). Accounting for taste. Psychology Today, Retrieved from

Wiki Entry #6 (Individual): The New Deadly Designer Drug

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Drugs. We hear the word and instantly think of a prohibited substance, something bought and sold in secret. Yet this proves not to be the case with the world’s newest designer drug, known by the slang name ‘bath salts’. In fact, this deadly hallucinogen is can be obtained legally across the United States, in convenience stores and gas stations. And unlike cigarettes and alcohol, anyone, at any age, can buy it.

What is in this drug that makes it so dangerous? ‘Bath salts’ consist mainly of a chemical known as Methylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MDPV. This chemical, a potentially lethal combination of C16H21NO3, is known to cause convulsions and hallucinations that can last for several days. But what’s most concerning is the rash actions that can result from consuming this drug. Psychotic episodes can quickly turn deadly, and can lead to substance-induced suicide. What’s more, the permanent effects of MDPV exposure are unknown, as the drug has never been tested on humans. In many cases, users are forced to enter long-term psychiatric facilities because of prolonged neurological side effects, all after just one use.

Harpo Productions. (Producer). (2011). A deadly new drug. [Web]. Retrieved from

Wiki Entry #7 (Individual): Nanoparticles
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To say that a nanoparticle is small would be an understatement—with dimensions of less than a billionth of a metre, it’s unlikely that we’ll be “seeing” these particles any time soon. Yet nanotechnology is all around us. It’s used in car paints to create scratch-resistant finishes, and improves the ability of tire adhesion on the road. Nanoparticles are also used by artists to fabricate the brilliant colors in stained glass windows, as well as lending their durability to sports equipment and textiles.

This technology is nothing new. Nanoparticles have been in existence for millions of years, making their way through the air, unbeknownst to humans, by way of smoke from forest fires and volcanic eruptions. But it’s only recently that we’ve been able to manipulate them for use in practical applications.

While the advantages of nanotechnology are great, it is likely that these particles could negatively affect our health. Exposure due to ingestion or inhalation may cause nanoparticles to penetrate body membranes. While the effects of exposure in humans is unknown as of yet, nanoparticle ingestion has been proven to cause brain damage in aquatic life. Findings such as these warrant stricter regulations in the nanotechnology field, for the protection of both humans and the environment.

Gonzalez, J. (2011, April). Nanoparticles affect health. Alive, (342), 115-119.

Wiki Entry #8 (Individual): Snake-Bots

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Open heart surgery involves opening up a patient’s heart and performing procedures on its inner structures. Because of its highly invasive nature, the operation can pose great risks to the patient’s survival, and involves significant recovery time. If only there was some way to fix these internal problems without employing such invasive techniques...

That’s where the Cardio Arm comes in. The robot, which resembles a foot long snake, has been engineered to venture into places too risky for humans to enter, such as the inner structures of the heart. Using a remote control joystick, surgeons can guide the snake’s movement through valves of the heart. The robot is also equipped with a small camera, enabling its user to see its route and choose course directions accordingly.

The Cardio Arm was first used in a diagnostic hear-mapping procedure in February of 2010, and yielded great results. The patient fully recovered within days, a feat that would have been impossible with conventional heart surgery. And it seems that the Cardio Arm may have more uses than engineers first thought; palaeontologists have expressed an interest in using the robot in archaeological digs, and perhaps uncovering the remains of ancient Egyptian tombs.

Lametti, D. (2010, November). Here come the snake-bots. Discover, 18.

Wiki Entry #9 (Individual): Internet ADD
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Researchers have finally proved it: the internet is distracting. Well, duh. In fact, as I’m typing this, I’m also currently on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Blogspot, and my personal email. (Okay, I’m not, but I could be if I wanted to.) Yet, it’s only recently been established that internet use actually rewires our brains, resulting in shorter attention spans and hindering absorption of the information we access.

This issue was brought to the public’s attention by UCLA professor Gary Small, who conducted a study of six people, three of which were veteran web surfers, and three of which had never used the internet before. At the beginning of the study, the two groups showed great differentiation in their brain activity; the regions of the brain responsible for problem-solving and decision making saw far more action in the seasoned internet users. To Small, this evidence suggested that the neural pathways of these three individuals had become better developed due to their internet use.

This theory was confirmed when Small conducted a second study, which evaluated both groups following a week of regular internet use by the formerly novice users. Scans of their brain activity now bore a strong resemblance to the brains of the three veteran web surfers.

However, “more brain activity is not necessarily better brain activity” (Carr 114). While our brains appear to be better developed, our ability to retain information from the internet pales in comparison to using traditional hardcopy sources. The findings of this study seem to conclude that the internet’s environment of “cursory reading...and superficial learning” is, in actuality, turning us into “shallower thinkers” (Carr 114). It seems that the use of internet-based sources may actually be detrimental to our learning, rather than beneficial.

Carr, N. (2010, June). Chaos theory. Wired, 18(6), 112-118.

Wiki Entry #10 (Individual): Porphyria and Vamparism

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In an effort to show up the great literary works of Stefanie Meyer (yawn), I decided to research the long-standing legend of vampirism. It seems that the symptoms of this condition can be attributed to the hereditary disorder known as porphyria. Porphyria describes a group of genetic blood diseases that cause an accumulation of tissue damaging porphyrins in the body. In this case, the particular porphyrin in question is a red blood cell pigment known as heme, whose over-production is caused by enzyme irregularities.

What’s shocking is that the symptoms of this disorder bear a striking resemblance to the afflictions of fictitious vampires. Sufferers of porphyria are noted as being sensitive to sunlight. They may also have receding gums and reddish teeth (a product of hyper-pigmentation), both of which give the appearance of bloodied fangs. Those with the disorder also experience excessive hair growth on the head, which leads to the iconic “widow’s peak” associated with vampirism. Lastly, the extremely rare congenital erythropoetic variety of porphyria causes skin disfigurement, leading to the development of superficial scaring and bruising.

Ironically, the only aspect of vampirism that does not correspond to porphyria symptoms is a thirst for blood. Though victims of the disorder do have a compromised blood supply, drinking blood from people or animals does not alleviate porphyria symptoms, nor has it ever been regarded as a cure.

Schwarcz, J. (2010). The myth of vampires and porphyria. Chemically Speaking, Retrieved from

Wiki Entry #11 (Individual): The Splinter

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Chrome, steel, and even bamboo. The usage of new and innovative building materials is on the rise, while humans’ traditional standby, wood, is destined to be obsolete....Or is it? Joe Harmon of North Carolina sure doesn’t think so. As part of a grad school project, Harmon has built a car made almost entirely of wood. Dubbed “the Splinter”, it’s a vehicle that can reach speeds of up to 320 kilometres per hour, while upholding 270 kilograms of pressure. Rest assured, this car is not your average seventies-era Woody.

By thinking innovatively, Harmon and his team were able to solve the problems associated with constructing a wooden car, namely the wood’s intolerance of heat and its lack of pliability. To combat the former, Harmon designed the car with reverse-flowing cylinder heads, as well as an external muffler. This enabled the exhaust to exit through the top of the engine and prevent the car from spontaneously combusting. Secondly, to shape the body panels of the car, the team hand-wove thin strips of wood together, just like you’d weave wool together to make pliable cloth. The result is a car with sleek lines and an amazingly smooth finish, not to mention an all-wood suspension.

While “nobody, not even Joe Harmon, thinks cars of the future are going to be made of wood”, it can’t be denied that the Splinter is a work of design genius (88).

Ingram, J. (2010). The supercar. Daily planet: the unlimited book of everyday science, Toronto (ON): Penguin Group.

Wiki Entry #12 (Individual): The Truth About Memories
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Recently, I was reading “Psychology Today” when I stumbled upon an article pertaining to a phenomenon known as “false memory”. The author of the article, through doing research on sexual abuse cases and conversing with victims of incest, became wrongly convinced that she herself had been sexual abused—by her own father.

When it comes to memories, it seems the power of suggestion can have disastrous effects on the human psyche. Cara Laney of Leichester University conducted a study to investigate false memories. In it, participants were told of a supposed childhood incident that was instrumental in their development, such as “the witnessing of a physical fight between [one’s] parents” (Hasel). Though subjects had never experienced such events, the fact that they were being given this false feedback increased their belief in its occurrence.

Maryanne Garry of the University of Wellington established supporting evidence of this phenomenon through her study of the misinformation effect. When subjects were given a drug that was supposedly cognitive-enhancing, they took greater consideration in distinguishing between real and fabricated events. This implies that “source monitoring decisions [are] the underlying mechanism to the misinformation effect”.

Humans tendency to embrace the power of suggestion proves detrimental to our ability to recollect certain occurrences, especially when under the influence of our emotions. Knowing that memories can be fabricated based on false premises can weaken our trust in the reliability of human testimonials, such as those of legal trials.

Hasel, L. (2007). Recent advances in false memory research. APS Observer, Retrieved from

Wiki Entry #13 (Individual): The Mystery of Tinnitus
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One of the oldest recorded medical conditions is tinnitus, a reported ringing or “phantom noise” in one’s ears. Since ancient times, people have made attempts to cure this condition using a wide variety of treatments. Some physicians reasoned that putting hot bread over the ears, “thus producing perspiration”, would cure the ringing. Others used more primitive methods, such as drilling holes in the victim’s skull, which they believed would free the “wind swirling around” inside the ear.

Tinnitus is caused by a multitude of factors, such as toxic drugs, loud noises, and whiplash, all of which disrupt the normal functioning of nerve hairs in the inner ear. Rather than working independently by mapping their own specific signals, these nerve hairs become hyper-sensitive, and respond to the frequencies received by their neighbours. This causes the brain’s neurons to become caught in a “self-sustaining loop”, and results in the constant internal noise reported by victims of tinnitus.

Only now are neuroscientists discovering that tinnitus is far more complicated than first perceived. It seems that the condition re-wires multiple areas of the brain, prompting its neurons to travel in more synchronized patterns than those without tinnitus. Researchers also found that the flow of signals originating in the front and back of the brain were stronger and more plentiful in tinnitus sufferers. Even regions of the brain responsible for “connecting sounds with memories, interpreting their meaning, [and] giving them emotional significance” are crucial for the full functioning of the condition. These highly-evolved regions send out further signals, which ultimately amplify tinnitus’ effects and cause even greater distress in its sufferers.

Zimmmer, C. (2010, October). The brain. Discover, 22-24.

Wiki Entry #14 (Individual): The Devastation of Coral Bleaching
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Corals depend on photosynthetic aglae called zooxanthellae to produce the nutrients they need in order to function. In exchange, the algae are given a habitat in which to live, making for a symbiotic relationship between these two organisms. However, certain environmental factors, namely, an increase in water temperature, can inhibit the zooxanthellaes’ photosynthetic activity. Without this means of producing energy, these pigment-rich algae are depleted. This causes the coral to lose both its nutrient source and its color. In extreme cases, lose of zooxanthellae can result in the death of the coral.

Over the past thirty years, the frequency of widespread coral bleaching has dramatically increased. Scientists believe global warming, and its effect on ocean temperatures, to be the cause. It is thought that the bleaching is the coral’s stress response to these unnatural conditions.

What is truly amazing is how determined these simple organisms are to survive, despite such adverse conditions. Through bleaching, coral can be repopulated with strains of algae that have a greater tolerance for high temperatures. These new coral inhabitants help the coral to regain its nutrient supply, as well as its brilliant pigmentation.

Buchheim, J. (1998). Coral reef bleaching. Retrieved from

Wiki Entry #15 (Individual): The Unsolved Mystery of the Anthrax Killer
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Bruce Ivins...looks pretty innocent, doesn't he...

It was a series of seemingly isolated incidents of anthrax poisoning that prompted a lengthy investigation by the FBI. After almost seven years, it was determined that the 2001 attacks, which were transmitted via a series of infected letters, were the work of Bruce Ivins, a anthrax researcher at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRID). This conclusion was reached through the efforts of four scientists: Hank Heine, Paul Keim, Pat Worsham, and Claire Fraser-Liggett.

The strain of anthrax found in the letters was particularly deadly, at a trillion spores per gram. While the bacteria wreaked havoc on victims’ lymph systems, its spores killed off macrophages found in their bodies, which significantly weakened their immune systems. By the time the attacks had subsided, an estimated 30 000 people in the United States had been exposed to the poison.

By developing “a DNA test that could tell one form of bacillus anthracis from another, the four aforementioned scientists were able to match the spores found in the infected letters with samples in Ivin’s lab (126). Fraser-Liggett was also able to sequence the entire anthrax genome, which helped the team to indentify the specific strain of bacteria used.

Due to the high concentration of anthrax spores, it was concluded that the letters were mailed by a highly qualified individual with extensive knowledge in the field of anthrax cultivation. This branded Ivins as the obvious perpetrator. Unfortunately, Ivins committed suicide just prior to his appearance in court, leaving many questions unanswered. Investigators remain unsure as to whether or not the scientist himself was the actual sender of the letters. It is highly possible that the real anthrax killer is still at large.

Shachtman, N. (2011, April). The strain. Wired, 19(4), 122-136.