Tuesday, 31 December 2013

See The Beauty Of Math, Even If You Don’t Understand Math

Vizualizing complex math equations is a privilege for a unique few--that is, until you place them within real world context.
 There comes a moment in most of our lives when we realize that some secrets of the universe will remain hidden from us--not because mankind hasn't discovered them, but because those secrets are encoded in complex math and physics problems that few of us have the talent or patience to understand.

But Beauty of Mathematics, a new video by Yann Pineill & Nicolas Lefaucheux, gives the mathematically challenged a peek into living equations. The animated triptych shows an equation on the left, its quantified schematics in the center, and its real world manifestation on the right. The video is like academic X-ray vision, but in reality, its inspiration was never math or science. It was beauty.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Chilling truth about the video games your children got for Christmas

The setting is a crowded shopping centre. A man in a suit saunters into the atrium and up the escalator. Then he puts on a mask and produces a hand-gun.

A security guard who approaches is pumped with bullets. As he reels back, his blood is splattered all over the walls. The gunman presses on, scanning the horizon for any civilians in his way.

Next he heads for the cosmetic counter of a shop. When the female assistant looks up, he instantly shoots her through the head. Behind a shelving unit, a woman customer is now curled up into a ball, whimpering in terror, her head in her hands.

She, too, is blasted at point-blank range. No mercy, no emotion and no regrets. And so it goes on. Anyone who gets in the way, even with their arms up or lying on the floor is assassinated — 11 people in two minutes.

It is scene that looks eerily like CCTV footage of the Nairobi mall massacre in September when gunman hunted shoppers and killed 67. Except this is a video game called Pay Day 2 — and the choice of who to shoot is in the hands of the player.

A generation ago, entertainment during the Christmas period revolved around families playing board games before sitting down to watch the Morecambe And Wise Christmas Show and a Bond film.

But this year, the launch of two super-powerful games consoles — the Sony PS4 and Microsoft Xbox One — meant that, more than ever, video games like these were among the most popular presents received.

And despite such stomach-churning content and 18 ratings, the uncomfortable truth is that in hundreds of thousands of homes the person ripping the parcel open was a child.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Brain function 'boosted for days after reading a novel'

Reading a gripping novel causes biological changes in the brain which last for days as the mind is transported into the body of the protagonist

Being pulled into the world of a gripping novel can trigger actual, measurable changes in the brain that linger for at least five days after reading, scientists have said.

The new research, carried out at Emory University in the US, found that reading a good book may cause heightened connectivity in the brain and neurological changes that persist in a similar way to muscle memory.

The changes were registered in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, as well as the the primary sensory motor region of the brain.

Neurons of this region have been associated with tricking the mind into thinking it is doing something it is not, a phenomenon known as grounded cognition - for example, just thinking about running, can activate the neurons associated with the physical act of running.

Ni hao ma? Children as young as five set the pace with a love for Mandarin

Numbers learning the language are set to swell in the new year

Children as young as five are already learning Mandarin in British schools, as David Cameron pushes for it to replace French and German in classrooms across the country.

Pupils at RJ Mitchell Primary in Elm Park, Havering, north London, are among the first of their age group to have the lessons. The numbers learning Mandarin are set to swell in the new year as other schools react to the Prime Minister’s exhortation this month to make it the main modern foreign language in schools.

Children in the first two years at the 217-pupil primary school started learning the language last September, well before Mr Cameron’s words. Headmaster Barry Read said: “I’ve always been concerned at the lack of languages in the UK. I think our country is so insular I do despair about it.” He said he would like to see Mandarin lessons delivered throughout the school.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Forgetful snails could tell us about how our memories work

I hate cramming for exams. Tilwe

Snails, like all animals, need to remember – what is good or bad to eat, what might be trying to eat them, and who they recently mated with. All of these things can prove extremely important in the fight to survive and reproduce.

The basic way a snail’s brain works is very similar at the level of individual neurons to that of vertebrates, but when it comes to understanding exactly what is going on in their brains, they have some distinct advantages.

There are far fewer neurons in a snail than in vertebrates, for example – a snail has fewer than 20,000, whereas a mouse has around 75m and a human around 85 billion. Snail neurons are also much larger. This means we can accurately locate the same neuron in different snails and work out which behaviour a neuron controls.

In a study we published in PLOS ONE, we looked at the effects of stress on a pond snails' memory. We found snails respond to stress and the effects can be detrimental to their memory, much like in mammals – including humans.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Nuclear scare stories are a gift to the truly lethal coal industry

Coal is a much nastier power source than the one we have chosen to fear in a deadly form of displacement activity
A man walks past a coal plant in Lingwu, northern China. 'Research suggested by Greenpeace suggests that a quarter of a million deaths a year could be avoided if coal power [in China] were shut down.' Photograph: Stringer/China/REUTERS
 Most of the afflictions wrongly attributed to nuclear power can rightly be attributed to coal. I was struck by this thought when I saw the graphics published by Greenpeace on Friday, showing the premature deaths caused by coal plants in China. The research it commissioned suggests that a quarter of a million deaths a year could be avoided if coal power there were shut down. Yes, a quarter of a million.

Were Greenpeace to plot the impacts of nuclear power on the same scale, the vast red splodges depicting the air pollution catastrophe suffered by several Chinese cities would be replaced by dots invisible to the naked eye.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Electronic waste: we must design gadgets that don't poison the planet

We discard huge amounts of electronics every year, creating a toxic wasteland – often in the poorest countries
We love our gadgets, but we need to find safe ways of disposing of them. Photograph: Oliver Stratmann/AFP/Getty Images

Record sales of tablets, laptops and smart phones. Ever smaller computers, and thinner televisions, brighter screens and sharper cameras. What could possibly be wrong with the worldwide explosion in sales of electrical and digital equipment seen this Christmas? Consumers love the sleek designs and the new connectivity they offer, businesses can't make enough for a vast and hungry global market, and governments see technological innovation and turnover as the quick way out of recession. This is a new age of the machine and electronic equipment is indispensable in home and workplace.

But there is a downside to the revolution that governments and companies have so far ignored. In the drive to generate fast turnover and new sales, companies have deliberately made it impossible to repair their goods and have shortened the lifespan of equipment.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

One in three children do not officially exist, UNICEF reports

10-year old Kangbe holds her birth certificate at her primary school in Côte d'Ivoire. Photo: UNICEF/NYHQ2011-2488/Asselin

11 December 2013 – Nearly 230 million children under the age of five have not had their births officially recorded, excluding them from education, health care and social security, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today reported.

That is approximately one in three of all children under five who are unregistered or lack proof of registration, the agency said in a report released to coincide with its 67th birthday.

“Birth registration is more than just a right. It’s how societies first recognize and acknowledge a child’s identity and existence,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director. She added that registration is also key “to guaranteeing that children are not forgotten, denied their rights or hidden from the progress of their nations.”

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Women's rights in Afghanistan: a headteacher's story – video

On behalf of an Afghan headteacher, Josephine Dibb shares a moving story about education and women's rights to mark Human Rights Day
Education is the greatest tool we have to empower young people to improve their life chances and help them to become catalysts for change in their communities.

That is a belief held very strongly by colleagues at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Girls' School where many of our young women face multiple disadvantages.

But the challenges we face seem to pale in comparison when I hear of the dangers faced by school girls and the women who teach them in a country like Afghanistan, where just over 10 years ago girls' education was outlawed altogether.

That seems incomprehensible for us and I know the girls themselves would be incredulous at the thought that they could be denied education. They know that education is their key to a better future.

The thought that our pupils could be poisoned, or gassed, or our teachers attacked, just because our aim is to empower young women, is unfathomable to me. And yet these are the very real dangers faced by my professional colleagues in Afghanistan.

Scientist Solves Mystery of Green Lightning, Says It's Surprisingly Common

Eerie flashes of green lightning happen often in thunderstorms--but usually stay hidden in clouds.
Green lightning strikes the ash cloud of Chaiten's erupting volcano on May 3, 2008, in Chile.
Photograph by Carlos Gutierrez, UPI Photo/Landov

Ιn May 2008, Chile's Chaiten volcano violently erupted, spewing out clouds of dirty ash and illuminating the dark sky with a most unusual kind of lightning.

Photographer Carlos Gutierrez captured the dramatic nighttime display—in which green lightning emerged from the ash cloud—in the striking image above. (See also "PHOTOS: Chile Volcano Erupts With Ash and Lightning.")

The origin of the bright green lightning bolts remained a mystery until atmospheric scientist Arthur Few, of Rice University in Houston, became curious about the phenomenon. "I thought, 'That's funny; why don't we see this in lightning storms?'" said Few at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco on Monday.

Materialism: a system that eats us from the inside out

Buying more stuff is associated with depression, anxiety and broken relationships. It is socially destructive and self-destructive
Owning more doesn't bring happiness: 'the material pursuit of self-esteem reduces self-esteem.' Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA
That they are crass, brash and trashy goes without saying. But there is something in the pictures posted on Rich Kids of Instagram (and highlighted by the Guardian last week) that inspires more than the usual revulsion towards crude displays of opulence. There is a shadow in these photos – photos of a young man wearing all four of his Rolex watches, a youth posing in front of his helicopter, endless pictures of cars, yachts, shoes, mansions, swimming pools and spoilt white boys throwing gangster poses in private jets – of something worse: something that, after you have seen a few dozen, becomes disorienting, even distressing.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Mandela death: saying goodbye to a global icon

Mandela’s long walk to freedom - his release from prison in 1990. Greg English/AP

How do you say goodbye to a global icon? The answer must be: with dignity and by being true to the values that he fought for. By these standards, we all have done Nelson Mandela a disservice.

The international press corps covered his drawn-out illness because the world cared. But all too often their depiction of South Africa and its future would have dismayed him. Virtually every day earlier this year I was asked by one or other foreign journalist about South Africa’s future when Madiba passes on. Their answer lies in the very question. Can you imagine American political analysts being asked if the US would collapse after Clinton passes on?

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Learning or doing? Science degrees need reform and students can help

Science is as much about knowing, as it is about having the skills to learn. But with time in the lab shrinking as universities try to tighten their budgets, students may be getting the opportunity to learn more about the products of science, and not enough time getting the skills essential for doing…

Science is as much about knowing, as it is about having the skills to learn.

But with time in the lab shrinking as universities try to tighten their budgets, students may be getting the opportunity to learn more about the products of science, and not enough time getting the skills essential for doing science.

But what do the students themselves think?

The student perspective

We recently surveyed 400 graduating science students from two research-intensive universities in Australia. We focused on five kinds of learning outcomes: teamwork skills, quantitative skills, oral communication skills, writing skills and content knowledge.

Male and female brains wired differently, scans reveal

Maps of neural circuitry show women's brains are suited to social skills and memory, men's perception and co-ordination
Neural map of a typical man's brain. Photograph: National Academy of Sciences/PA
Scientists have drawn on nearly 1,000 brain scans to confirm what many had surely concluded long ago: that stark differences exist in the wiring of male and female brains.

Maps of neural circuitry showed that on average women's brains were highly connected across the left and right hemispheres, in contrast to men's brains, where the connections were typically stronger between the front and back regions.

Ragini Verma, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, said the greatest surprise was how much the findings supported old stereotypes, with men's brains apparently wired more for perception and co-ordinated actions, and women's for social skills and memory, making them better equipped for multitasking.

What's the difference between these two brains?

They both belong to three-year-olds, so why is one so much bigger? Because one was loved by its parents and the other neglected – a fact that has dramatic implications 
Images of the brains of two three-year-old children clearly showing the effects of neglect
 Take a careful look at the image of two brains on this page. The picture is of the brains of two three-year-old children. It’s obvious that the brain on the left is much bigger than the one on the right. The image on the left also has fewer spots, and far fewer dark “fuzzy” areas.

To neurologists who study the brain, and who have worked out how to interpret the images, the difference between these two brains is both remarkable and shocking. The brain on the right lacks some of the most fundamental areas present in the image on the left. Those deficits make it impossible for that child to develop capacities that the child on the left will have: the child on the right will grow into an adult who is less intelligent, less able to empathise with others, more likely to become addicted to drugs and involved in violent crime than the child on the left. The child on the right is much more likely to be unemployed and to be dependent on welfare, and to develop mental and other serious health problems.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Instead of buying your child a boring old iPad for Christmas, get them a stick

Wild Network is urging parents to encourage children to play with nature and the outdoors rather than technology.
The Wild Network wants to drag children off the sofa and get them interested in nature and outdoor play. Photograph: Grady Reese/Corbis

With sales of tablets, smartphones and gadgets predicted to soar this Christmas, many British households will soon be temples to the latest technology.

But parents are now being asked to consider a low-tech alternative – to root around in the back garden and give their children a stick or a stone instead, in place of the latest smartphone, and to swap "screen time" for "wild time".

The Wild Network (www.projectwildthing.com) wants to drag youngsters off the sofa and get them interested in nature and outdoor play.

The network has therefore drawn up an "alternative Christmas list for kids" that suggests a stick makes a brilliant gift. Sticks, it helpfully suggests for baffled parents, are "easy to pick up, perform a thousand different uses and can be thrown away as easily as you found it. Great for helping with imaginary games, playing Pooh sticks, building things."

African elephant numbers 'could fall by one-fifth' due to poaching

The scale of the elephant poaching epidemic could lead to local populations becoming extinct, an IUCN report says
African elephants in Amboseli national park, Kenya. Photograph: Zhang Weiyi/Xinhua Press/Corbis

Africa will lose one-fifth of its elephants in the next decade if the continent's poaching crisis is not stopped, data published on Monday shows.

There were about 10 million African elephants (Loxodonta africana) at the turn of the 20th century, but that number has fallen to half a million due to poaching and habitat loss, and the new figures show 22,000 were killed in 2012. While less than the record 25,000 deaths in 2011, the rate of killing compared to natural population growth means the largest animal on Earth could soon become extinct in local areas, conservationist warn.

Dealing with cyberbullying: top tips for schools

To tie in with Anti-bullying Week 2013, Zurich Municipal's Martin Clemmit offers some bullying prevention tips for schools
Zurich Municipal offer tips and advice to help manage bullying both in and out of the classroom. Photograph: Alamy
The title for Anti-bullying Week 2013 is 'The Future is Ours - Safe, Fun and Connected'. Particularly concerned with cyberbullying, it calls on children and young people to "take the lead" in creating a future without bullying through the use of new technologies to promote positive communication.

Cyberbullying is like conventional bullying, but there are important differences due to it being carried out online. It can be conducted anonymously, can involve very large groups of people and because it is unconstrained by time or location, it can happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Because it is a relatively recent phenomenon, there is limited data on the subject. What evidence there is however would suggest it is a growing trend that affects a "large proportion" of young people, according to Martin Clemmit, risk consultant at Zurich Municipal.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Neonicotinoid ban won’t fix all bees' problems

Bees still in a sticky situation, despite the neonicotinoid ban. P7r7
The controversial ban on neonicotinoid insecticides comes into effect across the EU this weekend. Neonicotinoids, or neonics, are powerful neurotoxins, killing insects with minute doses and impairing their behaviour at much lower doses still. This is desirable when the insect is a pest, not so good when…

The controversial ban on neonicotinoid insecticides comes into effect across the EU this weekend. Neonicotinoids, or neonics, are powerful neurotoxins, killing insects with minute doses and impairing their behaviour at much lower doses still. This is desirable when the insect is a pest, not so good when it is a useful bee. 

The origins of the ban lie in a series of scientific papers showing the doses bees are likely to receive in the field are enough to cause them significant harm, either killing them outright or interfering with their otherwise phenomenally impressive navigation and learning skills