Simply Science: Ricin

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All us informed news-savvy Hoyas hold ricin attacks in recent memory. And if there’s anything you want to read about during finals week, it’s poison. But what exactly is ricin and how is it dangerous?

Ricin is a protein with two chains that can be derived from castor beans, the seeds of the castor oil plant (Ricinus communis). Eating just eight of these beans could prove lethal to an adult, making it the world’s most poisonous plant according to the Guinness Book of World Records. However, it would take only 2,000 milligrams of this protein, when purified, to kill an adult.

Castor Beans
Castor Beans

Ricin targets the human ribosomes (a.k.a. the protein-makers of the cells). The first protein chain breaks open the ribosomal wall while the second enters it and inhibits protein synthesis.

Needless to say, it’s hard for a human body to live/operate without protein (that’s why you vegetarians/vegans need to be careful!). In order for the ricin to take effect, it has to enter the bloodstream through injection, ingestion or (if the ricin is sufficiently powdery) inhalation.

In the context of recent events, Dan Brown, a nutritional toxicologist at Cornell, says that ricin placed in an envelope, “isn’t much of a weapon.” Anthrax, a bacteria, is extremely dangerous when inhaled, but ricin, a plant-based compound, must be inhaled directly and for a long span of time to put one’s health at risk. He says that letter openers would have had to place their faces directly into the envelopes to experience negative effects. Ingestion is the real risk.

So, Hoyas, as long as you avoid eating random white powdery substances or consuming castor beans that come in them ail, you’re fine. No promises about Leo’s beans, though …



Simply Science is a reoccurring post that aims to make recent scientific discoveries accessible and applicable to the Georgetown student.

Simply Science: Elevator Behavior

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Yeah, I see you … taking the ICC elevator from floor two to floor three. Or worse, from floor three to floor two.

Many of us consider the elevator a blessing, and sometimes this blessing introduces us to different people: professors fighting about something you don’t understand, a person on the phone annoying the hell out of you with details of his/her afternoon, that awkward dude that gets on thinking that the elevator is going up when it’s really going down, etc.

One scientist, Ph.D. candidate Rebekah Rousi, spent days just riding up and down various elevators, trying to sort out what sort of trends in behavior there are. She discovered something unexpected; there were identifiable trends going on (the causes of which are still being studied).

She realized that “more senior men in particular seem to direct themselves towards the back of the elevator cabins,” while younger guys took up the middle, and in the front women (of all ages). She determined that there was no common logic to this. For example, it wasn’t segregation by age or height. So what was it?

Apparently, the elevator world’s male demographic hosts a distinctly predatory population. People in the back, of course, are better able to see other people in the elevator. Men will tend to look at side and door mirrors to check out other passengers and themselves (and tend to not care about being indiscreet).

Women on the other hand tend to avoid eye contact and only look in the mirrors to check out other elevator-goers when with other women. Rousi theorizes that this might have to do with some gender-driven power structure. The older more “senior” men stood in the back while the younger men flocked to the less powerful middle positions.

She admits that it’s plausibly something else. Perhaps it’s just a matter of bolder people standing in the back, and certain people with fewer qualms about displaying their vanity in public. All in all, we really don’t know … which makes it all the more exciting!

Akari Kubo (SFS ’14) says, “That study is BS. In this day and age everyone just looks at their smartphones.”  Tell us what you think of elevator behavior in the comment section while you’re riding down to the lobby from the second floor of New South.



Simply Science is a reoccurring post that aims to make recent scientific discoveries accessible and applicable to the Georgetown student.

Simply Science: Frizzy Hair

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I see right through you all, Hoyas. You all seem so happy about the recent change in weather: the warmth, the birds, the flowers. We have flocked to the “Healy Beach” (an apparently taboo term) , to the esplanade, and to that unnamed patio in between Regents and Hariri (ideas?). But, we cannot ignore the inevitable calamity that approaches: frizzy hair.

Hair connoisseur and fellow Hoya Emily Schuster (COL ’13), who reportedly washes her hair EVERY day, said, “My hair doesn’t get ‘curly-hair frizzy’, but it slowly elevates…” “Like a lion’s mane,” adds Kyra Adams (SFS ’16), another hair enthusiast.

You can sense the frizzy-hair-induced-terror in their words.

Patrick Ewing isn’t concerned about frizziness…

No matter what type of frizzy we experience, we still beg the question: WHY? Why are we cursed with such a horrid first world problem? Most of us realize that frizziness is somehow related to humidity; in fact, you can even construct a hygrometer with hair (Here’s a link to the definition of hygrometer). But here’s some more info.

Bundles of long keratin strands are a huge part of hair’s composition. Two different chemical bonds are formed between these strands: disulfide bonds and hydrogen bonds. Disulfide bonds are permanent, and are unaffected by humidity. Hydrogen bonds, on the other hand, are weak and very susceptible to the polar properties of other hydrogen.

Have you ever noticed that if you let your hair dry in a weird shape after a shower it can stay that way? The water actually breaks the hydrogen bonds in you’re hair, and they are reformed when your hair dries. These newly formed bonds can preserve the form of your hair when it dries.

A similar thing happens with humidity. There’s more water in the air, which means there’s more hydrogen. This messes with the bonds in your hair, causing you’re hair to go crazy. So not only do you have chemistry to blame for the delayed Cherry Blossom blooming, but for frizzy hair too. But don’t hate on chemistry; the same science is responsible for Burnett’s and baked goods.

Yet again, we see first-hand why Patrick Ewing is a brilliant man—he’s frizzy hair free.



Simply Science is a reoccurring post that aims to make recent scientific discoveries accessible and applicable to the Georgetown student.







Simply Science: Cherry Blossom Chem

As Spring cometh, it brings with it the beautiful Cherry Blossoms of DC (and allergy attacks). This weekend marks the last days of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

What many people may not realize is how relatively late these famous flowers bloomed this year. We saw their peak in the past few days (April 6-April 10), which is defined as when 70% or more of the Blossoms are blooming. The peak can last up to two weeks, and this year’s is the latest in recent memory. (Last year’s was on March 20, and the latest ever was on April 18, 1958). But why is this year’s so late?Travel Cherry Blossom Festival

Many of us understand that it is because of the cold spring that late blooming occurs — but many of us aren’t really sure why this is true. It is no secret to my close friends that chemistry is my favorite science, and it is precisely because every living thing is driven by it (including Cherry Blossoms). A general rule is that chemical reaction rates double for every increase in 18ºF, due to an increase in particle interaction. The blooms are driven by chemical reactions and are highly affected by temperature. Blooming times can even vary depending on where you are in the city.

Cherry trees are able to survive the unforgiving DC winters (unlike some of my SoCal friends) and are brought out of dormancy by rising temperatures. I’m sure you’re aware that our Spring weather hasn’t been very typical. But, there may be an upside to the delayed blooms! If a cherry blossom is exposed to high temperatures it will immediately bloom and last 4-5 days. However, prolonged colder temperatures may slow blooming times and nearly double the length of blooming times. Yay!

So get out there, Hoyas, and enjoy the last days of the Festival. See the beauty of science bloom right before you eyes.



Simply Science is a reoccurring post that aims to make recent scientific discoveries accessible and applicable to the Georgetown student.

MARCH MADNESS: Notable Alumni Round 2

See full bracket and results herePatrick Ewing Bill Clinton

Results for Notable Alumni Round 1 are in: Patrick Ewing bested the top seeded Bradley Cooper by only 11 votes, and Bill Clinton showed who’s really in charge by destroying Zoey Bartlet (much to the chagrin of our managing editor). Georgetown has spoken; we like basketball and presidents. Simple as that.

Now two alumni compete to make the Final Four. It’s Patrick Ewing vs. Bill Clinton.

I think we’d all agree that Ewing has aged pretty well


But let’s not forget about Bill Clinton, who ages like a fine bottle of wine.


His DNC speech was a little drawn out, but few people can captivate so many people for so long…


Then again, Ewing is one of those people. He kept audiences captivated his entire career for entire games.


Speaking of careers, Bill Clinton was the freaking President of the United States: something kids and adults alike aspire to be.

Clinton & The Presidential Seal

But then again Patrick Ewing was a killer pro-basketball player: something kids actually want to do.


As a pro-athlete, I’d say it’s safe to assume that Ewing got a lot of the ladies


But having taken AP US History, I’m pretty sure Bill Clinton did too…


It’s up to you, Georgetown. Pick one of the most beloved politicians or one of the most famous athletes in the American history. Vote here and check in for the results.

[cardoza_wp_poll id=16]

Simply Science: Why Meat Loaf Helps You Stay in Shape

Every morning I take a 10-mile run and immerse myself in the musical stylings of Kelly Clarkson for an hour or two. Actually, that’s completely false (just the first part), but I thought it was a fitting intro to this article about the relationships between music and working out.

Areas of research on workout music have been expanding in the past years. Many people acknowledge that they have a better experience working out to certain jams, but many don’t consider that their favorite workout playlist might actually be improving their workout performance.

Research has found that when listening to music, “people run father, bike longer and swim faster than usual.” Meatloaf_Program-297x300

The effect of any type of music varies with each respective person. Commonly, people find that songs with faster beats and more bass help them to “get pumped” (Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, III is my personal favorite). Though tempo is one of the main considerations when it comes to workout music, there are other factors that one should consider when determining an optimal workout selection. One of these factors is what scientists call “rhythm response”—basically a fancy way of saying “how much a song makes someone want to jitterbug” (or twerk…if you’re into that). Sometimes a person’s motivation might even be dependent on how much he or she identifies with the singer’s emotions.  It’s all really subjective.

Some psychologists, though, hypothesize that people have a natural preference for songs with rhythms of frequency 2 hertz, or 120 beats per minute. People often settle into rhythms of 120 bpm when walking or tapping their fingers. An analysis, “…of more than 74,000 popular songs produced between 1960 and 1990 found that 120 bpm was the most prevalent pulse.” 2 beats per second just seems like a rhythm that we, as humans, innately gravitate (and groove) towards. When running, however, 180 bpm appears to be the preference. Don’t be so eager to transform your playlists, though: research suggests that anything over 145 bpm doesn’t really do anything more for those abs—sort of like how any sunscreen over SPF 45 is somewhat trivially labeled.

To many scientists, “getting pumped” simply doesn’t suffice as a reason why music helps us exercise. Researchers have found that music specifically contributes to our ability to exercise more effectively by distracting us from pain and fatigue, elevating our mood, increasing our endurance, reducing perceived effort, and perhaps even promoting our metabolic efficiency.

Just for the record, Paradise by the Dashboard Light happens to be 180 bpm. For more (however inferior) 180 bpm song suggestions, go here.

The bottom line, though: Meat Loaf is a great diet choice.


Simply Science is a reoccurring post that aims to make recent scientific discoveries accessible and applicable to the Georgetown student.

DC Water Is Changing Its Disinfectant.


You water connoisseurs might be dismayed today, but don’t be alarmed if your Camelback smells like a recently cleaned bathroom. From today until the end of April, D.C. water will be temporarily switching the disinfectant it uses.

For most of the year, D.C. uses chloramine to disinfect its drinking water. This temporary change to chlorine (which is typical for water systems that use chloramine) is part of a program to ensure that the pipes are clean and that we aren’t drinking any nasty stuff.

DC Water recommends that you “flush the cold water tap for two minutes, run the cold water tap for five to 10 minutes when you haven’t used water for a few hours and refrigerate collected water for a few hours before drinking.”

If you’re super devastated by this news, feel free to take a gander at this eHow article on how to remove chlorine from your waterShould be back to normal soon!

Source: DCist

Simply Science: Anti-Drone Spring Fashion

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It’s that time of year again: the air is warmer, the birds are chirping, the vernal equinox approaches, and there was a freak downpour that turned Healy Lawn into a marshland. It’s almost Spring. And you know what that means, my fellow science nerds: Spring fashion. Now, I can’t claim to know anything about fashion, but I know an awesome metalized fabric burqa when I see one. This week’s Simply Science: what happens when anti-drone technology meets apparel?

Due to the US government’s increased work on plans to expand its use of surveillance drones in domestic airspace, a man named Adam Harvey has produced a politically-charged line of clothing—Stealth Ware—designed to protect privacy-conscious citizens from surveillance by unmanned drones. Metals, as we know, are generally good at absorbing and scattering infrared light. To simplify that: in essence, Harvey’s material holds in body heat that would have otherwise shown up on drones’ infrared cameras. Let’s take a quick look at how it’s made:stealth-wear-burqa2_large

  1. Woven fabric is coated with a precious metal that helps copper bind to the fiber
  2. The fabric is then submerged in a copper sulfate bath and dried.
  3. Finally, it is dipped in a nickel sulfamate bath to make the material more durable.

After all this, you get a bendable material that masks infrared radiation and electromagnetic interference. Though this treatment makes the material markedly heavier, it adds a certain flair to your Spring wardrobe with a coating of copper, nickel, and silver. They make four different pieces: a burqa ($2236), a “hoodie” ($469), a scarf ($551), and a visor ($52).* So it looks like you can put a price on beauty. And sure, you might even be able to put a price on privacy. But when it’s beauty and privacy combined within a silvery weird-but-dazzling garment…well, for everything else there’s MasterCard.

*All prices at current exchange rate.


Simply Science is a reoccurring post that aims to make recent scientific discoveries accessible and applicable to the Georgetown student.

Simply Science: Cocaine-Cola

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Soda. Some of you have given it up for lent, some of you have given it up for life. But to me, there’s nothing like an ice-cold Coca-Cola. Speaking of Coca-Cola, ever hear of the unequivocally idiotic myth of cocaine once existing in Coca-Cola? Well, lately I’ve discovered that its idiocy is not so unequivocal (smooth segue, I know).

In fact, before Coca-Cola was Coca-Cola it was Pemberton’s French Wine Coca. Yes, that’s right, it was a combination of alcohol and cocaine that promised to be a “most wonderful invigorator of sexual organs” (and you thought Four-Loko was extreme…).  It was marketed as a panacea—just in case, here’s the definition. The good folks down in Georgia, though, had the good sense to ban it. No, not because of its concentration of the now illegal class-A drug, but because of the alcohol. An early local prohibition marked the end of the Wine Coca era in Georgia. Try to find that kind of info in a textbook.

The Company replaced the alcohol with sugar syrup in 1903 and bada-bing, bada-boom, you have today’s drink. “But wait, 4E, what about coca-cola-ad-1886the ecgonine alkaloid in the coca plant?” (a.k.a “Are we still drinking cocaine?”). Rest assured, we are no longer drinking cocaine. If we were, Pepsi would be out of business. In the magical land of the New Jersey industrial landscape, there exists a chemical processing facility that extracts all of these psychoactive elements of the coca plant.  So yeah, our favorite soft drink has coca plant in it, but no more gutter glitter.

“But why, 4E, why did they ever decide to remove the ecgonine alkaloid (sometimes referred to as Merchandise No. 5) from Coke so early?” Well, indeed, cocaine did remain legal until 1914 (11 years after the change). Apparently the hypersexual side-effects of the cocaine produced a marked increase in interracial rape, which was something the racist (and, it goes without saying, anti-rape) turn-of-the-century society would not tolerate.

We find that one of today’s most beloved beverages is actually primarily a result of a localized prohibition and overpowering social pressures. Coca-cola has more history than we sometimes realize. Next time you’re poppin’ open a bottle of the caramel-colored sugary refreshment, think about it.

*Disclaimer: Just because Coke no longer contains Lady Snow does not mean it cannot be addictive.


*Simply Science is a reoccurring post that aims to make recent scientific discoveries accessible and applicable to the Georgetown student.

DCTC: Reagan Airport and Union Station

union station reagan national dctc

Going home for spring break? Not sure how exactly you can get home for spring break? Well, may your fears be quelled, for we at 4E are here to help. Welcome to the DC Travel Companion. Read up on how you can get to Reagan National or Union Station.

To Reagan National Airport [DCA] 

Fun fact — It’s technically located in Arlington, VA. Just a few of the airlines servicing DCA include AirTran, American Airlines, Delta, jetBlue, Southwest, US Air and United Airlines.

Route 1 Take the GUTS Bus (here’s the schedule) to Rosslyn, and take the Metro Blue Line straight to Reagan.

Cost: $2.30 (Peak), $1.85 (Off-Peak)  [Check here for metro peak/off-peak hours].

Route 2 Go with the old fashioned cab. This can be more convenient if you’re one of those people that packs a month’s worth of clothes for a week and you don’t want to deal with moving so much baggage around on the bus and metro. Hint: Sometimes even if you have a small or manageable bag, the drivers will insist on picking it up for you to put it in their trunk. BEWARE that some services add a bag-handling fee to your fare.

Cost: According to TaxiFareFinder, it would cost ~$20.70 (or $23.83 with 15% tip) from the front gates.

**Remember to check baggage limits with your airlines, and also to review TSA travel guidelines and prohibited items. Also be sure to remember that you can’t carry on ice picks. I’ve had at least 3 confiscated…


To Union Station

First of all, it’s a pretty cool building if you haven’t seen it. You might consider taking one of these routes even if you aren’t heading home this weekend. This hub for travelers boasts an extensive array of dining options (sounds like something Leo’s would say…) featuring anywhere from Italian to French to Ben & Jerry’s cuisine.

Route 1 Take the GUTS Bus to Dupont (here’s the schedule) and then take the Metro Red Line straight to Union Station.

Cost: $2.10 (Peak), $1.70 (Off-Peak) [Check here for peak/off-peak hours].

Route 2 Take the DC circulator to Union! It runs 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, with a stop located conveniently at the intersection of M and Wisconsin.

Cost: $1.00 (Note: must have exact change or SmarTrip card). Here’s a link for more information on the route.

Route 3 Yet again, you could go with the classic cab option!

Cost: ~$18.94 (or $21.78 with %15 tip) from the front gates.


So that’s it Hoyas! Ace those remaining midterms, crank out those few last papers and look forward to a smooth trip home. We got yo’ back.

DCTC is a weekly post that is designed to help Georgetown students break the bubble by highlighting a different form of public transportation.