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How junior high school kills scientific curiosity

Rote memorization doesn't cut it for theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. Here's why.

MICHIO KAKU: First of all, we are all born scientists. When we're born, we wonder where we came from. We wonder why the stars shine. We wonder why the sun comes out in the morning. We're born scientists. And then one day, we get the greatest destroyer of scientists known to science. What is the greatest destroyer of scientists? And that is junior high school. Think about it. In junior high school, that's when science is reduced to memorization, memorization of things that are totally irrelevant. Memorize the parts of a flower.

Why? I mean, kids are smart enough to realize that a lot of the junk they have to memorize, they're never going to use again in their life. So why did they have to use it? You see, science is about life. It's about the world. It's about how we live and how we work in the future, not memorizing the parts of a flower. Now, my favorite quote from Einstein is that if a theory cannot be explained to a child, then the theory is probably useless. Now, what does that mean? That means, if a theory is all equations and all memorizing this and memorizing that, it's useless. Because what drives science is principles, concepts. That's what drives science. So when you learn biology, Of all the different kinds of animals, you have to learn about evolution, How it all fits together, how everything can Be summarized in a very simple principle, based on DNA and evolution.

When you learn about physics, ultimately, you'll Learn that there are only two theories in physics, two basic principles in all Of physics Relativity and the quantum principle. That's it, folks. That's the sum total of all of physics summarized in two principles. But that's not the way we teach it. Sometimes I teach physics for medical students. And this is probably the only physics course they're going to get. And I teach it. I look at the book. And I have to teach them about tuning forks, levers, pulleys, friction things that were really cutting edge 300 years ago. These are doctors, going to be doctors. They have to know about MRI machines, X-ray machines, CAT scans. They have to learn about radio medicine, about the latest in cancer research, about gene sequencing. And here I am teaching them about friction and tuning forks and levers.

And I say to myself, these are the doctors that are going to be treating us in the future? What kind of background are they giving us? That's why I think one of the problems that the educational establishment makes is they teach the past. You realize that we do graduate young students from college that are prepared. They're prepared to live in the year 1950. The problem is we don't live in 1950 anymore. But that's how we teach science to young kids. We don't teach them the quantum principle. We don't talk about lasers. We don't talk about microchips. No, we talk about friction and pulleys.

  • What is the greatest destroyer of young scientists? Junior high school, avers physicist Michio Kaku.
  • Why? Because it's during this time when science is reduced to memorization of things that are "totally irrelevant," such as the parts of a flower.
  • Kaku believes all this memorizing detracts from the moving force of science, which is discussing principles and concepts.


A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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How often do vaccine trials hit paydirt?

Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.

Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Vaccines are more likely to get through clinical trials than any other type of drug — but have been given relatively little pharmaceutical industry support during the last two decades, according to a new study by MIT scholars.

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