Atoms Star in Smallest Movie Ever Made

Posted May 1st, 2013 at 4:45 pm (UTC+0)
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The World’s Smallest Stop-action Movie (IBM)

Bigger is often better in Hollywood, but IBM is drawing lots of attention for making the smallest movie ever.

A Boy and His Atom is a stop-motion, animated movie made with thousands of precisely positioned atoms in nearly 250 motion picture frames.  The folks at Guinness World Records®  verified that it’s the smallest stop-action movie  ever made.

The storyline, set to a lively musical track, follows a boy who makes friends with a single atom. Together, they go on a spirited journey that has them dancing, playing catch with each other, and bouncing on a trampoline.

Poster promoting IBM's "A Boy and His Atom".  World's smallest movie (IBM)

Poster for “A Boy and His Atom,” the world’s smallest movie. (IBM)

IBM says  its little movie is a unique way of conveying science outside the research community.

“Capturing, positioning and shaping atoms to create an original motion picture on the atomic-level is a precise science and entirely novel,” said Andreas Heinrich, principle investigator at IBM Research. “At IBM, researchers don’t just read about science, we do it. This movie is a fun way to share the atomic-scale world while opening up a dialogue with students and others on the new frontiers of math and science.”

The atoms in the animation were manipulated with an IBM-invented, award-winning scanning tunneling microscope.

“This Nobel Prize winning tool was the first device that enabled scientists to visualize the world all the way down to single atoms,” said Christopher Lutz, a scientist with IBM Research. “It weighs two tons, operates at a temperature of negative 268 degrees Celsius and magnifies the atomic surface over 100 million times. The ability to control the temperature, pressure and vibrations at exact levels makes our IBM Research lab one of the few places in the world where atoms can be moved with such precision.”

Researchers used a standard computer to remotely operate the microscope, manipulating a super-sharp needle that hovered about one nanometer, or one billionth of a meter, above a copper surface, which allowed the scientists to “feel” the atoms.

The scanning tunneling microscope was invented in 1981 by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer at IBM Zürich. This powerful microscope allows scientists to image surfaces at the atomic level and manipulate individual atoms. (IBM)

The scanning tunneling microscope used to manipulate atoms to create the world’s smallest movie. (IBM)

At such a minute distance, the needle was able to physically attract atoms and molecules on the surface and then move them to precisely specified locations on the surface.

According to IBM, the moving atom makes a unique sound that is critical feedback in determining how many positions it’s actually moved.

The scientists created and photographed 242 still images of stop-action motion with the nearly 10,000 individually placed atoms.  Those photos were then rendered into a video that’s about a minute and eight seconds long.

The IBM researchers created the film in part to demonstrate technology that could be used in the future to create computer storage systems, based on atomic-scale memory, that would be capable of storing massive amounts of data.

Telephone Inventor’s Voice Heard in Restored Recording

Posted April 26th, 2013 at 8:01 pm (UTC+0)
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Portrait of Alexander Graham Bell, circa 1914-1919 (Moffett Studio/Library and Archives Canada via Wikimedia Commons)

Portrait of Alexander Graham Bell, circa 1914-1919 (Moffett Studio/Library and Archives Canada via Wikimedia Commons)

A 128-year-old voice recording made by Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, has been recovered by Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian Institution.

Although the voice on the restored recording sounds a bit faint with some hiss and noise in the background, it is now possible to hear Bell speak for the first time. Before the restored recordings were made available, no one knew what the inventor sounded like.

The sound of the inventor’s voice comes from the National Museum of American History‘s collection of 200 recordings from Bell’s Volta Laboratory that are among some of the earliest sound recordings ever made.

The recording is part of the National Museum of American History‘s collection of 200 of the earliest sound recordings from Bell’s Volta Laboratory.

Researchers also found a loose piece of paper containing what appears to be a written transcript of Bell’s recording.

The transcript, which is  signed by Bell, ends with the words, “in witness whereof, hear my voice, Alexander Graham Bell.”

It was paired with a recently identified “wax-on-binder-board disc” with the  initials “AGB” and the same date, April 15, 1885, etched into its surface.

The recording was made using a non-invasive optical sound recovery process on Library of Congress equipment that was developed by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  The researchers were able to positively identify Bell’s voice by matching the audio on the old disc with the written transcript.

Photo of the 128 year-old disc that contains the voice of Alexander Graham Bell (Smithsonian Volta Laboratory Collection)

The 128-year-old disc that contains the voice of Alexander Graham Bell (Smithsonian Volta Laboratory Collection)

“Identifying the voice of Alexander Graham Bell—the man who brought us everyone else’s voice—is a major moment in the study of history,” said John Gray, director of the museum. “Not only will this discovery allow us to further identify recordings in our collection, it enriches what we know about the late 1800s—who spoke, what they said, how they said it—and this formative period for experimentation in sound.”

Along with identifying the inventor’s voice, the museum also identified the voice of Bell’s father, Alexander Melville Bell, from a wax-coated drum recording made in September 1881.

Partially quoting Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” the elder Bell said on the recording, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy.” He went on to say, “I am a graphophone, and my mother was a phonograph.”

In 1881, concerned about a possible patent war with rival inventors, Alexander Graham Bell placed the recording, along with the machine that made the recording, at the Smithsonian so that they could be used as proof in the event of any  litigation.

A voice recording of Bell’s father was recovered on this wax-coated drum, which was shipped to Berkeley Lab earlier this year for analysis. (Roy Kaltschmidt)

A voice recording of Bell’s father was recovered on this wax-coated drum that was shipped to the Berkeley Lab earlier this year for analysis. (Roy Kaltschmidt)

In 2002, the Lawrence Berkeley Lab  came up with the idea of using a non-invasive optical technique  to scan and recover sounds.

The unique sound recovery process makes a high-resolution digital map of the disc or, in many cases, a cylinder. This map then goes through further processing to remove skips, scratches and other noises. Finally, the system uses special software that calculates the motion of a stylus moving through the disc or cylinder’s grooves, reproducing the audio and saving it as a standard digital sound file.

The continuing effort to recover and restore Bell’s old Volta discs is part of an ongoing project to preserve and catalog the museum’s collection of early recordings, while also increasing public access to the collection’s contents.

The Smithsonian says that the content of these old recordings, and the distinctive  old physical discs and cylinders,  provide unique insight into the invention process of these  19th-century labs and speech patterns of the late 19th century.

Smithsonian video with the restored sound of Bell’s voice and accompanying written transcript

New Robot Crawls Like a Sea Turtle

Posted April 23rd, 2013 at 11:00 pm (UTC+0)
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Top view of "Flipperbot" (Nicole Mazouchova)

Top view of Flipperbot (Nicole Mazouchova)

Researchers have designed a robot that crawls like a sea turtle which could help inspire future multi-terrain robots that would also be able to swim and walk.

The new robot, dubbed “Flipperbot,” was designed to allow scientists to learn more about the locomotion of animals such as seals, sea turtles and mudskippers.

Its creators, from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and Northwestern University, wanted a better understanding of how these animals use their flippers and fins to move on surfaces like sand.

Flipperbot, which is 19 centimeters long and weighs 790 grams, crawls by using two flipper-like front limbs that span about 40 centimeters. To power the turtle-like robot, each of its limbs is equipped with small servo motors with thin, lightweight flippers attached to the end.

Flipperbot could also help scientists gain a better understanding of how structures like fins and flippers evolved when fish-like animals moved from the water onto land several hundred million years ago.

"Flipperbot" makes its way through sand.  (Nicole Mazouchova)

Flipperbot makes its way through sand. (Nicole Mazouchova)

To better understand the mechanics of flipper-based movement on land Daniel Goldman from the Georgia Tech team said that his group, before designing Flipperbot, to better understand the mechanics of flipper-based movement on land, researchers studied how hatchling sea turtles propelled themselves from their nests on sandy beaches into the sea.

“Flipperbot allowed us to explore aspects of the sea turtle’s gait and structure that were challenging, if not impossible, to investigate in field experiments using actual animals,” said Goldman.

The researchers realized the advantages of a free moving wrist, instead of a fixed wrist, at the end of the flipper.  When fitted with a free wrist, Flipperbot moved much more effectively over the ground while not disturbing much surface material as it propelled itself forward.

“With a fixed wrist, the robot also interacts with the ground that has already been disturbed by its previous steps, which hinders its movement,” Goldman said.

Video of “Flipperbot” in action (Institute of Physics)

The researchers tested Flipperbot on a 122-centimeter-long bed of poppy seeds and recorded its movements with a high-speed digital camera.

The study’s co-author, Nicole Mazouchova, also from Georgia Tech, believes further robot testing could help in turtle conservation biology.

“The natural beach habitat of hatchling sea turtles is endangered by human activity,” she said. “Robot modeling can provide us with a tool to test environmental characteristics of the beach and implement efforts for conservation.”

Science Images of the Week

Posted April 19th, 2013 at 7:08 pm (UTC+0)
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NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of recent M6.5 class flare. This image shows a combination of light in wavelengths of 131 and 171 Angstroms - light wavelength measurement.- (NASA/SDO)

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of a recent M6.5 class flare. This image shows a combination of light in wavelengths of 131 and 171 Angstroms – light wavelength measurement. (NASA)

This image shows the beautiful bright orange-colored Perrottetia dermapyrrhosa, one of the three new species of the snail that were recently found in Thailand. (Somsak Panha)

The bright orange-colored Perrottetia dermapyrrhosa, one of three new species of the snail recently found in Thailand. (Somsak Panha)

Using 10 different pointings of the Chandra X-ray telescope astronomers created this detailed image of the remnants from the SN 1006 supernova that was created when a white dwarf star exploded. (NASA/CXC/Middlebury College/F.Winkler et al.)

Images captured by the Chandra X-ray telescope helped astronomers create this detailed image of the remnants from the SN 1006 supernova, created when a white dwarf star exploded. (NASA)

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics have come up with a unique new keyboard called KALQ that they say will offer mobile phone and tablet users substantial peformance advantages over the traditional qwerty keyboards now being offered. (Max Planck Institute for Informatics)

Scientists think they’ve come up with a better way for mobile phone and tablet users to type their text messages and tweets. Instead of the traditional QWERTY keyboard, the new KALQ system allows people to use their thumbs for up to 34 percent faster and more comfortable typing. (Max Planck Institute for Informatics)

Artist's concept of a solar-electric-powered spacecraft that will be designed to capture a small near-Earth asteroid and relocate it safely close to the Earth-moon system so astronauts can explore it. (NASA)

Artist’s concept of a solar-electric-powered spacecraft  which would be designed to capture a small near-Earth asteroid and relocate it safely close to the Earth-moon system for astronauts to study. (NASA)

A researcher holds a ribbon of electronics including ultra-miniaturized LEDs that can be injected deep into the brain to help scientists study the mysteries of the brain.  (John A. Rogers, University of Illinois/Beckman Institute)

A researcher holds a ribbon of electronics including ultra-miniaturized LEDs that can be injected deep into the brain to help scientists study the mysteries of the brain. (John A. Rogers, University of Illinois/Beckman Institute)

Artist’s concept of a dense, dead star called a white dwarf crossing in front of a small, red star. The white dwarf’s gravity is so great it bends and magnifies light from the red star. NASA’s Kepler space telescope recently observed this effect in a double-star system called KOI-256 (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Artist’s concept of a dense, dead star called a white dwarf crossing in front of a small, red star. The white dwarf’s gravity is so great it bends and magnifies light from the red star. NASA’s Kepler space telescope recently observed this effect in a double-star system called KOI-256. (NASA)

A new species of an insect called the leaf miner was recently discovered in the depths of the Brazilian jungle. (Gilson R.P. Moreira)

A new species of an insect called the leaf miner was recently discovered in the depths of the Brazilian jungle. (Gilson R.P. Moreira)

The tip of the "wing" of the Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy is a small galaxy about 200,000 light-years way that orbits our own Milky Way spiral galaxy. (NASA/CXC/JPL-Caltech/STScI)

The tip of the “wing” of the Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy is a small galaxy about 200,000 light-years away that orbits our own Milky Way spiral galaxy. (NASA)

A NASA technician inspects the inlet ducting of the Honeywell ALF 502 engine, which allows engine manufacturers to simulate flying through the upper atmosphere where large amounts of icing particles can be ingested, causing flame outs or a loss of engine power on aircraft. (NASA)

Saturn’s Rings Are Raining on Planet

Posted April 12th, 2013 at 7:32 pm (UTC+0)
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Saturn and its rings in a composite image taken by the wide-angle camera on the Cassini spacecraft over nearly three and by digitally compositing ultraviolet, infrared, and clear-filter images and then adjusting the final image to resemble natural color. (NASA)

Saturn and its rings taken over a period of three hours by the wide-angle camera on the Cassini spacecraft. (NASA)

The old adage “April showers bring May flowers” may take on new meaning with the release of a new NASA-funded study tracking the rain of charged water particles from Saturn’s famous rings into the planet’s atmosphere.

The study, led by the University of Leicester, England, found there’s more of this rain and its spread over larger areas than previously thought. Researchers also found the rain influences both the composition and  temperature structure of the ringed planet’s upper atmosphere.

“Saturn is the first planet to show significant interaction between its atmosphere and ring system,” said James O’Donoghue, the paper’s lead author and a postgraduate researcher at Leicester. “The main effect of ring rain is that it acts to ‘quench’ the ionosphere of Saturn. In other words, this rain severely reduces the electron densities in regions in which it falls.”

Artist concept illustrating how charged water particles flow into Saturn's atmosphere from the planet's rings, causing a reduction in atmospheric brightness. (NASA/Space Science Institute/University of Leicester)

Artist concept illustrating how charged water particles flow into Saturn’s atmosphere from the planet’s rings, causing a reduction in atmospheric brightness. (NASA/University of Leicester)

The  study gives scientists a better understanding of the origination and evolution of Saturn’s rings, as well as of changes that have taken place in the planet’s atmosphere.

“It turns out that a major driver of Saturn’s ionospheric environment and climate across vast reaches of the planet are ring particles located some 36,000 miles [60,000 kilometers] overhead,” said Kevin Baines, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The ring particles affect both what species of particles are in this part of the atmosphere and where it is warm or cool.”

After examining images sent back to Earth from NASA’s Voyager mission in the early 1980s, scientists noticed three dark bands on Saturn, which led them to theorize that water could be showering down into those bands from the rings.

The study authors say those dark bands were not seen again until scientists involved with this research project observed the planet in near-infrared wavelengths with the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii in April 2011.

The effect the rings had on the dark bands was difficult for scientists to distinguish because doing so required that they look for a faint emission that originated from the brightly-lit parts of Saturn. To be able to do this, the researchers needed to use a special tool, available at the Keck Observatory that is able to split up a large range of light into wavelengths.

Image of Saturn's rings taken from the Cassini spacecraft show that different rings have slightly different colors. The ring particles are mostly light water-ice. (NASA)

Image of Saturn’s rings taken from the Cassini spacecraft showing different rings have slightly different colors. The ring particles are mostly light water-ice. (NASA)

Based on their research, the scientists presumed the charged water particles pouring from Saturn’s rings are being pulled towards the planet along its magnetic field lines, while also are working to counteract the expected glow produced by special triatomic (3 atom molecules) hydrogen ions.

So, rather than the entire planet shimmering in an infrared glow, the rain particles creat shadows that cover between 30 to 43 percent of  Saturn’s upper atmosphere surface from around 25 to 55 degrees latitude. This finding indicates a much larger area of shadow cover than was suggested by NASA’s Voyager images of the 1980s.

“Where Jupiter is glowing evenly across its equatorial regions, Saturn has dark bands where the water is falling in, darkening the ionosphere,” said Tom Stallard, a paper co-author at Leicester. “We’re now also trying to investigate these features with an instrument on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. If we’re successful, Cassini may allow us to view in more detail the way that water is removing ionized particles, such as any changes in the altitude or effects that come with the time of day.”

NASA Wants to Speed Journey to Mars

Posted April 9th, 2013 at 5:05 pm (UTC+0)
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The planet Mars in late spring as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope (NASA/JPL/California Institute of Technology)

Mars in late spring as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope (NASA)

NASA wants to shorten the journey to Mars.

It took about eight months for its Mars rover, Curiosity, to reach the red planet. And now, the US space agency is looking for ways to cut the travel time for future manned missions there.

Researchers in Washington State say that might be possible through a unique manipulation of nuclear fusion, the same energy that powers the sun and stars.

Scientists at the University of Washington and at MSNW, a Redmond, Washington, space propulsion company, have joined forces  to build components of a fusion-powered rocket  which could make deep space travel easier, faster and cheaper, with fewer potential health risks.

“Using existing rocket fuels, it’s nearly impossible for humans to explore much beyond Earth,” said John Slough, a UW associate professor and president of MSNW. “We are hoping to give us a much more powerful source of energy in space that could eventually lead to making interplanetary travel commonplace.”

A concept image of a spacecraft powered by a fusion-driven rocket. Solar panels mounted on the sides would collect energy to initiate the process that creates fusion. (University of Washington, MSNW)

A concept image of a spacecraft powered by a fusion-driven rocket. Solar panels mounted on the sides would collect energy to initiate the process that creates fusion. (University of Washington, MSNW)

Slough said his team has already calculated the possibilities of 30 and 90-day expeditions to Mars using a rocket powered by fusion. Not only would the trip be quicker, but it would also be more practical and less costly, according the research team.

Each portion of the process has proven successful in lab tests, but Slough said researchers still need to combine each of those isolated tests into a final experiment that will produce fusion using the newly developed technology.

The team has developed a type of plasma that is encased in its own magnetic field.  Compressing the plasma to high pressure with its magnetic field should produce nuclear fusion, according to the research team.

The scientists hope to power a rocket using the powerful magnetic fields to implode large metal rings surrounding the plasma to compress it into a fusion state.  The collapsing rings will then come together to form a shell that will ignite the fusion.

While the compression time will only last for a few microseconds, enough energy will be released to quickly heat and ionize the shell.  The shell’s now super-heated and ionized metal will be forced out of a rocket nozzle at a high velocity. Repeating that process every minute or so will propel the spacecraft, according to the researchers.

The fusion driven rocket test chamber at the UW Plasma Dynamics Lab in Redmond. (University of Washington, MSNW)

The fusion driven rocket test chamber at the UW Plasma Dynamics Lab in Redmond. (University of Washington, MSNW)

Only a small amount of fusion is needed to power a rocket, according the researchers. A small grain of fusion material has the same energy content as several liters of rocket fuel.

“I think everybody was pleased to see confirmation of the principal mechanism that we’re using to compress the plasma,” Slough said. “We hope we can interest the world with the fact that fusion isn’t always 40 years away and doesn’t always cost $2 billion.”

Slough says he hopes to have all the elements of his team’s new process ready for a first test at the end of the summer.

Hubble Spots Farthest Supernova Yet

Posted April 5th, 2013 at 7:25 pm (UTC+0)
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Hubble Space Telescope view of supernova SN UDS10Wil, nicknamed SN Wilson. The small box in the image pinpoints SN Wilson’s host galaxy in the survey conducted by the CANDELS+CLASH Supernova Project. (NASA)

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has found the farthest known supernova discovered to date.

Nicknamed “SN Wilson,” after the American President Woodrow Wilson, scientists say supernova UDS10Wil, exploded more than 10 billion years ago, about 3.77 billion years after the Big Bang.

SN Wilson is in a special class of exploding stars known as “Type Ia supernovae,” which have been long valued by astronomers because they provide a reliable level of brightness that can be used to measure the expansion of space.

These bright celestial objects can also provide clues to the nature of the mysterious force known as dark energy, which scientists theorize is responsible for accelerating the expansion rate of the universe.

“This new distance record holder opens a window into the early universe, offering important new insights into how these stars explode,” said David O. Jones of Johns Hopkins University, an astronomer and lead author on the paper detailing the discovery. “We can test theories about how reliable these detonations are for understanding the evolution of the universe and its expansion.”

Supernova SN UDS10Wil was nicknamed SN Wilson after the 28th US President, Woodrow Wilson (Library of Congress)

Supernova SN UDS10Wil was nicknamed SN Wilson after the 28th US President, Woodrow Wilson (Library of Congress)

SN Wilson was found by scientists participating in a three-year Hubble program that surveyed the skies for distant Type Ia supernovae to determine whether they had changed in the billions of years since our Universe began in the Big Bang.  Since the program began in 2010, Hubble has found more than 100 supernovae and  eight of the special Type Ia supernovae, including the SN Wilson.

“The Type Ia supernovae give us the most precise yardstick ever built, but we’re not quite sure if it always measures exactly a yard,” said Steve Rodney of Johns Hopkins University and a member of Hubble’s supernovae survey team. “The more we understand these supernovae, the more precise our cosmic yardstick will become.”

Astronomers still have much to learn about the nature of dark energy and how Type Ia supernovae explode.

Finding Type Ia supernovae created so early in the history of the Universe will also provide astronomers with a way to compare two competing supernovae explosion modelsOne model specifies that the explosions are caused when two white dwarf compact stars merge. The other model indicates that a white dwarf that’s slowly feeding off a neighboring normal star explodes when it gathers too much mass.

This image taken in near-infrared light shows the SN Wilson supernova. To see the light from the supernova, astronomers had to subtract it's host galaxy from the image. (NASA/ESA)

This image taken in near-infrared light shows the SN Wilson supernova. To see the light from the supernova, astronomers had to subtract it’s host galaxy from the image. (NASA)

Evidence gathered by the team so far seems to favor the white dwarf merger model because it predicts that most stars existing in the early Universe are much too young to become Type Ia supernovae.

“If supernovae were popcorn, the question is how long before they start popping?” said team leader Adam Riess of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., and Johns Hopkins University. “You may have different theories about what is going on in the kernel. If you see when the first kernels popped and how often they popped, it tells you something important about the process of popping corn.”

By knowing what sets off the Type Ia supernovae, scientists are also hoping to determine just how quickly the Universe became enriched with heavier elements such as iron. Through a process called supernova nucleosynthesis, these exploding stars produce about half of the iron in the universe, some of the raw material used for building planets, and life itself.

Report Finds Asians, Africans and South Americans Might Make Better Musicians

Posted April 2nd, 2013 at 10:08 pm (UTC+0)
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Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra peforming at the 2009 East Asian Games Closing Ceremony (Tksteven via Wikimedia Commons)

Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra performing at the 2009 East Asian Games Closing Ceremony (Tksteven via Wikimedia Commons)

If you speak a tonal language like Cantonese or Vietnamese, you might have a better ear for learning musical notes, even if you’re not a musician.

Tonal languages, found mostly in Asia, Africa and South America, are those that use a number of high and low pitch sounds in patterns of speech.  In these languages, slight changes in pitch can greatly change the meaning of a word.

According to Canadian researchers, the Vietnamese language, for example, has 11 different vowel sounds and six different tones. Cantonese also uses a complex six-tone system, while languages such as English have no tones within its speech patterns.

In findings published today, researchers at the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto say they’ve found compelling proof that speaking a tonal language may enhance the way the brain hears music.

Neuroscientists also have a reason to be excited about the findings because they provide the first strong evidence that music and language, which scientists say share overlapping brain structures, have bi-directional benefits.

Do tonal language speakers have an edge when it comes to learning music? (Tulane University Public Relations)

Do tonal language speakers have an edge when it comes to learning music? (Tulane University Public Relations)

“For those who speak tonal languages, we believe their brain’s auditory system is already enhanced to allow them to hear musical notes better and detect minute changes in pitch,” said lead investigator Gavin Bidelman. “If you pick up an instrument, you may be able to acquire the skills faster to play that instrument because your brain has already built up these auditory perceptual advantages through speaking your native tonal language.”

However, speaking a tonal language don’t necessarily make for better musicians, since musicianship involves many more skills and abilities than just the sense of hearing.

The researchers said that knowing music and language, which are two important areas of human cognition, can actually influence each other, and may offer ways to develop new approaches in rehabilitation for people with speech and language difficulties.

“If music and language are so intimately coupled, we may be able to design rehabilitation treatments that use musical training to help individuals improve speech-related functions that have been impaired due to age, aphasia or stroke,” Bidelman said.

Could a well-developed speech and language training program help improve a person’s musical listening skills? (Public Domain via Pixabay)

Could a well-developed speech and language training program help improve a person’s musical listening skills? (Public Domain via Pixabay)

Researchers think the benefits of this music-language coupling might also work in reverse, so that well-developed speech and language training programs could improve a person’s musical listening skills.

Not all tonal languages offer the same music listening benefits as Cantonese.

The researchers found that Mandarin, for example, “has more ‘curved’ tones and the pitch patterns vary with time,” which is quite different from how pitch is used in music.

Musical pitch, Bidelman said, resembles “stair step, level pitch patterns” which happen to share similarities with the Cantonese language.

Science Images of the Week

Posted March 29th, 2013 at 5:49 pm (UTC+0)
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This solar prominence bowed out and then broke apart  from the sun recently in a graceful, floating style in a little less than four hours. (Image: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA)

This solar eruption bowed out and then broke apart from the sun recently in a graceful, floating style in a little less than four hours. (NASA)

A wing-spotted Drosophila elegans - a male fruit fly - courts a female atop a flower. (Image:Nicolas Gompel & Benjamin Prud'homme)

A wing-spotted Drosophila elegans, a male fruit fly, courts a female atop a flower. (Nicolas Gompel & Benjamin Prud’homme)

SpaceX's Dragon space capsule approaching the Internatational Space Station for capture and docking on March 3, 2013. The capsule returned to Earth this past week after a 3 week stay at the ISS. (Photo: NASA)

SpaceX’s Dragon space capsule approaching the International Space Station for capture and docking on March 3, 2013. The capsule returned to Earth this past week after a three-week stay at the ISS. (NASA)

Scientists, using this completed section of the NOvA neutrino detector, have recorded its first three-dimensional images of particles.  The most powerful neutrino detector in the United States is being built for the US Dept. of Energy's Fermilabs in northern Minnesota. (Photo: Fermilab)

The most powerful neutrino detector in the United States, being built for the US Deptartment of Energy in Minnesota, has recorded its first three-dimensional images of particles. (Fermilab)

The European Space Agency's Planck mission released what they called the best map ever of the universe.   (Image: ESA and the Planck Collaboration)

The European Space Agency’s Planck mission released what they called the best map ever of the universe. (ESA and the Planck Collaboration)

Fairy circles - circular patches of barren land - freckle the landscape in the NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia. Scientists are thinking they might be the work of sand termites - Psammotermes allocerus.  (Photo: Norbert Juergens)

Fairy circles, round patches of barren land, freckle the landscape at the NamibRand Nature Reserve in Namibia. Scientists think they might be the work of sand termites. (Norbert Juergens)

The planetary nebula known as ESO 456-67 as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Set against a backdrop of bright stars, the rust-colored object lies in the constellation of Sagittarius. (Image: ESA/Hubble & NASA)

The planetary nebula known as ESO 456-67 as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Set against a backdrop of bright stars, the rust-colored object lies in the constellation of Sagittarius. (NASA)

Cassava leaves infected with Cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) at the International Institute for Tropical Africa (IITA) where researchers are learning more about genomics to help breed more effective cassava (tapioca) plants to feed the hungry in their native Africa. (Photo: Teddy Amuge, IITA)

Cassava leaves infected with Cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), where researchers are learning more about genomics to help breed more effective cassava plants that produce tapioca to help feed the hungry in Africa. (Teddy Amuge, IITA)

A crescent moon and NASA's Johnson Space Center’s S-band dish, atop Building 44. (Photo: NASA/Mark Sowa)

A crescent moon and NASA’s Johnson Space Center’s S-band dish, atop Building 44. (NASA)

A view into the south portion of the Overlook crater at Hawaii's Kilauea volcano (Photo: US Geological Survey)

A view into the south portion of the Overlook crater at Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano. (US Geological Survey)

Speed of Light May Not be Constant

Posted March 26th, 2013 at 3:39 pm (UTC+0)
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Einstein's famous equation (Image: Quatrostein)

Einstein’s famous equation (Image: Quatrostein via Wikimedia Commons)

The speed of light has long been calculated to be 299,792.458 km per second, but now new research from France and Germany indicates that light may not travel at a fixed rate after all, but instead can fluctuate.

A key component of Einstein’s famous E=MC2, the speed of light has been thought to be finite since 1676 after Danish astronomer Ole Rømer first established his findings while studying the motion of Jupiter’s moon Io.

Danish astronomer Ole Rømer circa 1700 (Image: Frederiksborg Museum via Wikimedia Commons)

Danish astronomer Ole Rømer  (Image: Frederiksborg Museum via Wikimedia Commons)

Two separate studies by scientists from the University of Paris-Sud in France and from the Max Planck Institutes for the Physics of Light in Germany are disputing the long established belief concerning the nature of a vacuum.

Researcher Marcel Urban and his colleagues in France said they had identified a “quantum level mechanism” for understanding vacuum.  Urban’s research indicates that a vacuum is not completely empty as long thought, but instead filled with pairs of virtual or ephemeral particles with varying levels of energy.  Because of this, Urban asserts that since the characteristics of a vacuum fluctuate, the speed of light then must also vary as well.

Gerd Leuchs and Luis L. Sánchez-Soto, in their forthcoming paper for the Max Planck Institutes, are suggesting that certain physical constants (physical quantities with values that are thought to be universal in nature and remain unchanged over time) indicate that there are also a number of elementary particles in nature, including those that might be found in a vacuum.  The physical constants they speak of could include properties such as the speed of light and another that’s known as the “impedance of free space” (varying levels of the electric and magnetic fields of electromagnetic radiation traveling through free space).

Albert Einstein circa 1947 (Photo: Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons)

Albert Einstein (Library of Congress)

Physicists have long found that the concept of the vacuum is one of the most fascinating issues in their field of science.   A vacuum, when viewed at the quantum level – at the smallest and most basic level – is not empty, but instead filled with particle pairs such as electron-positron or quark-antiquark pairs that are constantly appearing and disappearing. While these particle pairs are real particles, their lifetimes are extremely short.

If these findings are proved to be true, they could have an impact on current scientific theories that take the speed of light into consideration.

Both studies will be published in an upcoming edition of the European Physical Journal – D (EPJ-D).

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