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Practice makes perfect, but a question that still remains a mystery is why it is so difficult to transfer learning from a trained to an untrained task? Why are we no better at remembering faces when we have been training our memory for words? Scientists at Umeå University and Karolinska Institutet in Sweden now show in the journal Science that the answer lies in the brain areas activated by each task.

The scientists studied the brain activity of healthy subjects as they performed a task that was part of a training program and two untrained tasks. Their performance on the trained task and one of the untrained tasks improved. What these two tasks had in common was the activation of the striatum, a cluster of neuronal nuclei in midbrain.

University of Florida mechanical and aerospace engineering associate professor Subrata Roy has submitted a patent application for a circular, spinning aircraft design reminiscent of the spaceships seen in countless Hollywood films. Roy, however, calls his design a “wingless electromagnetic air vehicle,” or WEAV.

The proposed prototype is small – the aircraft will measure less than six inches across – and will be efficient enough to be powered by on-board batteries.

Roy said the design can be scaled up and theoretically should work in a much larger form. Even in miniature, though, the design has many uses.


New research from the American Museum of Natural History says that global warming is forcing species to move up tropical mountains. Christopher Raxworthy, Associate Curator in the Department of Herpetology, predicts that at least three species of amphibians and reptiles found in Madagascar's mountainous north could go extinct between 2050 and 2100 because of habitat loss associated with rising global temperatures.

These species, currently moving up-slope to compensate for habitat loss at lower and warmer altitudes, will eventually have no place to move to. The mountains can only go so high.

In a paper published this month in Global Change Biology, Raxworthy and colleagues found overall trends for elevation changes among 30 species of amphibians and reptiles. Uphill movement is a predicted response to increased temperatures, and other studies, including that of J. Alan Pounds in Costa Rica, have provided some empirical evidence of how tropical animals respond to climate change.

Star players make better basketball coaches, according to research by scholars at the University of Warwick and Cornell University. The research is further evidence that experts in their field rather than generalists typically make the best leaders in organizations.

Using data from 15,000 basketball games between 1996 and 2004, the authors learned that the US’s premier basketball teams in the NBA tend to win more games if led by coaches who were good players or if they had long playing careers, controlling for other factors that affect team performance. That upholds the authors’ hypothesis that, across many kinds of industry, it is experts in their field who typically make the best leaders.

In the current US NBA finals, the Lakers’ coach, Phil Jackson, is tied with the Celtics’ legendary Red Auerbach for the most championships as a head coach (nine) and has the second best career regular-season winning percentage (0.700) of all time.

Researchers in Spain have proven that metamaterials, materials defined by their unusual man-made cellular structure, can be designed to produce an acoustic cloak - a cloak that can make objects impervious to sound waves, literally diverting sound waves around an object.

The research, 'Acoustic cloaking in two dimensions: a feasible approach', published today, Friday, 13 June, 2008, in the New Journal of Physics (NJP), builds on recent theoretical research which has sought ways to produce materials that can hide objects from sound, sight and x-rays.

Daniel Torrent and José Sánchez-Dehesa from the Wave Phenomena Group, Department of Electronics Engineering at the Polytechnic University of Valencia, cite theoretical work published early last year in NJP by researchers from Duke University in North Carolina, US, as the starting point for their more practical approach.

With the proper spin, forests can be the cause of global warming. They produce methane. American environmentalists have an irrational dislike of nuclear power so they forced America to use more coal so they can be blamed for the spike in CO2.

It takes understanding to go beyond perspective and detailed analysis of the forests impact on climate change is still sketchy. There are roughly 42 million square kilometers of forest on Earth, a swath that covers almost a third of the land surface, and those wooded environments play a key role in both mitigating and enhancing global warming.

The teeming life of forests, and the physical structures containing them, are in continuous flux with incoming solar energy, the atmosphere, the water cycle and the carbon cycle--in addition to the influences of human activities. The complex relationships both add and subtract from the equations that dictate the warming of the planet.