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cover of May 30, 2015 issue

Amanda Leigh Mascarelli's Articles

  • Respecting the body’s clocks

    Olympic athletes spend much of their lives preparing for a shot at a medal. Whether they take home a gold or no medal at all comes down to tiny differences in speed and precision. Many factors affect performance, from genetics and training to diet and confidence. Lately, athletes, coaches and researchers have begun taking a close look at another factor — time of day. When athletes compete can also influence performance, scientists are finding.

    People are precisely tuned to eat, sleep and wake at specific times. These predictable patterns are known as circadian rhythms. (In Latin, circa means “around,” and dian relates to “day.”)

  • Explainer: What is jet lag?

    Researchers don’t fully understand how the body’s internal clocks coordinate. But they do know your body will notice when its circadian rhythms are mismatched to the time zone they’re in.

    “There are a lot of different hormones and other systems in the body that under normal situations are internally synchronized,” says Shawn Youngstedt. He studies circadian rhythms at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. The body clock times when those chemicals are released to orchestrate biological activities. Crossing a lot of time zones can jumble these systems. Hormones and the activities they direct may now operate at inappropriate times.

  • The teenage brain

    It’s not easy being a teenager.

    The teen years can play out like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, where everyday temptations lead to tough decisions. What if I took that big jump on my bike? What’s the worst thing that could happen if I snuck out after curfew? Should I try smoking?

    Teenagers must act on an endless parade of choices. Some choices, including smoking, come with serious consequences. As a result, adolescents often find themselves trapped between their impulsive tendencies (Just try it!) and their newfound ability to make well-informed and logical choices (Wait, maybe that’s not such a good idea!).

  • Science fairs: Teaching students to think like scientists

    Samantha Rowland

    If you grew up learning that science is a class where you memorize clunky, four-syllable words and follow instructions straight out of the lab manual, raise your hand.

    That’s just the kind of thinking that Len Kenyon is working to change when he helps his students develop ideas for science fairs. Too often, students think that science is about rote memorization and step-by-step procedures, rather than active and live processes, he says.

  • An enemy in the cave

    Most of the little brown bats in this photo are dead from white-nose syndrome. This Lackawanna County, Pa., mine is one of many sites in the United States and Canada contaminated with the disease.

    Scientists who study bats have unwittingly become detectives on the trail of a troubling mystery.

  • A very good blast from the past

    On April 11, 2009, vandals sliced through a handful of fiber-optic cables in San Jose, Calif., a high-tech hub in Silicon Valley.

    Instantly, cell phones and land-based phone lines stopped ringing. Internet service crashed. Credit card machines froze. Banks locked their doors. Traffic lights blinked in disarray, snarling traffic. For a short while, no one could call 911.

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