Website Reviews

1. Adult Review – Brian Schmidt

I’m not much of a bio nerd, but I found this blog site curiously appealing. I was just skimming along, but I ended up diving into several of the various articles, intrigued by the content and description. Feels more like a budding science writer than a high school project. The only odd thing was the juxtaposition of ads from Bizarre Town, ranging from beer to candy to LeBron James.

2. Peer Review – Rees Parker

Dear Madison R. Schmidt,

My name is Rees Shephard Parker and after an extensive sojourn of your WordPress AP Biology blog, I have come to the conclusion that the work you have at is both phenomenal and well informing. I must commend you on your excellent and inspirational work!

  1. Your quick and ample citations and sources provide credibility and a professional atmosphere to every one of your posts.
  2. Your titles are to the point and informing so that the reader can understand what each post will be about and better seek out the information he or she wants.
  3. Your overall layout and design create a professional and inviting atmosphere that allows the reader to trust your blog and and the information within.

All in all, your site has an excellent atmosphere and excellent information. I hope you have found this review to your liking.

Rees Shephard Parker
(Excellent) Amateur Blog Critic

3. Peer Review – Kasara Schmidt

I really like how the blog has a nice design and color scheme to it. The opening page is very fun and engaging. I looked at some of your posts and they seem very well thought out and informational. I like the use of photos in the blog posts as well, and it makes the words more appealing for the reader. My favorite post was the one about your cats, Lucy and Emma, because they’re really cute even though they’re adult cats now. Great work!

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AP Bio Reflection

This class has been both challenging and rewarding. It took a while for me to get into the swing of things at the beginning of the year, but I got the hang of it fairly quickly. Because I want to major in the biological sciences in college, this class has been similar to what my future education might be. I liked how small this class size was, because it made collaboration much easier. It also made it such that we could grow closer to one another in the class.

I’ve loved the use of technology throughout this course as well. Although the number of new accounts I had to make grew overwhelming at times, I liked being able to use various different mediums to create projects and presentations. WordPress and Powtoon (which I only just recently started to use) are two of my favorites!

Outside of class, I’ve also had a lot of cool biology-related adventures this school year. I had the chance to meet Dr. Jane Goodall in October, and I will be traveling to visit a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa this coming June. It’s exciting to be participating in so much cool stuff this year!

I would have so say that one of my favorite things that we did this year was the fetal pig dissection. On every other dissection in my academic career, I was always either sick or on a field trip, and so had to miss it. This was the first dissection I ever performed, and while it was challenging (and made me a bit squeamish), I thought that it was really interesting.

I really enjoyed this class as a whole, and I encourage anyone interested in biology to take it!

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Website Reflection

I’ve always been inclined to use technology, and this blog for my AP Bio class was the perfect opportunity for me. I learned a lot about myself and others through the maintenance of this blog. First, I learned that I’m actually fairly proficient in coding and web design, and in creating a visually appealing blog. I tend to be way more motivated to do certain things when they’re visually appealing, like color-coding a to do list, for example!

Second, I learned that if you put in the time and effort to create something noteworthy, people will notice. My blog has gotten a good deal of traffic over this school year, to my great surprise. When looking at the statistics (which I only just recently discovered), I noticed that my blog post about an onion root tip lab we did in class had gotten a considerable amount of traffic. I realized too that the incoming traffic was from students performing searches for lab question answers!

Third, I learned that creating a digital portfolio of your efforts in a class is both manageable (a website is considerably lighter than several binders and textbooks) and rewarding. All of your hard work is available in one place, never water-stained, ripped, crumpled, or lost in the move. It’s been so rewarding to be able to look back at the effort I put into creating this blog, and knowing it is just the beginning.

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My Kitties

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These are some pictures of my two cats, Emma and Lucy, when they were kittens in August of 2011. They’ve grown a bit since then, but Emma has grown less, since she’s the runt of their litter. Emma is the dark grey one, and Lucy is the white (now brown) one. Lucy has a spot of black on her cheek that looks remarkably like a Marilyn Monroe mole, but we unfortunately didn’t decide to call her Marilyn.

Fetal Pig Dissection Lab

*Warning: This blog post contains content and images not suitable for all viewers. Image content includes pictures of a pig dissection. Please continue at your own discretion*

IMG_3485In class last Thursday and Friday, we got the opportunity to dissect a fetal pig. My lab partners were Mana and Grace, and I was the primary person in charge of the actual dissection process. At first, I’ll be honest, I was unnerved and even a bit disgusted at the idea of dissecting anything, much less a cute baby pig. I had managed to accidentally (yes, accidentally, not just “conveniently”) miss every single animal dissection in my entire academic career up until this point, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, after the first few steps of the process, I began to get the hang of the dissection process. I’m a big animal rights activist so it was a bit tough for me, but knowing that the pigs died in the name of science, research, and discovery put my mind at ease!

I found the pig dissection to be very interesting. I know that the anatomy of a pig is very similar to human anatomy, and it was really cool to see exactly what body systems and processes happen inside of us as well. I learned some things that I never knew before – like the fact that the diaphragm entirely separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity, and the fact that the trachea is lined with cartilage rings to maintain its shape and keep the windpipe open! After the initially dissection stage, our group determined that the gender of our pig was male. The dissection went smoothly (despite the less-than-appetizing smell that came along with it), and we all learned a great deal from it!

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How Much is Behavior Based on Nature Versus Nurture?

Nature versus nurture: the great debate. What is truly to blame for all of the criminals out there, or how about the geniuses? Were all the Hitlers, Einsteins, and Beyonces of the world born into their fate, or was it the environment in which they grew up that made them who they are? The honest truth is, no one really knows.

There have been countless studies supporting both sides of the issue. Many of these such studies are performed on twins, who are genetically identical.  If the twins were to have relatively similar personalities, this would support the theory that a person’s traits are based upon his genetics, or nature. Evidence of genetically linked emotional and mental traits has already been found in many forms. For an example, some studies show that a naturally higher level of testosterone in males can lead to more aggressive behavior, and increase the likelihood that he may commit a violent crime. The countless evidence to support this theory makes it a very plausible and viable one.

On the other hand, any of you that know a pair of identical twins know that genetically identical people can be very different from one another. While they may definitely share many of the same qualities, their interests or attitudes may vary greatly from each other. This is evidence that supports the “nature” argument. The argument is especially supported in identical twins that were raised in different households or environments. If the twins are different in any way, then this must be accounted for by their upbringing, not by their genetics. However, this viewpoint as well as the “nature” viewpoint are both on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. There is still another perspective on the nature versus nurture debate.

I would like to present a middle-ground approach to this thoroughly debated issue. Consider this proposal: “Nature loads the gun, but nurture pulls the trigger.” In this scenario, a person’s nature or genetics would perhaps predispose him to a specific trait, but this would not necessarily be expressed unless exposed to the “right” environment. For example, if alcoholism were to run in a person’s family both maternally and paternally, he might be naturally predisposed to an addictive personality. However, this does not necessarily determine that he will become an alcoholic later in life. If raised in a stable environment and without any societal or familial pressures to trigger the predisposition, the person may very well be entirely capable of never being dependent upon alcohol. However, if raised in an emotionally unstable environment or in an environment in which friends/family abused alcohol, the person may be more inclined to act upon his predisposition, or “nature.” This viewpoint is the one that I personally hold, because I feel that both a person’s nature and a person’s nurture contribute to who he is.


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Should We Kill One Species to Save Another?

This week’s KQED “Do Now” Tweet was regarding the northern spotted owl, and its invasive competition, the barred owl. The barred owl is better matched for survival in the northern spotted owl’s native home in North America, and is causing the already endangered smaller owl to be driven closer and closer to extinction. Scientists have made attempts at reintroducing the northern spotted owl but to no avail. The only success they have achieved has come from killing off populations of barred owls in select areas to provide more room and food for the native species.

This is where we hit a moral dilemma. Is it justifiable to kill off one species, even in just a select area, in order to save another? Some say that it is completely justifiable. If the barred owl only invaded the northern spotted owl’s territory because of human activity, then it should be our responsibility to return things to the way they naturally were. Regardless of the means we use to get there, somehow we must stop the northern spotted owl from going extinct. Many believe that this is the right way to go, especially because wildlife agencies in other areas around the world have allowed for similar things to occur in order to control or replenish a certain population. If human activity caused the problem, we as humans are responsible for ending the problem.

On the other hand, some argue that humans have no right to interfere with nature and the life of a species, even to save another. To kill one animal in order to save another is not only allowing members of one species to die, but it is directly causing their death instead of indirectly. Humans already tampered with the balance of life by introducing a foreign species, we should not do anything more to upset nature. Many believe that it is not within our rights to kill a species just because we can, even if the goal is to save another species of animal.

As you can see, this issue is very controversial. People hold many different opinions, and it is impossible to say which is right and which is wrong. As for where I stand on the issue, I don’t think that it is right to kill off a species of animal in order to save another. At the same time, I believe that it is our responsibility as a human race to right the wrongs we have done to nature. If we were able to come up with an alternative method of reintroducing northern spotted owls into the environment, like breeding them in captivity or in a sanctuary before release, I feel that this would be preferrable to killing off the barred owls. ✾


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As amazing as a typical scuba diving adventure might be, there are several limitations that might dampen the experience. Oxygen tanks only last for a certain amount of time, and a person can only scuba dive for up to two hours in one day. There are many dangers in coming up or going down too quickly, as the sudden pressure change can be very harmful. So, how is it that scientists can study marine life and undersea environments over extended periods of time if they can’t even stay underwater for more than two hours? How will we ever get adequate data regarding submarine habitats in the future without it taking painstakingly long?

The answer might lie not in the future, but in the present. Many don’t know it, but the world has housed its only undersea research station at its location off the coast of Florida since 1992, but it was built back in 1986. Aquarius, as it has come to be known, is located 5 miles off shore, and 60 feet under the surface on the ocean floor. Sustained 24/7 by pumps and solar panels, people can stay on Aquarius for days – much longer than the typical 2 hour scuba diving trip.

Scientists studying at Aquarius have to undergo a great deal of training before even being considered to work on the research station. In order to live there safely, you have to go through 24 hours in a compression chamber to adjust to the underwater pressure. Similarly, one has to go through decompression upon leaving. In many ways, Aquarius poses some of the same dangers that regular scuba diving does. However, Aquarius is uniquely innovative in the extensive and in-depth (no pun intended) research they are able to do as a result of the increased submersion time.

Living in Aquarius allows a person to become “part of the coral reef,” in a sense. Research is being conducted on the local marine flora and fauna, like sponges (which work like giant filters) and corals. Scientists even have their own “coral farm” under the sea, where baby corals are being grown. The research all convenes to study the effects of human activity on the ocean and marine life, such as overfishing on coral reefs, increased acidity levels, and pollution. Living on Aquarius is very demanding and requires a great deal of focus and caution – so much so that NASA astronauts in training come here first to be aquanauts!

While Aquarius has been around some time, only a very select few have had the opportunity to visit. The scientists that perform research at the undersea research center go through years and years of intensive training in order to get the opportunity to go down to Aquarius. To give you an idea, there are fewer aquanauts in the world than astronauts that have visited space. Crazy, right? As futuristic and far-out (again, no pun intended) as outer space is, the ocean beneath us is even more undiscovered. So then, if you think about it, Aquarius really is something of the future. Maybe soon, one day, there will be more and more undersea space stations, so that more and more research will be done. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the next Aquarius aquanaut! ≈

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Cracking the Code of Life

In 2001, NOVA created a video entitled Cracking the Code of Life that discussed the Human Genome Project and all that it was doing for people around the world. The Human Genome Project set out to achieve one goal – to map out the entirety of the human genome and make it readily available for use by people everywhere. This would help to find certain genes in which errors could cause hereditary diseases, such as cystic fibrosis. The process of mapping out the genome was once slow and prone to errors, as scientists would write out each letter by hand. Now, however, computerized gene mapping machines make the process much faster.

Now that the human genome is entirely mapped out, a whole world of medical possibilities has been opened. Scientists have now been able to identify the exact genes and mutations that causes congenital disease such as Tay-Sachs, allowing families to be screened for carriers before even having children. This can also help to treat a child with a hereditary disease much earlier than before, because doctors would be able to identify the disease possibly before any symptoms would appear. We also can map out the genetic sequence of other animals, and see which animals we are genetically close to. This would help us to be able to perform more accurate medical tests on animals.

Although this is a very big and important step for humanity, there are also some negative things that could come as a result of the Human Genome Project. Just where do we draw the line between medical advancement and cosmetic genetic manipulation? If a parent is able to screen his or her child for a genetic disease prenatally, then who is to say the parent could not screen for brown eyes, or curly hair, or tan skin? This huge scientific advancement opens the door to a great deal of ethical debate. Additionally, even being genetically screened for medical reasons could have its drawbacks – although one may have a mutated gene that is often found in breast cancer patients, he or she might never develop any sort of cancer. Genetic manipulation can be dangerous to a certain extent, no matter how fantastic it is that we now know every single adenine, guanine, thymine, and cytosine in our DNA.

Personally, I feel that genetic screening and testing for medical reasons is a wonderful thing. However, I also feel that parents should not be allowed to find out, choose, or alter a child’s DNA if the ability ever comes up in the future, if the reason is purely cosmetic. This line is very fine though: is altering a gene that would prevent a child from suffering albinism medical or cosmetic? How about choosing a fetus’ genes to make sure that the child does not have many skin blemishes? This could be considered cosmetic, but at the same time, some forms of skin blemishes could turn into malignant cancers. Personally, it is hard to form a definite opinion. Food for thought. ✼


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