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Updated: 7 min 36 sec ago

Sleep twitches teach babies how to move

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 01:34

Babies learn about their limbs and how to use them from twitches they make during REM sleep—movements that are very different from those made while awake.

“Every time we move while awake, there is a mechanism in our brain that allows us to understand that it is we who made the movement,” says Alexandre Tiriac, a graduate student in psychology at the University of Iowa and first author of a study published in the journal Current Biology.

“But twitches seem to be different in that the brain is unaware that they are self-generated. And this difference between sleep and wake movements may be critical for how twitches, which are most frequent in early infancy, contribute to brain development.”

This latest discovery is further evidence that sleep twitches—whether in dogs, cats, or humans—are connected to brain development, not dreams, says senior author Mark Blumberg, professor of psychology.

Not ‘chasing rabbits’

“Because twitches are so different from wake movements,” he says, “these data put another nail in the coffin of the ‘chasing rabbits’ interpretation of twitches.”

For the study, researchers looked at the brain activity of unanesthetized rats between 8 and 10 days of age. They measured the brain activity while the animals were awake and moving and again while the rats were in REM sleep and twitching.

What they discovered was puzzling, at first.

“We noticed there was a lot of brain activity during sleep movements but not when these animals were awake and moving,” Tiriac says.

Split-second message

The researchers theorized that sensations coming back from twitching limbs during REM sleep were being processed differently in the brain than awake movements because they lacked what is known as “corollary discharge.”

First introduced by researchers in 1950, corollary discharge is a split-second message sent to the brain that allows animals—including rats, crickets, humans and more—to recognize and filter out sensations generated from their own actions. This filtering of sensations is what allows animals to distinguish between sensations arising from their own movements and those from stimuli in the outside world.

So, when researchers noticed an increase in brain activity while the newborn rats were twitching during REM sleep but not when the animals were awake and moving, they conducted several follow-up experiments to determine whether sleep twitching is a unique self-generated movement that is processed as if it lacks corollary discharge.

Special twitches

The experiments were consistent in supporting the idea that sensations arising from twitches are not filtered: And without the filtering provided by corollary discharge, the sensations generated by twitching limbs are free to activate the brain and teach the newborn brain about the structure and function of the limbs.

“If twitches were like wake movements, the signals arising from twitching limbs would be filtered out,” Blumberg says. “That they are not filtered out suggests again that twitches are special—perhaps special because they are needed to activate developing brain circuits.”

The researchers were initially surprised to find the filtering system functioning so early in development, Blumberg says.

“But what surprised us even more was that corollary discharge appears to be suspended during sleep in association with twitching, a possibility that—to our knowledge—has never before been entertained.”

Source: University of Iowa

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Trouble with alcohol varies among Hispanics

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 12:54

New research untangles Mexican-American, Puerto Rican, and Cuban-American subgroups from overall alcohol use data about Hispanics.

The study indicates that the risk of alcohol abuse and dependence can vary significantly among these different subgroups.

Using pre-existing national data that looked at the incident rate of alcohol use disorders over a period of time, Carlos F. Ríos-Bedoya of Michigan State University reports that the annual incidence rate isn’t the same among all Hispanics and prevention efforts shouldn’t be the same either.

“The problem is major lifestyle and migration differences among these subgroups aren’t taken into account in most of the survey data that’s been collected,” says Ríos-Bedoya, an assistant professor in the College of Human Medicine. “The result is an inaccurate picture of this population.”

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Hispanics are one of the fastest growing populations in the United States and often have been identified as having a higher risk for alcoholism.

Yet, Ríos-Bedoya counters that stereotype, showing that one group in particular, Cuban-Americans, has the lowest incidence rate—less than one percent—among their counterparts. They also are half as likely to develop a drinking problem than non-Hispanic whites.

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“Cuban-Americans typically come into America as political refugees with no threat of immigration laws and have been able to thrive and become part of mainstream society,” Ríos-Bedoya says.

“They don’t face as much adversity as, say, Mexican-Americans, who often cross the border illegally and find themselves with little to no options to become part of the mainstream.”

His study indicates the annual incidence rate of alcohol abuse among Mexican- Americans is more than twice that of Caucasians, with Puerto Ricans showing almost three times the risk.

“Even though Puerto Ricans are born US citizens and have easy access back and forth between countries, they have a much higher risk factor in part because drinking starts at an earlier age and is a larger part of their culture growing up,” Ríos-Bedoya says.

The legal drinking age in Puerto Rico is 18 years old.

Ríos-Bedoya indicates that alcohol use is one of the most prevalent disorders in the United States and also one of the most costly, with more than $6 billion spent on treatment and prevention each year.

He also adds that since birth rates are among the highest across the nation within the Hispanic population, it’s important to introduce preventive measures early and develop programs that are specific to each group’s differences.

“The onset of this problem starts in young adolescence so it’s important that we start early,” he says.

“Although treatment is important, developing preventive measures that fit each group’s culture is what could be the most effective all around.”

The study is available in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism.

Source: Michigan State University

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California law to promote hybrids leads to traffic ‘nightmare’

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 12:52

A California law designed to encourage sales of hybrid vehicles may have backfired by creating rush-hour gridlock for commuters.

Between August 2005 and June 2011, the California law allowed owners of hybrid vehicles that get at least 45 miles per gallon to purchase a Clean Air Vehicle Sticker for $8. This allowed them to drive in carpool or HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes regardless of the number of occupants in the car.

Instead of spurring sales, two-thirds of the sticker registrants had hybrid cars already on the road.

While adding a single hybrid to any HOV lane at 2 a.m. creates no congestion or social costs, say the researchers, adding one hybrid driver at 7 a.m. on weekdays to an already congested road such as Interstate 10 appends $4,500 per car in annual costs (in pollution and time) to society.

“For commuters, it means further traffic delays, and this becomes a regressive tax on carpoolers—it’s taxing due to their added time,” says Antonio Bento, associate professor of applied economics and management at Cornell University and lead author of the study published in American Economic Journal: Economic Policy.

“Well-meaning state legislators in California who tried to spur sales of gas-electric hybrids have unintentionally created a nightmare scenario for carpoolers who use Interstate 10 who are trying to get to work or get home.”

Tax credit instead?

With the addition of solo-driver hybrids on already congested highways, HOV lane traffic climbs above 30 percent beyond socially optimal levels.

While the original clean air sticker policy expired in 2011, a new HOV-exception program with 40,000 stickers for electric, hydrogen fuel cell, and plug-in hybrid vehicles started in 2012.

Economists suggest that instead of letting the solo-driver hybrids into rush-hour carpool lanes, the state should provide a tax credit for hybrid vehicles, much like the federal government. Also, policymakers could ration HOV access via congestion pricing, which could relieve congestion and improve air pollution.

Having commuters use buses “may represent the win-win in terms of pollution and congestion that policymakers were hoping with the CAVS (sticker) policy,” the researchers write.

Even if vehicles were truly zero emission, policies that promote their adoption at the expense of exacerbating congestion still generate substantial losses of time for high-occupancy vehicle commuters, they explain in the paper.

To reduce congestion in that interstate corridor and to be fair to commuters in high-occupancy vehicles, the economists suggest a congestion toll of 45 cents per mile, and for hybrid and low-emission vehicles, a reduced congestion toll amounting to 38 cents per mile.

Researchers from University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Irvine; and University of Colorado, Boulder are coauthors of the study.

Source: Cornell University

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Cement’s ‘genome’ could make concrete greener

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 09:23

By paying attention to concrete’s atomic structure, scientists say they could make it better and more environmentally friendly.

The team of researchers has created computational models to help concrete manufacturers fine-tune mixes for general applications.

Materials scientist Rouzbeh Shahsavari says the team created what it considers a game-changing strategy for an industry that often operates under the radar but is still the third-largest source of carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere.

The annual worldwide production of more than 20 billion tons of concrete contributes 5 to 10 percent of carbon dioxide, according to the researchers; only transportation and energy surpass it as producers of the greenhouse gas.

There are benefits to be gained for the environment and for construction by optimizing the process, says Shahsavari, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University.

Calcium, silicate, hydrate

“The heart of concrete is C-S-H—that’s calcium, silicate, and hydrate (water). There are impurities, but C-S-H is the key binder that holds everything together, so that’s what we focused on.

“In a nutshell, we tried to decode the phases of C-S-H across different chemistries, thereby improving the mechanical properties of concrete in a material way.”

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The years-long study involved analysis of “defect attributes” for concrete, Shahsavari says.

One was in the ratio of calcium to silicon, the basic elements of concrete. Another looked at the topology of atomic-level structures, particularly the location of defects and the bonds between “medium-range” calcium and oxygen or silicon and oxygen atoms—that is, atoms that aren’t directly connected but still influence each other. The combination of these defects gives concrete its properties, he says.

Shahsavari notes a previous work by the team defined average chemistries of cement hydrates. (Cement is the component in concrete that contains calcium and silicon.)

“C-S-H is one of the most complex structured gels in nature, and the topology changes with different chemistries, from highly ordered layers to something like glass, which is highly disordered. This time, we came up with a comprehensive framework to decode it, a kind of genome for cement,” he says.

The calcium ‘sweet spot’

The team looked at defects in about 150 mixtures of C-S-H to see how the molecules lined up and how their regimentation or randomness affected the product’s strength and ductility.

The ratio of calcium to silicon is critical, Shahsavari says.

“For strength, a lower calcium content is ideal,” he says. “You get the same strength with less material, and because calcium is associated with the energy-intensive components of concrete, you use less rebar and you save energy in transporting the raw material. Also, it’s more environmentally friendly because you put less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”

Alternately, a higher ratio of calcium (indeed, there is a sweet spot) provides more fracture toughness, which may be better for buildings and bridges that need to give a little due to wind and other natural forces like earthquakes or well cement subjected to downhole pressure or temperature variation.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to see new degrees of freedom in the formation of concrete based on the molecular topology,” Shahsavari says. “We learned that at any given calcium/silicon ratio, there may be 10 to 20 different molecular shapes, and each has a distinct mechanical property.

“This will open up enormous opportunities for researchers to optimize concrete from the molecular level up for certain applications,” he says.

The findings appear in Nature Communications. Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Marseille University contributed to the work.

The Concrete Sustainability Hub at MIT, the Portland Cement Association, and the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association Research and Education Foundation supported the research.

Source: Rice University

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Teens feel better when they think people can change

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 09:13

When making the transition to high school, teens may be particularly vulnerable to depression. But a low-cost, one-time intervention that sends the message that it’s possible for people to change may prevent depression from setting in.

“When teens are excluded or bullied, it can be reasonable to wonder if they are ‘losers’ or ‘not likable,'” says David Yeager, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and author of a new study published online in Clinical Psychological Science. “We asked: Could teaching teens that people can change reduce those thoughts? And if so, could it even prevent overall symptoms of depression?”

It’s not your fault

To find out, researchers conducted a longitudinal intervention study with about 600 ninth-graders at three high schools. At the beginning of the school year, students were randomly assigned to participate in the treatment intervention or a similar control activity, though they were not aware of the group assignment.

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Both activities took place during a normal class period and required only paper or a computer. No one at the school knew the messages or reinforced them.

Students assigned to the treatment intervention read a passage describing how individuals’ personalities are subject to change. The passage emphasized that being bullied is not the result of a fixed, personal deficiency, nor are bullies essentially “bad” people.

An article about brain plasticity and endorsements from older students accompanied the passage. After reading the materials, the students were asked to write their own narrative about how personalities can change, to be shared with future ninth-graders.

Malleability of personality

Students in the control group read a passage that focused on the malleability of a trait not related to personality: athletic ability.

A follow-up nine months later showed that rates of clinically significant depressive symptoms rose by roughly 39 percent among students in the control group, in line with previous research on depression in adolescence.

Students who learned about the malleability of personality, on the other hand, showed no such increase in depressive symptoms, even if they were bullied. The data reveal that the intervention specifically affected depressive symptoms of negative mood, feelings of ineffectiveness, and low self-esteem.

These findings are especially promising given the relatively small investment of time and effort required to carry out the intervention, Yeager says.

Further research is needed to answer a number of questions about the long- and short-term results, such as potential negative side effects, how and where the messages should be administered, and which symptoms are most and least affected.

Adriana Sum Miu, a graduate student at Emory University, is a coauthor of the study.

Source: University of Texas at Austin

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How to build a cheaper cloaking device

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 08:51

A new cloaking device uses inexpensive, readily available materials to hide objects from view.

“There’ve been many high tech approaches to cloaking and the basic idea behind these is to take light and have it pass around something as if it isn’t there, often using high-tech or exotic materials,” says John Howell, a professor of physics at the University of Rochester.

Forgoing the specialized components, Howell and graduate student Joseph Choi developed a combination of four standard lenses that keeps the object hidden as the viewer moves up to several degrees away from the optimal viewing position.

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“This is the first device that we know of that can do three-dimensional, continuously multidirectional cloaking, which works for transmitting rays in the visible spectrum,” says Choi, a PhD student at the University of Rochester Institute of Optics.

Many cloaking designs work fine when you look at an object straight on, but if you move your viewpoint even a little, the object becomes visible, explains Howell.

Choi adds that previous cloaking devices can also cause the background to shift drastically, which makes it obvious that the cloaking device is present.

In order to both cloak an object and leave the background undisturbed, the researchers determined the lens type and power needed, as well as the precise distance to separate the four lenses.

Broadband cloaking

To test their device, they placed the cloaked object in front of a grid background. As they looked through the lenses and changed their viewing angle by moving from side to side, the grid shifted accordingly as if the cloaking device was not there.

There was no discontinuity in the grid lines behind the cloaked object, compared to the background, and the grid sizes (magnification) matched.

The new cloak can be scaled up as large as the size of the lenses, allowing fairly large objects to be cloaked. And, unlike some other devices, it’s broadband so it works for the whole visible spectrum of light, rather than only for specific frequencies.

Their simple configuration improves on other cloaking devices, but it’s not perfect. “This cloak bends light and sends it through the center of the device, so the on-axis region cannot be blocked or cloaked,” says Choi.

This means that the cloaked region is shaped like a doughnut. He adds that they have slightly more complicated designs that solve the problem. Also, the cloak has edge effects, but these can be reduced when sufficiently large lenses are used.

In a new paper submitted to the journal Optics Express and available on, Howell and Choi provide a mathematical formalism for this type of cloaking that can work for angles up to 15 degrees, or more. They use a technique called ABCD matrices that describes how light bends when going through lenses, mirrors, or other optical elements.

Howell has some thoughts about potential applications, including using cloaking to effectively let a surgeon “look through his hands to what he is actually operating on,” he says.

The same principles could be applied to a truck to allow drivers to see through blind spots on their vehicles.

How to build your own

(Credit: U. Rochester)

  1. Purchase 2 sets of 2 lenses with different focal lengths f1 and f2 (4 lenses total, 2 with f1 focal length, and 2 with f2 focal length)
  2. Separate the first 2 lenses by the sum of their focal lengths (So f1 lens is the first lens, f2 is the second lens, and they are separated by t1= f1+ f2).
  3. Do the same in Step 2 for the other 2 lenses.
  4. Separate the 2 sets by t2=2 f2 (f1+ f2) / (f1— f2) apart, so that the two f2 lenses are t2 apart.
Additional notes:
  • Achromatic lenses provide best image quality.
  • Fresnel lenses can be used to reduce the total length (2t1+t2)
  • Smaller total length should reduce edge effects and increase the range of angles.
  • For an easier, but less ideal, cloak, you can try the 3 lens cloak in the paper.

Source: University of Rochester

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Compressed ‘bits’ store tons of quantum data

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 08:46

Scientists recently demonstrated that it’s possible to compress quantum bits, or qubits, without losing information. The ability to compress quantum information—just as we do with digital data—could open up huge potential for more powerful computing.

They also showed that the compression would scale exponentially. So it would require only 10 qubits to store all of the information about 1,000 qubits, and only 20 qubits to store all of the information about a million.

Digital compression in the world of classical information theory is fairly straightforward. As a simple example, if you have a string of 1,000 zeros and ones and are only interested in how many zeros there are, you can simply count them and then write down the number.

In the quantum world it’s more complicated. A qubit can be in a “superposition” between both zero and one until you measure it, at which point it collapses to either a zero or a one.

Why it’s complicated

Not only that, but you can extract different values depending on how you make the measurement. Measured one way, a qubit might reveal a value of either zero or one. Measured another way it might show a value of either plus or minus.

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So, you don’t want to collapse the quantum state of the qubit until you’re ready to. Once you’ve made a single measurement, any other information you might have wanted to extract from the qubit disappears.

You could just store the qubit until you know you’re ready to measure its value. But you might be dealing with thousands or millions of qubits.

“Our proposal gives you a way to hold onto a smaller quantum memory but still have the possibility of extracting as much information at a later date as if you’d held onto them all in the first place,” says Aephraim M. Steinberg of the University of Toronto and a senior fellow at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR).

In the experiment, Lee Rozema, a researcher in Steinberg’s lab and lead author on the paper, prepared qubits in the form of photons, which carried information in the form of their spin and in their path.

The experiment showed that the information contained in three qubits could be compressed into only two qubits—and that it can be compressed exponentially.

One caveat is that the information has to be contained in qubits that have been prepared by an identical process. However, many experiments in quantum information make use of just such identically prepared qubits, making the technique potentially very useful.

“This work sheds light on some of the striking differences between information in the classical and quantum worlds. It also promises to provide an exponential reduction in the amount of quantum memory needed for certain tasks,” Steinberg says.

The paper will appear in an upcoming issue of Physical Review Letters.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada supported the project.

Source: University of Toronto via CIFAR

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Dengue virus pumps out RNA to evade attack

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 06:51

A newly discovered pathway lets the dengue virus avoid being destroyed by the body’s antiviral response.

The findings, which appear in PLOS Pathogens, provide knowledge that could help researchers treat the disease more effectively.

For years, the conventional approach to target the dengue virus was through control of the vector—the mosquito that carries the disease from one host to another. The elusive mechanics of the virus have hampered the development of effective treatments and vaccines.

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Typically, when a virus enters the body and infects cells, it induces the production and release of interferons—proteins that raise the body’s antiviral defense mechanisms.

In examining the dengue virus-2 strain, a team at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore observed that when the dengue virus enters the cell, it produces large quantities of a non-coding, highly structured viral ribonucleic acid (RNA).

This attaches to proteins in the cell that help in the production of antiviral proteins in response to interferons. The interaction renders the cell unable to launch its defenses to protect against virus replication.

In 30 years of dengue-related research, this new mechanism was never discovered, according to senior author Professor Mariano Garcia-Blanco of the Program in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

“We not only found a new way in which the pathogen (dengue virus) interferes with the host response (human immune system), we also uncovered the first mechanistic insight into how this non-coding RNA works,” says Garcia-Blanco.

He believes that the latest discovery opens the door to exploring therapeutics through this channel.

These findings shed greater light on how the human immune response is regulated, and for dengue, how the virus has managed to evade these defenses.

The work also highlights the differences between the four dengue strains and how more research is necessary to understand this highly complex virus.

Source: National University of Singapore

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Talk therapy is better than pills for social anxiety

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 06:45

A form of talk therapy beats antidepressants in treating social anxiety disorder and, unlike the medication, can remain effective long after treatment has stopped, a study shows.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, a type that helps a patient focus on relationships between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, led all treatments in an analysis of 101 clinical trials comparing multiple types of medication and talk therapy. The results are published online in the Lancet Psychiatry.

“Social anxiety is more than just shyness,” says study leader Evan Mayo-Wilson, a research epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. “People with this disorder can experience severe impairment, from shunning friendships to turning down promotions at work that would require increased social interaction.

“The good news from our study is that social anxiety is treatable. Now that we know what works best, we need to improve access to psychotherapy for those who are suffering.”

Social anxiety disorder is characterized by intense fear and avoidance of social situations; it affects up to 13 percent of Americans and Europeans. Most never receive treatment. For those who do, medication is a more accessible treatment because there is a shortage of trained psychotherapists.

Irrational fears

The study involved researchers from Johns Hopkins, Oxford University, and University College London, where Mayo-Wilson formerly worked. They analyzed data from 13,164 participants in 101 clinical trials.

All had severe and longstanding social anxiety. Approximately 9,000 received medication or a placebo; more than 4,000 received a psychological intervention. Few of the trials looked at combining medication with talk therapy, and there was no evidence that combined therapy was better than talk therapy alone.

The data compared several different types of talk therapy and found individual cognitive behavioral therapy the most effective. CBT helps people challenge irrational fears and overcome their avoidance of social situations, Mayo-Wilson says.

Therapy vs. meds

For people who don’t want talk therapy, or who have no access to CBT, the most commonly used antidepressants—selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)—are effective, the researchers found.

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But the medication can be associated with serious adverse effects and doesn’t work at all for many people, the researchers say. Improvements in symptoms do not last after people stop taking the pills, they add.

Medication remains an important tool, but should be used as a second-line therapy for people who do not want or don’t respond to psychological therapy, the researchers say.

The study has already led to new treatment guidelines guidance in the United Kingdom and, Mayo-Wilson says, could have a significant impact on policymaking and the organization of care in the United States.

Access to treatment

Social anxiety disorder typically begins in adolescence or early adulthood and can severely impair a person’s daily functioning by impeding the formation of relationships, negatively affecting performance at work or school, and reducing overall quality of life.

Because it strikes at critical times in patients’ social and educational development, it can have important and lasting consequences.

“Greater investment in psychological therapies would improve quality of life, increase workplace productivity, and reduce health care costs,” Mayo-Wilson says. “The health care system does not treat mental health equitably, but meeting demand isn’t simply a matter of getting insurers to pay for psychological services.

“We need to improve infrastructure to treat mental health problems as the evidence shows they should be treated.

“We need more programs to train clinicians, more experienced supervisors who can work with new practitioners, more offices, and more support staff.”

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in England and Wales funded the study.

Source: Johns Hopkins

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Rare molecule found in space hints at life’s origins

Fri, 09/26/2014 - 12:18

The discovery of an unusual carbon-based molecule near the galactic center of the Milky Way suggests that the complex molecules needed for life may have their origins in interstellar space.

Organic molecules usually found in these star-forming regions consist of a single “backbone” of carbon atoms arranged in a straight chain. The carbon structure of this molecule—known as isopropyl cyanide—is branched, making it the first interstellar detection of such a molecule, says Rob Garrod, a senior research associate at the Center for Radiophysics and Space Research at Cornell University.

This detection opens a new frontier in the complexity of molecules that can be formed in interstellar space and that might ultimately find their way to the surfaces of planets, says Garrod.

The branched carbon structure of isopropyl cyanide is a common feature in molecules that are needed for life—such as amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins.

The discovery, reported in the journal Science, lends weight to the idea that biologically crucial molecules, like amino acids that are commonly found in meteorites, are produced early in the process of star formation—even before planets such as Earth are formed.

Gigantic ‘eye’

Garrod, along with lead author Arnaud Belloche and Karl Menten, both of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, and Holger Müller of the University of Cologne sought to examine the chemical makeup of Sagittarius B2, a region close to the Milky Way’s galactic center and an area rich in complex interstellar organic molecules.

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Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (known as the ALMA Observatory), the group conducted a full spectral survey—looking for fingerprints of new interstellar molecules—with sensitivity and resolution 10 times greater than previous surveys.

The purpose of the ALMA Observatory is to search for cosmic origins through an array of 66 sensitive radio antennas from the high elevation and dry air of northern Chile’s Atacama Desert. The array of radio telescopes works together to form a gigantic “eye” peering into the cosmos.

“Understanding the production of organic material at the early stages of star formation is critical to piecing together the gradual progression from simple molecules to potentially life-bearing chemistry,” says Belloche.

About 50 individual features for isopropyl cyanide (and 120 for normal-propyl cyanide, its straight-chain sister molecule) were identified in the ALMA spectrum of the Sagittarius B2 region. The two molecules—isopropyl cyanide and normal-propyl cyanide—are also the largest molecules yet detected in any star-forming region.

Source: Cornell

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3,600 crystals in wearable ‘skin’ monitor health 24/7

Fri, 09/26/2014 - 11:20

A new wearable medical device that uses up to 3,600 liquid crystals can quickly let you know if you’re having heart trouble—or if it’s simply time to slather on some moisturizer.

The small device, approximately five centimeters square, can be placed directly on the skin for around-the-clock health monitoring. The wireless technology uses thousands of tiny liquid crystals on a flexible substrate to sense heat. When the device turns color, the wearer knows something is awry.

With its 3,600 liquid crystals, the photonic device has 3,600 temperature points, providing sub-millimeter spatial resolution that is comparable to the infrared technology currently used in hospitals. (Credit: John A. Rogers/University of Illinois)

“Our device is mechanically invisible—it is ultrathin and comfortable—much like skin itself,” says Yonggang Huang, professor of civil and environmental engineering and mechanical engineering at Northwestern University.

Huang and colleagues tested the device on people’s wrists.

“One can imagine cosmetics companies being interested in the ability to measure skin’s dryness in a portable and non-intrusive way,” Huang says. “This is the first device of its kind.”

The technology and its relevance to basic medicine have been demonstrated in the study, but additional testing is needed before it can be put to use. Details are reported online in the journal Nature Communications.

“The device is very practical,” says Yihui Zhang, co-first author and research assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. “When your skin is stretched, compressed, or twisted, the device stretches, compresses or twists right along with it.”

3,600 temperature points

The technology uses the transient temperature change at the skin’s surface to determine blood flow rate, which is of direct relevance to cardiovascular health and skin hydration levels. (When skin is dehydrated, the thermal conductivity property changes.)

The device is an array of up to 3,600 liquid crystals, each half a millimeter square, laid out on a thin, soft, and stretchable substrate.

When a crystal senses temperature, it changes color and the dense array provides a snapshot of how the temperature is distributed across the area of the device. An algorithm translates the temperature data into an accurate health report, all in less than 30 seconds.

“These results provide the first examples of ‘epidermal’ photonic sensors,” says John A. Rogers, the paper’s corresponding author and professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois. “This technology significantly expands the range of functionality in skin-mounted devices beyond that possible with electronics alone.”

With its 3,600 liquid crystals, the photonic device has 3,600 temperature points, providing sub-millimeter spatial resolution that is comparable to the infrared technology currently used in hospitals.

The infrared technology, however, is expensive and limited to clinical and laboratory settings, while the new device offers low cost and portability.

The device also has a wireless heating system that can be powered by electromagnetic waves present in the air. The heating system is used to determine the thermal properties of the skin.

Source: Northwestern University

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After layoffs, 1 in 5 Americans still can’t find a job

Fri, 09/26/2014 - 08:46

A new report about the lingering effects of the Great Recession finds that about 20 percent of Americans who lost their job during the last five years are still unemployed and looking for work.

Approximately half of the laid-off workers who found work were paid less in their new positions; one in four say their new job was only temporary.

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“While the worst effects of the Great Recession are over for most Americans, the brutal realities of diminished living standards endure for the three million American workers who remain jobless years after they were laid off,” says Carl Van Horn, a professor at Rutgers who co-authored the study with Professor Cliff Zukin.

“These long-term unemployed workers have been left behind to fend for themselves as they struggle to pull their lives back together.”

As of last August, 3 million Americans—nearly one in three unemployed workers—have been unemployed for more than six months, and more than 2 million Americans have been out of work for more than a year, the researchers say.

While the percentage of the long-term unemployed (workers who have been unemployed for more than six months) has declined from 46 percent in 2010, it is still above the 26 percent level experienced in the worst previous recession in 1983.

Job training

The national study found that only one in five of the long-term unemployed received help from a government agency when looking for a job; only 22 percent enrolled in a training program to develop skills for a new job; and 60 percent received no government assistance beyond unemployment benefits.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans support increasing funds for long-term education and training programs, and greater spending on roads and highways in order to assist unemployed workers.

For the survey, the Heldrich Center interviewed a representative sample of 1,153 Americans, including 394 unemployed workers looking for work, 389 Americans who have been unemployed for more than six months or who were unemployed for a period of more than six months at some point in the last five years, and 463 individuals who currently have jobs.

Other findings
  • More than seven in 10 long-term unemployed say they have less in savings and income than they did five years ago.
  • More than eight in 10 of the long-term unemployed rate their personal financial situation negatively as only fair or poor.
  • More than six in 10 unemployed and long-term unemployed say they experienced stress in family relationships and close friendships during their time without a job.
  • Fifty-five percent of the long-term unemployed say they will need to retire later than planned because of the recession, while 5 percent say the weak economy forced them into early retirement.
  • Nearly half of the long-term unemployed say it will take three to 10 years for their families to recover financially. Another one in five say it will take longer than that or that they will never recover.

Source: Rutgers

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How birds fly through tight spots and don’t crash

Fri, 09/26/2014 - 08:02

To design a better drone, scientists could learn a thing or two from birds’ ability to maneuver through narrow spaces.

Budgerigars can fly between gaps almost as narrow as their outstretched wingspan rather than taking evasive measures such as tucking in their wings.

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Previous research has shown that humans unnecessarily turn their shoulders to pass through doorways narrower than 130 percent of their body width. Birds are far more precise.

“We were quite surprised by the birds’ accuracy—they can judge their wingspan within 106 percent of their width when it comes to flying through gaps,” says Ingo Schiffner, researcher at the University of Queensland Brain Institute.

“When you think about the cluttered environments they fly through, such as forests, they need to develop this level of accuracy.

“When they encounter a narrow gap, they either lift their wings up vertically or tuck them in completely, minimizing their width to that of their torso,” he says.

Can it work for drones?

The researchers wanted to know precisely how birds judge gaps between obstacles before engaging in evasive maneuvers.

In testing, budgies flew down corridors with variable widths between obstacles, and their flights were recorded with high-speed cameras for analysis.

The research, published in the journal Frontiers in Zoology, will be applied to robotics work at the Queensland Brain Institute’s Neuroscience of Vision and Aerial Robotics laboratory, Schiffner says.

“If we can understand how birds avoid obstacles, we might be able to develop algorithms for aircraft to avoid obstacles as well.

Bird brains

“For instance, urban drones used for deliveries would need to fly through complex environments such as tight alleyways or between trees at the front of homes.

“For us, it isn’t the ability to tuck in wings that is of interest if we are talking about fixed-wing or rotor aircraft, but whether we can replicate what happens neurologically in birds as they navigate.”

To judge airspeed, budgies use optic flow—the rate visual cues pass by the eyes. They don’t see three-dimensionally like humans, due to the lateral placement of their eyes and lack of binocular overlap.

“Seeing in three dimensions requires two eyes or cameras with sufficient visual overlap, so using optic flow with just one camera would be very useful, saving weight and keeping autonomous vehicles small.”

Source: University of Queensland

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Memories, not emotions, fade for people with Alzheimer’s

Fri, 09/26/2014 - 07:35

People with Alzheimer’s disease can feel lingering emotions after an event even though they may not remember it.

Researchers showed individuals with Alzheimer’s disease clips of sad and happy movies. Despite not being able to remember the movies, they experiences sustained states of sadness and happiness.

“This confirms that the emotional life of an Alzheimer’s patient is alive and well,” says lead author Edmarie Guzmán-Vélez, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at University of Iowa.

“Our findings should empower caregivers by showing them that their actions toward patients really do matter,” Guzmán-Vélez says.

Guzmán-Vélez conducted the study with Daniel Tranel, professor of neurology and psychology, and Justin Feinstein, assistant professor at the University of Tulsa and the Laureate Institute for Brain Research.

Earlier research predicted the importance of attending to the emotional needs of people with Alzheimer’s, which is expected to affect as many as 16 million people in the United States by 2050 and cost an estimated $1.2 trillion.

“It’s extremely important to see data that support our previous prediction,” says Daniel Tranel, professor of neurology and psychology. “Edmarie’s research has immediate implications for how we treat patients and how we teach caregivers.”

Emotions linger

Despite the considerable amount of research aimed at finding new treatments for Alzheimer’s, no drug has succeeded at either preventing or substantially influencing the disease’s progression. Results of the new study highlight the need to develop new caregiving techniques aimed at improving the well-being and minimizing the suffering for the millions of individuals afflicted with Alzheimer’s.

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For the study, published in Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, 17 patients with Alzheimer’s disease and 17 healthy comparison participants watched 20 minutes of sad and then happy movies. The movie clips triggered the expected emotion: sorrow and tears during the sad films and laughter during the happy ones.

About five minutes after watching the movies, the participants were tested to see if they could recall what they had just seen. As expected, the patients with Alzheimer’s disease retained significantly less information about both the sad and happy films than the healthy people. In fact, four patients were unable to recall any factual information about the films, and one patient didn’t even remember watching any movies.

Before and after seeing the films, participants answered questions to gauge their feelings. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease reported elevated levels of either sadness or happiness for up to 30 minutes after viewing the films despite having little or no recollection of the movies.

Visit, joke, dance

Surprisingly, the less the patients remembered about the films, the longer their sadness lasted. While sadness tended to last a little longer than happiness, both emotions far outlasted the memory of the films.

The fact that forgotten events can continue to exert a profound influence on a patient’s emotional life highlights the need for caregivers to avoid causing negative feelings and to try to induce positive ones.

“Our findings should empower caregivers by showing them that their actions toward patients really do matter,” Guzmán-Vélez says. “Frequent visits and social interactions, exercise, music, dance, jokes, and serving patients their favorite foods are all simple things that can have a lasting emotional impact on a patient’s quality of life and subjective well-being.”

Justin Feinstein, assistant professor at the University of Tulsa, is a coauthor of the study.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship awarded to Guzmán-Vélez, Kiwanis International, the Fraternal Order of Eagles, an American Psychological Association of Graduate Students Basic Psychological Research Grant, and the William K. Warren Foundation supported the research.

Source: University of Iowa

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Half of Earth’s water may be older than the sun

Fri, 09/26/2014 - 07:16

Up to half of the water on Earth is likely older than the solar system itself, according to new research that helps to settle a debate about just how far back in galactic history our planet and our solar system’s water formed.

The debate centers around several questions: were the molecules in comet ices and terrestrial oceans born with the system itself—in the planet-forming disk of dust and gas that circled the young sun 4.6 billion years ago?

Or did the water originate even earlier—in the cold, ancient molecular cloud that spawned the sun and that planet-forming disk?

Between 30 and 50 percent came from the molecular cloud, says Ilse Cleeves, a doctoral student in astronomy at University of Michigan.

To arrive at that estimate, Cleeves and Ted Bergin, professor of astronomy, simulated the chemistry that went on as our solar system formed. They focused on the ratio of two slightly different varieties of water—the common kind and a heavier version. Today, comets and Earth’s oceans hold particular ratios of heavy water—higher ratios than the sun contains.

“Chemistry tells us that Earth received a contribution of water from some source that was very cold—only tens of degrees above absolute zero, while the sun being substantially hotter has erased this deuterium, or heavy water, fingerprint,” Bergin says.

How common is water?

To start their solar system simulation, the scientists wound back the clock and zeroed out the heavy water. They hit “go” and waited to see if eons of solar system formation could lead to the ratios they see today on Earth and in comets.

“We let the chemistry evolve for a million years—the typical lifetime of a planet-forming disk—and we found that chemical processes in the disk were inefficient at making heavy water throughout the solar system,” Cleeves says. “What this implies is if the planetary disk didn’t make the water, it inherited it. Consequently, some fraction of the water in our solar system predates the sun.”

All life on Earth depends on water. Understanding when and where it came from can help scientists estimate how common water might be throughout the galaxy.

“The implications of these findings are pretty exciting,” Cleeves says. “If water formation had been a local process that occurs in individual stellar systems, the amount of water and other important chemical ingredients necessary for the formation of life might vary from system to system.

“But because some of the chemically rich ices from the molecular cloud are directly inherited, young planetary systems have access to these important ingredients.

“Based on our simulations and our growing astronomical understanding, the formation of water from hydrogen and oxygen atoms is a ubiquitous component of the early stages of stellar birth,” Bergin says.

“It is this water, which we know from astronomical observations forms at only 10 degrees above absolute zero before the birth of the star, that is provided to nascent stellar systems everywhere.”

The findings are reported in the journal Science.

Source: University of Michigan

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Computer recreates powerful solar flares

Fri, 09/26/2014 - 06:47

Physicists have used computers to model solar explosions and hope the work will lead to better ways to predict flares, which can disable power grids and communications on Earth.

The computer model demonstrates that the shorter the interval between two explosions in the solar atmosphere, the more likely it is that the second flare will be stronger than the first one.

“The agreement with measurements from satellites is striking,” write the researchers from ETH Zurich in the journal Nature Communications.

Hans Jürgen Herrmann, a professor at the Institute for Building Materials, says solar flares were not the original focus of the work. A theoretical physicist and expert in computer physics, Herrmann developed a method to examine phenomena from a range of diverse fields. Similar patterns to those in solar flares can also be found in earthquakes, avalanches, or the stock market.

“Solar explosions do not, of course, have any connection with stock exchange rates,” says Hermann. Nevertheless, they do behave in a similar way: they can interlock until they reach a certain threshold value before discharging.

A system therefore does not continuously release the mass or energy fed into it, but only does so in bursts, Herrmann explains.

Pile of sand

Experts call this self-organized criticality. One example for this is a pile of sand being created by a trickle of sand grains. The pile continues to grow until, every now and then, an avalanche is triggered. Smaller landslides occur more frequently than larger ones.

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By organizing itself around a so-called critical state, the pile maintains its original height when viewed over an extended period of time.

In the case of solar flares, the build-up of magnetic energy is emitted in sudden bursts. The sun consists of hot plasma made of electrons and ions. Magnetic field lines extend from the solar surface all the way into the corona. Moving and twisting bundles of field lines form magnetic flux tubes.

When two tubes intersect, they merge (physicists call this reconnection), causing an explosion that gives off large quantities of heat and electromagnetic radiation. The affected solar area lights up as a solar flare.

The radiation extends across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves and visible light to X-rays and gamma rays.

Observations suggest that the solar flares’ size distributions show a certain degree of regularity, statistically speaking.

“Events can be arbitrarily large but they are also arbitrarily rare”, says Herrmann. In mathematical terms, it is a scale-free energy distribution that follows a power law.

A turbulent system

Conventional computer models have been able to qualitatively reconstruct this statistic size distribution, but unable to make any quantitative predictions. Any model relying on the intersection of flux tubes and therefore based on self-organized criticality neglects one important fact, Herrmann points out: “the system is turbulent”.

The magnetic field lines in the corona do not move in a random pattern but are rooted in the photosphere’s turbulent plasma, whose behavior is described in terms of fluid dynamics—the science of the movement of fluids and gases.

However, calculations based solely on plasma turbulence were also unable to reproduce the occurrence of solar flares in full.

Herrman and his team combined self-organized criticality with fluid dynamics and reached a breakthrough.

“We have been able to reproduce the overall picture of how solar flares occur,” the researcher says.

Using a supercomputer, the team was able to show that the model consistently generated correct results even when changing details such as the number of flux tubes or the energy of the plasma. Unlike earlier attempts by other researchers, their results corresponded with the observations in a quantitative sense as well.

Their conclusion is that “turbulence and interaction between the magnetic flux tubes are essential components which control the occurrence of solar flares.” Demonstrating such temporal-energetic correspondences is the first step towards a prediction model.

However, Herrmann cautions, “our predictions are statistical.” In other words, they can only predict probabilities, while the prediction of individual events remains impossible.

Source: ETH Zurich

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Biochar changes how water flows through soil

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 13:45

New research could help settle the debate about one of biochar’s biggest benefits—its seemingly contradictory ability to make clay soils drain faster and sandy soils drain slower.

As more gardeners and farmers add ground charcoal, or biochar, to soil to both boost crop yields and counter global climate change, the study offers the first detailed explanation for this mystery.

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“Understanding the controls on water movement through biochar-amended soils is critical to explaining other frequently reported benefits of biochar, such as nutrient retention, carbon sequestration, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions,” says lead author Rebecca Barnes, an assistant professor of environmental science at Colorado College, who began the research as a postdoctoral research associate at Rice University.

Biochar can be produced from waste wood, manure, or leaves, and its popularity among DIY types and gardening buffs took off after archaeological studies found that biochar added to soils in the Amazon more than 1,000 years ago was still improving the water- and nutrient-holding abilities of those poor soils today.

Studies over the past decade have found that biochar soil amendments can either increase or decrease the amount of water that soil holds, but it has been tough for experts to explain why this occurs, due partly to conflicting results from many different field tests.

Comparing ‘apples to apples’

In the new study, biogeochemists at Rice conducted side-by-side tests of the water-holding ability of three soil types—sand, clay, and topsoil—both with and without added biochar.

The biochar used in the experiments, derived from Texas mesquite wood, was prepared to exacting standards in the lab of Rice geochemist Caroline Masiello, a study coauthor, to ensure comparable results across soil types.

“Not all biochar is created equal, and one of the important lessons of recent studies is that the hydrological properties of biochar can vary widely, depending on the temperature and time in the reactor,” Masiello says.

“It’s important to use the right recipe for the biochar that you want to make, and the differences can be subtle. For scientific studies, it is critical to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples.”

Pathways for water

Barnes says the team chose to make its comparison with simple, relatively homogenous soil materials to compare results to established hydrologic models that relate water flow to a soil’s physical properties, like bulk density and porosity.

“This is what helped us explain the seeming disconnect that people have noted when amending soils with biochar,” she says. “Biochar is light and highly porous. When biochar is added to clay, it makes the soil less dense and it increases hydraulic conductivity, which makes intuitive sense.

“Adding biochar to sand also makes it less dense, so one would expect that soil to drain more quickly as well; but in fact, researchers have found that biochar-amended sand holds water longer.”

Study coauthor Brandon Dugan, assistant professor of Earth science at Rice, says, “We hypothesize that this is likely due to the presence of two flow paths for water through soil-biochar mixtures. One pathway is between the soil and biochar grains, and a second pathway is water moving through the biochar itself.”

Barnes says the highly porous structure of biochar makes each of these pathways more tortuous than the pathway that water would take through sand alone. Moreover, the surface chemistry of biochar—both on external surfaces and inside pores—is likely to promote absorption and further slow the movement of water.

“By adding our results to the growing body of literature, we show that when biochar is added to sand or other coarse-grained soils, there is a simultaneous decrease in bulk density and hydraulic conductivity, as opposed to the expected result of decreased bulk density correlated with increased hydraulic conductivity that has been observed for other soil types,” Barnes says.

Study coauthors include co-first author Morgan Gallagher, a former Rice graduate student who is now a postdoctoral researcher at Rice and an associate in research at Duke University’s Center for Global Change, and Rice graduate student Zuolin Liu. The findings appear in PLOS ONE.

Source: Rice University

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How battlefield burns lead to abnormal bone growth

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 12:52

A new anti-inflammatory treatment may help prevent what has become one of the war-defining injuries for today’s troops.

Soldiers burned by high-velocity explosive devices are at-risk for heterotopic ossification (HO), in which bone develops in places it shouldn’t be—outside the skeleton, in joints, muscles, and tendons.

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The painful condition can make it difficult to move and function and commonly affects patients who suffer burns, automobile accidents, orthopedic surgery, and blast injuries and other combat wounds.

New research shows how and why HO develops and reveals a potential method to interrupt the cell signaling that leads to abnormal bone growth.

Using tissue from burn patients and a mouse model of trauma-induced HO, researchers analyzed the body’s response to burn injury. They confirmed the link between burn injury and activity of ATP, a primary energy source for cells that, when elevated, can make reactions normally impossible in biological conditions, possible—such as ectopic, or abnormal, bone.

By using an apyrase, a compound capable of breaking down ATP, researchers were able to reduce heterotopic ossification, according to study findings published in Science Translational Medicine.

Additional study will be required to develop an HO prevention therapy for humans that can be tested for safety and effectiveness.

Beyond burns

“These findings are exciting and suggest that localized anti-inflammatory treatment may help prevent future development of ectopic bone, even at sites distant from the trauma,” says lead author Benjamin Levi, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the University of Michigan.

Levi is director of the Burn/Wound and Regenerative Medicine Laboratory at the University of Michigan where research teams are focused on prevention and early diagnosis of HO before it’s visible on x-rays and CT scans.

In addition to burn and trauma patients who are at risk for HO, more than one million patients a year undergo joint replacement in the United States and 20 percent of these patients will develop HO.

Authors of an accompanying editorial suggest study of an apyrase treatment for heterotopic ossification formation go beyond high-risk burn patients. Additional research may reveal whether the treatment would help those suffering traumatic brain, orthopedic, and spinal cord injuries.

The debilitating bone condition has complicated more than 60 percent of severe wartime orthopedic casualties during the Afghanistan and Iraqi conflicts, impacting more than 1,200 veterans.

Other researchers from University of Michigan and from the Naval Medical Research Center, University of Texas Medical Branch, and Massachusetts General Hospital contributed to the study.

The research was funded in in part by a Plastic Surgery Foundation National Endowment Award.

Source: University of Michigan

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Does video evidence make bias stronger?

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 12:49

Where people look as they watch video evidence varies wildly and has a big impact on bias in legal punishment decisions, report researchers.

The study raises questions about why people fail to be objective when confronted with video evidence.

In a series of three experiments, participants who viewed videotaped altercations formed biased punishment decisions about a defendant the more they looked at him.

Participants punished a defendant more severely if they did not identify with his social group and punished him less severely if they felt connected to the group—but only when they looked at the defendant often.

“Our findings show that video evidence isn’t evaluated objectively—in fact, it may even spur our existing biases,” explains study author Emily Balcetis, an assistant professor in New York University’s psychology department.

“With the proliferation of surveillance footage and other video evidence, coupled with the legal system’s blind faith in information we can see with their own eyes, we need to proceed with caution. Video evidence is seductive, but it won’t necessarily help our understanding of cases, especially when it’s unclear who is at fault.”

The research appears in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Identification with the police

In the first pair of experiments, which included 152 participants, researchers gauged the participants’ identification with police. This was done by reading a series of statements (e.g., “Your background is similar to that of most police officers”), then measuring, on a seven-point scale, the participants’ level of agreement or disagreement with the statement (1=strong disagreement; 7=strong agreement).

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The participants then watched a 45-second muted video depicting an actual altercation between a police officer and a civilian, in which officer wrongdoing was ambiguous.

In it, the officer attempted to handcuff the resisting civilian. The officer and civilian struggled before the officer pushed the civilian against his cruiser. The civilian bit the officer’s arm, after which the officer hit the back of the civilian’s head. In order to determine if the altercation was indeed seen as ambiguous, a separate group of participants viewed the tape and evaluated it as such.

During these viewings, the researchers also monitored the participants’ eye movements without their awareness. Using eye-tracking technology, they gauged how many times participants fixated their gaze on the police officer.

After the viewings, researchers examined how the participants interpreted what they saw. Participants reported on the legal facts of the case, which would incriminate the police officer.

Deciding on punishment

In addition, participants imagined they were jurors in a court case in which the police officer was on trial for these actions and indicated the likelihood that they would require that the officer be punished and pay a fine (1=extremely unlikely, 6=extremely likely).

Their results showed that participants’ identification with the police officer influenced punishment decisions only if they focused their visual attention on the law-enforcement official.

Specifically, their results showed that frequently looking at the police officer exacerbated discrepancies in punishment decisions among participants.

For instance, among participants who looked frequently at the police officer, the degree to which they identified with his social group predicted biased punishment decisions. Participants punished the officer far more severely if they did not identify with his group than if they did. By contrast, among participants who looked less often at the officer, group identification did not affect punishment decisions. Attention shifted punishment decisions by changing participants’ interpretations of the legal facts of the case.

In a second experiment, the same participants viewed another video depicting an altercation between a police officer and a civilian—one in which culpability, verified by an independent panel of participants, was ambiguous.

In it, the police officer, wearing a gun and using relatively minimal force, spoke with a civilian in a subway stairwell. The civilian flinched, moving toward the officer, who wrestled him to the ground.

Here, some participants were asked to focus their attention on the police officer while others were asked to focus their attention on the civilian—a tracking of participants’ eye movements confirmed they complied with these instructions.

The results echoed those of the first experiment. Those who followed directions to pay closer attention to the police officer rather than to the civilian saw his actions as more incriminating and sought to punish him more severely if they felt little social connection to police officers. In other words, close attention to the videotape enhanced participants’ pre-existing biases of police rather than diminishing them.

“One might think that the more closely you look at videotape, the more likely you are to view its contents objectively,” says Balcetis. “But that is not the case—in fact, the more you look, the more you find evidence that confirms your assumptions about a social group, in this case police.”

Blue and green groups

In order to rule out the possibility that these findings apply only to police, the researchers conducted another experiment with a new set of participants.

This time, however, they watched a videotape of an orchestrated fight between two college-aged white men: one wearing a blue shirt and another wearing a green shirt. Prior to viewing the videotape, participants answered personality questions, and the experimenter told them their answers seemed more similar to either the blue group or the green group.

Consistent with the first two experiments, the results showed that close visual attention enhanced biased interpretations of what transpired and influenced punishment decisions.

For instance, those who fixated more on the outgroup member (blue or green) were more likely to recommend stiffer punishment than those who looked elsewhere. Again, attention shifted punishment decisions by changing the accuracy of participants’ memory of the behaviors that the outgroup member performed.

“We think video evidence is a silver bullet for getting at truth, but it’s not,” observes lead author Yael Granot, a doctoral candidate at NYU.

“These results suggest that the way in which people view video evidence may exaggerate an already pervasive ‘us versus them’ divide in the American legal system.”

The study’s other authors included NYU undergraduate Kristin Schneider and Tom Tyler, a professor at Yale Law School.

Source: NYU

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The blue pixels on screens can now live longer

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 09:04

Researchers have extended the lifetime of blue organic light emitting diodes by a factor of 10.

This advance could lead to longer battery life in smartphones and lower power consumption for large-screen televisions.

Blue OLEDs are one of a trio of colors used in OLED displays such as smartphone screens and high-end TVs. The improvement means that the efficiencies of blue OLEDs in these devices could jump from about 5 percent to 20 percent or better in the near future.

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OLEDs are the latest and greatest in television technology, allowing screens to be extremely thin and even curved, with little blurring of moving objects and a wider range of viewing angles.

In these “RGB” displays, each pixel contains red, green, and blue modules that shine at different relative brightness to produce any color desired.

But not all OLEDs are created equal. Phosphorescent OLEDs, also known as PHOLEDs, produce light through a mechanism that is four times more efficient than fluorescent OLEDs. Green and red PHOLEDs are already used in these new TVs—as well as in Samsung and LG smartphones—but the blues are fluorescent.

“Having a blue phosphorescent pixel is an important challenge, but they haven’t lived long enough,” says Stephen Forrest, professor of engineering at the University of Michigan.

He and his colleagues demonstrated the first PHOLED in 1998 and the first blue PHOLED in 2001.

Now, with their new results, Forrest and his team hope that is about to change. Efficient blues will make a significant dent in power consumption for large-screen TVs and extend battery life in smartphones.

The lifetime improvement will also help prevent blue from dimming relative to red and green over time.

“In a display, it would be very noticeable to your eye,” Forrest says.

Why blue works differently

In collaboration with researchers at Universal Display Corp. in 2008, Forrest’s group proposed an explanation for why blue PHOLEDs’ lives are short. The team showed that the high energies required to produce blue light are more damaging when the brightness is increased to levels needed for displays or lighting.

This is because a concentration of energy on one molecule can combine with that on a neighbor, and the total energy is enough to break up one of the molecules. It’s less of a problem in green- and red-emitting PHOLEDs because it takes lower energies to make these colors of light.

“That early work showed why the blue PHOLED lifetime is short, but it didn’t provide a viable strategy for increasing the lifetime,” says Yifan Zhang, a recent graduate from Forrest’s group and first author on the new study. “We tried to use this understanding to design a new type of blue PHOLED.”

Spreading out the ‘bad energy’

The solution, demonstrated by Zhang and Jae Sang Lee, a current doctoral student in Forrest’s group, spreads out the light-producing energy so that molecules aren’t as likely to experience the bad synergy that destroys them.

The blue PHOLED consisted of a thin film of light-emitting material sandwiched between two conductive layers—one for electrons and one for holes, the positively charged spaces that represent the absence of an electron. Light is produced when electrons and holes meet on the light-emitting molecules.

If the light-emitting molecules are evenly distributed, the energetic electron-hole pairs tend to accumulate near the layer that conducts electrons, causing damaging energy transfers.

Instead, the team arranged the molecules so that they were concentrated near the hole-conducting layer and sparser toward the electron conductor. This drew electrons further into the material, spreading out the energy.

The new distribution alone extended the lifetime of the blue PHOLED by three times. Then, the team split their design into two layers, halving the concentration of light-emitting molecules in each layer. This configuration increased the lifetime tenfold.

This research appears in Nature Communications. Forrest is also a professor of electrical engineering, physics, and materials science and engineering.

Universal Display supported the work and has licensed it for commercialization.

Source: University of Michigan

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