Students Scanning The Brain Are Finding New Ways To Think About It
• Student research project involves brain scans and detail interpretations and analyses.In the Palos Verdes Promenade shopping mall there are groups of students studying at Starbucks, shoppers peaking into furniture shops and cars struggling to park in its triple-deck parking lot. And, at the PVNet Technology Center on the second floor, there are inventions being brainstormed and discoveries being made.
One ongoing program in the facility that attracted the attention of many is the Brain Entrainment Scientific Research course. The course was based on the psychological concept of “learned helplessness,” which is where a living thing is conditioned to feel powerless in the face of an obstacle or task due to experiencing a recurring event of failure or trauma. A famous example of this concept involves the procedure of keeping wild elephants in captivity.
“Once upon a time, a baby elephant would be tied to a tree trunk and trained to believe that it cannot escape,” clinical psychologist Dr. Carol Francis said. “Thus, once the elephant matures into an adult and is tied with a chain within close proximity to a tree trunk, it would automatically assume that it cannot leave said tree trunk.”
This phenomenon illustrates the mental captivity humans feel in certain situations that seem difficult to deal with; in other words, many learn to become helpless. This behavior branches into mental disorders like depression, anxiety and trauma reactions.
study“[For a long time,] we believed that we were somewhat kidnapped by our minds and that we had to live cooperatively with how it thinks and fears,” Francis said. “However, we now know that we can actually impact how our brain functions.”
With this new knowledge now in mind, there have been studies regarding how to combat this psychological battle of learned helplessness. The ongoing program at PVNet, however, is the first study that involves a neurologic device called the BrainTap, which Francis has utilized on her patients for the last 30 years.
Once activated, the BrainTap alters the brain waves and patterns of its user, which results in said user’s thoughts being changed; in essence, it helps an individual overcome their own “learned helplessness.”
“[The BrainTap] inscribes the brain with the type of thoughts that may be beneficial to people,” Francis said.
This form of “brain entrainment” was experimented on individuals through a series of pre-tests that measured the degree of the subject’s feeling of “learned helplessness” through anxiety, depression and self-esteem as well as his or her mental and physical health.
Such measurements were also based on the person’s brain waves. The six high school students, as well as one graduate student, involved then presented their subjects with a task that was entirely impossible to do and recorded their reactions of feeling helpless at such a request. Throughout the experiment, the team also measured the subjects’ body systems such as heart rate and breathing pace.
After these pre-tests, the subjects were each given the BrainTap device with 700 protocols and were required to use at least one option for 22 minutes as well as a 60-second questionnaire for the 14 days that followed. At the end of these 14 days, the individuals took a post-test with the same materials as the pre-test to measure a possible improvement in the subjects’ “learned helplessness” levels.
“We just finished collecting the data [for our study,] and we are going to confirm and analyze this data on March 14,” Francis said.
This project began with Francis bringing the BrainTap and its possible usage for a study to PVNet founder and owner Ted Vegvari, to which Vegvari suggested involving students with all levels of experience as well to provide the youth in his facility an opportunity to understand the world of professional science and technology.
This suggestion aligns with Vegvari’s desire for his students at PVNet: to gain real experiences that are comparable to an adult professional in the field of science.
“It is a lot better [for the kids] to explore and find things that they are interested in [on their own],” Vegvari said.
Two of the main challenges that came with this study were the amount of dedication the test subjects had for their assignments and the amount of time the student interns invested in the project. Because there are not a lot of methods that can completely control human test subjects, there was some discrepancy in the data in terms of the accuracy of the individuals’ usage of the BrainTap.
Additionally, because the team entirely consisted of students with other responsibilities from school and other extracurriculars, not many had a lot of time to thoroughly carry out the experiment.
“Experiments involving humans is a lot harder than those involving amoebas or other organisms,” Francis said. “It is a lot harder to control humans, and it was difficult to have every test subject complete the 22-minute usage daily throughout the study.”
Regardless, this study on brain entrainment is one that could create new possibilities for science, for humans, for society as a whole. When an individual’s perspective can make up his or her world, the BrainTap may create a world with new innovations, new discoveries, new relationships––all just from saying, “I will try.”
“I think that ‘learned helplessness’ is the cornerstone to every difficulty that a person faces,” Francis said. “I hope that the BrainTap verifies what it has been claiming all along and that it can help users change the trajectory of their life.” Miraleste Host Robotics Tournament
• Miraleste Intermediate School host annual VEX Robotics Tournament last week.
Participants of VEX Robotics had another successful day on Saturday, Feb. 1, in a VEX Robotics Competition called Tower Takeover.
The event lasted from 8 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon in Miraleste Intermediate School’s gym. With 34 teams and 200 competitors from across Los Angeles participating, the gym was packed with excitement, technology, and artificial intelligence.
The teams compete in seven matches and get ranked based on their resulting scores.
The first-place team consisted of members from the Science Academy who had a strong robot and a consistent track record with competing.
The second-place team was from Washington Irving Middle School in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The third-place team was from Miraleste Middle School, where the head of the program, Campbell Nimick, teaches and instructs the school’s robotics teams.
Nimick has been running the program for the past eight years and works to provide students with experience in the STEM field as well as life lessons that students can take with them to high school and beyond.
Because many students go into high school without any interest or passion in a certain field, Nimick wants to provide a program that gives insight into the professional and technological field of STEM and give participants a springboard into a possible career path.
Additionally, he hopes to teach skills on collaboration, camaraderie, and leadership through VEX Robotics.
“I want to expose these students to the reality of STEM in case it sparks any interest in pursuing the field in the future,” Nimick said. “Through the teams, the kids are essentially forced to work with people. We want to teach our kids lessons they would not learn in the classroom, things that would help them become better workers, professionals, and team players.” Hold Annual Willenberg Get-Together For The Holidays
• Long held event brings students together from both campuses.

With Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District’s winter break around the corner, Peninsula High celebrated the holiday season with its annual two-day get-together with Willenberg Special Education Center.
From dance performances to playing games in the gym, this festivity allowed the students of the two schools to share their holiday spirit on the Peninsula campus..
“I got the opportunity to help transform Peninsula High into a festive and fun winter wonderland,” Peninsula senior Lauren Kim said. “Being able to interact and spend the day with students from Willenberg was an incredible experience.”
This marked the 51st year of this Peninsula-Willenberg event, which calls for each school to visit each other’s campus to boost holiday spirit. The long-lasting tradition has allowed the connection between the two schools to further strengthen.
With Service Learning Leadership (SLL) members like Kim, as well as other volunteers, Peninsula students were paired with visiting students from Willenberg to spend the day together on Thursday, Dec. 12.
These pairs engaged in various games in the school gym, visited classrooms and created lasting memories through conversations with one another. During the extended lunch period, the Willenberg friends gave a holiday-themed performance for Peninsula students. The experience intensified Peninsula’s message of inclusion and family, both of which the Willenberg students were welcomed into.
“I was able to create new friendships and cheer on my own buddy when he performed in front of Peninsula students during their lunchtime holiday show,” Kim said.
On Wednesday, Dec. 18, the event continued, with Peninsula’s dance teams, SLL and other student participants traveling to Willenberg’s school in San Pedro to perform sets and bond with individuals there. With all students dressed in holiday gear, Peninsula tied a ribbon of friendship with the students for Willenberg once again.
The bus left for Willenberg at 8 a.m., and performances and activities ran from the time of arrival to 12:30 p.m. Performances were given by Choir, varsity and junior varsity COED Choreo, Song, Cheer, Flags, Intermediate Dance, Choreo Company and Advanced Dance. With the array of performances and students who came out to interact with Willenberg’s student body, the event was not only successful but also memorable.
Now, as the year comes to a close, Peninsula and Willenberg students are excited about the rest of the Holiday season and look forward to meeting each other again.
“It was so heartwarming to see all the Willenberg kids bond with the students at Pen,” senior and SLL member Ashley Kim said. “I am also glad that I was able to take this opportunity to be a part of all the joy and merriment.” Convention Provides Insights
• Future journalist attend national convention to learn from peers and professionals.

Peninsula High’s newspaper staff on The Pen recently traveled to Chicago to participate in the annual National High School Journalism Convention.
On the trip, Nov. 2 to Nov. 5, staff members used their time in the Windy City to take classes and explore the city. The staff made the trip with the intention of networking with other student journalists from across the nation and learn from professional journalists with many years of experience.
“The JEA/NSPA conventions are opportunities for students to meet and learn from professional journalists in the newspaper, magazine and Internet media industries,” said The Pen’s advisor Jaymee Johnson. “It is also an opportunity for them to showcase their work and compete on behalf of their publication.”
This year’s convention had a wide array of classes students could choose from. From news gathering sessions to design classes, there were endless opportunities for these journalists to learn how to make the most of their position, from advisors to writers.
chicago.300“Since I am an Opinion editor for the paper, I went to several classes that were on censorship, covering controversial topics and writing with a strong bias,” said senior Liana Korotzer.
These hour-long sessions involved lectures, interactive discussions and visual displays that exemplified what the speakers wanted to convey. Each class was catered toward a specific audience, from those seeking how to gather news to those who wanted to hear the experiences of professionals in the field. Amidst these countless sessions, there were some notable presentations that still resonate in some hearts.
“One session that I really loved was the Parkland presentation. It was so meaningful to see how the Stoneman Douglas High School (Fla.) yearbook staff was able to create something so beautiful out of a tragedy,” said Korotzer.
One session that had a particularly large showing was one done by Stoneman High yearbook advisor Sarah Lerner. The presentation was based on the mass school shooting that occurred in Parkland, Florida, where 17 lives were lost in the process.
During her approximately 45-minute speech, Lerner talked about her own experience of being in the midst of the shooting and how her yearbook staff publicized and handled the incident afterward.
Lerner showed the audience the yearbook spreads she and her staff dedicated so much time and effort into creating and how they encompassed the shooting.
“This year’s convention was interesting because I was able to attend classes that I was not able to go to before,” said senior and editor-in-chief Emily McGinn. “For example, my co-editor-in-chief and I went to a class about copyright issues, which is a problem that we are currently struggling with.”
Those who went were able to gather information that they would not have gotten anywhere else. Despite the odds of making up work from missing school and the weather of the Windy City, The Pen staff came back as journalists with more knowledge of what they are passionate about.
“I think that the journalism convention reminds the people who go that [they are a part of] one small newspaper in a country full of journalists,” Korotzer said. “It shows people that the way they do things does not have to be the way everyone else does it, and they can open their eyes to something new.”
Science Fair Highlights The Best

The South Coast Botanic Garden hosts the annual District Science Fair last week.
Up on the Hill, Peninsula and Palos Verdes high school students dedicate their time to both their studies and extracurricular activities, ranging from sports to school competitions.

One event in particular took place at the South Bay Botanical Garden on Feb. 23; the annual Palos Verdes Peninsula Science and Engineering Fair (PVPSEF).
This yearly event features the work of some of the best science research students in Palos Verdes, with the 13 finalists advancing into the next level of competition.
With Peninsulas High science research teacher Melissa Grace Klose as support and guidance, these remarkable students have shown insight into the science field.
sc.100Competition this year was centered on the following categories: Animal Science, Behavioral Science, Biochemistry, Botany, Chemistry, Computer Science, Engineering, Environmental Science, Medical, Microbiology, and Physics.
Kevin Sun, Yeji Allyson Ee, Albert Tan, Suraj Anand, Rei Landsberger, and Alisa Hathaway placed first in Behavioral Science, Botany, Chemistry, Computer Science, Engineering, and Physics.
The next competition, the L.A. County Science Fair, will be held in Pasadena March 22-24.
“It was amazing to see the work I put in throughout the past year paying off at the Science Fair, and I feel really lucky to have had this experience,” said sophomore Yeji Cho.
At the fair, Cho placed first in the Botany category. Botany is a relation to plant sciences, including plant physiology, ecology, and other fields in this area.
Considering this was Cho’s first year in science research in high school and having little experience in botany, she did remarkably well in the competition.
According to Cho, her project was on “testing the effect of carbon sources on the pH fluctuations caused by the growth of a marine microalgae species called Nannochloropsis Oculata.” The project experience took nearly a year to plan and research.
Anand, said, “The purpose of my project was to attempt to reduce the flaws of current hearing aids by increasing speech intelligibility and suppressing sound lateral to the wearer. I wanted to provide insight on why [some] people do not wear their hearing aids.”
Anand is another talented sophomore finalist who placed first in the Computer Science Division. His project was dedicated to developing a smarter hearing aid with artificial intelligence (A.I.) and beamforming, which is a technology that uses multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) transmitters and receivers.
Anand has long been interested in the computer science field, taking AP and Advanced Computer Science classes online and other classes relating to this subject.
Cho said, “From this project, I have really learned a lot about the time and dedication it takes to carry out even the simplest of experiments.
“I have found that passion and hard work really show in the end product, and I think it is very important that I was able to find a topic I was genuinely interested in.”
Cho is planning to pursue biology as part of her future occupation and is not done yet with the science field.
This fair was just the beginning of her journey in science, and this experiment in particular boosted her confidence in accomplishing her goals in this area.
“I have learned more intricate aspects of machine learning and how to collect and analyze data [from this project],” Anand said. “I also enjoyed learning about the physiology of the ear and mimicking it with neural networks.”
Anand, like Cho, is hoping to contribute to the science field later on. He is planning on applying computer science to the medical field and make a difference through technology and scientific knowledge. From this project, Anand was able to work with different high-technology equipment and was able to develop algorithms for a device used and depended on in the real world.
With the next fair right around the corner, these 13 contestants are ready to give it their all at the next scientific showdown.

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