from the world's big
How physics makes your brain light up
fMRIs reveal that physics causes activity in some surprising areas of the brain.
A study has just been published that reports increased activity in, and development of, certain brain areas as a result of thinking about physics. It offers a fascinating insight into some of the specialized forms of thought that the discipline requires. Eric Brewe of Drexel University and grad student Jessica E. Bartley of Florida International University are the study’s lead authors.
The multi-year project involved 55 students (33 male and 22 female) taking Modeling Instruction (MI) at Florida International University. MI is an innovative teaching method that helps get students thinking like real-world physicists through the collaborative development of mental models that account for observed phenomena, doing research and discussing and revising their models until they accurately predict real-world behaviors.
(Credit: Kelli Games Warble)
How the study worked
Before and after the instruction, the students’ brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that reveals activity as evidenced by changes in blood flow.
Both times, fMRIs were performed while students completed a modified version of the Force Concept Inventory test optimized for the study. The 30-question quiz had been simplified down to just nine questions that “required students to determine the trajectories and motion of objects as resulting from different scenarios and combinations of initial velocities and/or force configurations the test had been tweaked to focus on both,” according to the study. Also, the possible answers for each multiple choice question were reduced from five to four to accommodate the four-button controls students used during testing/scanning. Subjects also answered a set of control questions that didn’t involve physics.
What researchers discovered
Even during the first scans, the fMRIs revealed that thinking about physics problems unexpectedly lit up an intriguing area of the prefrontal cortex: “One of the keys seemed to be an area of the brain, the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex, that generates mental simulations. This suggests that learning physics is an imaginative process, which is not typically how people think of it,” Brewe tells Drexel Now.
After the classes, though, the posterior cingulate cortex, linked to episodic memory and self-referential thought, was active during the test. This may, says the study, reveal “shifts in strategy or an increased access to physics knowledge and problem-solving resources,” reflecting “more complex behavioral changes in how students reason through physics questions.”
The results of this study attest to the value of Modeling Instruction, and shed light on how it works,” says Brewe. “The neurobiological processes that underpin learning are complex and not always directly connected to what we think it means to learn.” The study also reveals some of the ways in which physics gives the brain a good workout.
Brewe concludes, “I would like to follow up on the question of mental simulations in physics, to see where that shows up at different levels of physics learning and with different populations,” he said. “But this whole study opens up many new areas of investigations and I’m pretty excited about how it will play out.”
Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?
Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.
Building a personal connection with students can counteract some negative side effects of remote learning.
- Not being able to engage with students in-person due to the pandemic has presented several new challenges for educators, both technical and social. Digital tools have changed the way we all think about learning, but George Couros argues that more needs to be done to make up for what has been lost during "emergency remote teaching."
- One interesting way he has seen to bridge that gap and strengthen teacher-student and student-student relationships is through an event called Identity Day. Giving students the opportunity to share something they are passionate about makes them feel more connected and gets them involved in their education.
- "My hope is that we take these skills and these abilities we're developing through this process and we actually become so much better for our kids when we get back to our face-to-face setting," Couros says. He adds that while no one can predict the future, we can all do our part to adapt to it.
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.