Smartphones are an integral part of most people’s lives, allowing us to stay connected and in-the-know at all times. The downside of that convenience is that many of us are also addicted to the constant pings, chimes, vibrations and other alerts from our devices, unable to ignore new emails, texts and images. San Francisco State University Professor of Health Education Erik Peper and Associate Professor of Health Education Richard Harvey argue that overuse of smart phones is just like any other type of substance abuse.
“The behavioral addiction of smartphone use begins forming neurological connections in the brain in ways similar to how opioid addiction is experienced by people taking Oxycontin for pain relief — gradually.”
On top of that, addiction to social media technology may actually have a negative effect on social connection. In a survey of 135 San Francisco State students, Peper and Harvey found that students who used their phones the most reported higher levels of feeling isolated, lonely, depressed and anxious. They believe the loneliness is partly a consequence of replacing face-to-face interaction with a form of communication where body language and other signals cannot be interpreted. They also found that those same students almost constantly multitasked while studying, watching other media, eating or attending class. This constant activity allows little time for bodies and minds to relax and regenerate, says Peper, and also results in “semi-tasking,” where people do two or more tasks at the same time — but half as well as they would have if focused on one task at a time.
Peper and Harvey note that digital addiction is not our fault but a result of the tech industry’s desire to increase corporate profits. “More eyeballs, more clicks, more money,” said Peper. Push notifications, vibrations and other alerts on our phones and computers make us feel compelled to look at them by triggering the same neural pathways in our brains that once alerted us to imminent danger, such as an attack by a tiger or other large predator. “But now we are hijacked by those same mechanisms that once protected us and allowed us to survive — for the most trivial pieces of information,” he said.
But just as we can train ourselves to eat less sugar, for example, we can take charge and train ourselves to be less addicted to our phones and computers. The first step is recognizing that tech companies are manipulating our innate biological responses to danger. Peper suggests turning off push notifications, only responding to email and social media at specific times and scheduling periods with no interruptions to focus on important tasks.
Two of Peper’s students say they have taken proactive measures to change their patterns of technology use. Recreation, Parks and Tourism major Khari McKendell closed all of his social media accounts about six months ago because he wanted to make stronger face-to-face connections with people. “I still call and text people but I want to make sure that a majority of the time I’m talking to my friends in person,” he said.
Careful examination of numerous fluted spear points found in Alaska and western Canada prove that the Ice Age peopling of the Americas was much more complex than previously believed, according to a study done by two Texas A&M University researchers.
Heather Smith and Ted Goebel both were involved with the study that was associated with the Center for the Study of the First Americans, part of the Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M. Smith is now an assistant professor at Eastern New Mexico University.
Smith, who worked on the study as part of her Ph.D. at Texas A&M, and Goebel, professor of anthropology at Texas A&M, believe the findings could change how we view the traveling patterns and routes of early humans from 14,000 to 12,000 years ago as they settled in numerous parts of North America.
Using new digital methods of analyses utilized for the first time in such a study of these artifacts, the researchers found that early settlers in the emerging ice-free corridor of interior western Canada “were travelling north to Alaska, not south from Alaska, as previously interpreted,” says Goebel.
“Although during the late Ice Age there were two possible routes for the first Americans to follow on their migration from the Bering Land Bridge area southward to temperate North America, it now looks like only the Pacific coastal route was used, while the interior Canadian route may not have been fully explored until millennia later, and when it was, primarily from the south.
“The findings of these fluted spear points provide archaeological evidence supporting new genetic models explaining how humans colonized the New World.”
Traditional interpretations of the peopling of the Americas have predicted that early inhabitants migrated from Siberia through Alaska, and then followed the ice-free corridor that gradually opened in western Canada to reach the Great Plains of the western U.S. But newer genetic studies of ancient Siberians, Alaskans, and Americans, as well as the discovery of new sites south of the Canadian ice sheets predating the opening of the ice-free corridor, suggest instead that the first Americans passed along the Pacific coast.
“The key is that the projectile points are related in their technology and morphology, and the way in which some of these characteristics vary forms the pattern of an ancestral-descendent relationship. This suggests that the people who carried the artifacts to these locations were related as well.” adds Smith.
“It shows that these early people in western Canada and Alaska were descendent of Clovis (the first settlers of North America) and they used the same type of weapons to hunt for food, especially bison. These makers of fluted points were not just all over mid-continent North America but were also migrating northward back to the Arctic.”
These artifacts can be used to document migration patterns of prehistoric peoples, she says.
“The spear points prove that the peopling of the Americas was much more complex than we had believed and that these early settlers went in a lot of different directions, not just south. We now have a better picture of what weapons they used to hunt and where their travels took them.”
“This is tangible evidence of a connection between people in the Arctic and the Mid-continent 12,000 years ago, a connection which may be either genetic or social, but ultimately, speaks volumes of the capability and adaptability of early cultures in North America,” she notes.
Scientists have discovered a new metabolic process in the body that can switch off inflammation. They have discovered that ‘itaconate’ — a molecule derived from glucose — acts as a powerful off-switch for macrophages, which are the cells in the immune system that lie at the heart of many inflammatory diseases including arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and heart disease.
The scientists, working in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology in the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute at Trinity College Dublin, hope their discovery will have relevance for inflammatory and infectious diseases — and that their findings may also help to develop much-needed new drugs to treat people living with these conditions.
Professor of Biochemistry at Trinity, Luke O’Neill, was, along with Dr Mike Murphy of the University of Cambridge, the joint leader of the work just published in leading international journal Nature. The discoveries were made using both human cells and mice as a model organism.
Professor O’Neill said: “My lab has been exploring metabolic changes in macrophages for the past six years and we’ve come across what we think is the most important finding yet.”
“It is well known that macrophages cause inflammation, but we have just found that they can be coaxed to make a biochemical called itaconate. This functions as an important brake, or off-switch, on the macrophage, cooling the heat of inflammation in a process never before described.”
Dr Evanna Mills, who, with Dylan Ryan was joint first author of the work, said: “The macrophage takes the nutrient glucose, whose day job it is to provide energy, and surprisingly turns it into itaconate. This then blocks production of inflammatory factors, and also protects mice from the lethal inflammation that can occur during infection.”
Dylan Ryan added: “We’ve found that itaconate can directly modify a whole host of proteins important for inflammation in a chemical reaction never before described, and that this reaction is important for the anti-inflammatory effects of itaconate.”
The discovery is very much on the frontier of inflammation research and Professor O’Neill and his collaborators are now exploring its relevance to the onset and development of inflammatory and infectious diseases. They are also keen to explore whether the findings can be exploited in the effort to develop new anti-inflammatory medicines.
The work was a collaboration with Harvard Medical School, the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Dundee, and GlaxoSmithKline, where both Professor O’Neill and Dr Mills spent time on sabbatical.
Professor O’Neill said: “This discovery and the new research pathways it has opened up will keep us busy for some time but we are hopeful that it will one day make a difference to patients with diseases that remain difficult to treat.”
Scientists have for the first time slowed down the speed of light travelling through air. This finding shows unambiguously that the propagation of light can be slowed below the commonly accepted figure of 299,792,458 metres per second, even when travelling in air or vacuum.
Researchers from the University of Glasgow and Heriot-Watt University demon strated that applying a mask to an optical beam to give photons a spatial structure can reduce their speed.
The team compare a beam of light to a team of cyclists who share the work by taking it in turns to cycle at the front.Although the group travels as a unit, the speed of individuals vary. The group formation can make it difficult to define a single velocity for all cyclists, and the same applies to light. A single pulse of light contains many photons and light pulses are characterized by a number of different velocities. The team’s experiment was like a time trial race, with two photons released simultaneously across identical distances towards a defined finish line.
Researchers found that one photon reached the finish line as predicted, but the structured one arrived later.Daniel Giovannini, a lead author of the paper, said, “The delay we’ve introduced to the structured beam is small, measured at several micrometres over a distance of one metre, but it is significant.”
Convergent research — which crosses disciplinary boundaries, integrating tools and knowledge from the life sciences, physical sciences, engineering, and other fields — could spur innovation and help tackle societal challenges, but greater national coordination is needed, says a new report from the National Research Council. Convergent science still faces hurdles and requires a culture shift for research institutions, which have traditionally organized research around separate disciplines.
Convergent science also relies on forming a web of partnerships to support boundary-crossing research and to translate advances into new products. The report identifies steps institutions and the nation can take to support these partnerships.
“Some of our most difficult real-world problems do not respect disciplinary boundaries, and convergent science, which brings together insights and approaches from many fields, can help us find solutions,” said committee chair Joseph DeSimone, Chancellor’s Eminent Professor of Chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at NC State. “It is time for a systematic effort to highlight the value of convergence as an approach to R&D, and to address lingering challenges to its effective practice.”
The report identifies areas where convergent approaches could accelerate innovation and help meet broad challenges, including creating new fuels and energy storage systems, meeting the world’s need for secure food supplies in a changing climate, and developing new treatments for chronic illnesses.
Convergent research is already contributing to breakthroughs, the report notes. For example, convergence between the engineering and biotechnology worlds is bringing 3-D printing — which enables custom objects to be built on demand within hours — to medicine, allowing the construction of medical implants customized to individual patients. Researchers are now working to develop 3-D printers that use living cells to construct human tissues and organs for transplants. Doing so will require integrating knowledge from life sciences on how to sustain cells through the printing process, from materials science on scaffolding to support the cells, and from engineering to design and construct the printing devices. Bringing these advances to doctors and patients will require partnerships with industrial, clinical, and regulatory colleagues.
But barriers to convergent science remain, and institutions often have little guidance on how to establish effective programs. The report identifies strategies used by institutions to support convergence efforts, such as creating research institutes or programs around a common theme, problem, or scientific challenge; hiring faculty in transdisciplinary clusters; and embedding support for convergence in the promotion and tenure process. Convergence efforts can also be informed by economic, social, and behavioral science and humanities research on establishing interdisciplinary cultures, supporting team-based science, and revising STEM education and training.
To accelerate convergence, experts, funding agencies, foundations, and other partners should identify key problems whose solution requires convergence approaches, the report recommends. Research institutions, funding agencies, foundations, and other partners should address barriers to convergence as they arise, and they should expand mechanisms for funding convergence efforts. Seed funding to catalyze collaborations should be implemented or expanded. Leaders and practitioners who have fostered a convergence culture in their organizations and laboratories should develop partnerships with other institutions, helping to nurture their convergence efforts.
To most effectively achieve such goals and move beyond the current patchwork of convergence efforts, greater coordination will be needed, the report says. National coordination on convergence would provide a platform for agencies that support biomedical research, such as the National Institutes of Health, and those that support research in the physical sciences, such as the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy, to identify opportunities for collaboration. The power of such cross-agency efforts is illustrated by the success of the Human Genome Project, a collaborative effort of NIH and DOE.
Many stakeholders can be involved in the national coordination needed to advance convergence, the report says. For example, associations and societies can undertake convening efforts to set goals. Foundations could serve catalytic roles for the community. Cross-agency working groups could coordinate policy development. All of these actors can play vision-setting roles in establishing new strategies to facilitate convergence.