February 22, 2024

self-aware babies, autonomous excavators, blood physics and feminine science

Babies (wearing EEG capsules) are self-aware from 4 months

A baby wearing an EEG mask for the examination. In a photo with parent. Credit: University of Birmingham.

Babies as young as four months old can understand how their bodies interact with the world around them, according to a study in the US journal Nature Scientific reports.

“Even in the first few months of life, before babies have even learned to reach for objects, the multisensory brain is wired to make connections between what babies see and what they feel,” says Dr. Giulia Orioli, a psychologist at the University of California. Birmingham, United Kingdom.

“This means they can feel the space around them and understand how their body interacts with that space. This is also called the peripersonal space.”

Orioli and colleagues connected babies to EEG capsules that measured their brain activity while they watched a video of a ball rolling toward them. When the ball seemed to come closest, a device on their hands vibrated (suggesting a touch), and this caused brain activity that suggested something tangible.

Without the ball video, the brain activity did not occur.

“Working with newborns is challenging because they spend so much of their time sleeping and feeding, but we are starting to have some success working with this age group, and it will be fascinating to see if Babies spend only a small portion of their time sleeping and eating. A few days old have the basis for a sense of their body in space. If so, we could be looking at the origins of human consciousness,” says Orioli.

Autonomous robot builds a giant wall

Aerial view of dry stone wall in park
Aerial view of the Circularity Park in Oberglatt by Eberhard AG, 2021-2022 © Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zurich, Eberhard AG. Photo: Marc Schneider

Swiss researchers used an excavator called HEAP (hydraulic excavator for an autonomous purpose) to build a 6-meter-high dry stone wall, as part of an autonomous excavated park.

The excavator uses sensors to draw a map of the construction site and find rocks to use in building.

It then scans each brick it picks up, calculates its weight, shape and center of gravity, and calculates where it will best fit in a wall. Then it places each stone.

An article describing the research was published in Science Robotics.

“Robotic automation of stone masonry construction has the potential to restore widespread feasibility to a task that otherwise requires expensive and time-consuming on-site expertise, enabling the use of non-toxic, energy efficient, local and natural materials that support regional local traditions and provide a better sense of place,” the authors write in their article.

Excavator picking up large stones
The Menzi Muck picks up and scans each boulder to place it in the correct position, Circularity Park in Oberglatt, Eberhard AG, 2021-2022 © Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zurich, Eberhard AG. Photo: Marc Schneider

Bloodstain tails provide vital clues to crime scenes

Blood pattern analysis is a useful way to reconstruct crime scenes and now forensic analysts are getting better at it.

A team of American researchers has developed new physics about how blood droplets are formed, providing greater insight into crime scenes.

The research, published in Physics of fluids, concentrates around the ‘tail’ of bloodstains: when blood hits a surface at an angle, it tends to form an elliptical droplet with a protrusion at one end.


“These protrusions are typically only used to get an idea of ​​the direction the droplet was moving, but are otherwise neglected,” said co-author James Bird, an associate professor at Boston University.

Using high-speed experiments, Bird and colleagues discovered that the length of the tail can give scientists information about the size, speed and angle of the blood drop.

“The tail lengths include additional independent information that can help analysts reconstruct where the blood drop actually came from,” Bird says.

Six different blood drops with time stamps
A tiny drop of blood during the millisecond it hits a solid surface and takes on the shape of the stain. Of particular interest is the protrusion that develops on the right side and deviates from the otherwise elliptical spot boundary. Credit: James C. Bird

Small nature reserves get some help from moths

Plants in small nature reserves can struggle to attract the pollinators they need to spread, but a study shows that Australian ecology has discovered that moths can pick up the pace.

“Our research found that a variety of moths, including species common to the Adelaide Hills, visited the flowers and carried pollen of this plant throughout small and large nature reserves,” said lead author Dr Alex Blackall, recently PhD from Flinders University.

“We found that reproduction of this plant in small reserves was similar to that measured in larger reserves of native vegetation.”

This underlines the importance of small nature reserves.

“Whether plants can successfully reproduce and survive in the long term in such small patches is not always clear, and lower plant reproduction in smaller patches of vegetation would certainly be of conservation concern,” says Blackall.

Nature reserve
Native eucalyptus forest growing on the field in the Nurrutti Reserve – the smallest nature reserve used in the study, with an area of ​​1.40 ha.

Female scientists are still cited less often, but the gap is closing

After analyzing 5.8 million authors of scientific articles, a team of American researchers has found that the gender gap is closing – but slowly.

The research was published in PLOS biology.

The researchers found that 3.8 million of the authors were male and 2.0 million were female. Before 1992, men were almost four times more likely to be authors, but after 2011 the odds were only 1.36 times more likely.

“Our work documents a substantial contraction in gender inequality over time at the highest end of scientific citation impact, but there is significant room for further improvements in most scientific areas,” said lead author Professor John Ioannidis from Stanford University.

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