California, USA: Researchers at University of California, San Francisco have found new genes that play a role in causing autism. Scientists identified 60 genes with a greater than 90% chance of increasing a child’s autism risk. The researchers say these genes appear to be clustering around three sets of key biological functions: development of synapses in the brain, creation of genetic instructions, and DNA packaging within cells. Dr. Matthew State, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, believes that the most important thing to take away from the studies is a new knowledge base. Instead of focusing on environmental factors, he says these studies are focusing on what happens inside of the brain.
Austin, Texas: A new study has found that the brain mechanisms engaged when people allow their minds to rest and reflect on things they have learned before may actually boost later learning. Researchers at University of Texas at Austin have concluded that mental rest strengthens and consolidates memories from recent learning tasks that will in fact boost future learning. Margaret Schlichting, a graduate student researcher, and Alison Preston, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, gave participants in the study two learning tasks in which participants were asked to memorize different series of associated photo pairs. Between the tasks, participants rested and could think about anything they chose. Brain scans showed that threads of information were making connections that helped in absorbing information for a later use. Preston suggests that this can be applied to everyday learning. Teachers or professors can spark initial thinking of what students already know before actually teaching a new topic, in order to help students’ transition and connect their knowledge with new topics.
Japan- Dr. Misao Fukuda of the M&K Health Institute in Japan found evidence to support the possibility that human sex ratios may be influenced by temperature, although in a more subtle way, through a different mechanism. Research shows that in 1968, 1.07 boys were born in Japan for every girl. By 2012, that was down to 1.05. “Male conception seems to be especially vulnerable to external stress factors, including climate changes,” Fukuda concludes. Furthermore, Fukuda investigated the data for fetal deaths in the ratio of male to female, which were 2 male per female. Nonetheless, changes to sex ratios for humans are so small that, there is no threat to our survival. But, “an increase in miscarriages for all fetuses may be one more effect of rapidly changing climates,” Fukuda says.
USA- In March, Harvard Physicists announced that they had found evidence of gravitation waves- variations in gravitational strength throughout space, which could act as crucial evidence for the Big Bang. However, new data from the Planck satellite shows that more dust is present in space than was expected. This means it is quite likely that the signals that were believed to be gravitational waves, in fact, could have simply been signals that were distorted from the dust. While this does not disprove the existence of gravitational waves, it does cast some doubt on the supposed confirmation of their existence.
Sweden: A team of scientists led by Martin Gustafasson of Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology have captured the sound of an atom for the first time. An important feature of atoms is that “they are much smaller than the wavelength of optical light, making them appear like a point.” In order to capture the sound, the scientists use microwave radiation, which has longer wavelengths. Gustafasson said, “due to the slow speed of sound, we will have time to control the quantum particles while they travel.” In this way, the scientists can be able to record data of the sound because sound waves travel much slower than light waves. The team hopes to use this information to learn about quantum behavior, including in electrical circuits and on a bigger scale, computers.
Honolulu, Hawaii – A team of scientists led by Brent Tully from the University of Hawaii in Honolulu have found that the Milky Way Galaxy is actually part of a larger supercluster named Laniakea (Hawaiian for “immeasurable heaven”) that is 520 million light years across. Previously, the Milky Way was thought to be part of a smaller galaxy cluster called Virgo, a 110 million light year section of space that is also suspected to be part of Laniakea. The team charted the motions of galaxies to infer the gravitational landscape of regions in space to determine where one supercluster cuts off.
Ilulissat, Greenland – A study led by Shfaqat Khan from the Technical University of Denmark has revealed that the Greenland Ice Sheet, the second largest body of ice in the world, is melting at a much faster rate than previously thought. A portion of the before unnoticed melting comes from the Northeastern Greenland, which was thought to be the last stable part of Greenland in terms of melting ice and glacial break-away. Because of warmer summers due to climate change, one of the glaciers in the South, Jakobshavn Isbrae, is retreating at four times the rate it had been in 1997.
Evanston, Illinois – Northwestern University scientists have discovered the material that is the best at converting waste heat into electricity. An interdisciplinary team, led by inorganic chemist Dr. Mercouri Kanatzidis, has found that the crystal form of tin selenide conducts heat so poorly that it is the most efficient thermoelectric material discovered. Tin selenide has a ZT metric (a ratio of electrical conductivity and thermoelectric power to thermal conductivity) 2.6. The group responsible for the discovery point to countless commercial uses for the information due to two third of energy input being lost to waste heat on average.
Geneva, Switzerland – The Large Hadron Collider beauty collaboration has announced the discovery, to a certainty of 13.9 sigma, of exotic hadrons. These hadrons are exotic because the type of matter discovered cannot be classified within the traditional quark model of matter. The exotic particle is currently known as Z(4430), which was discovered after 25000 decays of B mesons, after 180 trillion proton-proton collisions inside of the Large Hadron Collider.
La Serena, Chile – Researchers at the Las Campanas Observatory outside of La Serena, Chile, have observed six luminous blue stars in the leading section of the Magellanic Stream. The stars are believed to be new, coming from the gas of the Magellanic Clouds, as they are too new to have come from any other place in space. The Magellanic Clouds are two nearby galaxies that unlike other nearby systems in that they are full with gas capable of forming stars.