Archive for January, 2010

Female Teachers’ Math Anxiety May Give Girls the Arithmetic Jitters

By Smriti Rao | January 27, 2010 10:49 am

girl-mathDoes your first- or second-grade daughter have trouble with math? Her anxiety could be stemming not just from a genuine fear of number crunching but also, a new study indicates, from an anxious female math teacher.

The study (pdf) published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that if a female teacher is anxious about math, she tends to pass on that anxiety to her female students. This can make the female students believe they aren’t hard-wired for math like the boys, and cause them to shy away from fully flexing and developing their mathematical muscles.

The findings are the product of a year-long study on 17 first-and second-grade teachers and 52 boys and 65 girls who were their students [Science Daily]. Researchers recruited the female teachers from a Midwestern school district and assessed their level of math anxiety. They also gave math tests to 117 of these teachers’ students and jotted down their beliefs about math and gender at the beginning and end of the year. By the end of the year, the more anxious teachers were about their own math skills, the more likely their female students – but not the boys – were to agree that “boys are good at math and girls are good at reading” [AP].

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Physics & Math

Comet Barrage Ignited One Jovian Moon While Leaving Its Twin for Dead

By Andrew Moseman | January 27, 2010 10:22 am

jupiter-moonsWhile Jupiter’s two largest moons, Ganymede and Callisto, are nearly the same size, they’re far from identical twins. Now, in a Nature Geoscience study, Amy Barr and her team might have figured out this tale of two similar moons with very different histories.

Voyager and Galileo mission images showed Ganymede, seen here on the right, to be a geologically active place, with a surface that scientists think changes through tectonic processes like those that we have here on the Earth. Callisto, seen on the left, looks totally different: Its rock and ice have not mixed in the same way, and it doesn’t seem to have such active geology, despite being approximately the same size as Ganymede. For 30 years, researchers have wondered what process could have got enough heat into Ganymede to drive its geological evolution without setting off Callisto as well [ScienceNOW Daily News].

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Upgrading From Analog TVs Is Making Earth "Invisible" to E.T.'s

By Smriti Rao | January 26, 2010 5:28 pm

Earth-atmosphereIf you’ve been expecting to hear from a far-off alien civilization, don’t hold your breath, suggests Frank Drake, the founder of Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)–the odds of ET phoning Earth may be diminishing. And your digital TV might well be to blame.

Speaking at a meeting of the Royal Society in London, Drake said that digital transmissions are effectively “gagging” the planet. In the fast-fading analog age, TV and radio signals transmitted around the world escaped into space. At present, the Earth is surrounded by a 50 light year-wide ”shell” of radiation from analogue TV, radio and radar transmissions, he said [The Telegraph]. Those signals reach distant stars, which means that if someone is home at any of those stars, they could heard us.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space, Technology

Dis-Spirit-ed: NASA Concedes Defeat Over Stuck Mars Rover

By Smriti Rao | January 26, 2010 3:45 pm

spiritAfter ten months of trying to extricate the Mars rover Spirit from a sandy patch on the Red Planet, NASA has finally given up. The space agency said Tuesday that Spirit will no longer be a fully mobile robot, roving over an alien planet. It will instead be a stationary science platform–which means a sedentary life for the robot geologist [that] has taken thousands of images and found evidence in Mars’ rocks of a wetter, warmer past [BBC].

Ten months ago, as Spirit was driving south beside the western edge of a low plateau called Home Plate, its wheels broke through a crusty surface and churned into soft sand hidden underneath [NASA]. The rover has been stuck there ever since, and now only four of its six wheels are functioning. Since all the maneuvers that the NASA instructed the rover to try have failed to free it, the sandpit known as “Troy” will be Spirit’s final resting place.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space, Technology

Great Minds Think Alike: Bats & Dolphins Evolved Same Gene For Echolocation

By Andrew Moseman | January 26, 2010 2:08 pm

bottlenosedolphinBats and dolphins are two of the most celebrated users of echolocation, employing high-frequency sounds to locate prey, find their way, or to communicate. Now a new set of findings in Current Biology show that not only do the two different kinds of mammals use the same method, they also evolved nearly the exact same molecular means for hearing at high frequencies.

That second part was a surprise, study author Stephen Rossiter says: “It’s common on a morphological scale but it’s assumed not to occur at a DNA level because there are so many different ways to arrive at the same solution” [BBC News]. That is, while it’s quite common for different species to separately evolve similar features—like the tusks of elephants and walruses—it’s quite unlikely that natural selection working in separate species would settle an essentially identical gene and protein for growing tusks, hearing high-frequency sounds, or anything else. Or so the thinking went.

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Model Suggests 4-Winged Dino Glided Like a Flying Squirrel

By Andrew Moseman | January 26, 2010 11:33 am

microraptorUntil or unless we can create a Jurassic Park and build dinosaurs from DNA, the best way to study them may be to build dino models using materials like balsa wood, carbon fiber, and rubber bands.

That’s what a team did for a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. To figure out how the 120-million-year-old winged dinosaur Microraptor gui took to the skies, the researchers used a well-preserved fossil to build their own. “We went back and forth. We thought, maybe we’ll do 3-D graphics and it’ll look really cool. But it’s more accurate to do the modeling directly from the specimen,” said Dave Burnham, a paleontologist at the University of Kansas [].

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MORE ABOUT: dinosaurs, flight, fossils

When Prions Do Good: Properly Folded Proteins May Protect Nerve Cells

By Smriti Rao | January 25, 2010 6:47 pm

main.2010.prion_protein_storyFor years, prions have been known only as a serious danger to animal and human health. These misfolded brain proteins have been linked to fatal diseases–like mad cow disease in cattle and the deadly variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. But apart from causing these diseases, scientists puzzled for years about the exact function of a properly folded prion protein.

A new study in Nature Neuroscience may have some answers. After 20 years of research, an international team of neuroscientists reports that, in mammals, the mysterious proteins help to maintain the myelin sheath that protects the body’s nerves [Nature News]. A healthy sheath is necessary for nerve cells to transmit impulses rapidly.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain
MORE ABOUT: mad cow disease, prions

Can America Not Handle the Science in "Creation" & "Extraordinary Measures"?

By Andrew Moseman | January 25, 2010 4:55 pm

Friday saw the release of two science-centered films: the medical drama “Extraordinary Measures” opened around the country, while the British-made Charles Darwin biopic “Creation” finally found a U.S. distributor and began limited showings on this side of the pond.

Starring Brendan Fraser and Harrison Ford, “Extraordinary Measures” tells the Hollywood-ized true story of researchers racing to find a cure for Pompe disease, a genetic affliction affecting fewer than 10,000 people in the world. Two of those people, however, are the children of John Crowley, Fraser’s character. “The movie is a great exposure for a rare genetic disease,” said Duke University School of Medicine’s Priya Kishnani, who studies Pompe and participated in much of the research that led to the first and only approved treatment for the disease…. “I would have never thought in my lifetime, a disease that I’m so passionate about would make it into mainstream Hollywood cinema” [The Scientist].

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World

Satellite Images Protect Kenyan Herdsmen From Being Wiped Out by Droughts

By Smriti Rao | January 25, 2010 4:42 pm

drought-dry-mud-flatFor years, farmers in Kenya’s arid north have suffered huge losses when droughts wiped out their cattle herds. Now, they have a means to protect their sole source of livelihood when rains fail and grasslands disappear. A new insurance scheme hopes to safeguard cattle-rearers in northern Kenya’s drought-prone Marsabit district by using satellite imagery to track changing landscapes and the subsequent loss of cattle.

The program, launched by the International Livestock Research Institute, is being billed as the world’s first  insurance program to track changing pastoral grounds. When the satellite photos reveal that a verdant green landscape has changed to a dry brown, the insurance kicks in and farmers can collect their payments. The program will make things easier for insurance companies–for whom estimating losses in the past has been all but impossible. Partly because it has simply been too expensive for insurers to go and count the number of dead animals which might be spread over a vast rural area [BBC]. The scheme’s launch comes at a time when the Marsabit region has suffered 28 droughts in the last 100 years and four in the past decade alone [Kenya Broadcasting Corporation].

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology

Study: Brain Scans Diagnose PTSD With 90 Percent Accuracy

By Andrew Moseman | January 25, 2010 10:48 am

brain 4Despite the prevalence of post traumatic stress disorder, especially in veterans (an estimated one in five  from Iraq and Afghanistan have it, according to the Department of Defense), it can be maddeningly tricky to diagnose. But in a new study in Journal of Neural Engineering, brain researcher Apostolos Georgopoulos argues that his team has found, through the brain scanning technique called magnetoencephalography (MEG), a pattern in the brain associated with PTSD. In a MEG scan, researchers measure the magnetic fields generated by electric activity in the brain; the scans are far faster than those taken via MRI.

Georgopoulos and colleagues studied 74 U.S. veterans with PTSD and 250 people with no mental health problems. They scanned the brains of study participants looking for a signal that might distinguish a PTSD patient from a healthy volunteer [Reuters]. The researchers mapped the neural interactions for both groups, and they say that the resulting map of biomarkers allowed them to look at brain scans, without knowing whether the person had PTSD or not, and pick out the PTSD patients from controls with 90 percent accuracy.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain

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