Science & Research

Science & Research Roundup: Dec. 3, 2014

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Science & Research Editor
Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Study probes helmet efficacy

Though the two sports go by the same name, men’s and women’s lacrosse differ significantly. In the former, both protective gear and injuries are common and in the latter, little protective gear is worn and though injuries are rarer, they still occur. This difference has recently sparked recent questioning of the dearth of headgear in women’s lacrosse.

In a recent paper, Joseph Crisco, professor of orthopaedic research, and his team presented the results of two experiments that analyze at the acceleration of women’s lacrosse stick hits and the efficacy of four helmet types in reducing the impact of hits, according to a University press release. Crisco serves on the Sports Science and Safety Committee of U.S. Lacrosse.

In the first experiment, the researchers asked seven 12- to 14-year-old female lacrosse players to hit specific locations on dummy heads 36 times using lacrosse sticks with as much force as possible.

The hits “were basically aggressive street fights,” Crisco said in the release, adding that all of the lacrosse sticks used were broken.

In a follow-up experiment, the dummy heads wore headgear from four different sports — men’s lacrosse, rugby, mixed martial arts and women’s lacrosse. While the mixed martial arts and women’s lacrosse headgear both largely reduced the peak accelerations of the strikes, the men’s lacrosse headgear prevailed as the most effective. The rugby headgear did not protect the sides of the head at all, but was more effective than the mixed martial arts and women’s lacrosse headgear in protecting the top of the head, according to the release.

But even the most protective headgear may not be the solution to the rising number of concussions, Crisco said in the release. While helmets that reduce acceleration may help prevent skull fractures and brain injuries, it is unclear whether there is a correlation between acceleration of hits and likelihood of concussions, according to the release.

In fact, introducing helmets into women’s lacrosse could “actually make the game more aggressive,” Crisco added.

Elderly show different way of learning

Though researchers have long thought that elderly people have trouble learning new information due to their brains’ lack of plasticity, a recent study conducted by University researchers challenges this idea.

In the study led by Takeo Watanabe, professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences, researchers found that older people have more difficulty learning new information for reasons related to attention, according to a University press release.

The researchers tested two groups of participants — one of 67- to 79-year-olds and the other of 19- to 30-year-olds. Over a nine-day period, the researchers trained the participants on a visual task in which participants had to identify and remember numerals displayed over moving dots.

The older of the two groups, on average, improved just as much as the group of younger participants, according to the release.
While younger subjects were able to filter out information about the movement of the background dots, the older subjects learned this information in addition to discriminating the numbers.

In a follow-up study, the researchers explored attentional differences between age groups. The researchers asked subjects to identify a stimulus that was surrounded by distracting objects, and found that older participants struggled significantly more than younger ones, according to the release.

The researchers also found a direct link between participants’ difficulty with the second task and the extent to which they learned irrelevant information in the first task, suggesting that older peoples’ impaired ability to filter out distracting information — rather than lesser brain plasticity — may hurt their learning of relevant information.

Broadening the STEM perspective

A recent study led by a Brown researcher and published in the journal CBE-Life Sciences Education, incorporates the suggestions of 50 underrepresented minority students into eight ideas for improving their educational experiences.

The group of students, including some from Brown, shared their suggestions at a conference organized by the researchers earlier this year.
“We didn’t just sit down and design a survey and say, ‘This is a good question to ask’,” said lead-author of the study, Andrew Campbell, associate professor of medical science, in a University press release.

The students’ suggestions were consolidated into a list of eight ideas to improve educational practices, including, for example, a greater focus on social justice, reformulation of methods of evaluation that may be culturally biased and an increase in opportunities for graduate students to pursue multiple disciplines as their interests change.

The researchers plan to hold larger conferences in the future and broaden the age range of students involved, Campbell said in the release.

“You don’t need an entire class or an entire semester to inform students,” Campbell said in the release. “You can design things like modules where students can learn about various options.”