Dinosaurs often appear as fierce creatures, baring their teeth, with tongues wildly stretching from their mouths. But a new study reveals a major problem with this classic image: Dinosaurs couldn’t stick out their tongues.
Instead of having tongues similar to lizards, dinosaur tongues were probably rooted to the bottoms of their mouths in a manner akin to those of alligators, researchers say.
“Tongues are often overlooked. But, they offer key insights into the lifestyles of extinct animals.”
Researchers made the discovery by comparing the hyoid bones—the bones that support and ground the tongue—of modern birds and crocodiles with those of their extinct dinosaur relatives.
Further, the findings also propose a connection on the origin of flight and an increase in tongue diversity and mobility.
“Tongues are often overlooked. But, they offer key insights into the lifestyles of extinct animals,” says Zhiheng Li, an associate professor at the Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He conducted the work while earning his PhD at the University of Texas Jackson School of Geosciences.
Researchers compared the hyoid bones of extinct dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and alligators to the hyoid bones and muscles of modern birds and alligator specimens. Hyoid bones act as anchors for the tongue in most animals, but in birds these bones can extend to the tip.
Because extinct dinosaurs are related to crocodiles, pterosaurs, and modern birds, comparing anatomy across these groups can help scientists understand the similarities and differences in tongue anatomy and how traits evolved through time and across different lineages.
The comparison process involved taking high-resolution images of hyoid muscles and bones from 15 modern specimens, including three alligators and 13 bird species as diverse as ostriches and ducks, at the Jackson School’s High-Resolution X-Ray Computed Tomography Facility (UTCT).
The fossil specimens, most from northeastern China, were scrutinized for preservation of the delicate tongue bones and included small bird-like dinosaurs, as well as pterosaurs and a Tyrannosaurus rex.
The results, which appear in PLOS ONE, indicate that hyoid bones of most dinosaurs were like those of alligators and crocodiles—short, simple, and connected to a tongue that was not very mobile.
“If you can’t use a hand to manipulate prey, the tongue may become much more important to manipulate food.”
These findings mean that dramatic reconstructions that show dinosaurs with tongues stretching out from between their jaws are wrong, says coauthor and Jackson School professor Julia Clarke.
“They’ve been reconstructed the wrong way for a long time,” Clarke says. “In most extinct dinosaurs their tongue bones are very short. And in crocodilians with similarly short hyoid bones, the tongue is totally fixed to the floor of the mouth.”
For an earlier study on dinosaur vocalizations, Clarke found evidence that large dinosaurs might make booming or cooing sounds, similar to the sounds made by crocodiles and ostriches.
In contrast to the short hyoid bones of crocodiles, pterosaurs, bird-like dinosaurs, and living birds have a great diversity in hyoid bone shapes, researchers say.
The range of shapes could be related to flight ability, or in the case of flightless birds such as ostriches and emus, evolved from an ancestor that could fly. Taking to the skies could have led to new ways of feeding that could be tied to diversity and mobility in tongues, the researchers propose.
“Birds, in general, elaborate their tongue structure in remarkable ways,” Clarke says. “They are shocking.”
That elaboration could be related to the loss of dexterity that accompanied the transformation of hands into wings, Li says.
“If you can’t use a hand to manipulate prey, the tongue may become much more important to manipulate food. That is one of the hypotheses that we put forward.”
The scientists note one exception linking tongue diversity to flight. Ornithischian dinosaurs—a group that includes triceratops, anklyosaurus, and other plant-eating dinosaurs that chewed their food—had hyoid bones that were highly complex and more mobile, though they were structurally different from those of flying dinosaurs and pterosaurs.
Further research on other anatomical changes that occurred with shifts in tongue function could help improve our knowledge of the evolution of birds, Clarke says. For example, changes in the tongues of living birds are associated with changes in the position of the opening of the windpipe. These changes could in turn affect how birds breathe and vocalize, she explains.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced changes to asylum requirements, leading to thousands of asylum seekers being charged with federal crimes and imprisoned—their children detained separately.
Here, Jayashri Srikantiah, a professor of law and director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Stanford University, and Lisa Weismann-Ward, clinical supervising attorney and lecturer in law at the university, discuss the evolving policies and President Trump’s new executive order.
Researchers have developed a computer device that measures just 0.3 mm to a side—dwarfed by a grain of rice.
IBM’s announcement that they had produced the world’s smallest computer back in March raised a few eyebrows at the University of Michigan, home of the previous champion of tiny computing.
“We are not sure if they should be called computers or not. It’s more of a matter of opinion whether they have the minimum functionality required…”
The reason for the curiosity is that IBM’s claim calls for a re-examination of what constitutes a computer. Previous systems, including the 2x2x4mm Michigan Micro Mote, retain their programming and data even when they are not externally powered.
Unplug a desktop computer, and its program and data are still there when it boots itself up once the power is back. These new microdevices, from IBM and now U. Michigan, lose all prior programming and data as soon as they lose power.
“We are not sure if they should be called computers or not. It’s more of a matter of opinion whether they have the minimum functionality required,” says David Blaauw, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at U. Michigan who led the development of the new system
In addition to the RAM and photovoltaics, the new computing devices have processors and wireless transmitters and receivers. Because they are too small to have conventional radio antennae, they receive and transmit data with visible light. A base station provides light for power and programming, and it receives the data.
One of the big challenges in making a computer about 1/10th the size of IBM’s was how to run at very low power when the system packaging had to be transparent. The light from the base station—and from the device’s own transmission LED—can induce currents in its tiny circuits.
“We basically had to invent new ways of approaching circuit design that would be equally low power but could also tolerate light,” Blaauw says.
For example, that meant exchanging diodes, which can act like tiny solar cells, for switched capacitors.
Another challenge was achieving high accuracy while running on low power, which makes many of the usual electrical signals (like charge, current, and voltage) noisier.
Designed as a precision temperature sensor, the new device converts temperatures into time intervals, defined with electronic pulses. The intervals are measured on-chip against a steady time interval sent by the base station and then converted into a temperature. As a result, the computer can report temperatures in minuscule regions—such as a cluster of cells—with an error of about 0.1 degrees Celsius.
The system is very flexible and could be reimagined for a variety of purposes, but the team chose precision temperature measurements because of a need in oncology. Their longstanding collaborator, Gary Luker, a professor of radiology and biomedical engineering, wants to answer questions about temperature in tumors.
Some studies suggest that tumors run hotter than normal tissue, but the data isn’t solid enough for confidence on the issue. Temperature may also help in evaluating cancer treatments.
“Since the temperature sensor is small and biocompatible, we can implant it into a mouse and cancer cells grow around it,” Luker says. “We are using this temperature sensor to investigate variations in temperature within a tumor versus normal tissue and if we can use changes in temperature to determine success or failure of therapy.”
Even as Luker’s experiments run, the researchers look forward to what purposes others will find for their latest microcomputing device.
“When we first made our millimeter system, we actually didn’t know exactly all the things it would be useful for. But once we published it, we started receiving dozens and dozens and dozens of inquiries,” Blaauw says.
And that device, the Michigan Micro Mote, may turn out to be the world’s smallest computer even still—depending on what the community decides are a computer’s minimum requirements.
What good is a tiny computer? Applications for the Michigan Micro Mote include:
Pressure sensing inside the eye for glaucoma diagnosis
Oil reservoir monitoring
Biochemical process monitoring
Surveillance: audio and visual
Tiny snail studies
The researchers presented their study on June 21 at the 2018 Symposia on VLSI Technology and Circuits.
The work was done in collaboration with Mie Fujitsu Semiconductor Ltd. Japan and Fujitsu Electronics America Inc.
Marine biologists studying the movements of adult female white sharks in the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Ocean have discovered, to their surprise, that they prefer warm-water eddies—the clockwise-spinning whirlpools in the ocean.
“We’ve decimated some open-ocean shark populations to a fraction of what they were 100 years ago. And yet we don’t know the basics of their biology,” says lead author Peter Gaube, a senior oceanographer at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory.
“If we know where those sharks, or turtles, or whales might be in the open ocean, then the fisheries can avoid them, and limit their bycatch.”
Great white sharks dive deep into warm-water whirlpools in the Atlantic - YouTube
Gaube investigates how ocean eddies, or whirlpools, influence the behavior of marine animals. A previous study found that loggerhead sea turtles also prefer the anticyclonic, or clockwise-spinning, eddies that trap large amounts of water at the ocean’s surface and are most often warm, clear, and low in nutrients.
The new study analyzed movements of two female great white sharks tagged in September 2012 off Cape Cod and in March 2013 off Jacksonville, Florida. OCEARCH, a nonprofit group that focuses on tagging and tracking sharks, did the tricky job of tagging the animals.
In March 2013, OCEARCH caught, tagged, and released a 14.5-foot shark that was given the name Lydia. It was one of two animals that provided position data for the study. Credit: R. Snow/OCEARCH)
One shark just had a position tag, while the other had a second tag that also recorded temperature and depth. The group tracked the sharks for nearly 6 years, with one still reporting its position regularly, as they swim north with the Gulf Stream and then out into the open ocean.
Early shark-tagging projects could only offer rough ideas of where sharks were swimming, Gaube says, but since precise satellite position networks became available to the public, and with improvements in computing and batteries, the tags can now collect detailed information as sharks travel throughout the marine environment.
Coauthor Chris Fischer uses a putty knife to protect the shark’s fin while attaching the tagging. Mary Lee, tagged off Cape Cod in September 2012, was one of two sharks analyzed in the study. (Credit: R. Snow/OCEARCH)
Researchers took the data from the two sharks and compared their position in the ocean with sea-surface height data from satellites showing where the huge, swirling warm- and cold-water eddies were located at that time.
Size of Massachusetts
“These eddies are everywhere, they cover 30 percent of the ocean’s surface,” Gaube says. “It’s like what you see if you’re walking along a river, and these eddies form behind rocks, but it happens on a different scale in the ocean: Instead of being a little thing that disappears after a few seconds, they can be the size of the state of Massachusetts, and can persist for months to years. You could be in the middle of an eddy in a ship and you’d probably never know it. The water may be a little warmer, and it could be a little clearer, but otherwise you wouldn’t know.”
The satellite tags, built by Wildlife Computers in Redmond, Washington, transmit the animal’s location as soon as it surfaces. (Credit: OCEARCH)
Analysis shows that the two sharks spent significantly more time in warm-water eddies than the cold-water eddies that spin the other way. Sharks lounged the longest at about 450 meters (about a quarter of a mile) deep inside the warm-water eddies, especially during the daytime, likely feeding on the abundant fish and squid at these depths. They were more likely to come to the surface at night.
This preference goes against common wisdom, because it’s the cold-water eddies that generally bring nutrient-rich water up from the depths of the ocean, and satellite images show that cold-water eddies are rich in marine plant life.
The new study, which appears in Nature Scientific Reports, is the first to show that sharks gravitate toward eddies, and that they prefer the warmer variety, researchers say.
“White sharks are effectively warm-blooded,” Gaube says. “They have to keep their body temperature elevated. We believe that these warm eddies allow white sharks to forage longer at depth, where most of the biomass in the open ocean is found. One reason that the sharks might prefer them is by diving in these warm eddies, they can spend more time in the deeper water.”
Further, recent studies suggest that the “twilight zone,” below the depths that satellites can see, contains many more fish than previously believed—and much more than at the surface. Those patterns might be different than the ones we can easily detect from space.
“Could these ‘ocean deserts’ actually be super productive at depth? That’s what we think might be happening,” Gaube says.
Some recent deep-sea net surveys have found larger, toothy fish like pomfret below the surface in anticyclonic eddies, which could provide a motivation for the sharks to dive there.
“These sharks are 2,800 pounds. It’s hard to imagine that they’re just eating krill and small fish all of the time they’re in the open ocean,” Gaube says. “If they can find pomfret and lots of squid in these eddies, then sharks can really get a meal out of that.”
Data sharks collected could help to protect this “twilight zone” as it’s just beginning to be targeted by major fisheries, Gaube says. And information about where great white sharks like to hang out could help conserve this vulnerable species.
“Maybe if we understand the biology of these animals, how they use these features, we could say, ‘OK, do not fish anticyclonic eddies during this time of year, because you’re more likely to catch white sharks,'” Gaube says.
“Instead of cordoning off a particular area, we could say there’s this feature, it moves every day, let’s make a ‘mobile marine protected area’ and not touch it because we know it’s a hot spot for great white sharks.”
Wildlife Computers in Redmond, Washington made the tags. Other coauthors are from the University of Washington, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries; and OCEARCH. The National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Ocean Life Institute funded the work.
Does your boss empower you to make your own decisions? Or are you stuck with a micro-manager?
New research from Gavin R. Slemp and Lara H. Mossman at the University of Melbourne identifies the best ways for bosses to foster motivation—and it’s not through overseeing every little thing.
Here, Slemp and Mossman offer practical tips resulting from their study in the journal Motivation and Emotion:
“Intrinsic motivation, in contrast, is driven by inner experiences, such as enjoyment, satisfaction, or growth.”
Have you ever had a conversation with your staff about why they turn up to work? If so, you’ve probably noticed that employees bring different motivations to work each day. Some are just going through the motions and are completely indifferent about their work.
Others might be motivated by a desire for material rewards or approval, or to avoid punishments or criticism. Some might use their job as a form of self-esteem maintenance: by working, they avoid guilt and feel secure and productive.
And yet others may turn up because they value their work activities, see work as part of “who they are,” or simply love their work and enjoy the experiences it brings them. This “intrinsic motivation” is the key to a productive, satisfied workforce, and our recently published meta-analysis of more than 30,000 employees worldwide has identified how leaders can foster it in the workplace.
Why do we work?
The varied forms of work motivation sit along a spectrum—from a complete lack of motivation, to highly extrinsic forms of motivation, to intrinsic motivation.
Highly extrinsic forms are contingent on external events, like rewards or approval. Intrinsic motivation, in contrast, is driven by inner experiences, such as enjoyment, satisfaction, or growth. It involves participating in an activity simply because it is interesting or enjoyable.
Intrinsic motivation is regarded as the highest quality form of work motivation because it tends to foster greater workplace wellbeing, proactivity, engagement, and performance. It is also more sustainable because when employees are intrinsically motivated, they are self-motivated.
So, how do leaders foster intrinsically motivated employees?
According to our study they can use particular practices to have a positive influence on employee work motivation, performance, and psychological functioning.
providing opportunities for employees to make their own choices and have inputs into decisions
encouraging self-initiated behaviors within structured guidance and boundaries
showing an interest in the perspective of employees, demonstrating empathic concern
encouraging ownership over goals, and interest and value in work tasks by clearly articulating a rationale about why those tasks are important
avoiding the use of controls that restrain autonomy, like overtly controlling behavior (e.g. micro-management), or tangible sanctions or rewards to prompt desired job behaviors.
Control vs. autonomy
These autonomy supportive behaviors contrast with an opposing style of leadership, which employees experience as controlling.
“A controlling leadership style is restraining and suffocating, whereas an autonomy supportive style is empowering…”
The evolution of cars might help clarify how these two leadership styles differ. Early cars had manual gearshifts. At every point the driver was in control of the gears, speed, and direction. A manual car is fully “controlled” by the driver. Yet as automotive technology has developed, cars have become more autonomous and it is the car—not the person in the driving seat—that is in control. The driver becomes a guide, making small corrections, but generally leaving the car in control.
Just like the driver of a manual car, leaders can be very controlling, governing every aspect of their employees’ working lives. Or they can be like the driver of an autonomous car and let their employees take control of their own work, guiding them only when necessary and appropriate—an autonomy supportive style.
A controlling leadership style is restraining and suffocating, whereas an autonomy supportive style is empowering, treating the employee like a self-directed agent who can think and act for themselves. Leaders may not entirely conform to one style over the other, but the more autonomy supportive a leader can be, the better the outcomes for their employees.
Our study drew on data from people who’ve experienced autonomy-supportive leadership to varying degrees and found it supports greater intrinsic motivation, workplace well-being, job satisfaction, committed and loyal employees, and higher work engagement. Employees are also less likely to suffer from burnout.
Interestingly, the study also showed that autonomy supportive approaches benefit employees irrespective of national culture—it is not just the way we like things to be in the West.
But perhaps the most important aspect of the study was that it showed how autonomy support leads to positive outcomes in employees. The study suggests it helps employees satisfy three basic psychological needs—for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
When employees work for an autonomy supportive leader they naturally feel more autonomous. Yet they also tend to behave in ways that support their competence and relatedness needs. For instance, they might seek out new challenges and learning opportunities, or take steps to develop relationships with peers. Decades of research document the positive effects of satisfying these three needs and autonomy support is an important contributor.
Given the demonstrated benefits stemming from employee autonomy, it may be worth joining the growing number of organizations proactively adopting strategies to nurture the autonomy of their employees. At Netflix, for example, leaders are encouraged to assume that employees work at their best when they don’t have to ask for approval at every turn. Instead, employees are trusted to think and act volitionally on behalf of the organization.
Scientists have thought for decades that one area of the brain simply disappears during human development. Now, genetic similarities between cells in the subplate and neurons linked to autism suggest a different scenario.
In a new paper, researchers demonstrate that subplate neurons survive, and in fact become part of the adult cerebral cortex, a brain area involved in complex cognitive functions.
Researchers outline a connection between subplate neurons and certain brain disorders, and further identifies a strategy for treating such disorders via innovative stem cell techniques.
In the developing brain, the subplate sits below the cortical plate, a precursor to the cortex. During some stages of development, it’s the largest layer of the brain—making its ultimate disappearance all the more confounding.
This movie, captured over 17 hours, shows subplate neurons migrating away from their original position—a clue that these cells don’t die, but rather relocate. (Credit: Rockefeller U.)
“When we think about cellular-replacement therapy, we need to think about how these cells are made in the first place. The understanding about the subplate was that it expands and then the cells of the subplate just die out,” says Ali H. Brivanlou, professor at Rockefeller University. “But we hypothesized: What if these subplate cells are not dying? What if they’re just moving to a different level of the cortex—becoming part of the cortex?”
Brivanlou and colleagues found ample support for this idea. In samples of brain tissue from various developmental stages, they detected PRDM8, a protein expressed in migrating neurons that helps cells move into the cortical plate. They also detected PRDM8 in subplate-like neurons that they generated from stem cells; and experiments showed that these laboratory-grown subplate neurons wandered away from their original location. All of these findings pointed not to cell death, but to cell movement, they say.
Far from a site of demise, the subplate seems to nurture the development of functional and diverse cells. Brivanlou observed that subplate neurons mature into various types of deep projection neurons—cells found in the deepest layers of the cortex.
In other experiments, the researchers modulated the levels of WNT signaling, a pathway known to guide many developmental processes and found that the level of WNT signaling determined the fate of subplate neurons: low levels yielded projection neurons that extend within the cortex, and high levels yielded neurons that project to other brain areas, according to the study.
The findings, which appear in Cell Stem Cell, have significant implications for understanding brain disorders, the researchers say.
Projection neuron abnormalities have been linked to several neurodevelopmental conditions, including autism; and the new research suggests that these abnormalities manifest very early in development.
“A lot of the genes associated with autism are first expressed in the subplate,” says postdoctoral associate Zeeshan Ozair. “And if subplate neurons don’t die but instead become part of the cortex, they will carry those mutations with them.”
In addition to shedding light on the early stages of brain disorders, the research presents new hope for preventing or treating such disorders through stem-cell therapy. For example, the scientists hope that their findings will one day make it possible to treat neurodegenerative disease using techniques to generate scarce neuronal subtypes from subplate-like stem cells.
“The deep layers of the cortex are involved in many diseases: Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s, and Huntington’s disease all kill off specific types of deep-projection neurons,” says Ozair. “When we think about cellular-replacement therapy, we need to think about how these cells are made in the first place.”
“This research shows us how to generate these neurons directly, because we know the signaling mechanism that is necessary for their fate to be unveiled,” Brivanlou says.
A new blood test improves the prediction of the long-term risk of heart attack in people with severe coronary artery disease.
In coronary artery disease, the arteries carrying oxygen-rich blood away from the heart become clogged with fatty plaque. The enzyme ACE2 has been associated with cardiovascular disease for a decade, but researchers have recently found that the higher the level of circulating ACE2, the greater the risk.
As reported in PLOS ONE, scientists followed 79 patients (men and women) with coronary artery disease over ten years, and found 46 percent of them experienced heart attacks, heart failure, or death in that time. But in those with the highest levels of ACE2, the risk was increased 2.5-fold compared to those with lower levels of ACE2.
“While our study was small, we saw the risk of heart attack, heart failure, or death was significantly increased in those with higher levels of ACE2,” says lead author and University of Melbourne professor Louise Burrell.
“Our study included only people with severe coronary artery disease diagnosed by a coronary angiogram.”
“We found that ACE2 was elevated in all patients with coronary artery disease compared to healthy subjects. Patients with coronary artery disease are already known to be at increased risk, and it was only when we followed the patients for three to four years that the adverse impact of having very high ACE2 levels on top of coronary artery disease were seen,” says Burrell.
“Seeing such a difference after a few years is very significant. If that was a result from a trial of a new drug, we’d be looking at a new treatment for coronary disease.
“The next step is to see if this result can be replicated with a bigger cohort.”
ACE2 in the bloodstream
Burrell was part of the team that first discovered a method to measure ACE2 in human blood. The enzyme plays a role in breaking down a peptide called angiotensin II, which causes inflammation and constriction in the blood vessels, contributing to the development of cardiovascular disease.
Heart disease and high blood pressure are associated with the angiotensin system being activated, but it is only in the last ten years that researchers have understood how the body attempts to balance this using ACE2.
Healthy people have undetectable to very low levels of ACE2 circulating in their bloodstream. But the enzyme’s levels start to go up with the onset of cardiovascular risk factors like hypertension and high lipids (fats and oils)—further increases have been seen in heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms.
“When people develop heart disease, we see balance between angiotensin and ACE2 go out of whack, and rather than remaining in the heart tissue and blood vessels where it’s needed, ACE2 sheds into the bloodstream. That’s when we can detect high levels,” explains Burrell.
Understanding the processes underpinning this is still an area of active research, but it is emerging as an increasingly promising avenue for researchers looking to understand who is at the greatest risk of dying from coronary artery disease.
Coronary artery disease is well understood and its prognosis is improving all the time. Management strategies include lifestyles changes like quitting smoking, a healthier diet and exercise, medications with proven cardio-protective benefits (like aspirin, statins, beta-blockers, and angiotensin enzyme inhibitors/angiotensin receptor blockers), and surgical interventions (like coronary artery bypass and stents).
But some people with coronary artery disease remain at higher risk of heart attack or death than others, and we need new approaches to identify these patients.
Burrell and her team have now recruited nearly 400 patients with coronary artery disease from Austin Health in Melbourne for the next step in the research, which will seek to confirm their findings in a larger cohort. They also plan to investigate the genetics underpinning ACE2.
“We shall look at both genetic material and blood in this next cohort to try to understand what outcomes having a particular ACE2 genotype will lead to,” says Burrell.
Ultimately, confirming their findings will mean the researchers can update clinical guidelines for doctors treating patients with coronary artery disease. And, ideally, they will be able to add high ACE2 levels to the range of risk factors and biomarkers already considered.
“Being able to add a blood test for ACE2 levels to the risk assessment for people with coronary artery disease can only serve to make sure the right people get the right treatments for this disease—which remains such a big killer.”
New research digs into how setbacks affect the pursuit of our goals, such as weight loss.
Setbacks are to be expected when pursuing a goal, whether you’re trying to lose weight or save money. The challenge is getting back on track and not giving up after a difficulty or crisis, says José Rosa, marketing professor in Iowa State University’s Ivy College of Business.
“We know it’s hard to get back on once people take the off ramp.”
Rosa is part of a research team working on practical ways to help people stick to health-related goals—specifically, prescribed regimens for medical ailments that require significant lifestyle changes. The work is personal for Rosa. His diabetic sister nearly died when her blood sugar hit dangerously high levels, and she struggles with poor vision and health, he says.
Staying committed to a long-term health goal is challenging, because it may feel as if there is no light at the end of the tunnel, Rosa says. If your goal is to lose 20 pounds, there is a defined timeframe and a point to celebrate achieving your goal. However, if you are diabetic and need to cut certain foods from your diet or change your daily routine to exercise more, the goal has a different feel, Rosa says.
“These are some of the most difficult goals we face, because the effort has to become a way of life. If you’re a diabetic, you have to be thinking about your diet every time you eat,” Rosa says. “In many ways, it is sacrificial. You must endure this cost and the reward is health.”
Unfortunately, the reward is not immediate and often difficult to realize with certain ailments, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. As we age, other health issues can complicate the outcome of the initial goal and appear as if our efforts aren’t paying off. This makes it harder to stick to the goal, Rosa says, even though we know giving up can have serious consequences.
In the new study, researchers conducted five experiments to understand how crisis influences motivation and commitment to the goal. The researchers found that a setback or difficulty often prompts people to reassess the cost-benefits of their goal and consider quitting.
The experiments simulated a series of situations in which some participants faced an action crisis. They then answered several questions to determine how they would react. Rosa says an action crisis may be related or unrelated to the goal, but it is a point during goal pursuit when circumstances change, causing us to question whether the goal really matters.
Once that questioning begins, we shift our mindset from implementation to evaluation. We renegotiate the importance of the outcomes and may determine it is no longer worth it, Rosa says.
The researchers refer to that decision to quit as “taking the off ramp,” which can snowball into other problems.
“We know it’s hard to get back on once people take the off ramp. This causes some people to feel like failures and stop trying all together. In some situations, the off ramp leads to behaviors that cause another crisis or a significant decline,” he says.
For example, Rosa says a man with high blood pressure stops taking his medication and suffers a heart attack, or a diabetic woman has an insulin reaction causing her to black out and crash her car.
Researchers are now using data from the experiments to develop and test interventions for patients on prescribed health regimens. Rosa says the goal is to provide specific instructions for patients to follow and help shift their mindset from renegotiation or evaluation back to implementation.
The potential benefit of such an intervention extends beyond the individual patient, Rosa says. From a marketing perspective, it is an issue of consumption and making health care more effective for patients. Rosa says the right intervention will help patients stay on track, lessening the risk for additional health issues and lowering health care costs.
The results are published online in the journal Psychology & Marketing.
Researchers from Penn State and the University of Wyoming also contributed to the work.
Using the physics equivalent of strobe photography, researchers have used ultrafast spectroscopy to visualize electrons interacting as a hidden state of matter in a superconductive alloy.
It takes intense, single-cycle pulses of photons—flashes—hitting the cooled alloy at terahertz speed—trillions of cycles per second—to switch on this hidden state of matter by modifying quantum interactions down at the atomic and subatomic levels.
“We are creating and controlling a new quantum matter that can’t be achieved by any other means.”
And then it takes a second terahertz light to trigger an ultrafast camera to take images of the state of matter that, when fully understood and tuned, could one day have implications for faster and heat-free quantum computing, information storage, and communication.
The discovery of this new switching scheme and hidden quantum phase was full of conceptual and technical challenges.
To find new, emergent electron states of matter beyond solids, liquids, and gases, today’s condensed matter physicists can no longer fully rely on traditional, slow, thermodynamic tuning methods such as changing temperatures, pressures, chemical compositions, or magnetic fields, says Jigang Wang, professor of physics and astronomy at Iowa State University and a faculty scientist at the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory.
“The grand, open question of what state is hidden underneath superconductivity is universal, but poorly understood,” Wang says. “Some hidden states appear to be inaccessible with any thermodynamic tuning methods.”
The new quantum switching scheme developed by the researchers (they call it terahertz light-quantum-tuning) uses short pulses of trillionths of a second at terahertz frequency to selectively bombard, without heating, superconducting niobium-tin, which at ultracold temperatures can conduct electricity without resistance. The flashes suddenly switch the model compound to a hidden state of matter.
In most cases, exotic states of matter such as the one described in this research paper are unstable and short-lived. In this case, the state of matter is metastable, meaning it doesn’t decay to a stable state for an order of magnitude longer than other, more typical transient states of matter.
The fast speed of the switch to a hidden quantum state likely has something to do with that.
“Here, the quantum quench (change) is so fast, the system is trapped in a strange ‘plateau’ and doesn’t know how to go back,” says Wang, corresponding author of the paper in Nature Materials. “With this fast-quench, yet non-thermal system, there’s no normal place to go.”
A remaining challenge for the researchers is to figure out how to control and further stabilize the hidden state and determine if it is suitable for quantum logic operations, Wang says. That could allow researchers to harness the hidden state for practical functions such as quantum computing and for fundamental tests of bizarre quantum mechanics.
It all starts with the researchers’ discovery of a new quantum switching scheme that gives them access to new and hidden states of matter.
“We are creating and controlling a new quantum matter that can’t be achieved by any other means,” says Wang.
New evidence suggests batteries based on sodium and potassium hold promise as a potential alternative to lithium-based batteries.
The growth in battery technology has led to concerns that the world’s supply of lithium, the metal at the heart of many of the new rechargeable batteries, may eventually be depleted.
“One of the biggest obstacles for sodium- and potassium-ion batteries has been that they tend to decay and degrade faster and hold less energy than alternatives,” says Matthew McDowell, an assistant professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech.
“But we’ve found that’s not always the case,” he adds.
For the study, which appears in the journal Joule, the research team looked at how three different ions—lithium, sodium, and potassium—reacted with particles of iron sulfide, also called pyrite and fool’s gold.
As batteries charge and discharge, ions are constantly reacting with and penetrating the particles that make up the battery electrode. This reaction process causes large volume changes in the electrode’s particles, often breaking them up into small pieces. Because sodium and potassium ions are larger than lithium, it’s traditionally been thought that they cause more significant degradation when reacting with particles.
In their experiments, the reactions that occur inside a battery were directly observed inside an electron microscope, with the iron sulfide particles playing the role of a battery electrode. The researchers found that iron sulfide was more stable during reaction with sodium and potassium than with lithium, indicating that such a battery based on sodium or potassium could have a much longer life than expected.
The difference between how the different ions reacted was stark visually. When exposed to lithium, iron sulfide particles appeared to almost explode under the electron microscope. On the contrary, the iron sulfide expanded like a balloon when exposed to the sodium and potassium.
“We saw a very robust reaction with no fracture—something that suggests that this material and other materials like it could be used in these novel batteries with greater stability over time,” says graduate student Matthew Boebinger.
The study also casts doubt on the notion that large volume changes that occur during the electrochemical reaction are always a precursor to particle fracture, which causes electrode failure leading to battery degradation.
The researchers suggest that one possible reason for the difference in how the different ions reacted with the iron sulfide is that the lithium was more likely to concentrate its reaction along the particle’s sharp cube-like edges, whereas the reaction with sodium and potassium was more diffuse along all of the surface of the iron sulfide particle.
As a result, the iron sulfide particle when reacting with sodium and potassium developed a more oval shape with rounded edges.
While there’s still more work to be done, the new research findings could help scientists design battery systems that use these types of novel materials.
“Lithium batteries are still the most attractive right now because they have the most energy density—you can pack a lot of energy in that space,” McDowell says.
“Sodium and potassium batteries at this point don’t have more density, but they are based on elements a thousand times more abundant in the earth’s crust than lithium. So they could be much cheaper in the future, which is important for large scale energy storage—backup power for homes or the energy grid of the future.”
The National Science Foundation and the US Department of Energy funded the research. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsors.