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The Benefits of Travelling

Last year I had the absolute privilege to spend a year abroad through the go global program at UBC.  I studied in Leiden, The Netherlands and spent much of my time exploring and travelling around continental Europe.  While travelling, I always thought about what I was doing and how it would compare if I were to stay at home.  I always wondered what the real point of travelling or being abroad was.  Turns out I’m not the only one who has been thinking about this and there is a wealth of research to suggest the benefits travel can provide.

The first benefit that may surprise most is ones overall health.  Many studies have compared those who travel often with those who do not finding that well travelled individuals are in an overall better health condition.  For example, a study by Chun-Chun Chen and James Petrick reviewed past literature on the overall health benefits of travel and found there to be a lower risk of diseases such as heart attacks.  They also found that stress levels were lower among those who travel which can help reduce many other complications.  It is also interesting to note that these health benefits were observed to gradually diminish after returning from a trip.

Video: TEDx Talks

The benefits of travel do not stop at ones health and wellbeing it can also extend to peoples work lives and overall career success.  This may seem counter intuitive since travel is often viewed as the opposite of work but many studies show that time off results in a more productive work ethic.  Lots of evidence points to the need to relax and clear your mind to be able to produce better work.  This is applied to many work offices at Google. Other studies also point to a correlation between university degree completion and higher incomes with those who travel more.

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Video: BBC

The last point I want to make is actually one I realized myself while being abroad.  I think it is one of the more important points.  Through my experiences in different countries and from simply reading the news its not hard to notice the many conflicts that exist between people around the world.  I noticed that those who remain isolated and out of touch from other countries and cultures have more negative thoughts and stereotypes towards others which often results in meaningless conflicts with big consequences.  Travel provides people with a real experience to which they can base their beliefs on and the ability to realize that we are all in the world together.  This can ultimately overcome many ideological differences and create a better understanding of one another pushing towards a more peaceful and meaningful population.

Where did that tickle come from?

Newborn baby. Credit: Wikipedia

Newborn baby. Credit: Wikipedia

Babies are a tiny package of wonderful, but their minds are very mysterious. What do they think, and how do they perceive the outside world? Even if they had the chance to explain this, how could they with a brain that completely lacks vocabulary? Are babies’ perceptions like ours?

So many questions asked about these mysterious minds, and a recent paper published October 19 2015, offers some insight. Andrew Bremner of Goldsmiths, University of London and his colleagues observed tickling responses in infants and adults, the study was published in the Current Biology journal.

The research focused on 4-month-old babies, 6-month-old babies and adults and their reactions to remote controlled tickling sensations. During the study, the legs or arms are crossed and their foot or hand is tickled. How the individual responded was quite interesting. So, the left hand (now crossed over to the right side) gets tickled, they would see the right side of the body get tickled, but feel it on their left hand. The mismatch between sight and touch can interfere when correctly saying which hand was touched. The same method was used for the feet.

Newborn baby . Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Newborn baby. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, I could not find any video footage but the paper includes detailed figures and diagrams.

The researchers wondered if the same responses would come from infants with little visual experience. It turns out that 6-month old babies and adults were both fooled by the cross-over, but 4-month-old babies didn’t fall for the trick. With only a 2-month gap, the younger babies were more in tuned with their self and oblivious to the outside world.

Bremner suggests that young babies don’t link their physical body to the outside world, this is learned during the 2 month period.  Young babies live in a very different world; one where visual objects are not necessarily connected to the physical being.

As babies grow and learn, they start making these connections and become more alike. They gain knowledge and lose the mysteriousness they were born with. Wouldn’t it be amazing to fully understand what that tiny island is like living on? Maybe one day.

Danielle Marcotte

Sniffing out Parkinson’s

Even if you have not been personally affected by Parkinson’s, this terrible disease affects all Canadians. Parkinson’s is the second most common neurodegenerative disease (after Alzheimer’s disease), affecting voluntary movement and leading to common symptoms of tremor, slowed movements, and muscle rigidity. Nearly 100,000 Canadians have Parkinson’s and no cure. The economic burden of Parkinson’s in Canada is huge. The total cost of Parkinson’s is estimated to be $558.1 million, equating to an average cost per capita in Canada for the disease to be $23/year.

The onset of Parkinson’s may not be apparent at first, leading to a lengthy diagnosis, relying on the process developed by Dr. James Parkinson in 1817. Diagnosis depends on a complete neurological examination to confirm two out of the three common symptoms and to rule out any similar disorders. No tests, blood or diagnostic, exist to definitively confirm the disease. However, one woman has recently astounded researchers by her ability to detect the disease with shocking accuracy – through her sense of smell.

Joy Milne with her late husband. Credit: CBC News

Joy Milne with her late husband.
Credit: CBC News

Joy Milne of Perth, Scotland, noticed her husband’s scent changed six years before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. She describes it as a distinct, musky smell, but didn’t make the connection between the smell and the disease until she joined a charity for Parkinson’s and encountered other Parkinson’s patients emitting the same distinct smell. Intrigued, researchers at Edinburgh University tested her claim by subjecting her to a blind “smell” test. Researchers gathered six healthy people and six who were diagnosed with Parkinson’s and asked them to wear a t-shirt for a day, and collected the t-shirts for Joy to smell. Joy’s accuracy was remarkable, scoring 11 out of 12. However, she was adamant that one of the healthy subjects had Parkinson’s. Eight months later, she was proved correct – the subject informed researchers that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, meaning Joy’s accuracy was actually 100%.

Scientists are thrilled by this phenomenon, and are trying to use Joy’s ability to develop a definitive test for diagnosing Parkinson’s. They believe that the disease causes a change in the skin of Parkinson’s patients early on, causing the distinct odour detected by Joy. A simple test, such as swabbing a subject’s skin to detect the change, would allow for much faster diagnosis and much earlier treatment. While this discovery may have been accidental, it definitely has many implications and consequences in the way this disease is treated.

– Peggy Hung

Uncharted territory: how big is the universe?

How far is too far? On groggy Sunday mornings, the gym may seem “too far”, while for two long-distance lovers separated by circumstances, they are always “close enough”. For some, distance is relative to our motivation. Space, however, does not care what you think.

Voyager 1. Image from NASA.

It’s been over 35 years since NASA’s launch of Voyager 1, and since then, it has travelled almost 20 trillion kilometers from home. You might think that that’s far, but in the grand scheme of the universe where distances are measured with respect to light, it has travelled a mere 18 light-hours. To put that into perspective, the nearest star to our Sun, Proxima Centauri, is about 4.24 light-years away.

So how big is the universe then?

Before we address that, we need to know how old the universe is. Based on measurements of the cosmic microwave background, which is basically leftover radiation from the Big Bang, astronomers are confident that the universe is about 13.8 billion years old. Since Distance = Velocity × Time and nothing can travel faster than light (?), the universe must have a radius of 13.8 billion light-years, right? Wrong!

The Doppler effect on the pink sound waves. Image from user Charly Whisky from Wikipedia.

The short answer to the size of the universe is that it is at least 93 billion light-years in diameter. The reason that the universe is larger expected is because the universe is expanding. This can be determined by the apparent redshift of distant stars due to the Doppler Effect. So an object emitting light from 13.8 light-years away would have moved to a position much farther away.

One thing to note, is that this measurement is only what we can observe.  The observable universe from another planet billions of light-years away is likely different from our reference frame of the Earth. Is the universe infinite? Perhaps. But for now, we can appreciate that even though our paradigm of the universe is limited, there is still much to explore; we have observed billions of galaxies, and in each are billions of stars, each hosting their own worlds much like ours. Despite the uncertainty in the true size of the universe, we know that space is vast. As the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh had once said, “for my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”

If you have 45 minutes to spend exploring part of our Solar System, check out Alphonse Swinehart’s video below, where you travel from the Sun to Jupiter at the speed of a photon! Do yourself a favour and enjoy the video in full screen mode.

– Trevor Tsang


The Magnus Effect: From Football to Flight

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In 1997 during a football match between Brazil and France a Brazilian player named Roberto Carlos scored an “impossible goal”. With no direct line to the goal it seemed unreasonable for him to even attempt for goal 35 meters away, yet with with a good run up and calculated strike he sent the ball flying towards out of bounds, passed the free-kick wall, before curving back into the net, giving brazil the lead. This shot made the 21-year-old player a household name in the sport and left spectators amazed. It seems to defy Newton’s first law of motion, that states: “an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” The ball’s change in direction meant that must have been some force acting upon the ball causing it to curve back on target. This phenomenon is called the Magnus Effect, named after Heinrich Gustav Magnus who described it in 1852, although it was first documented 200 years earlier by Isaac Newton when playing tennis at Cambridge College.

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As the ball moves and spins through the air one side is spinning with the direction of air flow and the other against. The side where air moves opposing the direction of spin causes high pressure. The area where air is moving in the same direction as its spin, the deflected air creates an area of lower pressure. The makes the ball act as a wing as is moves from an area of high pressure to an area of lower pressure, which causes the ball to move in the direction of spin, curving into the goal.

The Magnus Effect affects all rotating balls or cylinders flying through the air, making it an important aspect in ball sports like football, tennis and golf. Nevertheless the Magnus Effect has found several industrial applications in the past making ships sail without sails and planes fly without wings. The image below is a sail boat without sails, instead is has large spinning cylinder called ‘Flettner Rotors’ that deflect cross winds, using the Magnus Effect, to propel the ship forward. Even nowadays there are hybrid ships with flettener rotors in decrease diesel consumption improving efficiency.

Flettner Rotor Sail Ship

Flettner Rotor Sail Ship

This idea took to the skies in the early 20th century. The image below is that of a wingless plane, where its wings have been replaced with spinning cylinder. Using the Magnus Effect the cylinders generate more lift than traditional wings, however they do generate a lot more drag making them impractical for aviation. Nowadays the only planes utilizing flettner rotors are small remote controlled model planes.

Flettner Rotor PLane

Flettner Rotor PLane

From the football field to the seas, understanding  the Magnus Effect gives for spectacular sport and ingenious design, amazing spectators and increasing efficiency.

Is It Safe to Take Expired Medications?

Nowadays, abundance of over the counter drugs has led to people’s self-medication. Therefore, many of us have lots of unused drugs at home that usually get expired and we are not sure if it is still safe to take them after their expiration date.

By Jaroslav A. Polák

According to a study done by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on expired drugs of military, it was found that 90% of expired drugs were still potent and harmless after 15 years. Therefore the expiration date on drugs does not actually mean anything. Mr. Flaherty, a pharmacist at the FDA, believes that the expiration date of drugs is mostly for marketing purposes because the drug manufacturers want to maximize the profits by having the drugs restocked in shelves at shorter time intervals. You may think that the focus of the research was on drugs used in wars and this does not mean the regular drugs usually used by people are effective after their expiration date. However, Joel Davis, a former FDA expiration-date compliance chief, states that most drugs can last as long as the drugs tested in the research if they are stored under optimal conditions.

By Israel Defense Forces

Furthermore, FDA claims that keeping expired and unused medications at home may pose a threat to children or older people. Children may find the stockpile of unused drugs and take them while older people may mix up all of their medication and take the wrong one. US Drug Enforcement Administration also reports that keeping old medications at home increases the possibility of prescription drug abuse. Therefore, it is very important to dispose of old and unused medications. It is not a good idea to get rid of the old medications by flushing them down the toilet or throwing them in the trash because the medications would pollute our environment. In order to dispose of our unused drugs properly, we should take them to our local pharmacy or anywhere that take-back programs are offered. In the following video, US president, Barack Obama, talks about the importance of “National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day” and how prescription drug abuse can cause heroin addiction.

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-Amir Jafarvand

The Benefits of Fad Diets: The Ketogenic Diet

Dieting is one of the hottest topics of the 21st Century, as many different diet plans surface the internet each day. According to the summary by Medical News Today, the most talked about diets include the Atkins Diet,  Zone Diet, Vegetarian Diet, Vegan Diet, Weight Watchers Diet, South Beach Diet, Raw Food Diet, and Mediterranean Diet. Different types of diets are chosen depending on the lifestyle people aim for. However, there is one type of diet that has been raved about in the medical field. The Ketogenic Diet, first developed in the 1920’s to treat epilepsy, has now become a recommended diet for tumor patients.

The Ketogenic Diet and a normal diet differ in the amount of macronutrients eaten. In a normal diet, people eat large amounts of carbohydrates, which is then broken down into glucose by insulin. These glucose molecules are used by cells as an energy source. However, when glucose sources become depleted, normal cells can gain energy through other sources like stored fats. Tumor cells cannot find any other way to gain energy and heavily rely on glucose as the only energy source. Therefore, by restricting the intake level of carbohydrates, the glucose levels become depleted and tumor cells die from a lack of energy source.


Structures of glucose and carbohydrates. Credit: Blend Space

The Ketogenic Diet works by restricting the intake of carbohydrates to the lowest amount while increasing the intake of fats and proteins to maintain sufficient energy levels.


Credit: Meta Ketosis

The diet typically consists of high fat consumption (70-75% of total calories), moderate protein consumption (20-25% of total calories), and low carbohydrate consumption (5-10% of total calories).


More bacon please! Credit: Vanity Buzz

The high fat consumption compensates for the low carbohydrate intake. Thus, normal cells begin to breakdown fats for energy. The moderate protein consumption controls the amount of insulin, which further prevents the breakdown of glucose. In addition, high insulin levels restrict ketosis from occurring.

As humans’ main source of fuel, diets play an important role in every individual’s health. As healthy individuals we should follow a regular diet instead of pursuing fad diets. However, special diet plans such as the Atkins Diet is still useful in the medical field for improving the health of tumor patients, and should not be easily overlooked. If you’re interested, please take a look at this video to see how this man beat cancer with the Ketogenic Diet:

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Stephanie Lam