Australian Bushfires: A Glimpse of our Potential Future

By Anjana Shriram

The campaign against climate change has surged to the spotlight yet again, as bushfires continue to engulf the Australian continent. The fires have destroyed more than 6 million hectares of land, destroyed thousands of homes, killed more than 27 civilians and firefighters, and claimed the lives of more than half a billion animals. They have annihilated entire ecosystems, and the United States alone has sent nearly 200 firefighters and personnel to help combat the fires. While celebrities have taken to Instagram to donate millions of dollars, the fires in Australia have forced all of us to confront our own actions. Although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact role that climate change plays in all of this, it’s safe to say that human negligence has greatly exacerbated this environmental disaster. All of us have contributed to climate change in one way or another, which means all of us have a responsibility to rectify this ecological damage. 

A natural combination of high temperatures, prolonged drought, and dry air doesn’t end well when coupled with record high CO2 emissions. Dr. Imran Ahmed of Australian National University states that there is a direct link between climate change and the increasing  frequency and intensity of fire seasons, “because what climate change does is exacerbate the conditions in which bushfires happen” ( Unfortunately, the future isn’t looking very bright either. Scientists predict that if the climate crisis continues to escalate at the current rate, such bushfires will be 3 times more frequent by the end of this century. Now this has a few particularly disturbing implications. First, beyond a certain point, climate change may be irreversible. In March of 2019, the United Nations General Assembly President stated, “‘We are the last generation that can prevent irreparable damage to our planet,’” emphasizing that 11 years is all we have to “avert catastrophe” ( Furthermore, combating fires requires a colossal amount of resources, from airplanes to water, to the actual firefighters and volunteers who place their lives in peril in order to protect the rest of us. And we simply cannot keep up with these fires; our current methods of combating bushfires are not sustainable, and by allocating more and more resources to combat fires, we are further depleting our planet’s limited materials. 

While the Australian bushfires might not affect us directly, they must serve as a grim reminder to people all over the world of the consequences we risk facing if we don’t take action now. At the end of the day, this is the only home we’ve got; unless people and governments work collectively to solve this crisis, what is happening in Australia will become all of our realities.

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The Game Revolution: How Gamified Education Could Change the Face of Education

By Joshua Charat-Collins

If you’re a student in present-day America, there’s no doubt you have something to say about our education system. Whether that criticism is positive or negative, gamification has the potential to reinvent the educational process, to the benefit of students and teachers alike. First, however, comes some sorely-needed background on gamification, its history and uses, and then how it will change our educational system in the future.

Gamification is the process of adding game elements or mechanics to an otherwise non-game-like task. When we say “game elements,” we can mean points, levels, customization–a myriad of options limited only by the creativity of the designer. Mechanics are similar, but are more akin to the “rules” of the game. They govern what the player (you) is able to do and conversely, not do, within the game. With those basics out of the way, we can begin talking about the more interesting parts. Gamification has long been researched as a way to improve the engagingness of otherwise menial tasks, like, for example, sorting letters in a post office. If a jingle played when you sorted a letter correctly, you’d be receiving positive reinforcement from the game, and would be more likely to sort letters correctly in the future–and stay engaged in the task. That is the most basic of gamified elements–basic positive reinforcers–but there are many more. Add in streaks of letters sorted correctly, points earned for each letter sorted correctly and subtracted for those sorted incorrectly, and you’ve got yourself a more involved game. It’s relatively easy to apply this to everyday work, but education is a little more tricky–which is where the research comes in.

Chances are that if you’ve ever had trouble in a class, you’ve turned to gamified education to help you out. KhanAcademy, Kahoot, and Quizlet are all examples of gamified education. Even NitroType (remember that?) has game elements to it beyond those that seem obvious. However, you’ll notice one important factor–while all of these may at some point have been used in a class, none of them comprised the body of the class entirely (at least not in public schools). The goal of gamified education is to bring adaptive, lifelong learning to students everywhere, and to do that, we need to start with public schools. The kind of gamified educational program that most resembles the program that schools use is called the MOOC–short for massive online open course. KhanAcademy is one example of a MOOC. Coursera is another. CodeAcademy is a more focused MOOC. If we are to truly gamify education, we need to understand how these programs work to keep students involved and eager to learn. An important part of that is intrinsic motivation. Students need to want to learn for themselves, not for the sake of advancing in the game–and that is a complex problem. Most motivating factors that these MOOCs use to keep students learning are external motivators that more often than not harm the student’s intrinsic motivation to keep learning. To remedy this problem, we have to turn to psychology.

Motivation theory teaches that while external rewards more often than not undermine intrinsic motivation, the manner of delivery matters in how great this undermining effect is and whether or not it occurs at all. Verbal praise generally doesn’t do much to intrinsic motivation. Neither do unexpected rewards. In short, using specific mechanics can reduce or even nullify and reverse the impact on a student’s intrinsic motivation. Combined with effective, proven teacher techniques, like hints, we can begin to design a more effective (in more than just test scores) gamified education program for students in public schools to use. Personalize it by using informatic techniques, like machine learning, to predict based on student performance what they’ll want to learn next, and you have a recipe for lifelong learning, all through gamified education.

LightSail 2

By Maggie Yao

Space exploration has become more and more popular as we dream of one day being able to freely travel among the stars in the inky skies, yet that requires having a capable spacecraft that can help achieve these feats. One of the biggest weaknesses that all spacecrafts possess is that they are limited by the amount of fuel they can carry. Nevertheless, an experiment by the Planetary Society set out to counteract this issue by creating the first ever spacecraft propelled by sunlight, known as LightSail2.

Launched on June 25 of 2018, it had soared into space aboard SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Rocket, and scientists have been compiling data ever since. The creation of such a technological achievement wasn’t easy and required four triangular sails, designed to be combined into one 344-square-foot sail. It was made primarily of Mylar, which is known for being a tear-resistant, extremely reflective fabric that is thinner than a human hair. Light is reflected off of the large surface area, and it adds to the momentum of the sail. In theory, it allows for indefinite propulsion, and to guarantee that sunlight is directly hitting it, the sail has to constantly adjust its orientation.. 

When it was launched, it eventually orbited at a much higher altitude than the typical satellite. For example, the International Space Station is approximately 400 kilometers above Earth’s surface while LightSail2 is 720 kilometers above. However, with the issue of atmospheric drag, LightSail2’s orbit is actually gradually getting smaller and smaller as time goes on. But as it is the first of its kind, the next generations will be used in much higher orbits that would allow for greater space exploration. The developments of this kind of new, innovative technology may someday allow for scientists to reach star systems previously unavailable to us as well as help answer countless questions about our universe.

[Source 1][Source 2]

An Interview with Glenn Collins

By Joshua Charat-Collins

Catalyst Magazine interviewed Glenn Collins, a veteran of the scientific publishing industry and the former editor of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. From him, we learned about his career and what it takes to work in the scientific publishing industry. His answers were quite informative.


Catalyst: How and why did you pursue a career in scientific publishing?

Glenn Collins: I fell into science publishing a little by accident. I graduated with a degree in biology from Cornell University in 1991.  Not sure what to do next I took a job in a microbiology lab for a large company. I started to pursue a master’s degree in literature when my family decided to move to Arizona and I needed to make a decision.  I always liked science and so I applied for an editorial assistant position in New York City at John Wiley & Sons. I got the job and have not looked back. That was 1995 so I am in my 23rd year now. 

Catalyst: What is your favorite part of your job in this industry?

Glenn Collins: I like the idea of bring research to light for the benefit of the greater good. Publications I have worked on have published research in cardiology, physiatry, rehabilitation research and brain research. I have also played a role in the launch of new scientific journals (5 and counting) which give new avenues for more researchers to get their work out there, get noticed and who knows, maybe change the world.


Catalyst: What part of your job do you find the hardest or most difficult?

Glenn Collins: Getting scientists from all over the world to meet deadlines. That is not easy!

Catalyst: Which skills and abilities do you find to be the most important in this career?

Glenn Collins: Communication is essential. Every day I write or speak to dozens of people.  Typically I need something from them – to complete a peer review, to submit a revised paper, to check a galley proof and so on.  I need to be crystal clear in what they need to do to keep the engines humming. A science journal is not unlike a busy newspaper – there are always deadlines to watch. Time management, project planning, a little business savvy have all come into play.  My title is a misnomer. I rarely edit anything. Rather I make sure the scientific editors do the editing, the editorial assistants keep the papers going, the marketing team keep to their marketing timelines and the publisher does their job to get a high quality publication out on time.

Catalyst: What is your typical day like?

Glenn Collins: Email, email, email. Like many people my inbox is my to do list. I have several email addresses for the various journals and projects I work on.  I have to check all of them each morning, prioritize and then start knocking out replies. I often have a number of calls each day as well. Running a scientific journal can often mean you need to know about the society that owns the journal. That can mean joining staff calls, marketing calls, social media and so on.  Then I need to make sure I carve out some time for long term projects or consultancies I might currently be working on. Besides the three journals I run, I also help through the company I work for, Origin Editorial, which provides consultations for other societies and their publications.

Catalyst: Do you have any advice for students like us who aspire to work in this industry?

Glenn Collins: Science publishing is undergoing tremendous change right now.  The business model of member and institutional subscriptions is slowly giving way to the Open Access and Open Science movement.  This is in turn putting pressure on traditional revenue streams. I do not think science publishing will look like it does now in 20 years.  I would say it is a challenging time to view a long term career in it. People entering into the field now must do so with their eyes wide open and understanding what is happening and will likely continue to happen to the field.  Science publishing will always be needed of course, but going the traditional route right now might be like joining Blockbuster video just as Netflix is starting.

Thanks, Glenn!

Through this interview the editors and members of the Catalyst staff learned more about the industry we seek to replicate, and what to expect should we pursue careers in this collective interest of ours. 

Some of you may want to know more about Glenn. Glenn Collins graduated from Cornell University in 1991 with a B.S. in Biology. After working in a microbiology lab for a few years at Pall Corporation he started his STM publishing career at John Wiley and Sons in 1995. Glenn left Wiley and moved to San Diego in 2000 where he first worked for the journal Brain Research before becoming the managing editor of JACC – the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. After more than twelve years as the Executive Managing Editor of the JACC Journals, Glenn moved to Origin Editorial as the Director of Business Development and the Publications Director/Managing Editor for the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. He is also the Executive Editor for the journal Structural Heart: The Journal of the Heart Team. He is currently launching his fifth journal—the Archives of Rehabilitation Research and Clinical Translation—an open access journal.

Potential Cure for the Future?

By Joanne Lee

Incurable. Life-changing.

Everyone knows about Alzheimer’s and dementia, two degenerative, long term ailments that typically affect older generations. But what of Parkinson’s, a progressive illness that affects the nervous system over a long period of time? Like the aforementioned diseases, Parkinson’s has no discovered permanent cure yet. While there is treatment—medical drugs, change in diet, rehabilitation, and even surgery to insert microelectrodes that initiate brain simulation—they are only to alleviate symptoms of the resulting, fatal disease. In other words, Parkinson’s is a sure sign of death, with a remaining lifespan of only seven to fourteen years. While scientists suspect the origins to this disease lie in genetic and environmental elements, no real connections have been made until fairly recently.

Scientists have found recent evidence that gut bacteria, specifically from the appendix, could be a leading factor in the cause of not just Parkinson’s, but possibly other neurological based diseases. After examining the brains of patients with Parkinson’s, scientists discovered protein that was present in both the intestinal organs and the brain. The identical protein, alpha-synuclein, suggests gut-bacteria can travel up the spinal cord to the brain. Because the evidence is still recent, it is not advisable to get an immediate appendectomy for prevention. However, with the promising display of verification towards the roots of Parkinson’s, a cure can be envisioned, just on the horizon.

[Source 1] [Source 2] [Source 3]


By Paul Zhang

The images sent back were stunning. On September 22, the Hayabusa2 spacecraft landed two MINERVA rovers on the surface of the asteroid Ryugu. One of them snapped this amazing “action” photo of Ryugu’s surface. Before Hayabusa2, none of the landers which descended on asteroids had the capacity to move. And the MINERVA rovers don’t rove in the traditional way. An internal “torquer” rotates quickly and causes MINERVA to “hop” around the surface of the 1-kilometer wide Ryugu, each hop lasting about 15 minutes. Upon receiving the images from Hayabusa2, Makoto Yoshikawa, the mission leader of Hayabusa2, said that he and his team “could feel the dynamic motion of [the] rover … [and were] very surprised to see such a beautiful image.” To analyze the asteroid, the MINERVA rovers are equipped with a wide variety of instruments, including an accelerometer, gyroscope, and multiple cameras. By hopping around Ryugu, they’ll be able to take measurements at multiple points on the asteroid.


But that’s not all. Hayabusa2 carries four rovers: the two MINERVA rovers mentioned above, a MASCOT rover built in collaboration with German and French space agencies, and an extra optional MINERVA rover. On October 2, Hayabusa2 successfully landed the MASCOT on Ryugu. Points if you can guess how it moves. A bit larger than the MINERVA rovers, MASCOT carries a wide-angle camera, radiometer, magnetometer, and an infrared spectral microscope.

So why is Ryugu so important, even if the pictures we get are stellar? Ryugu is a C-type (carbonaceous) asteroid, containing organic material and water from the birth of our solar system. Scientists hope that the Hayabusa2 mission will shed more light on the evolution of the solar system we call home, and possibly even the origin of life itself.

Hayabusa2’s mission will conclude with the gathering of asteroid samples, sometime in January next year. To obtain pristine asteroid material untouched by contamination, Hayabusa2 will fire a copper impactor into the surface of Ryugu, while hiding behind Ryugu. The spacecraft can then obtain pristine material from inside the asteroid. If all goes as planned, Hayabusa2 will return with its asteroid payload on December of 2020.

If you’re interested, the German space agency DLR published a YouTube video animation of the Hayabusa2 mission. It’s pretty cool!

[Source 1] [Source 2] [Source 3] [Source 4] [Source 5] [Source 6] [Source 7]

Post-Mortem Genetic Activity

By Anjana Shriram

When most people think of death, they imagine a complete absence of any activity within the body. However, recent research has uncovered an uneasy yet mind-boggling truth about the post-mortem human body, forcing us to reshape our definition of “death”. Scientists discovered that even after a person “dies”, genetic activity continues for the next 24 hours. The discovery has opened doors for a new forensic technique. Instead of relying on body temperature and physical conditions, physicians can now observe patterns in genetic activity to derive a more accurate time of death. The continuation of genetic activity is also present in organisms like mice and zebrafish, whose genes function for a few days after death. Although it seems very unrealistic, the post-mortem activity of genes is not all that unusual. According to Tom Gilbert, a geneticist from the National History Museum in Copenhagen, “It’s not like you need a brain for gene expression.” Molecular processes are sustained as long as there sufficient enzymes and chemicals. Dr. Gilbert likens gene activity to a boiling pot of pasta. “If you turn the cooker off,” he says, “it’s still going to bubble away, just at a slower and slower rate.” Although this discovery is promising for the future, it is yet to be perfected to minimize variability. But it does raise unsettling questions about our bodies— “When does everything stop”, and “what actually is death?” (Science News). 

Red Tides

By Alex Shahla

Hello CCA! I know you’re all getting antsy about summer break by now. Don’t worry. Just pull through AP testing, aim for that ‘5’, and then a couple more week of school, and there we have it: summer break! Now, a lot of you may be going to the beach this summer – so you may want to read this until the end. And now that I got your attention, I will explain to you about an interesting phenomenon that happens right here along San Diego’s beaches called a ‘red tide’.

A red tide occurs when certain species of dinoflagellates, which are eukaryotic algae, suddenly bloom, increasing their numbers exponentially. They usually cause the ocean to turn a vivid shade of red, however can they have a high color range, and can be anywhere from pink to brown. Red tides have been known to occur all around the world, but they are especially common along the Southern California coastline. The cause for this oceanic algae bloom is correlated to many factors, including below average ocean salinity, low surface nutrient content high nutrient content in water-which is caused by runoff from human activity or rain, calmer than usual seas, low wind speed near the coast. Also, despite the fact that they mainly flourish in high nutrient density, recent studies have shown that red tides can flourish in low nutrient densities on the surface of the ocean, further complicating the scientists’ research.

They can be both a vivid and dazzling experience, but are also pesky to beachgoers and sea animals. This is because some of the species responsible for these blooms release toxins, such as domoic acid, which build-up in the tissues of nearby marine animals, ranging from sea lions to squid. If too much toxin builds up, there can be significant marine animal die-offs following the tides. Humans can also be affected, but to a lesser extent. The toxins may cause mild respiratory distress, so it’s better not to wade in the water if the bloom is particularly severe.

Now on to the ‘dazzling’ part. Some of these dinoflagellates display bioluminescence, which is the ability of certain organisms to produce and emit light. At night-time, if you were to go to the beach, you would see the water glowing a light, vivid, glow-in-the-dark blue. Even in total darkness, bright glow of the algae can light up the surroundings with flashes of blue, providing a truly eye-catching experience. This phenomenon only occurs in certain places around the world, one of them being the San Diego coast, and usually happen every couple years, and typically during late summer to early fall.

Now let’s just hope that this year will be the year bioluminescent algae will make a comeback this year to reward us for our hard work this year!

[Source 1] [Source 2] [Source 3]

The Effort to Survive Stress

By Gabby Kang

As I write this, it’s been three days since second semester has started. And already, my thoughts have gone from, “Wow, I’m kinda excited to change classes,” to “O summer break, bring my sweet respite from my suffering.” And, unfortunately, this attitude is an unavoidable part of high school life.

One one hand, school can be a great place, whether it’s starting the day with music during band or ending the day in conservatory. On the other, we go to CCA—the school where everyone has decided that the best classes are the hardest ones. And with this attitude, stress is imminent.

Stress, if it makes you feel better can actually be “science-ed” away as the excessive production of a variety of chemicals, including adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) to promote the production of cortisol, adrenaline, and thyroxine. Overall, the stimulation of these glands/hormones promote a fight or flight response. In other words, when you’re dealing with school related stress, your body is quite literally encouraging you to enter gladiatorial combat with your homework. (“Only one of us will survive, Integral Worksheet, and I don’t plan to pass until I make the most out of girl scout cookie season”).

That being said, fighting to the death against every homework assignment is bound to take its toll on you so here’s a couple ways to chill out—backed up with more science!

The keys to combating stress are endorphins, one of the many types of brain chemicals otherwise known as neurotransmitters. Endorphins are, in crass terms, the body’s natural opioids. Interacting with the body’s opiate receptors, endorphins reduce our perception of pain while also stimulating feelings of euphoria, modulating appetite, and enhancing our immune system. Overall, they make you feel happier and less stressed.

Both ginseng and spicy foods such as peppers help stimulate the production of endorphins. On the more tasteful side, the cocoa found in chocolate also relieves stress. Physical activity such as running (or walking, if you’re like me and prefer to stay away from intense cardio) is another good way to stimulate endorphin production, while also providing additional health benefits.

In addition to endorphins, exercising has an additional benefit of expending energy. As a result, it’s much easier to fall asleep, and a larger majority of the rest you get will be REM sleep. REM sleep—in addition to being a “deeper” sleep—actually reduces the amount of stress hormones produced while also reorganizing your mind for new experiences the next day. That being said, going to bed at one in the morning isn’t likely to magically or scientifically reduce your stress levels. However, taking time to workout will ensure that the 2-3 hours of sleep you actually get will be more effective and efficient. (On an unrelated note, exercise is also proven to help with memorization, so studying as you exercise may actually help you pass that one AP exam).

Well that’s all for now CCA, keep up the good work and try to stay relaxed!

[Source 1]  [Source 2]  [Source 3]  [Source 4]

Mission to Mars

By Kaila Coimbra

On December 22, 2017, a white streak raced across the night sky. My sister and I, never seeing anything like it, hoped that we were witnessing first contact by alien life forms. To our surprise (and slight disappointment), the white streak was the fourth Falcon 9 launch and the first to reuse a booster from one of the previous launches. The unprecedented “reusable” rocket is one of the many successful launches headed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company. Musk, the CEO of Space X as well as the famous car company Tesla, has big dreams of putting humans on Mars in the near future—possibly as soon as 2024.

Falcon Heavy is the most powerful operational rocket in the world and is scheduled to launch on February 6, 2018; it can lift off with the weight of 54 metric tons, which is more than enough to carry passengers, crew, luggage, and fuel. Though Musk is not planning to send Falcon Heavy to Mars, it would hopefully achieve SpaceX’s goal of landing all three (reused) engine cores, something Musk has called a sort of “synchronized aerial ballet.” If Falcon Heavy is successful (knock on wood), it would be a monumental first step toward colonizing outside of Earth.

Despite SpaceX’s numerous and incredibly ambitious missions the past few years, they have not slowed down: SpaceX has already generated plans to create an even bigger reusable rocket called BFR. According to Musk, BFR will most likely be the means to colonize Mars. The advancements that SpaceX will make in the near future will place a mark in history, and perhaps, in the next generation, we will be living on new worlds.

[Source 1]  [Source 2]  [Source 3]