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New Discovery

Are There Other Earths Out There? Astronomers’ First Clues to an Answer Date Back 100 Years

Of all the questions that science might hope to answer, few excite people more than "is there life on worlds other than our Earth, and, if so, do any alien creatures possess intelligence comparable to that of human beings?” But how can we find rocky Earth-like worlds that orbit around stars other than our Sun? Remarkably, the first astronomical evidence that such worlds exist dates back 100 years! This evidence involved observation of the type of star that our Sun will become five billion years from now, something called a "white dwarf" star. Such studies have shown that rocky worlds with compositions similar to that of Earth are common throughout our Milky Way galaxy. Thus future prospects are bright for finding rocky planets suitable for hosting life.

Authors

Benjamin Zuckerman
Reviewed by Lapwai High School
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Core Concept

How Brain Cells Make Memories

Remembering a lot of things at the same time is difficult. As an experiment, read these numbers: 07041776. Then close your eyes and try to say them aloud, in order. How did you do? We would guess that you remembered around half of the numbers. Now, try again but think of the same numbers as a date: 07-04-1776. Did you remember more of the numbers this time? You just demonstrated something called working memory. Working memory (“WM” for short) is the ability to hold onto and process pieces of information. WM activates when you experience and remember events in your life, learn new facts, talk to people, read, and do math. WM is a core human behavior. As shown in the numbers experiment, WM has limited capacity. How does the brain support WM? And, what is happening in the brain that limits our capacity to store multiple memories at the same time?

Authors

Elizabeth L. Johnson / Randolph F. Helfrich
Reviewed by Abby
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New Discovery

Understanding and Decoding Thoughts in the Human Brain

Many people can’t communicate because of neurological problems. These patients can’t speak with their friends, but their brain is still working well. They can think by themselves and would benefit from a device that could read their mind and translate their thoughts into audible speech. In our study, we recorded brain activity while people are thinking, and tried to decode and translate the words they imagined into audible sounds. To do this we recorded people's brain activity by placing electrodes beneath their skull, directly at the surface of the brain. We showed that we could decode some aspects of the sound of what patients were thinking. This is our first attempt and we hope to get much better, as many patients who cannot speak but have thoughts in their mind could benefit from a ‘speech decoder’.

Authors

Stephanie Martin / Christian Mikutta / Robert T. Knight / Brian N. Pasley
Reviewed by Bhargavi
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Core Concept

Our Brains are Wired for Morality: Evolution, Development, and Neuroscience

Psychological and neuroscience research converge on the view that morality, our mental ability that tells us what is right and wrong in our behaviors and those of others, is a product of evolution. Morality has been selected because it helps us to live in large social groups, by enhancing our ability to get along and interact with others. Precursors to morality such as sensing fairness, experiencing empathy, and judging others’ harmful and helpful actions, can be observed in infancy, before the social environment, like parents, would be able to have a strong influence. In the human brain, specific neural pathways, involved in moral reasoning, support fast, intuitive emotional reactions, as well as controlled and more cognitive deliberations. Damage to certain parts of the brain can dramatically alter moral judgment and behavior. While morality starts from evolved dispositions, it is actually the product of cumulative human history, and it takes years of socialization, specific to each culture, to internalize. Such cultural contexts modify and shape these natural dispositions, but do not create them. This is possible because our brains are biologically prepared to understand that our actions can have good or bad consequences on others.

Authors

Jean Decety / Jason M. Cowell
Reviewed by Bea
Reviewed by Sadie
Reviewed by Thaddeus
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Core Concept

What Do Radio Waves Tell Us about the Universe?

Radio astronomy began in 1933 when an engineer named Karl Jansky accidentally discovered that radio waves come not just from inventions we create but also from natural stuff in space. Since then, astronomers have built better and better telescopes to find these cosmic radio waves and learn more about where they come from and what they can tell us about the universe. While scientists can learn a lot from the visible light they detect with regular telescopes, they can detect different objects and events—like black holes, forming stars, planets in the process of being born, dying stars, and more—using radio telescopes. Together, telescopes that can see different kinds of waves—from radio waves to visible light waves to gamma rays—give a more complete picture of the universe than any one type can on its own.

Authors

Sarah Scoles
Reviewed by Green Bank Elementary/Middle School
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Core Concept

Understanding Marine Microbes, the Driving Engines of the Ocean

When you hear the word microbes, what comes to your mind? Something much too small to see and that makes you fall ill? Just because some microbes cause diseases this does not mean they are all evil. For example, in the marine environment the vast majority of microbes are among the good ones. They are the driving engines of the ocean and are essential for the health of our whole planet. Unfortunately, most of the microbes and their interactions with the marine environment are poorly understood. Consequently, it is important to get an idea who is helping us and how they are doing this. This will provide the knowledge to fight against big global challenges like climate change and ocean acidification. Unfortunately, it is very hard to study marine microbes due to their microscopic size, huge diversity and their big home – the ocean. Therefore we would like to engage everybody helping us to sample marine microbes and identifying them.

Authors

Anna Kopf / Julia Schnetzer / Frank Oliver Glöckner
Reviewed by Conniston Middle School
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Core Concept

Reindeer Vision Explains the Benefits of a Glowing Nose

Arctic reindeer have unusual eyes and vision. In contrast to most mammals, reindeer can see ultraviolet (UV) light, which is invisible to us. They also have a reflective tissue in the eye that changes from a golden color during the summer months to a deep blue color during the winter months. Together, these special traits could help reindeer see plant foods or predators in the snow, especially during the winter, when daylight is dim and purplish. A problem with being able to see purples and blues really well is that these colors are practically invisible in fog. Red light travels best in fog, and it follows that reindeer, above all mammals, would benefit from a nose that produces red light. At least one reindeer is reported to have a glowing (luminescent) nose that operates well under foggy conditions. The goal of this paper is to estimate the redness of this nose and to explore its advantages and disadvantages.

Authors

Nathaniel J. Dominy
Reviewed by Caroline
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Core Concept

Blocking Our Brain: How We Can Avoid Repetitive Mistakes!

Persistent errors at schools are teachers, parents and above all children’s nightmares. Children who persist in making such errors tend to be viewed as bad students, but we propose here a different point of view! Presenting key findings of several scientific studies related to school learning, we will argue that children often make errors not because they don’t know the correct (logical) answer, but because they fail to inhibit (i.e. resist and control) a more automatic misleading answer that sometimes has been reinforced in previous years of schooling. Brain activation studies actually revealed that children – but also adults – use the frontal areas of their brain and, in particular, regions related to inhibition to overcome systematic and persistent errors. Learning to inhibit misleading rules and strategies is thus a promising way to help children overcome persistent difficulties at school and more generally help us reason more logically in everyday life.

Authors

Lorie-Marlène Brault Foisy / Emmanuel Ahr / Steve Masson / Grégoire Borst / Olivier Houdé
Reviewed by Julien
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New Discovery

What Do “Yellowballs” have to Do with the Birth of New Stars?

Where do stars come from? Human beings have thought about this question for thousands of years and have proposed many different explanations, but scientists have only had the technology to observe the places where stars are forming for a few decades. This is because stars form inside cold “dusty” clouds in space that are invisible to our eyes and to telescopes that study visible light. Fortunately, we have many instruments today that can record light that our eyes can’t see, and we can use familiar colors to represent this light. Even very cold objects give off infrared light, so we can use this type of light to explore how the dusty clouds produce stars. People from around the world have helped scientists identify an early stage in the development of stars (“yellowballs”) by searching infrared images in the Milky Way Project.

Authors

Grace Wolf-Chase / Charles Kerton
Reviewed by Frida
Reviewed by Taylor
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Core Concept

Getting Lost in a Book: The Science of Reading Comprehension

Have you ever felt like you got to know a character in a story, or felt like you could imagine the world she lived in? Have you ever wondered why the books we read seem to come to life in our minds? Studies from laboratories around the world are beginning to unravel this mystery. These studies show that when we read stories, our minds actually act like they are participating in the events in the story. This can make us feel like we can see what characters see and feel what characters feel. These findings help to tell us why people love reading fictional stories so much, and also may help us to us find new ways to teach children who are having difficulty with reading.

Authors

Angela Nyhout / Agnieszka M. Fecica / Daniela K. O’Neill
Reviewed by Kayleigh
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