Category Archives: Science Communication

Products marketed as “Organic” vs “Synthetic”… What is truly better for your skin?

When we hear the words “natural”, “organic” and “green” we automatically believe this means something is good for us because it comes from nature, compared to a product that is advertised as “synthetic” or containing “chemical” ingredients. But the truth is, not all products advertised as natural are necessarily good for you, and not all synthetic and chemical products are bad for you… especially when it comes to talking about skincare!

Face Mask Application Source: Flickr Commons


What’s the difference?

One of the main differences between products advertised as “organic” and “synthetic” is that many of the ingredients that are made up from organic molecules in these products are much bigger due to the structure of the molecule and they tend to be less refined. This can be bad because the ingredients then sit on top of your skin and can cause irritation. Whereas in synthetic ingredients, the molecules tend to be smaller and more refined so they can easily absorb into your skin. However, the synthetic products that are more easily absorbed into your skin are only any better than the organic products if they don’t irritate your own skin, but this can vary from person to person. Still, the synthetic ingredients overall have less of a chance of irritating your skin because it can absorb.

In order to decide what kind of products are good or bad for your skin regardless of what they are advertised as, you should always look at the ingredients list to discover the truth of what is in these products. For example, a lot of “organic” skin care products contain essential oils, which may be pleasant to smell but it can actually really irritate your skin as with many fragrances in skin care- these molecules are quite large as well.

Aloe Plant, a common ingredient found in Skincare products Source: Flickr Commons

A recent study was done investigating two forms of sunscreen – a chemical based synthetic sunscreen and an organic physical block. Researchers compared the two and found that the chemical sunscreen absorbed better into skin and people experienced less irritation compared to the organic physical block sunscreen where dermatitis (inflammation of the skin) was common.


So what should you use?

It’s true that some natural and organic skincare products can be harmful for your skin especially if you’re not aware of what ingredients are contained in the product, but the same is true for synthetic. I believe that synthetic products are a safer option for your skin due to the easy absorption. At the end of the day regardless of what the product is marketed as I will always be reading the ingredient list to determine what products are best for my skin and I suggest you do the same as well!

Ingredients List for skincare product Source: Flickr Commons


If you’re curious as to what are some examples of common irritants are in skincare, check out this blog post by skin care specialist and author Paula Beguon.

-Morgan Strohan

Spicy foods: Do we eat them because we like the way they taste?

Trick question. While there are five different classes of taste, spicy isn’t one of them. Sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami are the five basic qualities that stimulate taste receptors on our tongue and all other taste sensations arise from the different combinations. So what about spicy?

(Source: Flickr Commons)

Spicy is not a taste

We experience the sensation of spiciness not because it’s a taste but because it’s pain-inducing. Spicy foods make you feel as though your mouth is on fire even though there is no real heat in spices. The searing pain occurs because of a chemical called capsaicin present in spicy foods that activate nociceptors (pain receptors) called TRPV1 on the tongue.

Interestingly, the description of heat is more accurate than most people realize. TRPV1 normally respond to heat to alert the body for heat damage, thereby warning us when we consume literally hot drinks or foods. They respond to extreme temperatures, intense mechanical stimulation, as well as certain chemicals like capsaicin.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons (modified))

So why do we eat spicy foods?

Some of our taste preferences are innate, such as our tendencies to crave sweet and salty foods and avoid bitter and sour foods. We’re inclined to consume sugar and salt because they’re biologically useful to us and we have an aversion towards concentrated bitter and sour foods because they can be poisonous or can damage our body tissues. When it comes to spicy foods, it seems that our preferences depend on social influences.

Some people dread the runny-nosed, sweaty-faced experience while others indulge in the burn. In places like India and South America, hot peppers are an integral part of their culture and is often incorporated in daily cuisine. For example, Mexican children are introduced to chili early on through spicy candies, and by the time they’re 5-6 years old, they eat chili peppers on their own accord.

Internationally famous spicy instant noodle from Korea. The cartoon says “스트레스 해소에 직빵이닭”, which means it’ll relieve your stress. (Source: my picture)

In Korea, it’s part of their culture to eat spicy foods in an attempt to relieve stress. The rationale? The pain of eating scorchingly spicy foods distracts someone from their anxieties. Unsurprisingly, a study at the Pusan National University found that Koreans who love spicy food are more prone to stress.

In the Western world, the interest in spicy foods as demonstrated by the fire noodle challenge, Carolina Reaper challenge, etc. may have more to do with masochism than an appreciation of a burn that accompanies a meal. The love for spicy food could be an indicator of personality; a study at the University of Pennsylvania found a relationship between chili-liking and thrill/sensation-seeking in Americans.


Author: Olivia Wong


First plant to grow on the Moon ever!

Do you think we can one day sustain life outside of Earth? Perhaps one day in the future, but when will that be? That day may be sooner than you think!

The first time biological matter to  sprout and grow on the moon has been achieved! On January 2nd 2019, China’s Chang’e-4 lunar probe landed on the far side of the moon where no human or robot has ever ventured before.  It carried a “lunar biosphere” experiment containing plant seeds and silkworm eggs.  The plan is that the plants provide oxygen for the silkworms, and in turn, the silkworms will nurture the plants with its waste and released carbon dioxide. There are potato, rock-cress and cotton seeds among the seeds carried on board.  The “biosphere” experiment is all contained inside a 0.8 liter aluminum alloy cylinder weighing in around three kilograms and includes nutrients, water and dirt.  Sunlight is filtered into the container through a tube with small cameras set up inside. The cameras watch the environment and relay the footage back to Earth through a complicated relay system. The accomplishments so far show great progress towards sustaining life on the moon.

A picture of Yutu-2 taken by the Chang’e-4 lunar probe. Source: China National Space Administration (CNSA)

The Far Side of the Moon

The moon’s rotation speed is in sync with Earth’s orbit.  This results in the moon rotating on its axis and also orbiting the Earth every 28 days.  The same face of the moon always faces Earth, and the side we can’t see from the planet’s surface is considered the far side.

source: YouTube
Why is it hard to land on the far side of the moon?

To put it bluntly, the moon blocks radio contact to Earth and makes it very difficult to maintain a communication link. To overcome this issue, in May 2018, CNSA launched a satellite Queqiao into orbit around “L2.” L2 is a point beyond the moon where the gravity of the moon and Earth cancel out the centripetal force of an object stationed there. This satellite helps bridge the gap between the Chang”e-4’s lander and mission control.

China has sprouted plants on the moon!

A picture taken on January 12th 2019 of the cotton seeds growing after the excitement of them sprouting a few days prior. Source: Chongqing University.

Out of all the germinated seeds (rapeseed, potato seed, cotton seeds), the cotton seeds were the first to sprout.  This amazing breakthrough could be the start to a new era and displays great progress towards a system where food ( such as potatoes), clothing (from the cotton), and oil (from rapeseed) can be sustained for space explorers.  Being able to grow plants on any celestial body outside of Earth will be necessary for any future human settlements outside of Earth.

In the future, if things go as planned, China will launch Chang’e-5 sample-return mission later this year. Let’s all look forward to the future progress together! Keep an eye out!

-Peter Le

Coming Out Clean with Anti-Wrinkle Creams

Cosmetic companies have been selling anti-wrinkle or anti-aging facial creams for a while. They often advertise that by using their products, users will see an increase in hydration, reduction in facial lines, and look up to ten years younger after one month of usage. Basically, these companies are advertising that they’ve pretty much developed the fountain of youth in a jar.

Before we discuss whether anti-wrinkle creams work, let’s talk about the physiology of our skin!

Skin Layers (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The skin is the largest external organ on our body and is comprised of three layers: epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis. The epidermis is the outermost layer that is exposed to the environment, and the hypodermis is the innermost layer that is mainly made of fat. The dermis is in the middle and is the layer that contains fibroblasts, which are specialized cells that secretes a chemical compound known as collagen. Collagen is in charge of giving our skin it’s tensile strength and its overall structure.

Wrinkles are caused by external factors like the sun’s UV (ultra-violet) rays, which in turn can also damage fibroblast cells. However, a study found that fibroblast cells also lose their ability to secrete collagen as it ages. Since the wrinkles within the skin are caused by fibroblast cells losing their ability to produce collagen, the question still hangs in the air: do anti-wrinkle creams work?

Yes, and no. Anti-wrinkle facial creams contain ingredients like hyaluronic acid, retinoids, vitamin-C, etc. Hyaluronic acid is a chemical compound that helps your skin retain its moisture. Retinoids are another kind of chemical compound that functions like hyaluronic acid, except it also stimulates the production of collagen and promotes the shedding of old skin cells. Vitamin-C helps with preventing any further damage to the internal components of skin cells. As mentioned before, wrinkles are caused by a decrease in production of collagen by the fibroblast cells in the dermis layer, and these ingredients aren’t a permanent fix to these cells. At best, some of these ingredients can protect our skin from UV damage, or reduce the look of fine lines by adding extra moisture to give the appearance of a fuller look. So anti-wrinkle facial creams can work in a sense that it provides a bit of protection from external factors and a temporary fix.  However, it’s not permanent and probably won’t make you look ten years younger.

In all honesty, the best “anti-wrinkle cream” anyone can use is sunscreen. Applying sunscreen to the skin on your body can prevent the development of skin cancer and protect the fibroblast cells within your skin from prematurely stopping the collagen production.

Link to specific study:


Why Is The Sky Blue?

Imagine sitting outside on the patio on a nice clear day. You look up towards the beautiful sky and see that it is…. As green as grass? As you look at the sky with confusion, your alarm clock rings, prompting you to wake up. The sky’s colour has always been something you never gave much thought to. After all, it’s just universally accepted that it’s blue. But after dreaming of such a weird sky… Have you stopped to wonder why the sky giving off the tint that it does?

A classic view of the sky (Source:

Doesn’t the Sky Just Reflect the Colour of the Ocean?

Actually no. Firstly, the sky is lit up by the sun, which emits white light. However, white light is not actually white in quality, but rather composed of all colours in the visible spectrum. In the day time, light from the illuminated sky reaches you at different distances depending on the position of the sun. When the sun is closest to us – directly overhead – it travels the shortest amount of distance, so it appears white. Light at any other point has travelled a longer distance, comparatively, through the atmosphere to reach our eyes. In its journey it has encountered gas particles in the atmosphere, which are smaller than the wavelengths of visible light. As it passes through the molecules the wavelengths are redirected, or scattered, in different directions. As one of the shortest wavelengths, blue light is scattered in high frequency by these small particles. The greater the distance travelled, the more the blue light is being scattered in comparison to the other colours. Thus, it reaches us the most and ends up being the colour that we see. Another example of this is at the horizon, where the sky may appear whiter because light there has travelled the greatest distance to reach us. Much of the blue light has been scattered away and the mixing of the other scattered colours is what we perceive.

The visible spectrum (Source:

Why Not Violet?

Hold on though… You may think, “isn’t violet light shorter than blue? Why don’t we see violet instead?”. You’re right, violet is shorter than blue. However, a lot of these violet wavelengths scatter higher up in the atmosphere and are absorbed as UV light.  Moreover, our eyes naturally contain three types of cones – red, green, and blue. The cones mainly detect these three types of light and as a result our eyes favour blue light over violet light, forcing us to see blue rather than violet.

The colour of the sky is an often overlooked topic that nobody thinks about, other than in the occasional pretty photos. However, we should consider ourselves very lucky because the exact composition of our atmosphere allows the sky to be blue. This is which is why in places such as the moon, which lacks an atmosphere, the sky is not blue at all.

A Quick Video Summary of Why The Sky is Blue

A podcast explaining why the sky is blue. (Source:

Justin Wong

A Brief Analysis on the number of live births in Canada

Over the past decades, Canada has been converting from a high-fertility society to a low-fertility society continuously. While the number of kids in a family keeps decreasing, the moms are getting more and more aged.

The fertility rate in Canada has remarkably decreased over decades.
Source: Statistics Canada


Well, how much impact does this reduction have on the population in Canada? Let’s take a look at the data of live births in Canada over a recent dozen years.

With the development of Canadian society, birth rate, birth weight and their relations to genders are affected by a variety of factors, such as lifestyles, environment, financial conditions and some biological reasons.

The dataset ‘Live births, by birth weight and sex, Canada, provinces and territories’ contains number and percentage of live births sorted by birth weight, sex and areas in Canada through 2000 to 2014,  accessible via Open Government Portal, Government of Canada.


According to a scatterplot of the overall trend of birth rate in Canada, 2000-2014, there is a consistent increase during the period of 2002 to 2008, and the number of birth increases rapidly from 2005 to 2009. Even though there are some fluctuations in these years, the overall trend is going up.

The amount of birth in Canada has soared over the 14 years.

From the further analyses conducted with the dataset, a more detailed idea of birth amount and birth weight in Canada in recent decade has arose. From 2000 to 2014, the overall amount of live births obviously increased by 4746.92 per year, but it fluctuated between 2000 to 2004 and 2008 to 2014. The period when the birth rate rapidly increased is from 2004 to 2007.

Fortunately, according to the above analysis, the number of live births in Canada over the period 2004 – 2007 was not influenced as badly as it looks at the first place. Even though factors that could negatively affect the population in Canada would always go with the development of the country, it can still be seen that the amount of newborn babies remains quite satisfactory from year to year.


Siqi Tao

If Focusing Was Just This Easy

We’ve all been there: either we’ve procrastinated by leaving all of our studying to the last day or, we’ve forgotten to do a paper until the night before. This is often where study drugs are introduced.

The Basic Facts

Adderall is a study drug, also known as a smart drug that is often prescribed to individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However, like many other prescription drugs, people have been using Adderall for purposes such as recreation and studying. As reported by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, roughly 6.4 percent of college students have been found to use Adderall for recreational purposes. Particularly, most students think that Adderall will strengthen their ability to study. Although an Adderall prescription must be obtained from a doctor, people still have access to this drug from other sources.  A 2016 Recovery Brands survey showed more than 60% of individuals aged 18-28 get their hands on doctor-prescribed Adderall through family, classmates and street dealers.

How It Works

This drug works by increasing the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine in a user’s brain. Dopamine, also known as the pleasure centre of the brain, is responsible for our fight-or-flight response which controls focus, clarity and alertness. Norepinephrine helps to make all of these behaviours last longer. Combined, these two neurotransmitters allow the user to stay more focused, be more alert, pull all-nighters and be more efficient while studying.

The Big Picture

Nonetheless, the side effects of taking Adderall can be very detrimental to users. Some symptoms include irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure, nausea and loss of appetite. There has been a recent study showing correlation between this study drug and long term memory loss. Additionally, just like with any other drug, there is potential to become addicted to Adderall. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Schedule II list of substances, Adderall is classified as a drug with a high potential for abuse that can lead to physical and psychological dependence.

Overall, study drugs may help you stay awake in order to cram information before an exam, but are the “benefits” worth the negative effects? Definitely no.

Basima Spindari

Still worry about your procrastination? Maybe it’s not your fault!

Have you ever submitted an essay the minute before it was due, heart pounding and fingers flying across the keyboard?  Have you ever try to focus on your work but you can’t hold yourself to take a look of your cell phone, play with your pencils or even just lay on the bed doing nothing. After hours or days struggling, you give up and finish your work roughly and you say alright, my procrastination is killing me.



What if I tell you it’s not your fault and not even “procrastination” ‘s fault. Scientist already identified that two parts of brain may explain why people procrastinate so much. Generally, people with poor action control will result in procrastination.  However, a study done in few month shows that people with poor control over their actions have a larger amygdala. The amygdala can warns people about their negative effects actions. What’s more, the study found out that people with poor action control, were also suffering from  less pronounced connection between the amygdala and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC).

In this video, Science in YouTube will explain how the ACC play the role in emotion.


The video can help you to have a clear idea about how ACC work to procrastinator and  non-procrastinator brains .You can also  view the physiological differences in procrastinator brains vs. non-procrastinator brains by the pictures below.“procrastinator vs. non-prostinator brains”的图片搜索结果



“procrastinator vs. non-prostinator brains”的图片搜索结果


Research study on ACC and procrastination

The scientists — bio psychologists at Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany studied how ACC different effects people. Scientist scanned 264 people’s brain through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). And then  looked at the volume of specific regions in the brain. After that they figured how the regions connect to each other. The participants were asked to fill in a survey about their ability to control their actions and how if they procrastination in daily life. Most of them were university students with no neurological disorders. The result of the study is that ” people can’t control their actions successfully if the connection between the amygdala and the dorsal ACC is impaired.”

If you are still regret about wasting time and feel guilty about  procrastination. Don’t be so said, it’s not all your fault! Your given body somehow makes you can’t focus on the work and delay. Scientifically make plans will be more helpful than blaming yourself!