June 15, 2017


Source: aghostmaycome (Pixabay)
Each year as summer rolls around, accounts of children "drowning" days after being in water begin creeping into the news.

Just last week, we heard the , a 4-year-old Texas boy who died a week after a wave knocked him over. Although Frankie appeared to be fine the rest of the day, he began feeling ill the following night.

So what exactly is "secondary drowning"?

Although a relatively rare occurrence compared to "wet drowning" —  which causes roughly 10 deaths each day in the U.S. ;  instances of secondary or "delayed" drowning, occurring hours or even days after being in water, have been on the rise as doctors have become better at identifying it.

When we breathe normally, contraction of the diaphragm muscle allows the lungs to expand, which draws air inward, like a vacuum.

The human respiratory system. 
Source: OpenStax College (Wikimedia Commons).
When water is accidentally inhaled, the larynx in the upper airway spasms. This causes the airway to seal shut, but the vacuum still occurs. As the person struggles to breathe more deeply to open the airway, the vacuum becomes stronger. This mechanism is called dry drowning, and this alone can be a cause of death.

The combination of lack of oxygen and too much carbon dioxide can eventually cause the person to become unconscious, which relaxes the laryngospasm and allows water to enter the lungs in what we call wet drowning. (Note that, unlike what you see in the movies, a person drowning cannot call for help.)

However, in secondary drowning, a small intake of water can cause laryngospasms and choking, but does not completely close the airway. The person can appear completely fine. As time passes, however, the inhaled water irritates the lungs, causing inflammation, swelling, and excess fluids to fill the lungs (or "edema"). Progressively, this results in lack of oxygen, blood acidosis (due to inability to rid the body of carbon dioxide), lowered heart rate, and cardiac arrest.

In essence, instead of the person drowning in a lake or backyard pool, the individual drowns from their own bodily fluids.

May 28, 2017

Speech at Penn State College of Medicine 2017 Commencement

Speaking at Penn State College of Medicine's Commencement.
Even though I defended my dissertation almost a year ago, I was finally able to participate in the spring Commencement ceremony with my classmates at Penn State College of Medicine last Sunday!

I was honored to give the graduate student address, and I wanted to share the text of my speech below. Even though it's kind of a rough time for a young scientist to start their career now, the goal of my message was to suggest something that all scientists can start doing today to, hopefully, make the world a little more receptive to what we do. Enjoy!


“Wait. What do you do again?” 

Every graduate student has been asked this question at least 20 times. Per year. Usually at family holiday gatherings. 

I’m very humbled to have the opportunity to address my graduate school colleagues, friends, and family this afternoon. But as I sat down to write this speech, I stared at a blank Word document for a while – which is unfortunately still a common occurrence, even after typing a 200-page dissertation. I didn’t quite know how to address so many different people with so many different graduate school experiences. 

What did we all do these last few years?

October 6, 2016

Scientists Should Advocate for their Own Research

Why (and how) scientists should advocate for their research with journalists and policymakers

Long gone are the days of the lone investigator who discovered a new scientific truth, published the finding in a journal, and continued doing bench research. Nowadays, scientists have to wear any number of different hats: experimenter, data analyst, teacher, mentor, negotiator, financial planner, writer, boss, philosopher, and speaker.

We have to be team players, but also self-motivated. We have to pay meticulous attention to detail while also under- standing how our research fits into the bigger picture. A good scientist performs well in many of these roles, but one person can’t be good at everything.

I am a postdoctoral researcher whose favorite hat is “writer.” It’s exciting to craft my message, put years’ worth of work down on paper, and add my own results to the literature of a decades-old research field. Scientific publications give us the potential to change the status quo in how other researchers approach their own work—and that’s a big deal.

But when we pour all our energy into communicating only with other scientists, we miss the mark on targeting two other crucial audiences who can help us make an even bigger impact: journalists and policymakers.

August 11, 2016

#PhelpsFace and the Neuroscience of Getting “in the Zone”

Social media exploded earlier this week with a bevy of tweets and memes featuring a rather unimpressed Olympian – and this time, it wasn’t McKayla Maroney.

On Monday night, cameras captured a hooded Michael Phelps appearing to brood and snarl in the direction of South African swimmer Chad le Clos, who was shadowboxing in preparation for the 200-meter butterfly semifinal.

#PhelpsFace. (NBC; gif via Imgur)

Thus, #PhelpsFace was born.

Despite the intense focus we’ve seen since the Sydney games in 2000, Phelps’ ADHD presented him with a struggle early on. As his mother Debbie described in a 2008 article with The New York Times, “In kindergarten I was told by his teacher, ‘Michael can’t sit still, Michael can’t be quiet, Michael can’t focus.’” Attending regular swim practices – sometimes more than four hours’-worth each day – gave him an outlet for his boundless energy and a lesson in self-discipline.

In fact, many of Phelps’ pre-swim rituals align with what scientists have recently been learning about how we focus to get our heads in the game.

June 5, 2016

#PhDin2016: I'm Defending in 2 Days!

It's here, guys.

This 194-page beast went to the committee on May 12. (No, I had nothing more
to say, but another 6 pages would have been awesome.)