Moving to the Beat Could Improve Your Reading Skills

Posted September 17th, 2013 at 8:58 pm (UTC+0)
Comments are closed

Moving to the beat... (Port of San Diego/Creative Commons via Flickr)

(Port of San Diego/Creative Commons via Flickr)

People who’ve got rhythm might have an edge when it comes to language and reading skills.

A new study in “The Journal of Neuroscience” shows the brains of people who can move to a musical beat react to speech on a more consistent basis than those who don’t, a finding that implies musical training could sharpen the brain’s response to language.

The researchers say their findings provide the first biological link between the capabilities of keeping a beat and how the brain responds to speech, something that can have substantial implications for reading ability.

To make their findings the research team recruited more than 100 teenagers who lived in the Chicago, Illinois, area.

A drummer keeping the beat going strong (Kris Krug/Creative Commons via Flickr)

(Kris Krug/Creative Commons via Flickr)

The teens were given two tests.  First, they were instructed to listen to and tap their fingers along to the beat of a metronome.  The researchers calculated how accurately their young volunteers were able to tap along to the musical timekeeper.

For the second test, the teen subjects were hooked up to an electroencephalography (EEG) device,which measures electrical activity in the brain.

The EEG device was focused on an area of the brain that not only processes sound, but is also connected to parts of the brain responsible for motor-movement. The scientists recorded the brainwaves as their teen subjects listened to the synthesized speech sound da, which was repeated at intervals over a half-hour period.

The researchers were able to determine how the nerve cells in that particular region of the brain responded every time the da sound was played.

“Across this population of adolescents, the more accurate they were at tapping along to the beat, the more consistent their brains’ response to the da syllable was,” said Nina Kraus, the director of Northwestern University’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory and co-author of the study.

Are language and reading skills enhanced the ability to keep a beat? (Eunice-Sleepyneko/Creative Commons via Flickr)

(Eunice-Sleepyneko/Creative Commons via Flickr)

While past studies have demonstrated the relation between reading prowess and a person’s ability to keep a beat, the researchers said their new findings show hearing is what provides a common basis for those links.

“Rhythm is inherently a part of music and language,” Kraus said. “It may be that musical training, with an emphasis on rhythmic skills, exercises the auditory-system, leading to strong sound-to-meaning associations that are so essential in learning to read.”

The researchers are already expanding their studies with a multi-year project involving children who are being musically trained. They’ll assess the effect musical training has on beat synchronization, brain response consistency, and reading skills.

Big Bang of Evolution Moved at Warp Speed

Posted September 13th, 2013 at 7:19 pm (UTC+0)
2 comments

Marine life during the Cambrian explosion ~520 million years ago. A giant Anomalocaris investigates a trilobite, while Opabinia looks on from the right, and the "walking cactus" Diania crawls underneath.(Katrina Kenny & Nobumichi Tamura)

Marine life during the Cambrian explosion 520 million years ago.  (Katrina Kenny & Nobumichi Tamura)

Evolution during the “Big Bang of Evolution,” also known as the Cambrian Explosion, happened at five times the rate it occurs today, according to a new study, a finding that is consistent with Darwin’s theory of evolution.

The Australian researchers said  they’ve been able to estimate, for the first time, just how fast life evolved during an incredibly productive period in Earth’s history some 520 to 540 million years ago.  It was during this Cambrian explosion when most modern animal groups first appeared on Earth.

The research group’s findings,  published in  Current Biology, also provide an answer to Darwin’s dilemma.

In his classic book “On the Origins of the Species,” where he lays out his theory of evolution, 19th century scientist Charles Darwin pointed out a potential problem with his theory.

While there was a rich fossil record of creatures dating from the beginning of the Cambrian Period, Darwin thought a lack of fossils from the years prior to that geologic time period might present a contradiction to his evolution theory.

“The abrupt appearance of dozens of animal groups during this time is arguably the most important evolutionary event after the origin of life,” says lead author and associate professor Michael Lee of the University of Adelaide in South Australia.

Critics of Darwin’s theory of evolution have pointed  to the nearly impossibly fast rates of evolution  to discredit Darwin’s work.

Up until this new research, no one has been able to accurately measure the rates of evolution during this prolific period  because of the “notorious imperfection” of the ancient fossil record.

A living arthropod, centipede Cormocephalus crawls over a fossil of its 515-million-year-old relative, trilobite Estaingia which lived during the Cambrian explosion. (University of Adelaide)

A living arthropod, centipede Cormocephalus crawls over a fossil of its 515-million-year-old relative, trilobite Estaingia, which lived during the Cambrian explosion. (University of Adelaide)

In this new study, the researchers said that they were able to estimate that rates of both structural and genetic evolution of creatures that took place during the Cambrian explosion were five times faster than they are today.  The scientists say these changes are also consistent with Darwin’s theory of evolution.

The researchers focused their work on invertebrate animals called arthropods because they considered them to be the most diverse animal group that existed both back during the Cambrian period as well as today.  This group of animals includes insects, crustaceans and arachnids.

“It was during this Cambrian period that many of the most familiar traits associated with this group of animals evolved, like a hard exoskeleton, jointed legs and compound (multi-faceted) eyes that are shared by all arthropods. We even find the first appearance in the fossil record of the antenna that insects, millipedes and lobsters all have, and the earliest biting jaws,” said co-author Dr. Greg Edgecombe of London’s Natural History Museum.

Science Images Blog

Posted September 10th, 2013 at 7:22 pm (UTC+0)
Comments are closed

On Friday September 6, 2013 NASA launched its Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) observatory from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. (NASA/Carla Cioffi)

NASA launches its Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) observatory from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, Sept. 6, 2013. (NASA)

Evening view of the gantry at Pad 0B at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va. The gantry surrounded the Minotaur V rocket that took NASA’s LADEE lunar probe into space (NASA Wallops/Patrick Black)

Evening view of the gantry at Pad 0B at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va. The gantry surrounded the Minotaur V rocket that took NASA’s LADEE lunar probe into space (NASA)

A fire salamander - scientists have isolated a new species of fungus that eats amphibians' skin. The fungus has ravaged the fire salamander population in the Netherlands, bringing it close to regional extinction. (Kenny De Boeck)

A fire salamander – scientists have isolated a new species of fungus that eats amphibians’ skin. The fungus has ravaged the fire salamander population in the Netherlands, bringing it close to regional extinction. (Kenny De Boeck)

Sensitive photomultiplier tubes line a detector used by the Daya Bay Reactor Neutrino Experiment in China. The tubes are designed to amplify and record the faint flashes that signify an antineutrino interaction. (Roy Kaltschmidt, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

Sensitive photomultiplier tubes line a detector used by the Daya Bay Reactor Neutrino Experiment in China. The tubes are designed to amplify and record the faint flashes that signify an antineutrino interaction. (Roy Kaltschmidt, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has revealed a massive cloud of multimillion-degree gas in a galaxy about 60 million light years from Earth. Scientists say that the hot gas cloud was likely caused by a collision between a dwarf galaxy and a much larger galaxy called NGC 1232. (NASA)

A massive cloud of multi-million-degree gas in a galaxy about 60 million light-years from Earth as revealed by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. Scientists say the hot gas cloud was likely caused by a collision between a dwarf galaxy and a much larger galaxy called NGC 1232. (NASA)

Fossils of prehistoric snails known as turritellid gastropods. Preserved in silicicalastic sand the snails are about 13 million years old and represent another class of marine organisms affected by the Earth's periodic mass extinction events. (Shanan Peters, University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Fossils of prehistoric snails, known as turritellid gastropods, preserved in silicicalastic sand. The snails are about 13 million years old and represent another class of marine organisms affected by the Earth’s periodic mass extinction events. (Shanan Peters, University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Part of a particle accelerator at Fermilab that is again producing a neutrino beam that will soon to be one of the most intense neutrino beams in the world.  The beam was switched off for about a year so that the equipment that produces it could be revamped (Reidar Hahn, US DOE Fermilab)

Part of a particle accelerator at Fermilab that is again producing a neutrino beam that will soon to be one of the most intense neutrino beams in the world. The beam was switched off for about a year so that the equipment that produces it could be revamped. (Reidar Hahn, US DOE Fermilab)

Hubble captured this image of a caterpillar-shaped interstellar cloud that surrounds a star in the making IRAS 20324+4057.  Scientists say that energetic winds are blowing and energetic light is eroding away much of the gas and dust that might have been used to form the star. (NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), IPHAS)

Hubble captured this image of a caterpillar-shaped interstellar cloud surrounding a star in the making known as IRAS 20324+4057. Scientists say winds and energetic light are eroding much of the gas and dust that might have been used to form the star. (NASA)

A school of a small minnow-like fish called Blackside dace.  Scientists believe that hydraulic fracturing fluids are believed to be the cause of the widespread death or distress of this aquatic species that is only found in parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, and western Virginia. (J. R. Shute , Conservation Fisheries, Inc.)

A school of a small minnow-like fish called Blackside dace that scientists believe are endangered by hydraulic fracturing fluids, which  are believed to be the cause of the widespread death or distress of this aquatic species that is only found in parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, and western Virginia. (J. R. Shute , Conservation Fisheries, Inc.)

This image of the NGC 1398 galaxy was taken with the Dark Energy Camera built by the US Department of Energy’s Fermilab. This galaxy, about 65 million light years from Earth is in the Fornax cluster. It is 135,000 light years in diameter, just slightly larger than our own Milky Way galaxy, and contains more than a hundred million stars. (Dark Energy Survey)

This image of the NGC 1398 galaxy was taken with the Dark Energy Camera built by the US Department of Energy’s Fermilab. This galaxy, about 65 million light-years from Earth, is in the Fornax cluster. It is 135,000 light-years in diameter, just slightly larger than our own Milky Way galaxy, and contains more than 100 million stars. (Dark Energy Survey)

World’s Largest Single Volcano Found Off Japan Coast

Posted September 6th, 2013 at 5:36 pm (UTC+0)
2 comments

A 3D rendering of Tamu Massif (IODP/Texas A&M University)

A 3D rendering of Tamu Massif (IODP/Texas A&M University)

Researchers have identified the largest volcano ever documented on the planet. It’s even bigger than Hawaii’s legendary Mauna Loa, which remains the biggest active volcano on our planet.

Called Tamu Massif, this enormous dormant or inactive volcano is located within the huge underwater mountain range called Shatsky Rise formation about 1609 kilometers east of Japan. It covers an area of about 311,000 square kilometers of ocean bottom some 1981 meters to 6.5 kilometers below the water’s surface.

Tamu Massif covers an area that’s roughly equivalent to the size of the British Isles or the U.S. state of New Mexico and it is among the most massive volcanoes found so far in the solar system.

Research leader Will Sager (white polo shirt) waits with technicians to inspect a core sample drilled from the Shatsky Rise Formation. (IODProgram/USIO)

Research leader Will Sager (white polo shirt) waits with technicians to inspect a core sample drilled from the Shatsky Rise Formation. (IODProgram/USIO)

Right now, Mount Olympus on Mars takes the top spot for biggest volcano in the solar system, according to the researchers.

“Tamu Massif is the biggest single shield volcano ever discovered on Earth,” said the University of Houston’s William Sager, who led the research. “There may be larger volcanoes, because there are bigger igneous features out there such as the Ontong Java Plateau, but we don’t know if these features are one volcano or complexes of volcanoes.”

Tamil Massif has been known to exist for some time but what wasn’t clear was whether it was a single volcano or a collection of multiple eruption points.

Data collected aboard the science research ship, JOIDES Resolution, helped researchers determine Tamu Massif did erupt from one single source located near its center.

Tamu Massif is the largest feature of the Shatsky Rise, which was created by the eruption of several underwater volcanoes 130 to 145 million years ago.  The giant volcano, according to the researchers, may have become inactive a few million years after it was formed.

The volcano is unique, compared to other underwater volcanoes, not just because if its huge size, but because of how it’s shaped. It is low and wide, which means when it erupted, its lava probably flowed longer distances than other volcanoes on Earth.

Tamu Mastiff is part of the Shatsky Rise Formation whose location is indicated here (Wikipedia Commons)

Tamu Masiff is part of the Shatsky Rise formation. (Wikipedia Commons)

“It’s not high, but very wide, so the flank slopes are very gradual,” Sager said. “In fact, if you were standing on its flank, you would have trouble telling which way is downhill. We know that it is a single immense volcano constructed from massive lava flows that emanated from the center of the volcano to form a broad, shield-like shape. Before now, we didn’t know this because oceanic plateaus are huge features hidden beneath the sea. They have found a good place to hide.”

Since Sager began studying the underwater volcano about 20 years ago while at Texas A&M, he decided to name it after the university.  Tamu Massif is a combination of an abbreviation of Texas A&M University and the French word for massive, which is also a geological term for large mountain mass.

Cosmic Impact May Have Caused Prehistoric ‘Big Freeze’

Posted September 3rd, 2013 at 7:39 pm (UTC+0)
Comments are closed

Asteroid impacting Earth (NASA)

Artist rendering of an asteroid impacting Earth (NASA)

Scientists say they may have found a link between a dramatic climate shift nearly 13,000 years ago and an asteroid or comet that struck the Canadian province of Quebec.

Researchers at Dartmouth College say the comet/asteroid strike took place at the beginning of a global cooling event known as the Younger Dryas stadial or the Big Freeze.

It was an abrupt, geologically brief period of colder and dryer climatic conditions that lasted about 1,300 years, and had far-reaching effects on both humans and animals.

Big animals, such as mastodons, camels, giant ground sloths, and saber-toothed cats all vanished from North America during this cool period.

The humans who lived in North America at the time, known as Clovis people, normally hunted the large animals, but after this  extinction they set aside their heavy hunting weapons and adopt a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, living off  a diet of roots, berries, and smaller game.

Paleo-Indians (includes Clovis People) are first people to entered and inhabit the Americas shown hunting a glyptodont (armadillo ancestor (Heinrich Harder via Wikimedia Commons)

Paleo-Indians (includes Clovis People), shown hunting a glyptodont (armadillo ancestor ), were the first humans to enter and inhabit the Americas.(Heinrich Harder via Wikimedia Commons)

“The Younger Dryas cooling is a very intriguing event that impacted human history in a profound manner,” said Mukul Sharma, one of the study authors and a professor in Dartmouth’s Department of Earth Sciences. “Environmental stresses may also have caused Natufians (a culture that existed between 13,000 and 9,000 BC) in the Near East to settle down for the first time and pursue agriculture.”

While the  environmental changes brought on by the Younger Dryas haven’t been disputed, the causes of it have been.

Scientists have long thought the Younger Dryas period was caused by a surge of meltwater from the North American ice sheet from the last glacial period.

According to this theory,  a great amount of fresh water from melted ice collected behind an ice dam, which suddenly burst, dumping  huge quantities of freshwater into the Atlantic Ocean. The sudden water surge was thought to have shut down the ocean currents that usually move ocean water from the tropics northward.  The lack of the usual northbound stream of warmer water then left the climate cold and dry throughout the Younger Dryas period.

Sharma said that while his team’s research shows conclusive proof that an asteroid/comet impacted over the North American Ice Sheet around the beginning of the Younger Dryas period, further investigation will need to determine whether the cosmic event is linked to the Big Freeze.

The researchers  found evidence of a connection in droplets of solidified molten rock  thrown off from a celestial object during impact. The spherules were collected from boundary layers of sediment from the beginning of the Big Freeze at sites in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The high temperatures of the meteorite impact 12,900 years ago produced mm-sized spherules of melted glass with the mullite and corundum crystal structure shown here. (Mukul Sharma)

The high temperatures of the meteorite impact 12,900 years ago produced mm-sized spherules of melted glass with the mullite and corundum crystal structure shown here. (Mukul Sharma)

There is a 4-kilometer-wide impact crater in Quebec, known as the Corossol crater, where researchers believe a meteor or comet hit. The New Jersey and Pennsylvania spherules are identical to rock found in southern Quebec, but geochemical and mineralogical research indicates they are not a perfect match.

“What is exciting in our paper is that we have for the first time narrowed down the region where a Younger Dryas impact did take place, even though we have not yet found its crater,” Sharma said in a press release.

Sharma also pointed out that the extensive environmental changes of the Younger Dryas might be the result of not just one but multiple concurrent asteroid/comet impacts.

The study, funded by the National Science Foundation, will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Whales Get Sunburned Too

Posted August 30th, 2013 at 5:59 pm (UTC+0)
12 comments

The sun blistered skin of a blue whale photographed in the Gulf of California. (AP)

The sun blistered skin of a blue whale photographed in the Gulf of California. (AP)

Anyone who has experienced the searing pain of sunburn knows that too much sun can wreak havoc on your skin.

Turns out that our fellow mammal, the whale, can also tan and get sunburn.

A study published in ‘Scientific Reports, from the publishers of the journal Nature, reveals the sun produces an increase in pigment in the skin of whales.

Research by an international team of scientists showed that, not only do some species of whales get dark tans when they’re exposed to the sun, but they also suffer harm to their skin’s DNA.  And just like us, whales can wind up with damaged skin cells as they get older.

Marine biologists at Universities in Mexico noticed that an increasing number of whales in their area had blistered skin, so they called in researchers from the UK’s Newcastle University. The British scientists analyzed skin samples from three types of whales, the blue whale, sperm and fin whale.

They worked with their Mexican colleagues along with other marine biologists from Canada’s Trent University, to study changes in whale skin after the gargantuan creatures made their annual migration to sunnier climes.

Taking a skin biopsy from a blue whale (Newcastle University, UK.)

Taking a skin biopsy from a blue whale (Newcastle University, UK.)

“Whales can be thought of as the UV barometers of the sea. It’s important that we study them as they are some of the longest living sea creatures and are sensitive to changes in their environment so they reflect the health of the ocean,” said Mark Birch-Machin, a senior author of the study and a professor of molecular dermatology at Newcastle University.

The Mexican and Canadian scientists took skin samples off the backs of the three species of whales over a three-year period between February and April, when the whales make their annual move to the sunny Gulf of California, located along the northwest coast of Mexico.

The biggest species the researchers studied was the pale-skinned blue whale.

The  team found a seasonal change with the blue whale during its migration time.  They noticed that the whale’s skin pigment increased and that its skin cell’s mitochondria – a cell’s power plant – were also experiencing some DNA damage.  They say that the internal mitochondrial damage that was discovered was caused by UV exposure and was similar to what could be found in the sunburned human skin.

A pod of sperm whales (Gabriel Barathieu via Creative Commons/Flickr)

A pod of sperm whales (Gabriel Barathieu via Creative Commons/Flickr)

Another species, sperm whales have a darker pigmentation than their blue whale relatives.  While they too take part in the annual February to April trek to the Gulf of California, the sperm whales have a different lifestyle than other whales. They spend a long time on the water’s surface which means they are exposed to more UV rays.

But the researchers found that by setting off a stress response in their genes, the sperm whales had developed a unique mechanism to protect themselves from harm caused by the sun.

“We saw for the first time evidence of genotoxic (a toxic agent that damages DNA molecules in genes) pathways being activated in the cells of the whales – this is similar to the damage response caused by free radicals in human skin which is our protective mechanism against sun damage,” said Amy Bowman, a researcher from Newcastle University.

The third species studied by the researchers was the fin whale, which compared to the blue and sperm whales, had the deepest pigmented skin.  Because of their darker skin color, the researchers discovered  the fin whale had the lowest number of sunburn lesions on their skin, which meant that they were more resistant to sun damage.

Fin whale (Ulrich Zink via Wikimedia Commons)

Fin whale (Ulrich Zink via Wikimedia Commons)

“We need to investigate further what is happening,” said Birch-Machin. “If we are already seeing blistered skin in the whales caused by UV damage, then we want to know whether this could develop into skin cancer and therefore serve as an early warning system.

The research team noted that their findings serve as a reminder that changing climatic conditions are affecting every creature on the planet.

Scientists Say They’ve Confirmed Existence of New Chemical Element

Posted August 28th, 2013 at 7:30 pm (UTC+0)
3 comments

Period table of elements ( Le Van Han Cédric via Wikimedia Commons)

Students heading back to school for the new year might need to add a new element to their periodic table of elements in chemistry class.

Swedish scientists  say they have fresh evidence that confirms the existence of a previously unknown chemical element.

The new “super-heavy” element is listed as number 115 or Ununpentium (Uup) and has an atomic weight – the average mass of the element’s atom – of 289.

Element #115 was discovered in 2003 (reported in February 2004) by scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California working with researchers from the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Russia (JINR).

This element, considered to be radioactive and classified as a metal, is artificially produced by bombarding atoms of americium-243 — an isotope of the element Americium (Am)  — with ions of a rare isotope calcium-48 using a device called a cyclotron.

Electron configuration of element #115 ununpentium (Greg Robson via Wikimedia Commons)

Electron configuration of element #115 ununpentium (Greg Robson via Wikimedia Commons)

Scientists say this  element probably won’t have any practical purposes, unlike others such as iron (Fe), oxygen (O) or even uranium (U) since it is  unstable and has a short half-life of about 220 milliseconds. An element’s half-life is the point in which the nucleus of an unstable atom loses energy to half its value.

Because of its unstable properties, scientists also say element #115 should not have any negative effects on human health or the environment.

Along with making observations of the new chemical element, the research team was also able to gain access to data that provides a deeper insight into the structure and properties of super-heavy atomic nuclei.

“This was a very successful experiment and is one of the most important in the field in recent years”, said Dirk Rudolph, professor nuclear physics at Lund University.

In creating the element, the researchers bombarded a thin film of americium with calcium ions which made it possible for them to measure photons in connection with the element’s alpha decay, which is a process that unstable atoms can use to become more stable.

During an alpha decay, the unstable atom’s nucleus discards two of its protons and two neutrons, creating  an “alpha particle” that has a composition identical to a helium nucleus.

diagram showing an alpha particle (α) being ejected from the nucleus of an atom. Protons are red and neutrons are blue.(Wikimedia Commons)

diagram showing an alpha particle (α) being ejected from the nucleus of an atom. Protons are red and neutrons are blue.(Wikimedia Commons)

Scientists have said element #115 alpha decays into element #113, dubbed ununtrium (Uut), which in turn decays into roentgenium (Rg) or element #111, which also doesn’t last too long either, with a half-life of about 26 seconds.

Ununpentium is a hybrid Greek and Latin word that loosely translates into one-one-five, the temporary name of element #115, which hasn’t been given an official name.

A committee of experts will first review the new findings  so that they can decide whether to recommend further experiments before acknowledging the discovery of element #115.

The team’s findings were published in the “The Physical Review Letters.”

Scientists Track Happiness with Cell Phones

Posted August 23rd, 2013 at 7:35 pm (UTC+0)
3 comments

Jumping with happiness (Will Foster via Creative Commons/Flickr)

(Will Foster via Creative Commons/Flickr)

Every day it seems that people are coming up with new and innovative ways to use mobile devices like cell phones and smartphones.

Researchers at Princeton University are looking for new ways to measure a person’s sense of well-being with mobile devices.

To gain a better understanding of how cellphones and other mobile device can gauge our sense of happiness, the research team conducted a study that was published recently in the journal Demography.

To gather data for their study, the team created an application for mobile devices using the Android operating system.

Once the app was developed, the researchers invited people to download it and take part in their study. Over a three-week period, the research team was able to collect data from some 270 participants living in 13 countries.

Participants came not only from the United States, but also from other nations like Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Norway, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Over the course of the study, participants received occasional text questions from the researchers that asked “How happy are you”? Along with recording their response, the app used the mobile device’s built-in GPS to keep track of the participant’s location.

The study participants were asked to rate their current state of happiness on a scale of zero to five.

A mobile phone with android applications (Rafe Blandford via Creative Commons/Flickr)

A mobile phone with android applications (Rafe Blandford via Creative Commons/Flickr)

As they gathered data from the information collected through the application, the researchers then were able to create and fine-tune new methods that could help provide a better understanding of how our surroundings can influence our emotional well-being.

The researchers learned that mobile devices can provide an effective way to quickly grab information that, because of today’s active lifestyle, can be difficult to record.

Being able to quickly and spontaneously grab this info was something the researchers felt was important. They said feelings and emotions that were recorded as they were happening were most likely to be more honest and precise than using other methods like writing down how they felt on a piece of paper after the fact.

The study’s authors said that the mobile phone data gathering method allowed them to get around some of the drawbacks of traditional surveying methods, such as those  conducted at people’s homes, which are only able to record reactions in one fixed location.  But, people today are constantly on the move and the mobile device method is able to keep frequent track of data no matter where a participant happens to be.

The researchers noted that the focus of their research at the time of the study’s publication was more on learning more about the capabilities of mobile devices as a way to collect data, rather than coming up with general conclusions regarding the link between a person’s surroundings and their overall happiness.

Not so happy (John Verive via Creative Commons/Flickr)

(John Verive via Creative Commons/Flickr)

However, the research team was able to come up with some preliminary results on their measurement of happiness.

They found males were more inclined to indicate that they were less happy when they were further away from home. However, distance from home didn’t play much of a role in determining just how happy the females were.

Back in April, scientists from the University of Vermont and the MITRE Corporation made news when they announced their new method of gauging happiness through what people were tweeting via the social networking website Twitter.

Ancient Chinese Treatment Could Be Effective in Treating Spinal Cord Injuries

Posted August 20th, 2013 at 6:43 pm (UTC+0)
6 comments

Different kinds of roots used to treat patients with Chinese herbal medicine on display at a Chinese pharmacy (Gary Kleemann via Creative Commons/Picasa)

Chinese herbal medicine at a Chinese pharmacy (Gary Kleemann via Creative Commons/Picasa)

Traditional Chinese herbal medicines have been used to treat a variety of ailments for centuries. Now a new study finds an ancient medicinal practice, called Ji-Sui-Kang (JSK), can improve locomotor function in rats with spinal cord injuries.

The researchers reported that after being treated with JSK, the injured rats showed decreased tissue damage and the structure of their neural cells was better preserved when compared to rats in a control group.

The data also showed that JSK treatment might reduce inflammation and cell death, as well as boost local oxygen supply in the affected area. After a while, the JSK appeared to restore function and promote tissue regeneration.

Those involved with the study say their work provides an important foundation for further study into the use of JSK therapy.

“A number of anecdotal reports from Chinese medicine practitioners indicate that treatment with a novel herbal formulation, JSK, for periods of one week or three months improved functional recovery,” said the study’s co-lead investigator Shucui Jiang, head of the Hamilton NeuroRestorative Group at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Anterior view of a human spinal cord (John A Beal, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center)

Anterior view of a human spinal cord (John A Beal, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center)

For this study, the researchers divided their rat test subjects into two groups.  One group was treated with the herbal medicine treatment while the control group was given a saline solution. Treatment began immediately after spinal cord injury and the test period was 21 days.

The investigators reported that, within seven days of the start of their experiment, the hind limb locomotor function was significantly better in the group of rats treated with JSK as compared to the group that only got the saline.

Throughout the 21-day test period, the rats treated with JSK continued to display better motor function, appeared to support their weight better, and showed more coordinated movement than those in the control group. After examining microscopic samples of the spinal cord from rats in each group, the researchers found that the structure of the injured spinal cord of those treated with JSK was better preserved. Additionally, the size of the injured area was significantly reduced about a week after the injury.

Traditional Chinese medicine shop in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong (© Mailer Diablo via Wikimedia Commons)

Traditional Chinese medicine shop in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong (© Mailer Diablo via Wikimedia Commons)

“Our data suggest that JSK may enhance tissue recovery by reducing cell growth inhibitors and by promoting the proliferation of cells within the injured spinal cord,” said the other co-lead investigator Michel Rathbone, a professor at the Department of Medicine at McMaster University.

The researchers said their study suggests JSK treatment could help protect against further spinal cord injury caused by damage to local blood vessels.

Citing proprietary reasons, the authors of the study did not reveal the entire herbal composition of their JSK treatment. But, they did list some of the ingredients which included ginseng, rhizoma, glycyrrhizae radix, paeoniae alba radix and cinnamomi cortex.

Food Allergies Rise Worldwide

Posted August 17th, 2013 at 2:06 am (UTC+0)
1 comment

Some food types likely to cause allergic reactions - cheese, nuts, wine, fruit, and shellfish. (David Castor via Wikimedia Commons)

Some food types likely to cause allergic reactions – cheese, nuts, wine, fruit, and shellfish. (David Castor via Wikimedia Commons)

Earlier this month a 13-year-old California girl with an allergy to peanuts died in her father’s arms after unknowingly consuming a small amount of peanut butter in a snack she was eating.

The girl quickly spit out the small bit of peanut butter, but efforts to save her life, including multiple injections that should have brought her allergic reaction to a halt, were futile.

The teen’s death brings home the dangers faced by those with severe food allergies

The World Health Organization says food allergies appear to be on the rise in all industrialized nations and considers it an important health issue.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study in 2008 that showed an 18 percent increase in the amount of children in the US with food allergies.

The current rise in food allergies has been particularly noticeable among young people 18 and under.

Dr. Melinda Braskett, Medical Director of the UCLA Food and Drug Allergy Care Center (UCLA Health)

Dr. Melinda Braskett, Medical Director of the UCLA Food and Drug Allergy Care Center (UCLA Health)

The number of people who die from  food allergies is low, but when a person with a severe food allergy consumes even a microscopic bit of that food, it can result in anaphylaxis,  an allergic reaction that can in some cases lead to death.

Dr. Melinda Braskett, medical director of the UCLA Food & Drug Allergy Care Center in California, refers to food allergies as misguided immune reactions to foods that can cause reproducible rapid reactions like rashes, swelling and breathing problems.

Along with peanuts, Braskett said milk, soy, eggs and wheat are the most common items to produce food allergies.

Many of those with dangerous allergies to certain foods notice the symptoms of the allergic reaction come on quickly and may start with relatively mild symptoms, but can quickly escalate into something more serious or even life threatening.

While the number of people with food allergies is growing, so far there are no clear answers as to why.

Braskett suspects the rise in food allergies may be linked to more people developing a wide range of allergies and that we’re becoming more allergic as a society.

Since people are generally cleaner than in times past, something she refers to as the “hygiene hypothesis” may play a role in triggering immune responses to a variety of items that may not have been a problem before.

(Mikael Häggström via Wikimedia Commons)

(Mikael Häggström via Wikimedia Commons)

Braskett noted that some people without food allergies might still have something called food intolerance which she said is broad and hard to define.

Someone with food intolerance may get a migraine headache, experience an outbreak of acne or bloating without any other symptoms after eating something like chocolate or foods with artificial coloring added. Getting indigestion after a spicy meal is also considered food intolerance.

If you suspect you have a food allergy, Dr. Braskett recommends seeing your doctor first.

Your doctor can help you determine if you actually have a food allergy and identify what you’re allergic to.  That way, a plan to manage your allergies can be developed.

Baskett advised keeping some antihistamines, like Benadryl, on hand in the event you accidentally eat something that causes an allergic reaction. Your doctor can determine what specific medications and dosages work best for you.

An EpiPen epinephrine autoinjector is used to avoid and treat anaphylaxis from a severe allergic reaction (Greg Friese via Creative Commons at Flickr)

An EpiPen epinephrine autoinjector is used to avoid and treat anaphylaxis from a severe allergic reaction (Greg Friese via Creative Commons at Flickr)

Sometimes though an allergic reaction can begin and advance so quickly that there may not be enough time for the antihistamines to work properly.  In that case, immediate emergency action will be needed.

Many people, who are subject to severe and potentially-deadly allergic reactions, carry an epinephrine autoinjector or pen.  This is a medical device that quickly provides the proper measured dose of epinephrine or adrenaline, which is a medication that avoids or treats anaphylactic shock.

If you do have a food allergy, the standard treatment is to avoid the foods you’re allergic to.  Braskett said to keep a close eye on the ingredients of the foods you eat to ensure they don’t contain any potentially harmful elements.

Braskett also recommends talking with family and friends about your allergies and getting their help and support.

About Science World

Science World

Science World is VOA’s on-air and online magazine covering science, health, technology and the environment.

Hosted by Rick Pantaleo, Science World‘s informative, entertaining and easy-to-understand presentation offers the latest news, features and one-on-one interviews with researchers, scientists, innovators and other news makers.

Listen to a Recent Program

Listen Sidebar

Broadcast Schedule

Broadcast Schedule

Science World begins after the newscast on Friday at 2200, Saturday at 0300, 1100 and 1900 and Sunday at 0100, 0400, 0900, 1100 and 1200.

Science World may also be heard on some VOA affiliates after the news on Saturday at 0900 and 1100. (All times UTC).

Contact Us

E-Mail
science@voanews.com

Postal Mail
Science World
Voice of America
330 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20237
USA