Going Viral: How Social Media Mirrors Science

By: Jillian Carmichael, 4th year student in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program



“Did you see that post? It’s going viral!”

Social media can be a strange beast. Within hours, funny videos about pandas going down slides or kids saying the most ridiculous things are all over the Internet. These viral posts saturate social media and it’s almost impossible to avoid seeing them (or at least hearing about them).

It’s curious how someone can go from complete Internet obscurity to “famous” within hours of posting content on social media. Considering the billions of social media posts made each day, how do certain posts rocket to viral status while most remain unremarkable? It takes the perfect combination of good timing, interesting content, the right audience, and plain old luck for a post to go viral.

Implicit in the terminology “going viral” is the concept of infectivity. In order for a social media post to reach viral status, it must spread quickly and extensively. In fact, a social media post going viral is very similar to how an actual virus can cause an epidemic. Continue reading

Pregnancy Brain: A Neuroscientific Guide for the Expectant Mom (Part 2 of 2)

By: Jordan Gaines Lewis, 5th year student in the Neuroscience Graduate Program


Pickles and ice cream, anyone? (Shutterstock)

My forgetful friend – the subject of my original article – gave birth to a baby girl on Thanksgiving Day. She’s a beauty, and I know Mom agrees that the morning sickness, crazy sense of smell, and forgetfulness were worth it in the end.

In the meantime, while she’s experiencing a whole new set of biochemical processes that happens when a woman becomes a mother, let’s re-explore even more crazy changes that affect – or originate in – the brain during pregnancy. What causes clumsiness, food cravings, and moodiness?

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Pregnancy Brain: A Neuroscientific Guide for the Expectant Mom (Part 1 of 2)

By: Jordan Gaines Lewis, 5th year student in the Neuroscience Graduate Program



A few months ago, my friend asked me, “Why have I become so forgetful since I became pregnant?” I told her I didn’t know, but that I’d look into it and write an article for her.

She then followed with, “I was going to ask you to explain something else to me, but I totally forgot what it was.”

Does “pregnancy brain” actually exist? There’s no doubt that many changes are happening to a woman’s body during pregnancy, but how do these changes affect (or originate in) the brain? To answer my friend’s question – and in an effort to address whatever else she was forgetting at the time – here is Part 1 of my expectant mom’s guide to the crazy neuroscience of pregnancy.

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Zika Virus: The New Kid on the Block

By: Jillian Carmichael, 4th year student in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program


Aedes aegypti, the mosquito species currently responsible for transmission of Zika virus. (Source: Rafaelgilo/Wikimedia Commons)

Move over Ebola. There’s a new virus in town.

If you’ve been paying attention to the news in the past few weeks, you may have heard about the Zika virus outbreak that’s currently sweeping through the Americas. As with any emerging outbreak, fear is a common reaction in many people — remember how many Americans were terrified they were going to catch Ebola, even though they had never been to West Africa?

One of the best antidotes to fear is information — the better we understand a virus, the more equipped we are to deal with the outbreak and react in an appropriate manner.

In order to dispel any panic due to the fear-mongering media, I’ve compiled a list to answer some of the frequently asked questions concerning the Zika virus outbreak. Continue reading

Meet a Scientist: Jessica Parascando

This is the eighth post in our “Meet a Scientist” series. Next up is Jessica Parascando, a 1st-year student in the Public Health program.

Meet Jessica:


Meet Jessica!

Let’s get to know you a bit! Where are you from, what did you study in college, and what is your role at Penn State College of Medicine?

I was born and raised in Edison, New Jersey, and lived there until I moved to Hershey in August. I received my BA in Psychology at Ramapo College of NJ, and then took post-baccalaureate courses in Biology and Statistics at Rutgers University, where I also worked in an Infant Neuroscience Laboratory.

I am currently a first year graduate student in the Master of Public Health program studying Biostatistics and Epidemiology.

Why did you decide to become a scientist?

My initial interest in science and sleep research began after watching an episode of the television show, Boy Meets World. In the episode, a character volunteered to participate in a study that was analyzing brain activity during sleep.

After seeing the research coordinator become perplexed at the character’s lack of neural activity during the session, I immediately became interested in how and why the brain works the way it does. There is still so much unknown about the exact function of sleep, so my goal is to combine my passions of neuropsychology and public health to help make the public more aware of positive sleep practices, and emphasize the importance of sleep at all ages.

What do you research at Penn State, and why is it important?

BabyLab 2I am currently working with a great team in a neuropsychology/biofeedback performance laboratory in the Psychiatry department. We use functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIR), electromyography (EMG) and ecological momentary assessments (EMA) to study patients with opiate addiction in hopes of identifying factors that may be associated with an increased risk of relapse during various stages of recovery.

This research is important because there is a worldwide epidemic of addiction, and relapse rates are extremely high for those who do seek recovery. We also collect sleep data using actigraphy, further emphasizing the relevance of sleep in all aspects of health.

What are some of your hobbies outside the lab?

Outside of the lab I am on the e-board for Public Health Association for Service and Education (PHASE). In PHASE, we promote public health awareness through various events on campus and in the central PA community. I also enjoy Pilates, random hikes, watching New Girl and other shows on Netflix, reading random science articles from Twitter, daydreaming, and spending time with friends.

Tell us three random facts about yourself!

  1. I’m obsessed with tea and drink it everyday. My favorites are Moroccan mint, oolong and toasted walnut.
  2. I have a Cockapoo named Kapoosta.
  3. I share Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope’s love of breakfast foods.

Stay tuned for future interviews! And if you’re a Penn State College of Medicine scientist interested in participating, e-mail Lions-Talk-Science@psu.edu for details!

What is Déjà Vu?

By: Jordan Gaines Lewis, 5th year student in the Neuroscience Graduate Program


Erika Wittlieb (Pixabay)

What is déjà vu?  Many of us know the feeling. You’ll be going about your day, minding your own business, folding some laundry…nothing out of the ordinary.

Suddenly a sensation of familiarity washes over you, and you’re completely aware that it’s happening. I’ve been here before. Except you haven’t. Or have I? You might try to think back and pinpoint when you’d experienced this moment before. But just as quickly as the feeling hits you, it’s gone again.

Did you predict the future? Were you seeing something from a past life? What is déjà vu, anyway? Continue reading

Frankenfood? The Real Science Behind GMOs

By: Ross Keller, 5th year student in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program


Image source: Sam Fentress (Wikimedia Commons)

A recurring theme in science fiction is the ability to modify an organism’s genetic material. The goal is usually to give the modified person or creature amazing characteristics — super speed, super strength, or mind control, to name a few.

I haven’t met anyone with these features yet, but the future is already here. Scientists can modify the genomes of animals and plants with ease, though for an entirely different reason. You may be familiar with the term already: “GMOs.”

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is any living thing that has had its genome (its genetic material) modified. In general, GMOs fall into two major categories—organisms modified for research purposes and those modified for consumption.

You may be familiar with the advocacy work of the Non-GMO Project, Chipotle’s new G-M-Over It campaign, or seen social media postings from friends and family about the dangers of GMO food. But what’s the real science behind the science fiction?

Continue reading

Penn State College of Medicine Students Describe Their Theses…in 20 Words or Less

Last week, in response to this recent post circulating social media, we asked our students:

What is the topic of your thesis, in 20 words or less?

Here are the responses!


New students reciting the Graduate Student Oath at their white coat ceremony (2011).

I make mutant viruses and utilize drugs to study how herpes simplex virus spreads from the mouth into neurons. –Jillian Carmichael, 4th-year Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. student

Patients with vascular disease in their legs also have less blood going to the heart. –Amanda Ross, 3rd-year Neuroscience Ph.D. student

I try to stop glaucoma by making cells less energetic. –Daniel Hass, 3rd-year Neuroscience Ph.D. student

This muscle protein is found in the inner ear. Necessary? Apparently, since otherwise, you go deaf. –Lina Jamis, graduate, Anatomy Master’s program

P96pXStudying poop to see how changes in bacteria can lead to disease in patients without a colon. Poop donations accepted!Katie Schieffer, 4th-year Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. student

A lot of people with sleep apnea have metabolic syndrome. Which comes first? Dunno. Let’s study kids! –Jordan Gaines Lewis, 5th-year Neuroscience Ph.D. student

Figuring out which genes make the body stretchy. –Erin Sproul, graduate, Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. program

What is your thesis about…in 20 words or less?

chemistry-dogMany of us have enjoyed this recent post called “20 PhD Students Dumb Down Their Thesis for Us,” which originated from this reddit post last month. Examples included:

When I get rid of this gene, it messes the brain up. A lot.

My experimental drug does NOT cure addiction.

You can make antimatter move in strange ways if you set your equipment up wrong.

Sure, most of these are spoken in jest and are meant to be sarcastic. But we’re all doing very diverse and interesting work at Penn State College of Medicine! And we want to know:

What is the topic of your thesis, in 20 words or less?

Submit your responses here by this Friday, September 25 and we’ll post everyone’s abbreviated thesis summaries next Monday on the blog!

(Psst…this’ll be great practice for telling your family what you do when you go home for Thanksgiving!)

C, D, E, F, G, A, Brain: Music as Therapy

By: Cecilia Bove, 1st year student in the Neuroscience Graduate Program


Petr Kratochvil (Public Domain)

You may recall from my “Meet a Scientist” interview that I grew up in a music-rich home. I like to say that I can fluently speak Italian, English and Music – because it is, in all respects, a language.

Music can make us feel without saying a single word as much as any intense situation can: being with your special someone, grieving a loss, or handling the stress of an experiment that just does not work. (This is something that every graduate student can relate to!)

But did you now that music may also be an effective medication? Music has been under the spotlight of the scientific community for long time, but now its importance is emerging more and more in neuroscience research. Continue reading