Death by Stress

You've got a history paper due and an organic chemistry test on the the same Friday, which also happens to be the day of your orchestra audition and, of course, your wedding! We've all felt stressed before (although perhaps not quite to this magnitude), but after we get that busy day--or week, or even month--over with, that stress doesn't seem too harmful. And in small doses, it probably isn't. But can stress actually cause someone to die? Continue reading

Lucid Dreaming: The Dawn of a New Era of Consciousness - Guest Article by Kevin Lee

By the end of its second opening month, Inception had grossed over $570 million dollars.Inception was a huge hit – millions of people flocked to theaters to witness a futuristic world in which science had advanced so far that lucid dreaming was now a common occurrence – so common, in fact, that many could no longer distinguish dreaming from reality, and skilled thieves, such as Dominic Cobb, could steal intimate and valuable of secrets by linking their lucid dreams to any sleeper’s dreamscape.

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Inception was essentially a movie on the power and potential of lucid dreaming. However, while lucid dreaming was portrayed as something sinister and shady in the movie, in real life lucid dreaming is a boon and a scientific wonder. Although currently, dreams cannot be “linked” to one another as in Inception, lucid dreaming still has vast advantageous potential.


So what exactly is lucid dreaming, what are some of the advantages of perfecting this ability, and how can we begin to lucid dream?

Lucid dreaming is the act of dreaming while being aware that one is doing so (Dement 323). Normally, while dreaming, we do not consciously direct the events happening within that dream. Indeed, how many times in your life can you recall jolting awake in a sweat because of some crazy dream event – going to school completely naked, falling off a cliff, or being unable to run away from something because your feet are glued to the ground? When you lucid dream, you can control the outcome of these events. I’m naked? Well it doesn’t matter, because I’m dreaming – I can just wish a pair of clothes onto my body and they will appear. I’m falling off a cliff? I’ll just fly to safety – maybe even take a vacation to the crystal-clear oceans and paper-white sand beaches of Jamaica. The only limit is your imagination – when you learn how to lucid dream, even recurring, horrifying nightmares can become blissful wonderlands of puppies, candy, and even romantic dates with superheroes.

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Many have wondered about the scientific validity of lucid dreaming – is this wonderful ability truly possible? Indeed, it is – in many sleep studies, EEGs have shown an “increased activation of the frontal lobes of the brain,” with weak electrical currents of around 40Hz often being able to induce lucid dreaming (G. Voss & U. Voss 29). Indeed, this data correlates to the fact that lucid dreaming occurs during the REM stage of sleep – high brain activity is a characteristic of REM, for not only is brain analyzing the information within a dream, but also it’s creating more sleep mentation (abstract images and thoughts during dreaming) to process (Dement 33). As the night grows longer, more time is spent in this “rapid eye movement” state, and the chance of dreaming grows proportionally higher (Dement 49). Harnessing the brain during this highly cognitive and unique state through lucid dreaming would be extremely beneficial – one will not just have access to conscious thinking in the waking hours, but in the sleeping hours as well!

Humans live in two cyclic states: wakefulness and sleep (Dement 8). For most people, sleep and the dream state is the perfect time to recharge, relax, and let your subconscious guide you blissfully through the strange wonder of your mind. Some may be wary of lucid dreaming – what if this act of “conscious dreaming” will counteract the relaxing effects of sleep? While this is a valid question, there’s no need to worry: even if one is consciously directing the flow of the dream, restorative sleep occurs during the NREM stage, which is not affected by what occurs during the REM dream period (Dement 39). And what if one’s happy dream turns into a nightmare, or worse, a night terror? Sleep would certainly not be so “relaxing” in that state. Lucid dreaming would be the only way to escape, redirect, or control the nightmare – a much better alternative than letting oneself be sucked defenseless into a world of terror.


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There are many proven beneficial scientific applications for lucid dreaming. If patients suffering from PTSD can learn how to lucid dream, by planning out how to combat their nightmares during the day, at night, when they feel the onset of a frightening dream situation, these patients can then become lucid and redirect the dream as rehearsed. Lucid dreaming is also highly useful in treating depression – inside a lucid dream, one can go to his/her happy place, resolve issues that had so upset him/her during awake hours, and simply allow that individual to feel more rested, combating the depressing effect of sleep deprivation.

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Lucid dreaming is also incredibly useful for athletes. Imagine that you are an athlete, and you’ve missed a few practices due to a sudden illness. Tomorrow, you’re expected to go back to practice, yet you haven’t been able to drill the coach’s plays at all… or have you? Indeed, you have! Inside a lucid dream, you’ve honed your sensory-motor skills and hand-eye coordination. You’ve created the perfect arena or environment with no distractions, and increasingly difficult “levels” to master once you’ve defeated the current challenge you’ve manifested. Through repetition, you’ve gained mastery over all parts of your sport, whether it be passing a ball, throwing a discus, or memorizing a routine. As memory recall is just as strong in a lucid dream as it is in waking existence, you rise in the morning feeling refreshed, confident, and prepared for the practice ahead (Dement 328). This is not just mere speculation – countless athletes have used lucid dreaming to hone their skills, and the power of dream repetition is backed by science. In a research study conducted by scientist Daniel Erlacher, participants who utilized lucid dreaming to practice coin tossing were able to perform remarkably better in a real-life coin toss than when tested on previous mornings without having practiced in a lucid dream (Taitz 178).

In the previous paragraph, I mentioned some of the scientifically validated benefits of learning how to lucid dream; however, there are so many more uncharted territories in which to use this dreaming phenomenon! Indeed, the possibilities are quite endless for lucid dreaming – for the world is yours, and if you can think it, you can certainly conjure it up and make it a “reality” within your mind. Imagine that you are a surgeon, preparing for a neo-natal surgery you must perform early tomorrow morning. Inside your lucid dream, you imagine all the possible scenarios that could go wrong, and figure out how to respond accordingly to prepare for the worst. Imagine that you are a mathematician who’s been trying to solve some theory for the past few months. The mind is in a different state in the dream world, and maybe, while lucid dreaming, you are able to utilize this fresh and new perspective to solve the complex theory! Imagine that you are a college student hasn’t completely finished studying for a midterm tomorrow morning. It’s 2 AM and you really should get some sleep, but you don’t feel adequately prepared. Well, fear not! Go to sleep, and inside your lucid dream, study the material, essentially sleeping and studying at the same time! Eliminate all distractions and conjure up all the information you know about the material, quizzing yourself, creating worksheets, and reviewing your mental notes. You’re friends will all be so jealous: you’ve solved the age-old problem of getting enough sleep vs. finishing all your studies, all because of lucid dreaming!

Of course, the situations I mentioned in the previous paragraph are merely hypothetical, yet the beauty of lucid dreaming is that anything is possible inside of your dreams. You can improve upon some valuable skill in your life (dexterity, critical thinking skills, musical ability) through constant repetition; you can prevent anxiety and stress in the tangible world by immersing and conditioning yourself in that stressful environment in a dream, thus, improving your confidence in that situation when it happens in real life!


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At this point, you may be wondering: just how common is lucid dreaming? Well, surveys on lucid dreaming have found that about “50% of people experience a lucid dream at least once in their lifetime and about 20 percent have lucid dreams… once a month or more often”. Even more incredibly, in Germany, about 1% of people asked this question responded that they even had weekly lucid dreams – often more than one lucid dream per week! How have the 1%, and even the 20%, learned how to recognize the lucid dream state, and consequently, learned how to lucid dream at will?

Dr. Stephen LaBerge, famous psychophysiologist and lucid dream researcher, believes that the answer lies in the Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD) Technique which is comprised of three steps: Focus Your Intent, See Yourself Becoming Lucid, and Repeat. Broken down, the first step involves reminding yourself as you are falling asleep that your purpose this night is to lucid dream. The second: while keeping this intention in mind, recall a dream from a previous night and analyze how you could’ve recognized it was a dream. Then, imagine yourself becoming lucid within that recalled dream, controlling and directing it as you wish. Finally, repeat the above steps until you drift off to sleep!
By following these steps (as well as possibly purchasing the Nova Dreamer mask or keeping a “sleep journal” documenting the events in all your dreams which combined would highly increase the chance of lucid dreaming) you can begin on the pathway to mastering lucid dreaming.

Happy dreaming everyone! - Kevin Lee


Dement, William C. The Stanford Sleep Book. Stanford, CA: William C. Dement, 2006. Print.

Taitz, Isaac. “A Neurobiological Model of Lucid Dreaming.” Clinical Applications of Lucid Dreaming Therapy. Vol. 1. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2014. N. pag. Print.

Voss, Ursula and Georg Voss. “A Neurobiological Model of Lucid Dreaming.” Lucid Dreaming: New Perspectives on Consciousness in Sleep. Vol. 1. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2014. N. pag. Print.


The Wannabe Scientist One Year Later - Say hi to TreeSTEM

So...I have something big to tell you guys.

Recently, I have been working on a project that I have poured quite a bit of my own sweat and blood into. Yes—it's separate from The Wannabe Scientist, but not really, in a way. NO. I'm not "quitting" TWS in the traditional sense of the word. But, for now, I am actually going to step away a bit from The Wannabe Scientist.

I started this website with a couple of my closest friends about a year ago, simply because we were bored. I had just finished submitting in my college applications, and had essentially nothing to do but to wait out the rest of senior year and survive senioritis. So, what's the most natural thing to do in that situation? Create a website of course. Science had become a big part of all of our lives by that point, and we realized that not many other people realized how awesome it all really is. We wanted to share a bit of what we saw in science.

So in essence, we did exactly that. We started writing about the coolest things in STEM. Things we were passionate about. Things we were excited about. And started sharing it.  Little by little, other people wanted to join on, we started getting invited to interviews, science fairs, and things picked up really quickly. One year later, here we are, over a hundred staff members from all over the world, a few great partners to support us, invited to cover the Intel ISEF, and better than ever.

Yet, I've always meant to create something bigger. The thing with a news site is that it's very static. Sure, we have a lot of great people joining on and becoming staff members, but, beyond that, the medium provides very little interaction between the readers and the team. I'm aiming for something a bit more...dynamic. More like a community.

So let's make one. It's called TreeSTEM.

TreeStemLogo 300x159 The Wannabe Scientist One Year Later   Say hi to TreeSTEMTreeSTEM is a social collaboration platform that matches you up with collaborators and opportunities in the world of STEM. The idea is that we give you the knowledge of all that's out there, and it's up to you to decide what to do with that knowledge.


Here is a quick presentation we recently gave at the Stanford Graduate School of Business:

And for the next few seconds, your eyes are going to be subjected to how AWESOME TreeSTEM looks right now.

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Let's get people actually talking with each other. Let's open up more doors for people to the world of STEM.

All in all, no, the Wannabe Scientist isn't going anywhere. I'm handing it off to Corey Fogg, who has been the best Editor-In-Chief anyone can ask for while I can focus all my efforts on TreeSTEM. Later on, once we're finished with developing the platform, we'll integrate TWS into TreeSTEM. For now, I'll keep on updating you guys on what's going on with the new project.

Any questions? You guys already know how to reach me!

It's been a great first year TWS.

-Brexton Pham


Sleep Is For the Weak- Or Is It?

It’s Sleep Awareness Week, so it's only natural to talk about sleep--or, at least, what happens when you don’t get it. You've probably heard of how teenagers and adults, on average, don’t get as much sleep as they need (an amount which is debatable in and of itself), but the deficit might only be an hour or so for some people (or more for the unlucky ones). Nevertheless, that daily deficit builds up over weeks, months, years into a sort of “sleep debt.” Say you need nine hours of sleep per night, but you only get eight. That one hour difference may not seem significant, but that’s thirty hours--more than a day’s worth--of sleep forgone in a month! And if you’re a “short sleeper”--that is, someone who can function fairly well with five or fewer hours of sleep--then the debt is even steeper.  Continue reading


Can Peanut Butter Be Made Into Diamonds?

The answer is yes! A team of German scientists at the Bayerisches Geoinstitut in Germany has made diamonds from scratch using none other than plain old peanut butter. But wait, don’t buy out all the nut butter from your local supermarket just yet. In order to make this diamond, conditions of intense pressure and very high temperatures are needed.

While it may sound a bit on the ridiculous side, this experiment allowed scientists to recreate the conditions of the Earth’s mantle, which sits 8-32 km (depending on the crust-oceanic or continental crust) below the surface and is somewhat of a mystery to researchers. This region constitutes around 85% of the total mass and weight of our planet, so it’s an undoubtedly important area. By simulating conditions in the lab, the scientists have come up with a way to make diamonds using peanut butter.

Earthlayers Can Peanut Butter Be Made Into Diamonds?

How, you may ask? Natural diamonds are created through a process that takes millions of years deep inside the Earth’s crust, where temperatures are very high and pressure is intense. Over millennia, carbon is compressed into the form of a diamond. When these gems are made from peanut butter, the substance is subjected to very high pressure while being heated. When a sample of peanut butter is squeezed between two diamonds (because diamond is one of the hardest substances on Earth and can withstand immense pressure) and the necessary amount of pressure for the experiment is applied (about 1.3 million times that of our atmosphere pressure), the result is a diamond where a peanut used to be. In fact, not only peanut butter, but also other carbon-containing materials can be converted into diamond because diamond is essentially a mere form of carbon.

However, the diamond that peanut butter yields is not entirely a pure one or much to look at. Most peanut butter diamonds are quite small and discolored due to impurities in the peanut butter. Even in the best circumstance, the transformation is slow. For a 2-3 mm diamond, the conversion process would take weeks.

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Nevertheless, this is an amazing feat and the team hopes the experiments will further elucidate the mysterious inner workings of our planet.


For more information on this topic, click on these links below!

Chili Peppers…More Than Just a Great Taste?

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Have you ever wondered about the hidden benefits behind that delicious spicy dish you really crave? Different international cuisines use chili peppers, and these peppers are savored because of their fiery taste.  As they are extremely tasty and satiating for our taste buds, it is important to learn which benefits these peppers can provide for our bodies with the use of their medicinal properties and capacities. Chili Pepper’s extreme heat comes from a compound called Capsaicin; this odorless and colorless compound is present inside these peppers to protect them from bacteria and fungi. Our heat-receptor proteins, known as TRPV1 receptors that are located in our skin and the digestive and nervous systems, perceive chili’s hot taste.

Continue reading


To Drink or Not To Drink

Chances are, at some point in your life you've been asked what you would bring on a desert island. You might have responded with friends, maybe a knife and enough food to last until rescue, but I doubt that you seriously considered surviving on what your body could provide you. After all, you’re not about to gnaw off your leg for a meal, and urine isn't even safe to drink, right? Or is it? Continue reading


Jurassic: Think Dinosaurs? Think Again.

 Jurassic: Think Dinosaurs? Think Again.Dinosaurs were not the only ones who roamed the Earth during the Jurassic period. In fact, the recent discovery of two prehistoric mammals confirms the ample diversity of the Jurassic era. The two new species that paleontologists discovered in Inner Mongolia and the Hebei Province of China were rodent-sized, resembling early versions of monkeys and moles. Estimated to have roamed the Earth alongside their larger reptilian friends nearly 165 million years ago, they are right now the earliest known mammals to climb trees or burrow underground. Continue reading


The Science of Love

Valentine’s Day has come upon us which means one of two things: you are either stressing from being single or are trying to come up with the perfect gift and/or date for your significant other. Whatever is the case, this day inevitably brings us to the great mystery of love. Thus, I thought it appropriate to bring to you some of the most recent discoveries and findings on the science of love:

  1. When it comes to love, it seems we are at the mercy of our biochemistry.

Helen Fisher of Rutgers University in New Jersey has proposed that we fall in love in three stages, each involving a different set of chemicals.

1) Lust: This first stage, lust, is driven by the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen- in both men and women.

2) Attraction: This second stage is the truly love-struck phase. People can think of nothing else except for their significant other and might even lose their appetite and need less sleep, preferring to spend hours daydreaming about their new lover. A group of neurotransmitters called “monoamines” play an important role, including dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.

3) Attachment: This third stage is about the long-lasting relationship. I mean, you can’t stay in the attraction phase forever! Attachment is a longer lasting commitment and is the bond that keeps couples together when they go on to have children. The two hormones oxytocin and vasopressin are important to this stage.

2. Psychologists have shown it takes between 90 seconds and 4 minutes to determine if you fancy someone.

  • 55% is shown through body language
  • 38% is the tone and speed of their voice
  • Only 7% is through what they say

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3. For the longest-lasting love, the key is oxytocin.

As one of the main hormones in the attachment phase as I mentioned above, oxytocin is made in the brain and helps regulate emotions like sympathy. This hormone goes by plenty of fitting nicknames, from the “cuddle chemical” to “moral molecules” to the “hug hormone.” Studies have shown that men who were given oxytocin felt more intense emotions, communicated more effectively during conflict, and smiled more often.

4. In this digital age, emojis are a requirement.

According to a recent survey by Cricket Wireless, 56% of Americans show affection by sending emoticons. Science has shown that mobile phone users respond similarly to these emojis as they do to real human faces. What’s more is that these emojis actually affect the brain in the same way. That means a smiling face emoji sends the same signal to the recipient’s brain as a real-life smile. Wow, dating has just become so much easier!

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5. And finally…how to fall in love.

York psychologist, Professor Arthur Arun, has been studying why people fall in love. He asked his subjects to carry out these 3 steps:

  1. Find a complete stranger
  2. Reveal to each other intimate details about your lives for half an hour
  3. Then, stare deeply into each other’s eyes without talking for 4 minutes

Sounds a little bit weird, right? But it worked! Professor Arun found that many of his couples felt deeply attracted after the 34 minute experiment. Even more surprising, two of his subjects later got married!

Love is one of the most delightful feelings in our lives. While it’s clear that falling in love involves many mechanisms and chemicals within the brain, there exists a certain mystery to the feeling that’s beautifully unexplainable.


For more information, click on these links below:

We're not just basic.