Blog Post 5 – Interview with an Astronaut

Once I decided I was going to write my final project on the topic of human spaceflight, I knew there was one man to talk to: Professor/Colonel Jim Voss. Colonel Voss is currently a professor in the Aerospace Engineering department at the University of Colorado, and has plenty of experience in the field of spaceflight. He is a former astronaut who has been on multiple missions to the International Space Station and lived there for 6 months at a time. Colonel Voss is also well known for holding the record (with Susan Helms) for the longest Extra-vehicular activity (EVA), or spacewalk, on the International Space Station for 8 hours and 56 minutes.


Upon talking to Colonel Voss, I asked him about his strategies and struggles with communication about spaceflight to both people in his field and outside of it. Colonel Voss told me the biggest problem with communicating to the public was that “People don’t understand why we go to space and what we do there. The challenge is getting people to see the value – they often have a poor understanding of the cost to go to space and usually don’t know the benefits.” All in all, the general public doesn’t quite understand the benefits that have come from space research and this results in a knee jerk reaction when they see a number with a some zeroes behind it. When it comes to the people in his own field, Colonel Voss mentioned that the biggest problem was “…convincing people that a particular technical solution is the better solution [than another proposed solution].” There are multiple solutions to one problem and proving that one is better than the other can result in troubles in communication.

After asking Voss about his strategies and solutions to these issues, he stated that for the public “I try to communicate the cost to benefit ratio by providing the reality of expenditures by our government to support space activities and by giving real world examples of benefits from space activities.” Voss tries to clear any haze the public may have from the little knowledge about the field they contain. As for a solution to the issue in the space community, Voss stated “I try to use sound engineering analysis to show the value of one answer over others.  Trade studies where solutions are compared analytically is a method that I sometimes use.” He simply uses mathematics and analysis to prove one solution is a better option than others.

The most important piece of information I gained from Colonel Voss was how he communicates with the public. Since my project is directed towards the populace of the United States, it’s important to start off with explaining the research and what their benefits are that come from it. The biggest obstacle in this topic is the lack of understanding many people have about spaceflight. In order to successfully communicate with my target audience, I’ll need to take this into account and hope to give them a better understanding of space research.

-Bryan Doyle


Public Interest in Human Spaceflight

I discovered an issue that could very well be a primary reason as to why the general public is no longer interested in spaceflight, while searching for articles over a plethora of journals and magazines. The majority of the articles I found were published in scientific journals and magazines that the average American would never read. These articles that discuss this topic are mostly directed to the audience of engineers, physicists, and mathematicians, while the general public is deprived. Now, don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely nothing negative with the presence of articles directed at such an audience, but my goal is to expand the fascination and importance of spaceflight to the general public.

With the average American kept in mind, I found one article on the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) website that was written by a Public Information member of the organization: The Next Era of Human Spaceflight by John Varrasi. The article was well written towards the general public as the audience and there were few technical terms that only PhD’s would understand. Varassi put pieces of the article in the perspective a former astronaut and director of the Johnson Space Center, which allowed me to feel related to such a prominent figure in the industry. The article was also very easily readable and organized with clean headings and figures to draw the reader’s attention, while still successfully getting the point across of the importance of spaceflight missions and future plans.

Although the article is affiliated with an advanced scientific journal, the writer does a superb job in making the issue readable and interesting to an everyday American. He touched on the effects spaceflight has had on commercialism and everyday products as an added benefit to the reader. Like many scientific writers, the author’s benefits could very well be an increased popular interest in the subject of spaceflight, which also leads to more funding. I can take ideas and rhetorical strategies from this article and, hopefully, apply it sufficiently to my final project. Furthermore, I hope to be able to learn more about the subject for my own knowledge and apply it to raise public interest in spaceflight.

-Bryan Doyle

The Public Library of Science

If I were to tell you, as a reader, that you could write a scientific research article about anything you wish, have that article be published online, be seen by millions of internet readers, and even potentially reviewed by The New York Times, would you believe me? If your answer is yes, then you have probably heard of The Public Library of Science, or, PLOS for short. The PLOS is a non-profit organization that hosts independent science and medicine blogs whose mission is to, “…promote greater understanding of breakthrough science for a variety of reader types, including policy makers, the academic science community, researchers, medical and mental health practitioners, journalists and the general public.” The PLOS is unique because everything that gets posted to the database is Open Access. Per the PLOS website, when a website is open access, “… everyone, everywhere can read, redistribute, and reuse your research without cost: colleagues, patients, policy makers, journalists; the next generation of researchers. Your work will have the maximum possible impact.”

PLOS index

The purpose of the PLOS is to set up an independent research network where scientists and bloggers can promote greater understanding of breakthrough science for a variety of reader types that range from policy makers to the general public. I found a journal article on PLOS called, “When Vitamins Backfire” authored by Beth Skwarecki that is found underneath the Public Health Perspectives section of the website. Beth’s target audience on this journal article was the general public, as she uses simple terminology to make the information within the post understandable to the common reader. Beth thoroughly examines 2 studies of athletes taking 1) Vitamin C and 2) Vitamin D2 and how those supplements affected athletic performance. After examining the studies, she makes conclusions about the results and offers her opinion on the matter. Formatting her journal article in this manner really allowed Beth to reach a broad audience of readers by making clear, concise arguments while providing analysis of data that can be understood by all.

In my final project, I hope to write a blog post similar to what Beth Skwarecki published focused on anxiety and stress while being a University of Colorado student. In this final project I want to reach a broad audience of people, where anyone ranging from a doctor to a stay at home mother can understand and appreciate. I hope to inform readers about the triggers of stress, the treatments, and personal experience living with an anxiety disorder. Publishing a journal article on the PLOS will help give me a stronger understanding of the writing style that is necessary to publish articles and be recognized and appreciated in the future.

-Chase Stanker

Mental Illnesses in Society

In today’s society, mental health experts claim that 6 percent of the American population is diagnosed with serious mental illnesses which accounts for approximately 1 in 17 people. The American Journal of Psychiatry, a well known and establish journal in the field of psychiatry, addresses over 42 different types of these mental illnesses in their articles. These articles, which consist of the experiments and findings conducted by many psychiatrists, are published every month in order to allow mental health experts to remain informed on new discoveries.

A particular article I became interested in addresses the continuity of these illnesses, which are first diagnosed in younger children. In the article, “Psychiatric Disorders in Preschoolers: Continuity From Ages 3 to 6”, psychiatrists conducted an experiment in order to determine the stability of these illnesses to test whether or not children are capable of overcoming them. From this experiment, physiatrists determined that children diagnosed at age 3 with a mental illness were 5 times more likely to be diagnoses again at age 6. In their discussion, they therefore arrived at the conclusion that their data supported the validity of preschool psychiatric diagnoses while underscoring the importance of early identification to prevent reoccurrence in the future. In doing so, these psychiatrists were able to publish their findings in order to inform other mental health experts of the significance in diagnosing children at a younger age, which may lead to avoiding disruptive behavior later in life.

The primary audience of this publication consists of developing as well as experienced psychiatrists who are interested in the diagnoses of children with mental illnesses. The purpose of this article is to publish new findings in order to better educate mental health experts so that they may apply this information to their own careers. Personally, articles such as these will help me to better understand the communication methods psychiatrists use with one another through their writing. From gaining an insight to professional writing in this field, I hope to then translate this information as well as my own experiences with people suffering from mental illnesses in order to educate the public on the importance of identifying these disorders in the population. In doing so, I also hope to improve my knowledge in the subject matter myself as well as gain a better understanding to a career in psychiatry.

-Natalie Eidson

Human Growth Hormone- What do we really know?

Human growth hormone, also known as HGH, is a highly recognized and debated topic in both professional and Olympic sports. HGH is a naturally occurring hormone released by the pituitary gland found deep within the human brain. At normal secretion levels HGH helps regulate body composition, body fluids, metabolize sugar and fat, along with spurring muscle and bone growth. However, it is the anabolic muscle growth effect of HGH that the public is most familiar with. Watching ESPN on television, the news stories of athletes “doping” with human growth hormone in professional sports like Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association litter the headlines. With an increased amount of HGH in athletes’ bodies users can experience an increase in lean muscle mass and a decrease in body fat allowing for greater athletic performance. With current scientific research on the subject, the following question becomes apparent: How does a scientific journal present the issue of HGH compared to popular media?

A popular online article published in May, 2010 by ESPN titled, “Study: HGH boosts athletic performance” gives a brief description of  HGH, what its used for, then abruptly dives into an independent study that shows just how much athletes benefit from hormone doping. The article focuses heavily on results of the experiment, seemingly giving little to no attention to the methods, data, or analysis of the same experiment.  

“”This is the first demonstration that growth hormone improves performance and justifies its ban in sport.” said Dr. Ken Ho, who led the study at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney.”

And later…

““The researchers speculated that the boost from growth hormone alone is enough to shave off about half a second in a 10-second sprint over 100 meters. That little time “divides the winner from the last place finisher,” said Ho.”

This ESPN article neglects to fully establish the experiment that all of the conclusions are based upon, and conveniently notes at the end of the article that during the experiment athletes treated with HGH were also given testosterone supplements. The addition of testosterone to HGH undoubtedly aided the athletes’ performance; thus making the claim that HGH is the sole reason why athletes performed better untrue and biased.

When writing an article in the scientific community, contributors describe their experiment in enough detail so that a similar study can be performed and the results will be consistent. A scientific journal article titled, “Systematic Review: The Effects of Growth Hormone on Athletic Performance” published by M. Saugy in 2008 analyzes the effects of human growth hormone in participants aged 13 to 45 years old. This scientific article clearly and diligently describes the methods, data, results, and conclusion of the experiment with an unbiased opinion. The conclusion of the experiment is surprising and factual:

Growth hormone is reported to be extensively used for illicit enhancement of athletic performance, both for its anabolic and endurance effects. However, our review of the limited published literature suggests that although growth hormone may alter body composition, it has minimal effect on key athletic performance outcomes and may, in fact, be associated with worsened exercise capacity.”

The scientific journal article shows an unbiased and fair analysis of the topic, while fully and accurately describing the methods and data obtained. ESPN’s article on HGH focused entirely on a faulty experiment with questionable conclusions. Although the ESPN article builds excitement and extrapolates data for the reader, the scientific journal separates the public opinion and provides merely what was found during the experiment.


-Chase Stanker

Caffeine, the Miracle Drug

At the mention of the word caffeine, generally coffee and energy drinks are the first to come to mind.  Possible explanations for this reason could be due the amount of commercial ads directed towards both younger and older generations regarding products that provide easy, accessible, energizing liquid.  However, as people begin to drink more caffeine, the less informed they are of the negative effects it can cause.

Coffee is most commonly used as a means of waking up and getting through a day of work. Commercial ads advertising their coffee brands often times depict a man or woman waking up for work in the morning with the appearance of an irritable and crabby-like zombie. However, once they have had their coffee they suddenly become a much more lively and bearable person to be around. The result of coffee commercials such as these has thus created the public notion that it’s difficult to wake up without the aid of caffeine first thing in the morning.

Energy drink companies such as Nos, Red Bull and Monster, also contribute to the public’s perception of caffeine by creating the impression that their caffeinated products will enhance an individual’s athletic performance. For instance, Red Bull commercials often coin the phrase “Red Bull gives you wings” which is followed by athletes fearlessly participating in intensive sports such as bmx, parkour, surfing, and skydiving. Due to these commercial ads, caffeine is again glorified as a substance that has the ability of improving concentration and even strength.

In medicine, on the other hand, caffeine is defined as a chemical drug used in medications, which can treat illnesses such as headaches, pain relief, shortness of breath in newborns, asthma, and gall bladder disease. As in any drug, however, symptoms can also occur from consuming caffeine. Medical professionals warn that the side effects of this drug include restlessness, dizziness, anxiety, high blood pressure, weak bones, glaucoma, and heart conditions. People can also build a tolerance to caffeine causing them to require a larger does in order for the drug to be effective. As result, withdrawal from caffeine can lead to severity in these symptoms.

In general, commercial advertisements have influenced the public’s perception of caffeine by portraying it as beneficial substance that energizes people and helps them to accomplish their goals. While science has verified caffeine as stimulant, which helps improve mental alertness as well as certain illnesses, they have yet to successfully raise full awareness to the public regarding the side effects of this drug. Due to the fact that caffeine is an ingredient in several foods and drinks, many do not understand the harm that can result from consuming excessive amounts. If people are better educated about how caffeine can both help and harm them then dependency and withdrawal symptoms on the drug could possibly decrease.

-Natalie Eidson


Ain’t That a Kick in the Head: Effects of Concussions on Brain Activity

A concussion is a minor traumatic brain injury that occurs when one’s head hits an object or a moving object strikes the head. This results in a decrease in brain function in addition to headaches for a temporary period of time. Recently, theories have come to rise that believe concussions are possibly the cause for some cases of depression, memory loss, and aggression.  Many of these cases appear with professional athletes in sports such as football, boxing, and ice hockey, which would likely be due to the generally violent nature of the sports where head trauma is anything but a rarity. More and more research has been performed to aid in finding out how dangerous consequences of concussion are on a longer time scale. If minor head trauma is found to cause serious neurological damage, there are surely ways to prevent it.

The New York Times released an article about one former professional football player who believes the numerous blows to his head were the cause of his dementia and memory loss. As one of the most influential and greatest fighters in the sport of boxing, Muhammad Ali also is also believed to have developed Parkinson’s disease due to the amount of head trauma he received on a daily basis according to an article published in The Guardian. These two figures are only a small sample of the sheer number of cases that link head trauma as the cause of various neurological diseases. There have been thousands of reports that athletes are suffering from different neurological problems accredited to the number of violent hits and lack of protection in each of their sports.

In 2008, The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) began researching the effects of head trauma on the brain of professional athletes, while collaborating with the National Football League (NFL). From the data collected by a large amount of donors, it seems that the CSTE can safely conclude that repeated head trauma does have a long term effect on neurological activity. Athletes from different high contact sports show many of the same symptoms of brain deterioration according to the research. In support of what the research has suggested, about 80 former and current NFL players have filed lawsuits against the NFL aiming to hold it responsible for the care of the damaged players.

Concussions, nowadays, are beginning to be taken more seriously than ever before now that this light has been shed on the after-effects. Preventative steps have begun to be created in order to lessen the number of head trauma incidents around the professional sports world. The NFL, NCAA, and NHL have all been developing safer helmets for their players, while also being more stringent on rules and regulations in each sport when it comes to contact. Of course, the only guaranteed prevention is if the players stopped playing their respective sports altogether, but that is not likely to occur. For now, there is only hope that safer equipment will continue to be created to aid in keeping neurological deterioration away from athletes’ futures.

-Bryan Doyle

The Effects of Smoking Marijuana on Dietary Health


In this study, information from 1,000 participants between the ages of 18-30 was taken in order to determine whether the amount of marijuana smoked was directly correlated to an individual’s Body Mass Index (BMI) and caloric intake. These 1,000 participants were then divided into six categories based upon the average amount of the drug they used each week. Their average weekly caloric intake as well as BMI was also determined. From the following results, this study demonstrates how increased use of marijuana smoked each week does in fact have an impact on an individual’s weekly caloric intake as well as BMI.



Marijuana, also referred to as pot, weed, or Mary Jane, is the most commonly used drug in America.  Many people smoke the drug through hand rolled cigarettes or “joints” as well as through water pipes also known as “bongs”.  In Colorado, medical marijuana became legal in 2000 at which time 25% of college students ages 18 to 30 claimed to have used the drug. By 2013, after Amendment 64 was passed year prior legalizing marijuana in Colorado, the number of college students using almost doubled to 46%. While many believe there is no harm in smoking marijuana, it has been observed that using this drug often increases hunger, or “the munchies.” Because marijuana causes a hunger increase, one could assume that these users consume more calories than an individual who does not smoke marijuana. This effect could therefore cause an individual’s BMI, to raise leading to increased weight and ultimately serious  issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.


In order to measure the effect that marijuana has on eating habits, 1,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 30 were studied.  All participants in the study were surveyed using a closed-format questionnaire, in a semi-anonymous fashion to encourage honesty.  In this questionnaire, participants in the study were asked to answer two questions:  First, participants were asked how much marijuana they smoked on a weekly basis.  The six options for which a study participant could respond were (a) 0-5 grams/week, (b) 6-10 grams/week, (c) 11-15 grams/week, (d) 16-20 grams/week, (e) 21-25 grams/week, (f) 26-30 grams/week.  Participants then recorded their weekly caloric intake. After gathering all of this data, we took the mean caloric intake of each smoking sub group.  After the survey had been taken, all participants were weighed and had their height measured.  From these measurements the participants’ Body Mass Index (BMI) was calculated.  Each survey had a reference number for which the calculated BMI could be matched, ensuring semi-anonymity while still guaranteeing that each participants’ BMI could be compared to their survey to properly collect data.


The following results were observed after comparing the amount of Marijuana smoked on average per week to weekly caloric intake as well as average BMI. Table 1 represents the data that were collected during the experiment, and figure 2 shows a graphical side-by-side comparison of both variables.

Amount smoked (g) /Week Caloric Intake/Week Amount smoked (g) /Week BMI
0-5 14000 0-5 19
6-10 15000 6-10 20
11-15 17000 11-15 21
16-20 20000 16-20 23
21-25 25000 21-25 27
26-30 30000 26-30 28

(Table 1)

The people that smoked 0-5g per week  averaged 14,000 calories consumed per week, which is right on target with the daily recommended amount of 2,000 calories consumed per day. These same people had a very healthy average BMI of 19, which again falls into the healthy range. It should be noted that as the amount of marijuana smoked per week increases, so do calories consumed and BMI. People that smoked 26-30g per week consumed a staggering 30,000 calories per week which is 2.1x the daily amount of calories per day, and fell into the overweight category with an average BMI of 28.

Weed(Figure 2)

Figure 2 shows a graphical representation of the data that were collected. Both calories consumed and BMI had a direct positive correlation with amount of marijuana smoked. As people smoke more marijuana, the average calories consumed increases and so does the average BMI.

Analysis and Conclusions

After gathering the data and  completing the experiment, it can safely be assumed that smoking marijuana has a positive correlation with an average person’s Caloric Intake and Body Mass Index. It has been said that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to overdose on marijuana, but this rumor does not take the indirect effects into account. The more marijuana someone smokes is directly proportional to the amount of unhealthy food they eat. If people proceed to continue eating a large amount of unhealthy food, high cholesterol and other consequences put their lives at risk. Our test subjects’ Body Mass Index shows just how dangerous it is to smoke an increasing amount of marijuana on a typical week.Unfortunately, our test subject who smoked the most marijuana on average ended up passing away due to a rare health defect called “Explosion of the Heart.” Although his loss is tragic, his sacrifice for our experiment won’t be forgotten. This “Explosion of the Heart” defect was a direct result of our rigorous testing, and is proof of how dangerous the process of smoking marijuana and over-eating really is. From our experiment, it can be proven that, although, the act of smoking marijuana may not kill someone, the effects of over-eating can. This study has shed light on the dangers of over-eating while under the influence of marijuana and will hopefully save the lives of millions of people in this world.

(The data in this Blog post is fictitious, but it is still bad to over-eat. Don’t let Explosion of the Heart get you too.)

Finding a Passion Through Artwork (Revised)

Finding a Passion Through Artwork

It was Saturday, December 8th, 2012 and I was with my two best friends Shaun and Tyler attending a concert at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver, Colorado. I initially had no desire or intention of going to this show, but they assured me that I would never forget that night because before the show started we would have the pleasure of listening to a presentation from a world famous spiritual/psychedelic artist named Alex Grey. I had no idea who Mr. Grey was or even what his artwork was about. We stood as close as we could to the rail in hopes of catching a good view of the screen. Upon entering the stage, I noted that Mr. Grey had long flowing silver-white hair, spoke with a soft voice that seemed unnaturally peaceful and wore a jacket decorated with bright colors and patterns. This man’s unique appearance was enough to get my attention and intrigue me about what he was saying. Throughout Mr. Grey’s presentation I learned that he worked at Harvard Medical School studying anatomy and preparing cadavers for dissection. This incredible experience of working first hand with the deceased inspired him to follow his passion of artwork and human anatomy to create beautiful, magnificent pieces of art that highlight the human body and spirit. What separates Mr. Grey’s artwork from other spiritual/psychedelic artists are the anatomically perfect human bodies that are the focus of his pieces. Mr. Grey’s artwork seems to “x-ray” the subjects, allowing a look into their anatomy. He includes the skin, muscles, vital organs, blood vessels, nerves and bones of each body in the painting displaying how intricate humans are.

As a reader you may be asking yourself, “How does this experience relate to your life, Chase?” Well, even as a small child I had a strong interest in how our bodies functioned and what made us tick. Advancing through school my favorite subject was always biology because it offered explanations for the questions about our bodies that I longed to understand. During the Fall 2012 semester of school, which coincidentally was the same semester that I was introduced to Alex Grey, I officially declared my major as Integrative Physiology at CU Boulder. Within the Integrative Physiology major, students have the opportunity to study human anatomy by working with actual cadavers, similar to what Alex Grey experienced, in a course called “Intro to Human Anatomy Lab.” Throughout the lab I found myself constantly examining Mr. Grey’s artwork looking for specific blood vessels, nerves and bones that I had learned about, and found them present exactly where they should be on the human body. Finishing Anatomy Lab caused me to appreciate Mr. Grey’s artwork even more, because the body is exceptionally complex and he manages to capture the beauty of it all. I am now a second semester junior at CU Boulder and absolutely love what I study. Without a doubt, working with the human body is what I want to do as a profession and a lot of credit goes to Alex Grey and his magnificent artwork that sparked a passion that will last a lifetime.


Alex Grey- Reading, 2001, Oil on Linen

-Chase Stanker

Diversity of Science- Revised

When I was seven years old, my mother took me flying for the first time in a Cessna 172. I remember sitting on her lap, taking complete control of the airplane, and experiencing the utter amazement of flying. From that point on, I became an obsessively curious second grader, who wanted to know everything about the world around me. I drove my parents and teachers into insanity with questions such as; “How does water turn to steam?”, “Why don’t old people have teeth?” and my favorite “If you could hold lightening in you hand, how much would it weigh?”. As time went on and the list of questions grew, however, I began to notice a trend: every question I asked was tied back to an understanding of science and because of this the realm of science and opportunities within this realm were endless.

Ken Jenkins once said, “I think science has enjoyed an extraordinary success because it has such a limited and narrow realm in which to focus its efforts. Namely, the physical universe”.  Through a hint of sarcasm, Jenkins clearly addresses the fact that the study of science has no boundaries. Science can begin with studying something as small as an atom, to something as large and far away as a star in the sky. Careers in the subject alone compile an endless list that includes: astronauts, geologist, meteorologist, engineers, physics, chemists, mechanics, oceanographer and more. There are countless fields of science that when put together work to create an explanation for the entire universe, in which we live in.

Though flying with my mother did not lead me to become a pilot, this experience sparked a strong passion for me to explore other topics of science. While I soon learned that I despised chemistry and physics, I quickly realized how drawn I was to other classes such as physiology and anatomy. However, whether it’s calculating the speed of a 300,000 kg 777 aircraft with a breaking force of 445,000 N or determining what cells produce fibers that form the framework of lymphatic organs, the answers are ultimately derived from what Jenkins calls the study of the physical universe. There are no limits to the diversity of knowledge that can be obtained when one chooses to pursue an interest in science.