Saturday, 31 May 2014

Saving vanishing ‘tongues’

Many languages disappear every year. In a race against time, language researchers are using digital technology to preserve those tongues from extinction.

Ong uyan madongo?

You probably don’t know how to answer that question — unless you happen to be one of the roughly 430 people in the world who speak a language called Matukar Panau. Then you would know it means, “How are you?”

Matukar Panau is one of the world’s rarest languages. It is spoken in just two small coastal villages in Papua New Guinea. This tropical island nation lies in the southwest Pacific Ocean.
Until five years ago, David Harrison, a language expert at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania didn’t know much about Matukar Panau either. No one had ever recorded or even studied its words and rules. With so few speakers, the language risked vanishing without a blip. It was endangered.

An animal is endangered when its population becomes so rare that it faces a serious risk of going extinct. An endangered language has so few speakers that its words soon may never be spoken or heard again. Harrison didn’t want that to happen to Matukar Panau. So in 2009, he set out for Papua New Guinea. His goal: use modern technology to help the remaining speakers preserve their native tongue.

Friday, 30 May 2014

The sorrow and defiance of Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history

With your bitter twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

So begins one of Maya Angelou’s poems, written in 1978. One of her most famous, it unsurprisingly features in many of the obituaries and pieces that commemorate her life. It is used to demonstrate her individuality, her political voice, her strength.

The poem catches the tone, the pace and rhythm of all her writing, whatever its genre. There is the gritty, determined and defiant attitude, the sometimes literal refusal to take anything lying down. There is the simple energy and downright forthrightness of expression. There is the direct address. Sometimes that direct address is to the reader, establishing an almost unbelievable intimacy between the speaker and the spoken to, the “I” and the “you”; at other times it is to all those who would deny the humanity of Angelou – as an African American, as a woman, as one of those denied opportunity, choice and power.

Above all, there is the link with the whole tradition of African American music – spirituals, blues, gospels, jazz, rap – that uses insistent rhythms, hypnotic repetition, lines that swing, sway and curve their way into the mind and soul to make a point, to play on an idea, to strike an attitude and, more simply, to assert a belief and a presence, a being in the world.

Good vibrations bring braille into the 21st century

Even in a world of digital devices, braille continues to be a vital part of life for blind people. For nearly 200 years, this versatile writing system has allowed them to learn, work and live in a more independent way.

Technology undoubtedly has a role to play in enabling blind people to live independent lives. The news that the world’s first braille mobile phone has gone on sale is a step in the right direction but it is also clear that more people need to learn braille in the first place.

A 1998 study of 74 blind adults found that among those who had not learnt braille, 77% were unemployed while the figure dropped to only 44% among braille readers.

Despite this, a report by the National Federation of the Blind in 2009 revealed that fewer than 10% of legally blind people in the US are braille readers.

We are looking at how learners can make use of the touchscreen and keyboard devices that have become part of most people’s daily lives to learn braille, which, in turn, could help them gain better access to work and education.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

For Black Kids in America, a Degree Is No Guarantee

A new study shows that African-American college graduates face unemployment rates nearly twice as high as others with the same education. 

The Ivy-League-educated barista who can't find a job that pays enough to live anywhere besides her childhood bedroom. The freshly minted MBA and law-school graduates strapped with debt and frustrated about the six-figure jobs and master-of-the-universe titles that haven't materialized.

Nearly five years after the Great Recession officially ended, the struggles and dampened expectations of young college graduates have become a fixture of American politics and even popular culture. But amid all the focus on the difficulties of college-educated millennials, one facet of this upheaval has remained largely unexplored: the continued significance of race.

As a new crop of college graduates joins the American workforce, unemployment rates among minorities with degrees remain distinctly elevated and their economic prospects disproportionately dimmed, a new report released by the Center for Economic and Policy Research has found.

In 2013, the most recent period for which unemployment data are available by both race and educational attainment, 12.4 percent of black college graduates between the ages of 22 and 27 were unemployed. For all college graduates in the same age range, the unemployment rate stood at just 5.6 percent. The figures point to an ugly truth: Black college graduates are more than twice as likely to be unemployed.

"We absolutely aren't trying to discourage people from going to college," said John Schmitt, a senior economist at the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research who coauthored the study. "College degrees do have value. But what we are trying to show here is that this is not about individuals, or individual effort. There is simply overwhelming evidence that discrimination remains a major feature of the labor market."

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Educational waste: what’s missing in Australian classrooms

Have you ever walked out of a class without having learned anything at all? Or maybe you were on the other end, watching your intricately planned lesson go off the rails because students didn’t prepare for class?

If so, you might have experienced “educational waste”, and it’s something we need to talk about.

We define educational waste as the time and resources that are wasted and could be used more effectively while trying to educate. It’s morally wrong and inexcusably common.

Learning inefficiencies

Students, of course, experience educational waste. A lecture or a day of school might be described by a student as “a waste of time”. Class might have been filled with superfluous (but interesting) facts or extraneous quantitative details, that didn’t fully engage students.

A misalignment of teaching and assessment makes any learning that happened feel unproductive; students ask “is this going to be in the test?” and the answer is maybe. Travelling to school for such a wasteful class and purchasing textbooks that aren’t used creates financial (and environmental) waste. Worse still are dreams unfulfilled and promises broken by the education industry, resulting in wasted emotional investment.

Tut's Tomb: A Replica Fit for a King

How high-tech copies of ancient archaeological sites can help preserve them.

The thing to understand about archaeology is that it's a science of destruction. The moment an ancient site is discovered, its physical condition immediately begins to deteriorate. Every dig removes a layer of the archaeological record that can never be replaced, and once humans are allowed to visit, with their hot breath and sweat and backpacks, walls start crumbling, pigments start flaking, and before you know it the site has to close down to "rest," or close for good—a victim of its own celebrity.
Now, a practice is gaining traction that may save us from inadvertently wrecking the very cultural treasures we most want to see: the creation of high-tech copies of ancient archaeological sites. We're not talking sized-down Las Vegas knockoffs of the Pyramids but forensically analyzed, 3-D copies so minutely detailed that the naked eye can't distinguish them from the originals.

Recently in Egypt's Valley of the Kings, the most ambitious large-scale creation of this kind was unveiled: an exact replica of the 3,245-year-old tomb of King Tutankhamun, apparently so authentic that one Egyptologist in attendance (Salima Ikram from The American University in Cairo) actually wept when she saw the burial chamber.

"She had a very emotional reaction, even knowing she was in a copy—that was a great moment for me," said Adam Lowe, the British artist whose Madrid-based company, Factum Arte, made the replica as a philanthropic project; he donated his team's time and raised money to cover other costs. The $690,000 project took five years, beginning in 2009, when the team used state-of-the-art laser scanning and digitizing equipment to minutely "record" every aspect of the tomb.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Hundreds of Nigerian teachers strike over kidnapped schoolgirls

Nigerian teachers stage nationwide rallies over Boko Haram's deadly terror campaign against children and colleagues.

Nigerian teachers have held a strike and staged rallies nationwide to protest against the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram and the killing of nearly as many teachers during its insurgency.

Gunmen from the Islamist group stormed a school outside the remote north-eastern town of Chibok on 14 April, carting away some 270 girls in trucks. More than 50 have escaped but at least 200 remain in captivity, as do scores of girls kidnapped previously.

The president of the National Union of Teachers, Michael Alogba-Olukoya, told reporters Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates as "western education is sinful", had killed 173 teachers in the past five years. "All schools nationwide shall be closed as the day will be our day of protest against the abduction of the Chibok female students and the heartless murder of the 173 teachers," he said.

In Maiduguri, capital of the north-eastern state of Borno, where the insurgency is most intense, some 40 teachers marched to the office of Governor Kashim Shettima. The demonstrators chanted: "Bring back our girls" and waved placards reading: "Vulnerable schools should be fenced".

Shettima went to the gates of the compound to speak to the teachers, who wore black union vests over their traditional robes and were escorted by the army.

Green your garden, help the environment and lower your bills

The Chelsea Flower Show is in full bloom. The UK’s annual botanical extravaganza celebrates all aspects of horticulture and is an important venue for watching emerging trends in the gardening world. But how can we maximise the green spaces we have to hand and also benefit the environment?

In the UK, domestic gardens represent 20-25% of a city’s area and the vast majority of urban residents have access to one. What we grow in these green spaces and –- importantly – how they are managed, could have a significant environmental impact within our cities.

Plant services

There are a number of ways that plants and gardens provide positive and negative “services”. For example, scientists are confident that plants provide localised cooling, decrease the risk of flooding and support biodiversity. They are also confident about the risks and the extent of potential damage from using peat, chemicals and fertilisers in plant management. It is therefore critical that we use this knowledge to maximise the positive impact of our green spaces.

Much as different management practices have a smaller or greater environmental impact, plants themselves can differ a huge amount in the different benefits (and costs) that they entail and provide.
In a recent study focusing on the cooling service provided by green roofs, our Royal Horticultural Society science team found that broad-leaved plants cooled their own and surrounding surfaces better than the traditionally used succulent plants. This is because the broad and thin-leaved plants use and lose more water than thicker-leaved succulents, cooling better through the process of transpiration. In our outdoor experiments, on a hot sunny summer day this led to broad-leaved Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s Ear) cooling the soil (and so potentially a roof surface if planted there) by a huge 12°C more than a covering of succulent Sedum.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Are lectures a good way to learn?

Imagine a future where university enrolment paperwork is accompanied by the statement:

Warning: lectures may stunt your academic performance and increase risk of failure.

Researchers from the United States have just published an exhaustive review and their findings support that warning. They read every available research study comparing traditional lectures with active learning in science, engineering and mathematics. Traditional lecture-based courses are correlated with significantly poorer performance in terms of failure rates and marks.

The study’s authors boldly compare our new awareness of the harm done by lectures to the harms of smoking. Their article – they claim – is the equivalent of the 1964 Surgeon-General’s report that led to legislated warnings about smoking in the United States. The renowned physics education researcher Eric Mazur has described continuing with lectures in the face of this new evidence as “almost unethical”.

This paper is so important because it combines 225 individual research studies through a technique called meta-analysis. So although individual studies published over the past 70 years may have occasionally found lectures to be better, we now know that the collective evidence is in support of active approaches.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

How to teach … mental arithmetic

Practising mathematics doesn't just help students develop academically, it's also a useful life skill. Here's a collection of lesson ideas and resources to help teachers get started.

In a world full of gadgets and technology it's easy to be lazy about things like adding numbers in your head. Even a simple calculator is often more favourable to counting on both hands.

But encouraging pupils to practise their mental maths doesn't just help them tackle increasingly complex mathematical problems, it's also a really useful life skill – whether that's checking your change or working out how long you have to wait for the next train.
So this week, we have a variety of resources designed to boost your pupils' agility with arithmetic.

Attempts to make maths more fun are essential to engage students in the subject from a young age. Primary students might enjoy a mental maths quiz in an audio format. It asks 15 questions that become progressively more difficult based on addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and time. If this works well and you would like to try more of this type of activity, further tests are available on the Teaching Packs website.

For secondary pupils, Mel Muldowney, one of the teachers behind the Just Maths website, suggests putting these 30 mental arithmetic questions on the board as a settling activity as students come into the room.

Monday, 19 May 2014

National Museum of Mathematics is antidote to math phobia

Few equations confront a visitor to the National Museum of Mathematics on Manhattan’s East 26th Street. Instead, museumgoers find children — and adults — riding the Coaster Roller (below), a small platform that offers a surprisingly smooth ride over acorn-shaped balls. (The trick lies in the objects’ diameter, which is the same in every direction.)

This physical, tactile, even rambunctious presentation of math is intentional, says museum cofounder Glen Whitney. Too many people think math is “boring, useless, too hard, irrelevant, stifling, something that people don’t use,” says Whitney, a former math professor and hedge fund analyst. He wants to show people “the breadth and the beauty and the creativity that are inherent in mathematics.”

The museum, also known as MoMath, seems to be succeeding. School groups come through in waves. Preteen boys execute Dance Dance Revolution–style moves on a lighted grid where ever-shifting lines display the shortest path connecting everyone on the floor. High school students compete to see how many magnetic monkey shapes they can tessellate, or link together. At the Enigma Café no coffee is served, but plenty of geometrical games are; players are encouraged to sit and solve together.

Is conserving biodiversity the key to good mental health?

The biodiversity of our planet sustains us. From the air we breathe and the water we drink, to the soil we sow and the fuel we use. But Earth does more than provide the basic necessities that allow humans to survive and prosper. Our ability to experience nature could have the capacity to improve our well-being and consequently mental health.

We readily spend our hard-earned money and time on a variety of pursuits to experience nature’s wonders: from expensive safaris to sedate bird watching in the garden. And we have good reason to – a number of studies show that by engaging with the earth’s natural diversity there are health benefits to be had. But, with the earth’s biodiversity in decline, it’s worth taking a look at how this will in turn affect human well-being and health.

In a recent study of ours we argue that biodiversity loss could threaten the well-being benefits we get from nature, with potential repercussions for human mental health. Mental health disorders already affect nearly nine million people in the UK and are projected to cost £88.5 billion by 2026. So, if biodiversity loss does impact on mental health, it could be even more costly than previously thought.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Academics warn international school league tables are killing 'joy of learning'

Nearly 100 educationalists from around the world sign letter attacking the OECD's Pisa rankings and say the next round of tests should be cancelled.

Governments around the world anxiously await the results of the triennial tests of 15-year-olds carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Education ministers pray their nation's youngsters will climb the international league tables. Around half the countries that take part (66 in 2012) have made significant school reforms in the light of the results.

When the latest scores in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), as the testing regime is called, were published in December, England came 26th in maths, 23rd in reading and 21st in science. (The UK's overall performance was similar.) Michael Gove said the results "eloquently" made the case for a more academic curriculum, more rigorous exams, more academies and free schools, and other reforms introduced by the coalition. His junior minister, Liz Truss, went to Shanghai in China, which topped the league tables in all subjects – with Hong Kong and Singapore runners-up – to discover the secrets of its success. Chinese maths teachers have been invited to Britain to give "masterclasses" in teaching the subject.

Now nearly 100 leading educational figures from around the world have issued an unprecedented challenge to Pisa – and what they call "the negative consequences" of its rankings – in a letter to its director, Andreas Schleicher. The signatories include top academics from Cambridge, Oxford, London, Bristol, Stanford (California), Columbia (New York), Ballarat (Australia), Canterbury (New Zealand) and Stockholm universities.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

How to teach … outdoors

There will be lots of outdoor activities going on this term as the summer holiday draws near. The Guardian Teacher Network has resources to help teachers develop outdoor learning throughout the year.

As the term draws to an end, there is more outdoor learning going on than usual. For those interested in developing outdoor learning further throughout the academic year, the Guardian Teacher Network has some resources to help. First, there is a project to start this summer and then continue next term and beyond. The Geography Collective (a partnership of over 25 teachers and educators) has developed some outdoor learning activities as part of the Mission Explore website and online summer camp. First, find a schools' guide to getting involved. Now check out these 51 amazing outdoor missions that will challenge young people to go wild this summer and create some fantastic new outdoor learning opportunities.

See also a set of activities to help young people follow in the footsteps of nature conservation's father figure, John Muir. Mission Explore John Muir is packed with great ideas, from getting windswept to going barefoot, to making a trail and staring at the stars. Pupils also get to learn more about the late John Muir himself.

Also highly recommended is Project Dirt, which has been set up to connect and encourage green projects across the country.

Comic of the week

Josephine Has Questions # 4

Antonis Vavagiannis

Monday, 12 May 2014

Birth of new brain cells might erase babies’ memories

New neurons may explain why adults can’t remember being infants.

Unlike the proverbial elephants, babies always forget.

Infants’ memories may be wiped clean by the genesis of new brain cells, a study in rodents suggests. The findings offer an explanation for why people can’t recall memories from early childhood, a century-old mystery.
The study’s authors “make a very interesting and compelling case,” says neuroscientist and psychiatrist Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute for Mental Health in Bethesda, Md. “It’s just truly fascinating,” he says. “Nobody has actually looked at this very carefully before.”

More than 100 years ago, Sigmund Freud speculated that humans’ tendency to forget their early years, dubbed infantile amnesia, might have a psychosexual origin. Scientists later thought memories might be rooted in language, because kids typically start making long-term memories around the time they start speaking, says study coauthor Sheena Josselyn of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

“But the really weird thing is that most animals show infantile amnesia too,” she says. “So the development of language can’t be the whole explanation.”

Sunday, 11 May 2014

UCL Petrie Museum Launches 3D Online Object Library

CL’s Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, which holds one of the top specialist collections of ancient Egyptian artefacts in the world, has launched an interactive online 3D object library, allowing visitors to view the artefacts in the same way as curators. 

With funding from Arts Council England, the Museum is making high quality 3D images of artefacts from its collection available through a web-based library in order to improve remote accessibility and engagement.

“The aim of our 3D imaging programme is to allow visitors to see artefacts in ways not possible in traditional museum displays. The 3D image library gives online visitors the type of access only curators have – the public can now virtually handle objects and closely examine the smallest details of their composition.” says Tonya Nelson, Head of Museums and Collections. 

Powered by cutting-edge photographic 3D imaging and scanning technology and WebGL interactive visualisation, the library allows visitors to rotate and zoom in on the 3D images of artefacts, catching fine details often not visible to the naked eye.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Research dates the British settlers who constructed first monuments at Stonehenge

Astonishing new findings reveal Amesbury is now the longest continuous settlement in the UK. Previously it was thought that Stonehenge was conceived by European immigrants but this shows that British settlers were behind its construction.
Carbon dating from an archaeological dig by the University of Buckingham shows that the parish of Amesbury, which includes Stonehenge, has been continually occupied for every millennia since 8820BC. The origins of Amesbury have been discovered as a result of carbon dating bones of aurochs – twice the size of bulls, wild boar and red deer following a dig at Vespasian’s Camp, Blick Mead, a mile and a half from Stonehenge last year.

The dates date the activities of the people who were responsible for building the first monuments at Stonehenge, made of massive pine posts, and show their communities continuing to work and live in the area for a further 3000 years, close to the ‘dawn of the Neolithic’ when Stonehenge was first built.

The results thus provide the ‘the missing link’ between the erection of the posts between 8820-6590BC and the later siting of Stonehenge in 3000BC. The findings provide evidence which suggests that Stonehenge, rather than being seen as a neolithic new build in an empty landscape, should be viewed as a response to long term use of the area by indigenous hunters and home makers. The backstory to the monument has been discovered and with it the earliest British story.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Universe re-created in computer simulation

Most detailed model of cosmos reproduces distribution of galaxies.

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch,” said Carl Sagan, “you must first invent the universe.” A new simulation of the evolution of the universe, called the Illustris Project, is a start. Led by Mark Vogelsberger, an astrophysicist at MIT, Illustris is the most detailed and comprehensive simulation of the universe to date and produces a cosmos that looks similar to today’s.

“The only way we can learn about the universe is to observe it through telescopes,” says Vogelsberger. And the way to test ideas about its evolution, he adds, is by doing simulations. One of the simulation’s insights, reported in the May 8 Nature, is the role that supermassive black holes must have played in shaping galaxies. As the behemoths swallow gas, they are known to belch out energetic gas bubbles that span hundreds of thousands of light-years. Without these eruptions, the universe would look much different; galaxies would be larger, for example.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Leaving Home - A short animated film by Joost Lieuwma

a film by: Joost Lieuwma
animated at Frame Order 

When his father decides Richard is old enough to leave his parental home, he sends him out into the world. Only Richards keeps returning home: every time in a more bizarre way. Somehow he seems attached to the house. When an unfortunate alteration in life takes place, Richard is forced to stand on his own feet...

Leaving Home - Uit Huis - by Joost Lieuwma from il Luster on Vimeo

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

South African education still fails many 20 years after apartheid

Since the dawn of democracy in South Africa 20 years ago, pass rates in the country’s end-of-school exam – commonly known as the matric – have been steadily on the rise, despite indications that the schooling system is failing in many other respects.Sceptics have indicated that it seems especially convenient that the 78.2% pass rate for Grade 12 students this year – an election year – exceeded the target of 75%. But Umalusi (the independent quality assurance body overseeing assessments in the schooling system) declared the 2013 National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations to be fair and credible. And the indications are that the steadily increasing pass rate is not because examination papers are getting progressively easier.

Are standards improving?

It is important to be clear about exactly what is meant by “rising” pass rates. The rate is calculated by only those Grade 12 learners who actually sat the exams. Although the number has increased steadily over the years, data from the
census has led to estimates that only 48% of students who begin Grade 1 actually complete Grade 12, with most learners dropping out of school in Grade 10 and 11.

Monday, 5 May 2014

How to teach … coping with exam stress

As exam season hots up, we have a range of lesson ideas and resources to help teachers ensure students keep their cool.

There are some lucky people who relish exams. They enjoy the pressure and, in some bizarre way, it brings out the best in them.

For the rest of us mere mortals, however, tests are a source of anxiety and stress.
At a time when schools are already struggling to cope with demand for support as councils cut their youth mental health services provision, it's even more essential that this year's exam season goes as smoothly as possible.

So as exam season hots up, we have a range of lesson ideas and resources to help you ensure your students keep cool.
One of pupils' main worries is that they won't be able to remember everything when they get into the exam hall, according to Elevate Education, an organisation that offers study skills advice. It recommends a number of techniques to help settle students' nerves including: creating mind maps of information rather than writing out notes over and over again; explaining a topic to a parent or friend; and avoiding a last-minute cram outside the exam hall because it will only lead to higher levels of stress.

Jim's Exam Advice is a list of practical tips on preparing for and performing well in exams. Suggestions include getting a good sleep the night before – assuming your anxiety allows – and doing your "best" question first to create a feel good factor. The list of tips could act as a handy stimulus for a discussion about techniques that pupils find effective. Then, working in groups, ask them to create advice guides of their own. They could even write a revision rap (as I remember doing in my year 11 English class. I can still hear the first lines of it: "Don't be a dope, get down to that revision, instead of being lazy, and watching television.")

Comic of the week

Josephine Has Questions # 5

Antonis Vavagiannis

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Drawing Autism: A Visual Tour of the Autistic Mind from Kids and Celebrated Artists on the Spectrum

Pattern-recognition, demon-taming, and a humbling invitation into a different way of experiencing the world.
Autism and its related conditions remain among the least understood mental health issues of our time. But one significant change that has taken place over the past few years has been a shift from perceiving the autistic mind not as disabled but as differently abled — and often impressive in its difference, as in extraordinary individuals like mathematical mastermind Daniel Tammet or architectural savant Gilles Trehin. And yet despite the stereotype of the autistic mind as a methodical computational machine, much of its magic — the kind most misunderstood — lies in its capacity for creative expression.

Three years after the original publication, New-York-based behavior analyst Jill Mullin returns with an expanded edition of Drawing Autism (public library) — a beautiful and thoughtful celebration of the vibrantly creative underbelly of autism, featuring contributions from more than 50 international graphic artists and children who fall somewhere on the autism spectrum, with a foreword by none other than Temple Grandin.

“White Holes” Could Exist—But That Doesn't Mean They Do

A black hole is a one-way door to oblivion. According to general relativity, once anything crosses its boundary—the event horizon—it cannot return to the outside. For that particle, the black hole is the entire future.

We’ll never actually get a chance to see the particle live out that destiny: Any light the particle emits (which would be the only way for us to observe its death plunge) will be stretched to longer and longer wavelengths with correspondingly less energy, until it fades beyond detectability. In fact, the story is even more strange. If we observe the particle falling in, we could never live long enough to see it reach the event horizon. The extreme gravity of the black hole makes time appear, to an outside observer, to go more slowly there; in fact, the particle would seem to us to take infinite time to reach the event horizon. That’s true even though from the particle’s reference frame, it crosses the event horizon unremarkably, with no unusual effects on time and space.

If a black hole is a one-way door to oblivion, you might wonder if there is any way to go the other way through the door—and it’s a good question. General relativity, which has been our standard theory of gravity for nearly 100 years, makes no distinction between past and future, time running forward and time running backward. (See physicist Sean Carroll discuss the time-symmetry of physics in his interview with Nautilus.) Newtonian physics also is time-symmetric in the same way. So the idea of “white holes”—black holes reversed in time—does make theoretical sense.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

A toy to visualize the body’s electricity

A children’s electrode set grabs second prize in a contest to build the next big science toy.

Robijanto Soetedjo can’t stop playing with electricity. At work, this neuroscientist at the University of Washington in Seattle studies the electrical properties of cells in our brains. At home, he has used his knowledge of electrophysiology to develop a new toy. This “Bioelectricity Toy Set,” allows kids to discover the electricity in their own bodies.

Soetedjo nabbed second place and $25,000 in the first annual Science, Play and Research Kit — or SPARK — contest. Sponsored by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Society for Science & the Public (this blog’s parent organization), the contest searched for next-generation “chemistry sets.” The goal: new types of toy to let kids develop their own experiments. But the contest’s organizers understand scientific inspiration comes from more than chemistry.

“I wanted to get the children to know how cool neuroscience is,” Soetedjo says. He observed most neuroscience demonstrations have kids looking at brains, not doing things with the nervous system. The best way to help kids discover neuroscience, he reasoned, would be electromyography. Also known as EMG, it uses electrodes on the skin to record the electrical activity of the muscles underneath.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Mystery Text in 1504 Copy of Homer's 'Odyssey' Is Deciphered

A handwriting mystery involving a rare 1504 edition of Homer’s ancient Greek epic poem “The Odyssey” has been solved.

The University of Chicago Library had offered $1,000 to anyone who could decipher some handwritten scribblings found on the margins of multiple pages of Book 11 of “Odyssey,” but nowhere else in the volume.

M.C. Lang, the man who donated the Homer collection to the University of Chicago in 2007, suspected when he acquired the book years ago that the strange, unidentified script was a form of 19th-century French shorthand because French words were interspersed with the mysterious script. But he had no evidence to prove it.
“We do not know why the annotations are only on these pages — that is something we hoped to find out more about," Alice Schreyer, assistant university librarian for humanities, social sciences and special collections and bibliographer for rare books at the University of Chicago Library, told NBC News in an email. "Mr. Lang wanted a conclusive identification with evidence and sample translations which is why he generously offered the prize award.”

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Why China wants African students to learn Mandarin

While China’s dramatic economic and trade impact on Africa has caught global attention, there has little focus on its role in education.

But there are important questions raised by China’s education push into Africa. Why does China run one of the world’s largest short-term training programmes, with plans to take 30,000 Africans to China between 2013 and 2015? Why does it give generous support to 38 Confucius Institutes teaching Mandarin and Chinese culture at many of Africa’s top universities from the Cape to Cairo?

And why is China one of the very few countries to increase the number of full scholarships for Africans to study in its universities, with a total of 18,000 anticipated between 2013 and 2015?