New frontiers: Brain expansion and deep waters
Mail & Guardian science editor Sarah Wild shares some exciting discoveries from around the world.
Still waters run (very) deep
Many people have said that the next world war will be fought over access to water. But what if there is enough water right under our feet, albeit very far under our feet?
Steve Jacobsen of Northwestern University and Brandon Schmandt, a seismologist at the University of New Mexico, claim to have detected a vast reservoir of water between 400km and 640km below the surface of the United States.
“This water is not in a form familiar to us – it is not liquid, ice or vapour,” Northwestern University said. “This fourth form is water trapped inside the molecular structure of the minerals in the mantle rock.
The weight of 400km kilometres of solid rock creates such high pressure, along with temperatures above 2?000?F (1093?C), that a water molecule splits to form a hydroxyl radical (OH), which can be bound into a mineral’s crystal structure.”
So ... good luck getting it out.
Music expands our brains
Learning to play any musical instrument as a child makes you smarter, say scientists from the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Boston Children’s Hospital in the United States.
Researchers compared the brain scans of children and adults who had musical training with those who didn’t and found “a possible biological link between early musical training and improved executive functioning in both children and adults”, the research institute said.
Executive functions are the high-level cognitive processes that enable people to quickly process and retain information, regulate their behaviour, make good choices, solve problems, plan and adjust to changing mental demands, it said.
“Since executive functioning is a strong predictor of academic achievement, even more than IQ, we think our findings have strong educational implications,” says study senior investigator Dr Nadine Gaab.
“Our findings suggest that musical training may actually help to set up children for a better academic future.”
Their next study will look at whether learning an instrument can improve executive functions for children and adults with no musical training.