Research stories

Virtual Reality & mental wellness, supercomputer wars and other top research news of the week

Impact Insider -Weekly Round Up of Trending Research

Volume 1 | Issue 1

Fake News Can Cause False Memories

False memories, a term for cases where people recollect incidents with incorrect or exaggerated detail, or in the worst-case scenarios, “remember” incidents that didn’t happen at all, are well-studied psychological occurrences. Scientists have now discovered that false memories manifest in voters exposed to ‘fake news’, a phenomenon involving the circulation of fabricated news stories, often in order to sway the public in favor of, or against, a candidate or party. These effects were especially noted among those with political beliefs aligning with the stories, and those with low cognitive ability. This is especially concerning, considering the widespread use of such tactics in the current political scenario.

A Battle of the World’s Smartest Computers

Scientists at Google recently broke the internet when, in a study published in Nature, they announced to the world that they had done the impossible. They had managed to create a “quantum” computer that could solve a highly complex problem in merely 200 seconds. They claimed that even “supercomputers”—the world’s smartest computers (until now)—would take 10,000 years to solve the same problem. While the entire scientific community was congratulating Google for this feat, one organization was busy trying to prove them wrong. Not surprisingly, it was IBM, the company that owned the supercomputers that Google had so smugly claimed to defeat. A virtual battle ensued, when IBM published their own article soon after, declaring that their supercomputers could have solved the same problem in just 2.5 days, just using a slightly different technique. Funnily enough, even with their superpower-esque abilities, in the real world, both computers are practically useless at this stage. Only time will tell if the world’s smartest computers can ever be a real help to humanity.

Virtual Reality the Future of Mental Wellness?

In two recent unrelated research activities, virtual reality (VR) has been applied to improving mental wellness. In a study at Drexel University, USA, participants were immersed in virtual worlds where they could make art for 20 to 25 minutes. On the other side of the world, on a farm in Moscow, Russia, a herd of cows were shown summer fields in VR with the aim of exploring whether they then produced better quality milk. In the former case, some of the participants reported feeling energized after being in the imaginal space of possibilities. The effect on cows remains to be seen. Nonetheless, given the perks and downsides of VR experiences, it is worth asking if this is a direction we’d like to move the world in.

Half a brain can do a full-time job

A study from Caltech has revealed stronger-than-normal connections in the brain of six adults who had part of their brain removed (hemispherectomy) in their childhood to treat severe epilepsy. Over the years, the remaining hemisphere can bounce back to regain the necessary language & thinking skills through enhanced brain activity to handle a full repertoire of jobs involving vision, attention and motor skills. Since it is evidential now that the brain compensates for missing parts by reorganizing itself after a big change, new treatment tactics can be inculcated to speed up a person’s revival from common brain injuries.

Nature’s own, most intricate “universal joint” demonstrated

“It’s true what they say—the biggest engineering marvels find their inspiration in Nature (pun intended!). In a groundbreaking study published in Nature Communications, scientists from Japan have successfully visualized the ultrastructure of the “hook” section of the bacterial flagellum (the long tubular filament that allows bacteria to propel). But why is this study important? One, prior studies have successfully imaged most of the flagellum, but this tiny, supercoiled hook section has been difficult to view using existing techniques. Two, the new findings can help in the design of new-age antibiotics that target this structure in bacteria or even to make futuristic nanomachines inspired by this intricate propeller system. In engineering terms, such a device that connects propeller rods with multidirectional axes is called a “universal joint”. With this study, we could well be seeing the smallest universal joint known to humankind!”

Anupama Prakash, Avantika Deo, Rachana Bhattacharjee, Indrani Das, Sharang Kolwalkar

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