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Core Concept

Does the Brain Read Chinese or Spanish the Same Way It Reads English?

There are at least 6,000 languages spoken in the world today (Comrie, 2009). The world’s languages are represented by a variety of writing systems called “orthographies”. All orthographies code spoken language using a system of symbols. However, orthographies differ in the size of the sound unit that is mapped onto each symbol. For example, in alphabetic orthographies, like English, Spanish, and Russian, each symbol maps onto an individual sound called a phoneme (e.g., the /b/ sound in “book). In non-alphabetic orthographies, like Chinese or Cherokee, the symbol maps onto a larger sound unit such as a syllable (e.g., like “pro” in the word “project”). Over 400 orthographies exist today. Here we will first learn about the characteristics of different orthographies. Then we will use this information to help understand how the characteristics of different writing systems affect reading. We will then learn about the brain regions involved in reading.

Authors

Nicole J. Conrad
Reviewed by Village Charter School
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New Discovery

Seeing the Shadow of Rings around a “Super Saturn”

Astronomers believe that they have seen the shadows of a giant ring system around an unseen planet move in front of their parent star. The fluctuations in the light coming from the star was found in data from May 2007, but not analysed until 2012. Unlike transiting planets that cause the star to dim by a few percent over a few hours, this star dimmed by an incredible 95% over the course of two months. The best explanation is that there is a planet, with rings about 200 times larger than the rings around Saturn, that moved in front of its star, causing the flickering that we saw. This unexpected discovery is leading us to look for more giant ring systems in older data, both online in astronomy digital archives and in older photographic plates.

Authors

Matthew Kenworthy
Reviewed by Jonah
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Core Concept

Be Aware of Ticks When Strolling through the Park

Ticks are blood-feeding arthropods distributed worldwide. They feed on different animal hosts, including humans. Tick bites are unnoticed by the host since tick saliva contains molecules that prevent inflammation and pain. This camouflage allows ticks to feed for several days without alarming the host. A major problem is that ticks transmit pathogens while blood-feeding. This report provides basic information on tick evolution, anatomy, life cycle, transmitted diseases and how to prevent tick bites.

Authors

Alejandro Cabezas-Cruz / Agustín Estrada-Peña / James J. Valdés / José de la Fuente
Reviewed by Jack
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Core Concept

Autoimmunity: Why the Body Attacks Itself

The human body is made up of 37 trillion cells and billions of these die every single day. The body has special immune cells, called macrophages, which consume dying cells to prevent them from building up in your body. Macrophages are able to also eat any cell that is infected by a bacterium or virus. This ensures that your body will remain as healthy as possible. Sometimes the macrophages are given the wrong signals and they attack healthy cells. When this happens your body develops an allergic reaction or inflammation which can lead to autoimmunity.

Authors

Ryan R. Davis / Thomas Hollis
Reviewed by Holyrood Secondary School
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Core Concept

Why Doesn’t Your Brain Heal Like Your Skin?

Skin wounds may be painful, but they usually heal perfectly. Worst case scenario, you may be left with a scar. In contrast, when the brain gets injured, we are often left with disabilities that stay with us for the rest of our lives. What is so different about the brain and how does it repair itself? Brain cells face unique challenges when they get injured, for example by a concussion or a stroke. And to cope with these challenges, the brain developed an ingenious strategy to deal with injury.

Authors

Nina Weishaupt / Angela Zhang
Reviewed by Trafalgar School for Girls
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New Discovery

Training Your Emotional Brain: From Science Fiction to Neuroscience

Our neuroscience research project begins with a science fiction story: in the future, androids (robots made of flesh and bones) became virtually identical to humans, except that they lacked deep emotions, such as empathy. What if we could find out a way to read empathic feelings just by measuring brain activity in real life? And, even more, what if a person could boost their empathic feelings (e.g. love, tenderness or affection) using information from their own brain activity? This was our goal. We asked 24 volunteers to enter in an MRI scanner that measures brain activity. Inside the machine, they should think about significant others while looking at their own brain activity on a monitor – a process called “neurofeedback”. Volunteers receiving neurofeedback were able to increase their brain activity associated with empathy. This evidence opens the possibility that people can change their brain’s emotional states and boost empathy.

Authors

Patricia Bado / Maria Stewart / Jorge Moll
Reviewed by St. Andrew’s College
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Core Concept

What Are Neural Stem Cells, and Why Are They Important?

For as long as anyone can remember, people have noticed that the brain has a limited ability to heal after injury. It was generally thought that this was in part due to the inability of the brain to make new cells. Then researchers observed that there are two special regions of the brain that actually do produce new cells, even in adults. The cells from these two special regions are called neural stem cells and now scientists are working hard to determine how their special properties can be used to treat different types of damage in the brain.

Authors

Leigh Anne Swayne / Juan C. Sanchez-Arias / Andrew Agbay / Stephanie Michelle Willerth
Reviewed by School of the Madeleine
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Core Concept

Why Is It Important to Improve Vaccines against Latent Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious (contagious) disease transmitted from persons that many times harbor the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis within their lungs, from where they are expelled during coughing. TB is mainly present in developing countries, yet, given the facility to travel among different cities and countries; a single infected person could potentially spread TB to people in several places. TB affects several parts of the body during childhood and could become a fatal disease, therefore vaccination is recommended shortly after birth in countries with elevated numbers of infected people. Today, the only available vaccine is ineffective in preventing a chronic (latent) form of infection. During latent TB, Mycobacterium tuberculosis remains “dormant” within an infected person without causing trouble, but upon weakening of our defense (immune) system, it “awakes” and promotes active disease with coughing and potential to transmit to other people. Here, I present ideas to improve vaccines to prevent chronic (latent) tuberculosis as a way to diminish the chances of starting new infectious cycles upon “awakening” of “dormant” mycobacteria.

Authors

Mario Alberto Flores-Valdez
Reviewed by Aidan
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Core Concept

How Do We Understand Other People?

Imagine this: you walk into class, and see your friend sitting alone at a table. You notice your friend is looking downward, with a frown on her face. You would probably think from these clues that your friend is sad. But how did you know that? One way that your brain could accomplish this is by simulating, or copying in your mind what you see the other person doing. This may help you understand that when you are doing these things you are usually sad, so it is probably the case that your friend is sad too. While there are other hypotheses for how our brain understands others, we are going to focus on simulation, and how special cells in the brain-- called mirror neurons—may help to make simulation possible. We will first examine neuroimaging experiments, in monkeys and in humans, which help us understand this system better. Lastly, we discuss disorders such as autism, in which it may be more difficult to understand others’ actions, intentions and emotions.

Authors

Jennifer Stiso / Anat Perry
Reviewed by School of the Madeleine
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Core Concept

Caring for Your Brain: What You Need to Know about Concussions

Concussions are an injury to the brain that can result in changes in the way you think (cognitive), the way your brain works (neurological) and the way you feel (physical and emotional). Concussions can be caused by accidents where you hit your head with the ground, tree, or another person. It is important to know the signs and symptoms of a concussion and what you need to do to allow your brain to heal properly. It is also important to know how to prevent concussions.

Authors

Caroline J. Ketcham / Eric E. Hall
Reviewed by Darius
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