Community and Science: Bringing them together

Happy Friday! Welcome everyone. I hope you had a great week! I know I sure did. This week, it was all about the community and working with others. Today I want to talk about someone that has a great contribute to our community on both the science level and education level. This great lady happens to be my roommate. I’ve known Amelia, also known Meels, since my freshmen year of college. We both share the passion of becoming a teacher and aspiring students to be the best they can be. And coincidentally, we both go to Warner! It’s a perfect combo, and she wants to teacher math (part of STEM!) which is why I think she would be an amazing contribution to our community.  As a recent Wells College graduate and future math teacher, she knows how to give back to the community and educate others with her knowledge of mathematics. Surprisingly, she enjoys science as well, even though the only science courses she has taken in college were physics. I asked Meels how she would feel if we, the science community opened our arms to her to join our community, and her eyes instantly lit up. “I would definitely join forces with you guys. Together, we could do amazing things and educate so many people about what we know and why it is important”.

 

Summer Camp and Science!

Summer is the time for students to have a little break from the stress of school, sitting in a classroom all day and enjoy the outdoors. Many fortunate children get to attend their annual summer camp every summer. Whether it is a general summer camp, or a specific summer camp like sleep away, soccer camp, etc, it is something that children look forward to almost every summer. So how can we tie summer camp and science together? Yes, I’m sure their are summer camps just for science, but how do we make it so children feel like they are having fun and not doing school work, and why is this so important for children in the summer?

Although I’ve never attended an actual summer camp (besides like, cheerleading camp is 2nd grade), working at a summer camp made me realize HOW MUCH FUN IT IS!! Below are some pictures of me as a lifeguard with not only my kids, but with my coworkers as well.

  

Camp not only brings campers together, but it creates a strong bond between campers and the staff. And as a staff member, I realize how much of an impact I have on these children. Personally, I feel like it is my job to educate these children on not only swim, but science and life as well. And for me, I want to educate them about science without them knowing it. Some things I do is when I teach them how to float, I try to involve physics into it. When I talk about the chlorine, I talk about the chlorine levels and how it can affect the water. Somehow I try to relate science into anything i’m teaching, even though its only swim lessons. These next few weeks my cohorts and I will be conducting our own science camp and I could not be more excited. Not only am I excited to teach them about science, but I’m excited to learn about these children and create a bond with them that I know they will take with them forever. Camp is more about teaching them to overcome their feels and educating them without them knowing it. Camp is about love and supporting every child in any way possible. I also keep in mind the children who have limitations that prevent them from being able to attend camp. And because of that, I always think about how I can make camp available for those children in the future. I think every child deserves to go to summer camp, or at least have the experience of making a strong bond with other children and adults 🙂

The science behind opioid addiction: what you know and don’t know.

Hey everyone! TGIF! I’m sure most of you are ready for the weekend (with the amazing weather ahead!). Today my blog is focusing on the science behind addiction. Why am I focusing on the touching subject of addiction? Well, this week I came across an article, titled 22 opioid overdoses, 1 fatality in 48 hours a cause for concern, police say that was presented on newsday.com which you can read for yourself here. If you choose not look at the article, it provides an update on the number of opioid overdoses (specifically heroin, fentanyl, and prescription drugs) in Suffolk County, New York (Long Island). Personally, I was heart broken because this is the county I grew up in, and I have read way too many articles about opioid overdoses. Ask yourself how many articles you have read online, on Facebook, and have watched on the news where there is a story related to opioid addiction or overdose. ONE. TOO. MANY! Now ask yourself this, how many people do you know that have lost someone to opioid addiction? How about you personally? Do you feel heartbroken just thinking about how many people are affected by opioid addiction? Because I do. Unfortunately, there are people who do not see the problem, or feel people who have an opioid addiction do not need or really, deserve help. But that’s not the case at all. People with opioid addiction need help and deserve it. But how many of you actually know what opioid addiction does to the brain? This is what I want to focus on today, and maybe make you think about what you can do for those who need help.

To start, most of us have taken a prescribed medication, right? Prescribed medications are also known as prescription opioids, and they are used for the treatment of any kind of pain (including cancer!). Although prescription opioids are among the most effective medications for pain, they are also linked with the illicit use of opioids in the United States (Niikura, et al, 2014). But how do prescription opioids reduce pain? To reduce pain, opioid receptors send signals reaching the brain. Wait, we have opioids receptors!? Yup! Believe it or not, our brain has 4! The 3 most known are Mu, kappa, and delta. The 4th receptor is  like-1 (ORL1), but we do not see it as much as the other 3. So which receptor do we see used the most? That would be the Mu receptor. It is the most commonly used opioid receptor for pain management because it is not only the most effective pain reliever, but it is also the most efficient of the mood enhancers (woah). The cool part of this receptor is that it causes activation of ventral dopamine reward pathways (big words) that controls the feeling of pleasure (AKA happiness!). These receptors are expressed in the medulla locus coeruleus and periaqueductal gray area (more big words), which you can see in the picture below. (In case you didn’t know where those are, which I didn’t, so you’re fine!)

Still reading? If so, stick with me!! It is so interesting. Anyways, although an opioids purpose is to relieve pain, they can activate biochemical brain processes in the absence of significant pain, which can motivate repeated use of the drug simply for pleasure. Repeated exposure to escalating dosages of opioids alters the brain so that it functions more or less normally when the drugs are present and abnormally when they are not (Kosten & George, 2002). In more simple terms, this is when you start to build a tolerance for the opioid. Without you taking it as much as you are, your body starts to act up because it cannot function “right” without the prescribed opioid. Now, when you start to become dependent to such opioid, you start to see changes in the locus ceruleus (I will refer it as LC for now on). In the LC, neurons produce a chemical called noradrenaline, that is distributed to the other parts of the brain where it stimulates wakefulness, breathing, alertness, etc. When you start to use opioids excessively, the LC neurons increase their level of activity, however release a normal amount of noradrenaline. PLOT TWIST: when opioids are not present to control the level of activity, the neurons release excessive amounts of noradrenaline. This triggers symptoms such as muscle cramps, jitters, anxiety and diarrhea (Kosten & George, 2002). These are the signs you will see in people who are opioid dependent. However, they are not addicted quite yet. At this point, if they get help, they can come back from the dependency. It is when you go beyond the point of dependency, AKA addiction, where it is the toughest to come back from. And for those who didn’t know, there is a difference between addiction and dependency. Dependency of an opioid is when an individual starts to develop a physical dependence, when your body had adapted to the use of the drug in which a higher dosage is needed to achieve the same level of response achieved initially (for example, you keep getting a headache because you built a tolerance). When a person starts to become dependent on a drug, the person starts to show symptoms of tolerance and withdrawal (like I said before, muscle cramps, jitters, etc). Addiction however, can be defined as the compulsive use of opioids for non-medical reasons (for example, heroin). This individual has developed physical and psychological dependence on the symptoms. People with addiction take an excess amount of opioids for the euphoric (happiness) effects of the drug- the “high”. With opioid addiction, people turn to heroin because they are craving a new high, or are not satisfied anymore with the opioid they have been abusing. The science behind heroin is quite interesting, but I feel that is not important for now. There is so much more behind the science of opioids and opioid addiction, but I feel like this is great level of knowledge you need in order to understand how addiction or opioids work in the brain. How are you feeling after reading this? A little tired? Me too.

I’m sure some of you are reading this, and are thinking, well didn’t they know that people get addicted to heroin? Although in our health classes, especially my generation, we are taught to not to do drugs, heroin is bad, and smoking cigarettes will give you cancer, sometimes it is not enough or even related to what we learned in school. How many of you know someone who is addicted to opioids and then shifted to heroin? Exactly, most people do not know that it can all start with an opioid. 

So what was the whole point of my post? I want people to understand that addiction happens in the brain, it is a biochemical process, and there are those who do not realize they are getting addicted until it is too late. Instead of blaming the victim and turning them away from treatment, we need to do the exact opposite. Addiction is a disease, but it is a disease we can cure. But that needs to start with supporting those who need help. I hope this made some of you curious as to what else goes on in the brain when we are addicted to opioids (it is truly fascinating) and realize we can make a change!! Although there are politics involved in medications and doctors and money, there are still things we, as a society, can do! We can think big and try to find a way to create an opioid that does not lead to addiction, or start small but being someones support system. Think twice before you judge someone with an addiction. If you want to know more about addiction, want to know what else you can do to help those who are struggling, I posted the free addiction hotline number and website that I feel is very helpful for this information. Keep those who need help in your thoughts, and try to make a difference not only this up coming week, but every day 🙂

Free addiction hotline: 877-723-1216

Addiction Treatment Helpline websitehttp://americanaddictioncenters.org/

REFERENCES (in case you want to read some rad articles, journals and studies on opioid addiction):

  • Kosten T, George T. The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment. Science & Practice Perspectives. 2002;1(1):13-20.
  • Niikura K, Zhang Y, Ho A, Kreek M. Different sensitivity for oxycodone-induced conditioned place preference and sensitization of locomotor activity in adolescent and adult mice. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2014;140.

 

Lake Ontario: a little taste of something new

Hi all! I hope you had a great week (and memorial day)! Although for a 4 day week it felt like forever, it is finally Friday and some of us can relax to start off the weekend. For this weeks post, I am focusing on Lake Ontario! For those of you that are from the Rochester area, I’m sure Lake Ontario is something that isn’t new to you;  for some of you you’ve explored the beaches, gone sailing or boating, or just simply enjoyed the beauty of it. For someone like me that grew up 10 minutes away from the Long Island Sound, and lived on Cayuga Lake for her undergrad, I have a great appreciation for Lake Ontario. I mean, just look how big and beautiful it is!

This week, my peers and I were lucky enough to go boating on Lake Ontario to collect data for a project we are doing for GRS. Although the wind was crazy, we ended up actually getting out to the lake (and getting enough data!). But the crazy thing is, the water levels on the Lake are still extremely high, even without rain these past few days. I took the initiative to do research on the lake and to see what effects the high water levels have on the beaches, boats, commercial trafficking, etc. From my own knowledge and seeing the Rochester Yacht Club for myself, I can see that the high water levels are preventing boats from being docked and parking lots are being flooded. However, that is only a small portion to what the water levels really effect. Looking at beaches such as Durand beach, you can see major erosion which is causing people to not be able to go and take a walk down the beach. News stations such as ABC 13 WHAM has a great article, Parts of Durand Eastman Beach swallowed by Lake Ontario, that shows a video of Durand beach and how washed up it really is. Hopefully the water levels will go down, but for now we must wait for time to pass.

I also want to share some pictures I have from our adventures at the Yacht club, as I love the water and everything about Lake Ontario 🙂

The Beginning of a New Journey: Science Education!

Hi all! For my first blog, I have decided to discuss about a new chapter in my life: science education! Science education is something I have been familiar with as a student, like many of you. However, many of us are not familiar with science education as an educator.  I am excited to learn about science education and how as an educator I will have an influence on students within the science community. However, have you ever thought about what a science educator goes through everyday? Really think about it these next few blogs.

As I embark on my new journey with the Get Real! Science program (and this blog!), I want all of you to join me every week as I discuss important topics and issues within the science education community, and how you as an individual can feel connected (or even make a difference!) But first and for most, what exactly is science education? Do you think we can actually define what science education is? If you google it, like I just did, it gives you this definition:

Science education is the field concerned with sharing science content and process with individuals not traditionally considered part of the scientific community.

Interesting, right? I had to read this a few times because to me, I never thought about students (specifically) as “individuals not traditionally considered part of the scientific community”.  Aren’t we part of the scientific community, though? As human beings, are we not doing or experiencing science every DAY!?  When you think about an individual who is not traditionally part of the scientific community, who do you think? Do you think of college students who are not not majoring in STEM? Or students who are struggling to understand biology in high school? As a recent college graduate with a BS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, I still struggle to call myself a scientist. Although I have the knowledge of biochemistry and molecular biology, I still have room in my little brain to learn more science, like all of you. An Association of American Colleges & Universities publication titled Science Education for Everyone: Why and What? is an article that discusses two types of science education. There is one type of science education that involves educating future scientists and engineers. The second type of science education involves the students who are not pursuing careers in STEM. Starting off, I want you to think of these questions:

1. which one do you feel you fall under?

2. Do you think that the students who are not pursuing careers in STEM are individuals not traditionally part of the scientific community?

Looking back to your middle school and high school science classes, do you feel like you could apply anything you learned to your life now? Reading through this article, I read a quote by author James Trefil:

“My sense is that the main problem with general education in the sciences is that we have set ourselves the wrong goal. Rather than think about the problem of producing miniature scientists, let me advance a Modest Proposal for an alternate goal: Students should be able to read the newspaper on the day they graduate. What I am suggesting is that we think about the way our students will use their science education in later life, and then adopt goals that support those uses.”

I found this interesting because I know as a future science educator, I will be applying what I learned to my career, but others will not. Although it is important that we apply science to our every day lives, what happens when  we teach students who are not pursuing a career in science to only apply science to their later lives (not think like scientists)? Do we still  consider these students as a  part of the scientific community?  I am curious to see what all of you think, and please share all your thoughts!

Personally,  I feel this particular science education deserves its own post, so I will continue this topic on my next blog. I wanted this post to really make you think about what science education is, and to open your mind to different ways of teaching science. Before you go, I want to leave you with this question:

How do you think we, as a science community, can change science education for those not pursuing a career in STEM?

References:

Education, L. (2015, November 06). Science Education for Everyone: Why and What? Retrieved May 26, 2017, from https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/science-education-everyone-why-and-what

Science education. (2017, May 25). Retrieved May 26, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_education