Monthly Archives: August 2017

Pitch is what helps us mentally identify the lowest note in the Jermaine Dupri song “Sweetheart”, and the highest note in “Emotions”, both made popular by Mariah Carey. Psychoacoustics is the study of the perception of sound. The pitch of a note is a psychoacoustic feature that allows us to order musical notes on a scale and classify them as low or high. Despite extensive studies, the exact science behind how pitch is processed in the human brain is still not known. Some studies propose that pitch perception progresses with the development of the auditory cortex, the part of the brain that interprets sound. But according to the results of a study by researchers from the University of Washington, babies can perceive pitch better than adults,  despite lacking a fully developed auditory cortex. The auditory system is the part of the human brain that assigns features we associate with sound,…

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Have you ever spent extra time at the store trying to decide which sunscreen to purchase? We try to protect ourselves from the Sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays to minimize the risks of contracting skin cancer or photoaging (changes to skin caused by UV exposure), yet never think twice about the effects of these products on marine organisms. Popular brands of sunscreen may be more harmful than others to marine life, according to the results of a study published recently in Scientific Reports. This study, conducted by a group of Italian scientists,  investigated three brands of sunscreen (two popular brands and one patented eco-friendly brand) not only for their ability to protect human skin cells from the Sun’s UVA radiation,  but also for their effects on a sea urchin species, Paracentrotus lividus. This sea urchin species is dominant in coastal areas along the Eastern Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, and is…

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No living organism can survive in the dead of space, right? The unlikely exception: water bears. Also known by their scientific name, tardigrades, water bears are incredibly resilient microscopic aquatic animals. There are over 1000 species of the animal, and various forms have been found to survive in temperatures and radiation levels of space, pressures of the deep oceans, and in chemically harsh liquids like acid. The extreme environmental tolerance these little critters developed is an amazing feat of nature, and a group of scientists at the University of Tokyo is working to understand how. The research’ goal was to dig deeper into a question previously asked by researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC) – How did the tardigrades genetically acquire these unique properties? The UNC researchers found that the tardigrades they studied acquired genes by a process called Horizontal Gene Transfer. This process describes when genes are…

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What started out as a study of ethical decision making for self-driving cars turned into a study of human psychology. How do we decide, when a collision is inevitable, who or what to hit? No one wants to be confronted with a life and death decision, yet in driving scenarios, it is common. The invention of self driving cars has pushed this uncomfortable issue into the limelight. Take, for example, the Trolley Problem. The Trolley Problem is a common philosophical exercise where a person is given the choice to flip a switch on a track that would send a train careening into either one person or five people. What a person chooses is often a clue into their ethics. How do they value life? A self-driving car will have to make difficult decisions like this as well, but programming cars to make these decisions is difficult due to the context…

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