Science Q&A: Fizzling Photons, Magnesium Panic Attacks, and Raising Normal Kids

Everyday Einstein answers 3 listener questions about photons, the magnesium-panic attack link, and how to raise normal, socialized kids (even if you homeschool).

Lee Falin, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #102

This week, I want to answer a couple of questions I’ve received from listeners.

As always, if you have a question you’d like to see me tackle on the Everyday Einstein show, contact me on Twitter, where I’m @QDTeinstein, or send me an email at everydayeinstein@quickanddirtytips.com..


Question #1: Fizzling Photons

Our first question comes from listener Robert who asks:

“I read in the news recently that a light from a galaxy had been discovered that was 30 billion light years away. My question to you is why those photons didn't just ‘fizzle out’ so to speak, traveling all that distance? Does that light just keep going on forever? And if say an astronaut shines a flashlight in outer space, will that light just keep traveling forever?”

Great question Robert! First, in case you’re unfamiliar with the name, a photon is like a little quantum-sized particle of light. Whenever you see light, you’re seeing a stream of photons. 

Now on Earth, when you shine a light, it has to travel through the atmosphere. This means that those little photons occasionally bump into things like gas molecules, dust particles, water molecules, and even bacteria. Every time the light interacts with one of these other particles, some of the photons are converted to other forms of energy, usually heat. Eventually the stream runs out of photons. 

Now in space, there is no atmosphere. So while there are some things that the photons could run into, (occasional bits of cosmic dust, the odd planet or two, etc.) if the photon never hits anything, it will just go on forever.

Question #2: Magnesium and Panic Attacks

Lonnie wrote in to comment on my episode on panic attacks and agoraphobia:

“I saw your piece on agoraphobia and wanted to point out that there is starting to be considerable evidence that anxiety disorders are linked to magnesium deficiency.  So, you might be interested in reading up on that.”

Magnesium is a metal found naturally in lots of foods, including seafood, nuts, and many vegetables. The NIH recommends an average daily intake of 400mg of magnesium for males and just over 300mg for females. A 2003 study of over 4,000 individuals found that most people don’t meet those requirements, and the discrepancy between recommended and actual intake was even worse for African Americans and Mexican Americans. 

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include a significantly higher chance of developing diabetes, heart disease, stroke, migraines, and osteoporosis. Magnesium deficiency has also been associated with depression, schizophrenia, and panic attacks. 

However there is still some debate as to whether it is a lack of magnesium which triggers these conditions, or if these conditions cause magnesium to be depleted more rapidly.

See also: Correlation vs. Causation


While eating a diet full of whole grains and vegetables used to be sufficient to get all of the magnesium your body needed, there is some research that shows a marked decrease in the amount of magnesium in crops due to modern farming methods. 

So while there’s no definitive answer on the relationship between panic attacks and magnesium deficiency, there is plenty of evidence that most Americans don’t get enough magnesium in their diets. And since magnesium is a cofactor in over 300 biological reactions, it’s not surprising that so many illnesses are linked to magnesium deficiency. 

Question #3: Raising Normal Kids

This question is one I receive at least once a month, and I thought it would be worth answering here:

“Since you homeschool, what do you do about helping your kids learn social skills?”

This question always makes me laugh for two reasons. First, because lots of people I speak with imagine homeschooling as a miniature schoolroom in the basement where kids sit for 8 hours a day and listen to their parents lecture them on why evolution is the Antichrist. 

The second reason it makes me laugh is that some people really believe public schools are such amazing models of socially acceptable behavior. (Perhaps I just went to the wrong sorts of schools.) 

The fact is that whether or not your kids go to school at home or someplace else, it’s the family environment that has the most impact on your child’s social behaviors

We do, in fact, let our kids out of their cages occasionally for things like swim team, cub scouts, fitness classes at the local gym, homeschool co-op groups, Lego club, playing with other kids in the village, soccer practice, story time at the local library, community choir practices, birthday parties, and other typical kiddie activities. They make friends, play, laugh, have their feelings hurt, forgive one another, and play some more, just like most other kids. 


So that’s it for this week’s Q&A. If you liked today’s episode, you can become a fan of Everyday Einstein on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, where I’m @QDTEinstein. If you have a question that you’d like to see on a future episode, send me an email at everydayeinstein@quickanddirtytips.com.

Please note that archive episodes of this podcast may include references to Everyday Einstein. Rights of Albert Einstein are used with permission of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Represented exclusively by Greenlight.

About the Author

Lee Falin, PhD

Dr. Lee Falin earned a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Illinois, then went on to obtain a Ph.D. in Genetics, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology from Virginia Tech. 

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