Science & Research

Science & Research Roundup: Oct. 6, 2016

By
news editor
Thursday, October 6, 2016

Brain blast

A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience and co-authored by Dima Amso, associate professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences, found that infants use the prefrontal cortex in learning, according to a University press release. Researchers previously thought that the PFC was not developed enough for children to use during infancy.

The researchers used a bilingual example to test their hypothesis because associating different languages with different people is a regular test for PFC function in adults. After listening to two different people describe the same object with two different nonsensical words, infants who used their PFCs were able to identify the “language” used by a third person who emulated one of the two previous speakers.

Amso said that the research could change how scientists approach the field of neurodevelopment. Because the study found that infants are able to access their PFCs at an early age, children’s brains should be regarded as constantly changing and capable of reacting to key challenges that they face.

Species on species on species

Lake Malawi experienced incredible environmental change over a period of 800,000 years that led to dramatic diversification within the cichlid population, according to a study authored by Sarah Ivory, visiting scholar in Earth, environmental and planetary sciences. The cichlid species was able to diversify expeditiously because the lake underwent marked deep-water phases, which resulted in the creation of more shoreline habitats that were conducive to “assortative mating,” Ivory said. Right now, the lake is home to hundreds of varieties of the species.

The cichlids were chosen as a subject of study because they model the evolutionary process well, according to Ivory. Because of the number of differing species present in Lake Malawi, the cichlids show the development in diversity over a long period of time. Ivory used her observations to tie the diversification of the cichlids to 800,000 years of environmental changes within the lake.

Anthropology in the digital age

Students partnered with Parker VanValkenburgh, assistant professor of anthropology, to develop the Proyecto Arqueológico Zaña Colonial Ceramics app in order to streamline the data collection processes for archaeological excavations, according to a University press release. VanValkenburgh made three trips, collecting tens of thousands of small ceramic sherds in Peruvian reducciones, or colonial settlements. When combined, the massive amounts of collected pottery could tell a historical narrative.

But the sheer size of the collection created an obstacle in data cataloguing — 80,000 sherds of pottery could not be processed in a timely manner. VanValkenburgh worked with Chiara Repetti-Ludlow ’18, Jackson Crook ’17, Luiza Silva ’18 and Jake Gardner ’18 to create PAZC before testing the app in Peru. According to VanValkenburgh, the module increased the “efficiency of data entry by about 20 percent.” The new module format was more “engaging” than the previous system, the larger research team found.