Rochester Sci-Friday

Don’t stop the spooky! This weekend’s expiry-focused festivities in Rochester

Once again, Halloween has come and gone, but the spooky holidays aren’t over just yet. In fact, we are currently still in the midst of one, or two, depending how you view it. As per Mexican, Guatemalan, and Bolivian tradition (among others),  people across the Western Hemisphere are paying homage to lost loved ones in observances that began yesterday with All Saints Day and continue through today with All Souls Day, more commonly referred to as the Days of the Dead.

While the Halloween we celebrate was not directly influenced by Day of the Dead, it has adopted some of its customs, most notably the enjoyment of sweets, costumes, and macabre icons.  Hurricane Sandy may have put a damper on many youngsters trick-or-treating plans this week, but for those who celebrate Day of the Dead, this holiday represents much deeper roots that could not be canceled or delayed.  Elio Masferrer, an anthropologist who focuses on Mexican religious studies explains,

“In the European-Christian notion of death, our loved ones go far away and we’re left to survive on our own. But in the Mexican case, in Andean countries, the world of the living and the dead co-exist. The living seek help and protection from the dead, especially on Day of the Dead.”

Day of the Dead is viewed by many as a re-encounter with lost loved ones, and, despite its name, is a joyful holiday and celebration of life. Traditional celebrations include picnics in cemeteries, parades, gravestone decorating, and feasts. The most popular symbols associated with Day of the Dead are sugar skulls and marigolds.

Although Day of the Dead celebrations in Rochester are not quite the same, they aren’t nonexistent, either. If you’re looking to get out and about tonight, check out the Outer Body Masquerade Ball tonight at Max of Eastman Place to celebrate Halloween, Masquerade, and Day of the Dead all in one.

Remember – no matter what the retail stores tell you, it’s not Christmas yet, so make the most of this fun and spooky time before Turkey Day while we still can!


Rochester Science Technology

Remember: fall means hunting season, but hunting season doesn’t have to mean falling.

Hooray for hunting season! Yes, that time of year is once again upon us. Bring on the beer, guns, and climbing birds-eye-view tree stands all before the crack of dawn! Nothing could possibly go wrong with that recipe for disaster, right?

According to URMC, usually not; to be specific, only about 10% of the time do hunters find themselves injured in a given year. Well, that’s not so bad, right? Actually, it’s downright terrible, considering the solution to preventing these injuries is an extremely simple one: wear a safety harness. Sounds easy enough, but how long did it take people to get in the habit of wearing seat belts in the car? For some reason, we humans just don’t like being inhibited by contraptions meant to protect us from life altering – or ending – accidents.

According to Jason Huang, M.D., URMC neurosurgeon specializing in head and spine injuries,

“We are still seeing hunters who have taken unnecessary risks by not wearing the safety belt or harness and endure significant injuries from a fall. Compared to a decade ago, we have made no progress in preventing these neurological injuries, despite safety advances – which is unacceptable.”

In a review of 54 hunting accidents or falls between the years of 2003 and 2011, neurosurgeons saw injuries ranging from cervical spine fractures, traumatic brain injuries, collapsed lungs, internal damage to the spleen, liver, and kidneys, and even paraplegia and quadriplegia. According to Huang, most of these accidents would have been prevented if the hunters had worn a safety harness.

Let’s be honest:  hunting season is a great time! Where I grew up in Pennsylvania, they even close schools and businesses during the first day of each game season because they know everyone wants to participate – but let’s make sure we can all make the most of the day without falling 30+ feet to the hard ground. Remember: if you fall, the deer wins!

Rochester Science

U of R redesign of the Marshmallow Experiment proves kids are hip to your bullshit.

Who remembers the famous Marshmallow Study of the late 60s? Maybe it sounds vaguely familiar, but for those of you who recount the 60s with a distinct haze, weren’t born yet, or don’t actively study psychology, I’ll give you a refresher.

The experiment went like this: a group of preschool age children were monitored separately, each being placed directly in front of a fluffy, tasty marshmallow with the promise that if they could wait and not eat the marshmallow now, they would receive two marshmallows later. Over the course of the past four decades, this study has been regarded as a classic experimental measure of children’s self control (or lack thereof).  As time progressed, researchers found that individual differences in the ability to delay gratification with the marshmallow correlated strongly with success in later life, including higher SAT scores, less substance abuse, and better social skills.

Celeste Kidd, a doctoral candidate in brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, has revisited this study and taken it a step further, finding that the ability to delay gratification is influenced just as much by the environment as by innate ability – meaning that nature as well as nurture are playing equal hands.

Kidd and her research team set up two contrasting environments to split between 28 preschoolers: a reliable environment, and an unreliable environment. In both settings, the children were told twice to wait for something better; first for art supplies, and second for stickers. The difference was the promises were delivered in the reliable environment, while the unreliable environment came up empty-handed both times.  The third promise followed the same steps as the original marshmallow study: wait 15 minutes without eating the marshmallow, and then receive two marshmallows instead.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, children who experienced reliable interactions immediately before the marshmallow task were able to hold out longer – by a lot. The children in the reliable environment were able to wait an average of four times longer than the children in the unreliable environment.  Additionally, only one of the 14 children in the unreliable group waited the full 15 minutes, compared to nine children in the reliable condition.

Previous studies that explored the effect of teaching children waiting strategies showed much smaller effects. This large result provides evidence that wait times do reflect rational decision-making about the probability of a reward.  According to Kidd,

“Being able to delay gratification—in this case to wait 15 difficult minutes to earn a second marshmallow—not only reflects a child’s capacity for self-control, it also reflects their belief about the practicality of waiting. Delaying gratification is only the rational choice if the child believes a second marshmallow is likely to be delivered after a reasonably short delay. If you are used to getting things taken away from you, not waiting is the rational choice.”

However, don’t worry if you try this trick at home with your own kids and they gobble up the marshmallow immediately. This doesn’t mean you’ve failed at being reliable. It just means things are different when you’re the person they’re with day in and day out. And besides – maybe it’s just snack time.

Rochester Science

Eschew the wee ones! @UofR study finds just being around children can make you sick.

I used to joke around with my parents, saying that when I was born, they must have dipped me in garbage and sat me in the middle of a field somewhere because I somehow seemed to be immune to everything.  I was the epitome of a healthy kid, even evading normal childhood ailments such as chicken pox and ear infections.  It wasn’t until I hit my mid-twenties (when the immune system is supposed to be stronger than it was during childhood) that I finally began experiencing allergies, colds, and even harsher infections like Shingles.  What gives?

According to a recent study conducted at the University of Rochester, exposure to school-age children greatly increases the odds of someone experiencing cold symptoms – especially for those who already suffer lung disease.  At face value, this doesn’t seem too profound. Contagious kids pass their germy colds onto others, right? Sure, but that isn’t part of the findings; consistent with the study, just plain old contact is the only contributing factor, not whether the children were sick or not.

The study’s senior author, Dr. Ann Falsey, professor of Medicine at the University of Rochester and an infectious disease expert at Rochester General Hospital, has admitted that she, herself, is even shocked by the study, saying,

Before we conducted this study, I would have expected other factors, perhaps the severity of underlying disease – the state of the patient’s general health – to indicate who would actually suffer symptoms from their colds. Instead, contact with school-age children is the only risk factor we found, and it increases both the risk of infection and also the risk of suffering symptoms once you’ve caught a cold.

The study was conducted by closely monitoring and sampling 127 people with emphysema who were evaluated six times each during one year. At all visits, nasal secretions were sampled, and sputum samples were obtained when available. Further analysis of the data showed that the people who were infected with cold symptoms were about twice as likely to have contact with school-age children as people whose infections did not become symptomatic.

Fortunately, I do not suffer from emphysema or any form of lung disease, and Shingles is a little bit different from a head cold. However, I was working directly with children 3 times a week when I contracted it. Could my former part-time job, and the children there be to blame? Sounds like as good of an explanation as any to me.

Space Porn

A bounty of planets awaits in the Beehive Cluster.

It’s that time of year again. The season where we start thinking about harvests and crops: apples, pumpkins, squash, and – planets? According to NASA-funded astronomers, yes – this year, anyway.

For the first time ever, planets have been spotted orbiting stars resembling our own sun. These findings offer the best evidence yet that planets can develop in crowded stellar environments. These new-found planets, known as hot Jupiters, are enormous gaseous orbs that are boiling hot because of how tightly they orbit around their parent stars in what is known as a Beehive Cluster – a grouping of stars, all born at the same time from the same cloud of material, sharing  similar chemical composition.

The Cancer constellation.

The Beehive Cluster – aka Praecepe (the manger), aka M44 – sits in the center of the Cancer constellation, right next to Asellus Australus and is approximately 577 light years away from earth. If you’d like to take a look at this cluster, you’ll need to get out of the city and bring binoculars, as Cancer is a faint constellation. Be looking for it around January through March.

Although previous searches of clusters had established two planets around massive stars, none had been found around stars like our sun until now. This finding paves the way for further understanding of star migration; the Beehive clusters are currently among the youngest known, setting a constraint on how quickly giant planets can migrate inward. Knowing how quickly they migrate is the first step to learning how they migrate.

Although it has not yet been officially determined, research teams suspect the planets were found in the Beehive cluster due to its rich metals. According to Russel White, principal investigator of the NASA Origins of Solar Systems grant which funded this study,

“Searches for planets around nearby stars suggest that these metals act like a ‘planet fertilizer,’ leading to an abundant crop of gas giant planets. Our results suggest this may be true in clusters as well.”

Well, ‘tis the season, after all – happy harvest!

Sci-Friday Technology

Meet the sire of all vehicular manslaughter fantasy games: Death Race (1976)

I suck at video games.  The one and only time I attempted to play Halo, I somehow managed to keep shooting myself and that was the end of that. Not only am I terrible, but I tend to miss the point all together. Sure I could collect these coins and kill that boss, but I could also shoot a hole in this wall and have a dance party instead! Needless to say, I rarely get invited to play video games, and by rarely, I mean never.

However, despite my lack of gaming skills, I still consider video games an iconic part of my growing up. I’ve experienced most everything from my parents’ Atari when I was little all the way up through whatever the hell my boyfriend plays now. In addition to the consoles growing and shrinking and the graphics evolving from crude triangles on a screen to something so detailed and realistic it could pass for a movie, the hype surrounding games has been a constant source of media scrutiny for as long as I can remember; specifically, the controversial violence involved.

The earliest controversial game I personally remember is Doom, but this saga goes back even farther than that. Way back in the 1970s, a game named Death Race was released and soon granted the prestigious title of original controversial video game. What started as a harmless game of reckless driving soon turned into the mass murders of gremlins, which as we all know, is generally frowned upon and not okay.  Shame on you, Death Race!

Death Race is played by driving your car around a single green screen, purposefully trying to run over “gremlins”. Simple enough, right? Here’s the twist. After you hit a gremlin, he shrieks, dies, and then turns into a grave marker. The more gremlins you kill, the more graves you have blocking your path, which, if you’ve reached the supreme level of “Gremlin Hunter” or “Expert Driver”, all those tombstones can become quite an obstacle. Time to let those driving skills shine where they matter most!

Perhaps the premise of the game was a little strange, but all in all, relatively harmless. Um, no.  Apparently, these gremlins resembled common day pedestrians way too much, and this caused quite the uproar. Also, a movie of the same name starring Sly Stone as a pedestrian-killing racer was released just before the video game. Either that, or people in the 70’s were really passionate when it came to gremlin rights. Regardless, parents protested, and news magazines and late night television couldn’t cover enough of it. Obviously, sales went up and Death Race became a big arcade hit.

Despite its compromising portrayal of gremlins, Death Race has thrived and grown over the years. You might know it today as the Grand Theft Auto series, which ironically, is the only game I have ever been semi okay at playing. Think of it! A world without GTA! Thanks to our arcade rat friends from Gen X, we’ll never have to.

Have any geeky, spooky, awesome, or just plain weird goings-on in Roc? Tell us about them in the comment section below! We’d love to cover them for Sci-Friday.



On your pre-Labour Day SciFriday, remember the workers: Metropolis on Netflix.

Happy Finally Friday! This week’s culmination happens to mark more than just the coveted end of the work week. It’s the last day of August (where the heck did this summer go anyway?), Killer Joe premieres tonight at the Little, and of course, there is the vaunted “blue moon” this evening.

For many of us, it’s the kickoff for a well-deserved long weekend. That’s right, folks, Labor Day weekend is just a mere few hours away! While a good majority of us can safely say we typically spend our work-free Mondays grilling and drinking beer anyway, that’s actually what this holiday is all about.  Cheers all around!

However, if beering and grilling your Monday away isn’t your preferred method of self celebration for your contributions as an American worker, you are festively in luck. Take 5 (and by 5, I mean more along the lines of 150 – minutes, that is) and indulge in a true iconic classic (albeit, not an American one, but stick with me here), Metropolis. Originally released in 1927, this dystopian science fiction film focusing on the plight of the workers, the thinkers, and a lusty hell-raising robot, will, if nothing else, have you truly appreciating your day off as well as whatever line of work you do – I promise. Plus, a good quarter of this film was lost for decades and only found and restored over the last four years; how cool is that?

The best part is you can currently find Metropolis streaming instantly on Netflix, just a click away on your computer or television in the comfort of the glory known as air conditioning. Sure, your grill-loving beer buddies will call you a nerd for opting to watch a SciFi movie on your day off instead of joining them for the true spirit of the season, but remember: they’re workers, and you, my friend, are a thinker. Just steer clear of robots, and have a safe a happy Labor Day weekend!


Rochester Science

High temps and alcohol: the key to a car-punching good time at Darien Lake.

It’s concert tailgating season at Darien Lake, and you know what that means – rowdy underage drunks getting arrested! This past Saturday, however, a new transgression was thrown into the mix: punching cars and security guards. Oh, good. At least we’re keeping it classy.

I’m sure for most readers, this offense is written off as nothing more than underagers not knowing their limits and being unable to hold their alcohol, but as it turns out, the alcohol wasn’t acting alone in this recipe for violence. Temperatures skyrocketed this past weekend, Saturday’s soaring well into 90- degree heat. It’s no secret that heat + alcohol = dehydration, but can the combination actually contribute to aggressive behavior, too?

According to Nancy Molitor, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral science at Northwestern University, yes.

“Hot, and especially humid, weather is associated with increased aggression and violence as well as a generally lower mood.”

Consuming alcohol, as we know, contributes to lower inhibitions, poor judgment calls, and in some cases, anger. Mix a day of drinking with Saturday’s scorching heat, and what have you got? A summer weekend at Darien Lake – where I just happen to be heading this upcoming weekend! Until next summer – let’s keep our heat to alcohol ratio in check, shall we?

Rochester Technology

Can our computer junk be transformed into an electronic ecosystem? RIT boffins want to know.

If you’re like me, hearing the term “ecosystem” probably paints a mental picture of lush trees, sunshine, and wildlife – but computers?  Thanks to the kickoff of a 3-year study at RIT’s Golisano Institute of Sustainability, this new idea of “industrial ecology” may not be too far off.

Serving as the project’s principal investigator, assistant professor Callie Babbit and team of co-investigators have received a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to adapt ecological models for the study of complex industrial and consumer product systems. The goal of the project, which found inspiration from the way living organisms cooperate and compete for natural resources, is to improve the environmental and economic performance of consumer electronics an average U.S.  household might own. According to Babbit,

“This project will be the first to draw parallels between the communities of organisms in nature and the communities of products that we manufacture and consume.”

Researchers spanning multiple disciplines at RIT will focus on all areas making up the life span of consumer electronics including the materials used during manufacturing, the energy consumed during use, and the waste generated as they become obsolete. The end mission is to determine improved design solutions that function better together; additionally, understanding the changes that take place over time will lead to more efficient recycling systems and components to “feed” the next generation.

At the study’s conclusion, members of Babbit’s team will present workshops to New York state industries on how industrial ecology methods can be integrated into green business operations.

The new era of ecosystems will soon be upon us. Lions, and tigers, and computers – oh my!


Don’t go anywhere! NetFlix pix for your SciFriday weekend!

I’m not the betting type, however, thanks to the wonders of social media (Twitter in particular), I’m willing to bet I’m not alone when I say this week was one of those weeks.  You know – the kind of week where when you finally get home from work, you want to immediately kick off your shoes and collapse into a pathetic heap on the couch and not do another single thing until your alarm summons you the following morning.  Luckily for me (and us, if you’re with me so far on this week’s commentary), Netflix had some stand-up gems in store.

One specifically I knew I had to share the first 20 minutes in. It’s called Super 8, and I’m not exaggerating when I say this film has it all. Do you like zombies? How about vengeful aliens? Or soundtracks composed of classic rock anthems from the ‘70’s? Maybe military conspiracies are more up your alley? Or just maybe, the typical Sci-Fi realm isn’t quite your cup of tea and you prefer the pre-pubescent male bonding over traumatic events a la Stand By Me? Whether you fit into all, none, or a combination of these categories, do yourself a favor and throw this movie onto your weekend queue.

Also, it’s time to get excited! As I covered in an earlier post, there’s quite an overlap between the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror – and I’ll be the first to admit I’m a horror movie fanatic! That’s why when I first saw the trailer for Killer Joe, the gory thriller flick starring Matthew McConaughey as a hit man, I was both elated and disheartened. Elated, because this movie looks downright awesome, and disheartened because the film received an NC-17 rating, something we don’t see a lot of (I personally have never seen a movie rated NC-17, despite turning 17 a decade ago). Most theaters either can’t or won’t show movies with this rating, forcing the producers to make changes that will bring the movie down to a nice wholesome R rating – but the team behind Killer Joe didn’t budge, which left me with a “rock on!” feeling for them, despite my disappointment in knowing I’d probably never get to see it.

Never fear, horror/thriller fans – Rochester’s own Little Theatre is here! That’s right – starting next Friday, August 31, the Little will begin showing Killer Joe! Just one of the nice perks of having an independent movie theatre in our hometown, and you better believe I will be there.

Know of any other great sci-fi, thriller, fantasy, or weird ongoings in Rochester? Comment and let us know! We’d love to hear about them!

Science VIDEO

Clean behind your ears. The glymphatic system will clean between them.

Sometimes, there’s nothing more cathartic than taking out the garbage – even for your brain.

Neuroscientists at University of Rochester Medical Center have discovered a previously unrecognized system that drains waste from the brain. Dubbed the “glymphatic system” due to its similarities with the lymphatic system, but instead managed by brain cells known as glial cells, this new-found system brings hope for many brain conditions, including Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, stroke, and traumatic brain injuries, which are all attributed in some way to waste protein build up on the brain.

Here’s how it works – the highly organized system acts as a series of pipes, piggybacking off of the brain’s blood vessels to drain away waste products. Think of it as if the brain has two big garbage cans; the first one collecting waste through a gradual trickle, the second one under much more pressure, pushing large volumes daily to carry waste away more forcefully.

That’s a lot going on in our brains on a daily basis – so how were we unaware of all of this until now? According to scientists, the system only works when it’s intact and operating in a living brain, which had previously been extremely difficult. To study the living, whole brain, the team at U of R used a technology known as two-photon microscopy, which allows scientists to look at the flow of blood and other substances in the brain of living animals – in this case, mice.

This is not the first discovery to stem from this research at U of R.  Back in the spring, a similar study found that parts of the brain that were not cleaning properly could be to blame for ADHD.  This is all great news, though. Once a definitive  biological cause has been pinned down with certainty, then medicines can be created to treat the problem.

See? Your mom wasn’t kidding when she told you it’s important to clean!

Rochester Sci-Friday

SciFriday Rochester! Shark Week at MacGregor’s, Hunger Games at the Dollar Theater

It’s been an excellent week for getting your Sci-Fi fix in Rochester! That is, if you know where to look.

For starters, it’s Shark Week, and chances are, you’re one of two kinds of people: either you hold countdowns and make an unnecessarily large celebration out of this week-long television special, or you don’t understand the hype at all and think it’s ridiculous. I happen to fall into the first category, but as fate would have it, I do not have cable television and found myself wondering if I could watch some quality shark attacks at a local watering hole the same way I do for football games. The answer is yes. MacGregor’s on Jefferson Road has been airing Shark Week all, well, week.  Drinks and sharks all around! (Sidenote: if you find yourself wondering how Shark Week qualifies as Sci-Fi, I present you with Sharkzilla and How Jaws Changed the World. You’re welcome.)

Need some cheap quality Sci Fi entertainment? Henrietta’s Dollar Theater has you covered. Your choices this week are The Hunger Games, the film adaptation of the first book in Suzanne Collins’ dystopian coming of age and sticking it to the government series, or Prometheus, for those of you who prefer the traditional outer space and extraterrestrial type of science fiction film.  Both movies have received more than decent scores on Rotten Tomatoes, and hey – you can’t beat the price!

Finally, it’s Friday, and we all have the weekend on our minds. To wind down this fantastic week of Sci-Fi, head over to the Dryden to check out Steven Spielberg’s, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, another classic aliens-obsessed story from 1977 with epic special effects. Show times are tonight at 8:00pm and Sunday at 2:00pm.

Know of any awesome science fiction book clubs, movie showings, or any kind of Sci-Fi production in Rochester that I’ve missed? We want to know about them! Comment below so we can check them out, too.