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Music Improves Brain Function

© Unknown
For most people music is an enjoyable, although momentary, form of entertainment. But for those who seriously practiced a musical instrument when they were young, perhaps when they played in a school orchestra or even a rock band, the musical experience can be something more. Recent research shows that a strong correlation exists between musical training for children and certain other mental abilities.

The research was discussed at a session at a recent gathering of acoustics experts in Austin, Texas.

Laurel Trainor, director of the Institute for Music and the Mind at McMaster University in West Hamilton, Ontario, and colleagues compared preschool children who had taken music lessons with those who did not. Those with some training showed larger brain responses on a number of sound recognition tests given to the children. Her research indicated that musical training appears to modify the brain's auditory cortex.

Can larger claims be made for the influence on the brain of musical training? Does training change thinking or cognition in general?

Trainor again says yes. Even a year or two of music training leads to enhanced levels of memory and attention when measured by the same type of tests that monitor electrical and magnetic impulses in the brai

Igloo

Frigid Antarctica Loaded with Viruses

© Science/AAAS
Researchers collected water samples from Antarctica's Limnopolar Lake to figure out the diversity of viruses.
Antarctica's icy lakes are home to a surprisingly diverse community of viruses, including some that were previously unidentified, a new study finds.

At first glance, Antarctica's freshwater lakes don't seem very hospitable to life. They remain frozen for a good nine months out of the year, and they contain very few nutrients. Some of these lakes have little animal life and are dominated by microorganisms, including algae, bacteria, protozoans and viruses.

With few animal and microbial predators around, viruses likely play an important role in controlling the abundance of other microorganisms, the researcher say. However, these viruses have been historically hard to study since many cannot be grown in a laboratory. But thanks to new genome sequencing technology, scientists can identify viruses without needing to grow them.

"We are just starting to uncover the world of viruses, and this is changing the way we think about viruses and the role they play in microbial ecosystems," said Antonio Alcami, a researcher from the Spanish Research Council.

Robot

Making Robots Absent-Minded Boosts Their Memory

© Flicker/mightyohm
Robots endowed with the ActSimple alogorithm outperform any other robot at utilizing their memories efficient
The human memory patterns are being emulated

Scientists have developed a new method that allows robots to remember relevant pieces of information from the sea of data they collect from the environment, by emulating the way human memory works. Each individual is able to recall the most important things about a certain period or event, but all the useless details are processed subconsciously, and then discarded. Roboticians and computer experts want to be able to replicate the exact same mechanism in the machines, which could thus become more able to answer various situations and challenges that they may face, Technology Review reports.

A team of experts from the Vanderbilt University was behind the new "forgetfulness" algorithm, which replicates humans' ability of weeding out irrelevant pieces of information about the past. "Forgetting is a critical capability when operating in dynamic environments," VU PhD student Sanford Freedman said. He presented the new software this week in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the IASTED Robotics and Applications conference. A paper detailing how the algorithm, called ActSimple, works was also published at the meeting.

Magnify

Precuneus Region of Human and Monkey Brain is Divided into Four Distinct Regions

A study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides a comprehensive comparative functional anatomy study in human and monkey brains which reveals highly similar brain networks preserved across evolution.

An international collaboration co-led by scientists at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City examined patterns of connectivity to show that the precuneus, long thought to be a single structure, is actually divided into four distinct functional regions. These areas were identified using "resting state" functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) -- a recently emerging approach that allows scientist to map a multitude of brain networks using only 6 minutes of data acquired while an individual lies in the scanner at rest. The results of these brief imaging sessions were comparable to definitive findings in monkeys examined microscopically.

Located in the posterior portion of the brain's medial wall, the precuneus has traditionally received little attention in the neuroimaging and neuropsychological literatures. However, recent functional neuroimaging studies have started to implicate the precuneus in a variety of high level cognitive functions, including episodic memory, self-related processing, and aspects of consciousness.

Sherlock

Missing Legs of 900-year-old Buddhist Statue Found in Cambodian Jungle

An archaeology professor has discovered the missing legs of a 900-year-old Buddhist statue deep in the Cambodian jungle, rewriting history in the process.

According to a report in The Independent, the professor in question is Dr Peter Sharrock, a senior teaching fellow in the art and archaeology of Southeast Asia at London's School of Oriental and African Studies.

Sharrock was at a conference in Cambodia in July when he decided to spend a day searching the forest around the ruins of Angkor.

His aim was to locate the missing giant legs of an eight-headed, three-metre high sandstone statue of Hevajra, the war-like, tantric Buddhist deity.

The statue's intricately carved bust was excavated and salvaged in 1925 by French archaeologists, who sold it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it has been on display ever since.

Footprints

Dinosaur Prints Found on New Zealand's South Island

Image
© Greg Browne
Scientist Greg Browne sits next to one of six 70 million-year-old footprints found in various locations in the Nelson region.
Scientists have discovered the first evidence that dinosaurs roamed the South Island of New Zealand with 70-million-year-old footprints found in six locations.

They are the first dinosaur footprints found in the country although bones, mostly vertebrae, have been discovered in two North Island locations.

The footprints were found by scientist Greg Browne in the remote Whanganui Inlet in the northwest of Nelson at the top of the South Island.

They are spread over 10 kilometres and in one area there are up to 20 footprints, Browne said.

Browne, a sedimentologist, believes the footprints belonged to sauropods -- plant-eating dinosaurs which were among the largest animals to have lived, growing up to six metres (yards) in length and weighing several tonnes.

Meteor

Unusual meteorite found by time-lapse camera observatory

Image
© Phil Bland, Imperial College
Time-lapse image taken over one night of a fireball travelling across the sky. It was taken from a fireball camera network or observatory in Western Australia.
An unusual meteorite with an interesting orbit has been tracked to the ground using a photographic observatory that records time-lapse images of fireballs traveling across the sky.

The network of cameras is in the Nullabor Desert in Western Australia. It allows scientists to track a fireball path, formed by a meteorite as it travels through Earth's atmosphere, and then work out where the meteorite comes to rest.

The fireball camera network project was set up by Dr Phil Bland from Imperial College London and scientific associate of the Natural History Museum, along with colleagues from Ondrejov Observatory in the Czech Republic, and the Western Australia Museum, in 2006. This is the first meteorite recovered using the network.

The cameras recorded the fireball that ultimately produced the meteorite in 2007, and the fragments that fell to Earth were named Bunburra Rockhole after a local landscape feature near to where they landed.

Meteor

Was life founded on cyanide from space crashes?

Image
© P. H. Schultz, Brown University and AVGR
Cyanide impact
Life may have been built on a foundation of cyanide formed in the fiery wakes of asteroids plunging through Earth's atmosphere, high-speed impact experiments suggest.

Earth was probably not born with much in the way of organic material - the complex molecules containing carbon that life requires. It formed too close to the sun for such compounds to condense from the swirling primordial disc of gas and dust.

One possibility is that organic matter formed on Earth after the planet coalesced, for example in chemical reactions induced by lightning arcing through the atmosphere, as experiments by Stanley Miller at the University of Chicago in the 1950s suggested. But the chemical reactions in this process could happen only in an early atmosphere full of methane and hydrogen, and later studies of the ancient geological record have suggested that was unlikely.

Others have suggested the building blocks came from comets and asteroids that struck Earth, because these objects are known to contain high concentrations of organic material. But the tremendous heat of impact would have burned up much of that material, converting it into simpler molecules like carbon dioxide.

Blackbox

Mass extinction blamed on fiery fountains of coal

Image
© Joel Sartore/NGS/Getty
Another thing to pin on fossil fuels
Fossil fuels have a new crime to live down. A frenzy of hydrocarbon burning at the end of the Permian period may have led to the most devastating mass extinction Earth has ever seen, as explosive encounters between magma and coal released more carbon dioxide in the course of a few years than in all of human history.

Around 250 million years ago, the so-called "Great Dying" saw 70 per cent of species wiped out on land and 95 per cent in the oceans. A clue to what may have triggered this disaster lies in solidified magma from this time, which is widespread in an area of Siberia where coal is also abundant.

One suggestion is that the heat of the magma could have baked many billions of tonnes of CO2 out of the coal over a geologically brief period of a few thousand years (New Scientist, 8 December 2007, p 42). The ensuing climate change and ocean acidification would account for the extinctions. Now Norman Sleep and Darcy Ogden, both of Stanford University in California, think the trigger for the Great Dying may have been even swifter and more terrifying.

Telescope

Carbon Atmosphere Discovered On Neutron Star

Image
© NASA / CXC
Evidence for a thin veil of carbon has been found on the neutron star in the Cassiopeia A supernova remnant. This discovery, made with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, resolves a ten-year mystery surrounding this object.

"The compact star at the center of this famous supernova remnant has been an enigma since its discovery," said Wynn Ho of the University of Southampton and lead author of a paper that appears in the November 5 issue of Nature. "Now we finally understand that it can be produced by a hot neutron star with a carbon atmosphere."

By analyzing Chandra's X-ray spectrum -- akin to a fingerprint of energy -- and applying it to theoretical models, Ho and his colleague Craig Heinke, from the University of Alberta, determined that the neutron star in Cassiopeia A, or Cas A for short, has an ultra-thin coating of carbon. This is the first time the composition of an atmosphere of an isolated neutron star has been confirmed.