Language is such a complex system, which isn’t fully understood. It is said to be universal and unique to all humans. Scientists of all backgrounds have studied to find how we process, interpret, and produce language. The answer is almost never clear, but our understanding of the brain and its systems has developed in recent years.

How did language evolve?

There are many theories about how language evolved: The Vocal Theory suggests it was a natural evolution from primates’ instinctual sounds, which happened due to change in the size of the brain, and structure of the larynx and mouth. The Gestural Theory proposes that, as humans evolved to walk on their feet – freeing up their hands for gesturing – they evolved to speak, so as to free their hands for using tools and doing other tasks. Whatever the case may be, the intricate systems of the brain which allow for all this to happen have fascinated linguists for centuries.

Is language localized to one side of the brain?

The Wada Test (named after Japanese neurologist Juhn Atsushi Wada) helps determine this. Barbiturate (a common anesthetic) is injected into the neck or head on one side to put half of the brain to sleep. Scientists can then test what people can/can’t do while that part of the brain isn’t functioning. For the majority of people, language is processed by their dominant hemisphere. So, for right-handed people, this is the left hemisphere.

However, it’s not that simple (it never is): people can’t be characterized in a binary fashion, as language ability isn’t exclusively controlled by one side of the brain or the other. This system would exclude people whose language functions are generally bilateral: they use both sides of the brain substantially.

A study by Byron Bernal and Alfredo Ardila, where they performed 1,799 Wada tests (mostly on epilepsy patients prior to surgery), found that 10% of right-handers and 27% of left-handers (and ambidextrous) showed evidence that both hemispheres supported their language function. In some patients, shutting down one part of the brain didn’t impair their language at all. Although, shutting down the other part created some interference. In others, shutting down either hemisphere only partially impaired their language. Finally, some were completely unable to produce/understand language when one side was shut down, and when the other one was, it had a partial adverse effect.

This pattern occurred because there are various ways in which the brain can share language functions. In some people, all functions are shared between the right and left brain. In others, only some sub-functions are. Also, some steps towards language processing are shared sequentially between the hemispheres: one step is performed on one side, and the next one on the other side.

While it is important to be cautious when performing studies on patients and then applying the results to healthy people (as it’s possible the epileptic patients’ brains changed to adapt to disease), this study showed how complex the brain’s systems are. Additionally, it showed that only saying ‘most people use their left hemisphere for language functions’ is an oversimplification. Bernal and Ardila write, “It is a frequent understanding that language lateralization is a matter of all or nothing. However, language dominance is mostly a matter of hemispheric advantage for a specific multi-modular cognitive function: language. As such, language in a strict sense is up to a certain point a bilateral brain function.”

How does the brain process, interpret, and produce language?

The fundamentals of interpreting language begin before you are even born. Studies have shown that fetuses can differentiate between female and male voices.

Processing language starts at the auditory cortex, which we use to hear. Many brain regions used to hear sounds are also used to interpret speech. Recent neuroimaging studies have led researchers to propose that language information gets split into a ‘dual stream model’. Information is sent along the dorsal pathway (the ‘speech’ part of the system) to brain regions in both hemispheres. This helps us translate speech input and allows us to reproduce the same speech patterns. The ventral stream (the ‘what’ pathway) passes information along the dominant hemisphere. This allows us to identify the content of speech and understand what it means. 

There are two speech centers in the brain: 

  1. Broca’s area (discovered by Paul Broca, a French physician), in the left frontal cortex: it controls language production.  
  2. Wernicke’s area (discovered by Carl Wernicke, a German neurologist), in the posterior temporal lobe: it analyzes the words heard, and places them in the correct order before you speak. 

To summarize, here is the process from start to finish: when we hear language, the message travels through the ear. The electrical impulse from the vibration enters the primary auditory cortex, which discerns that the sounds came from a human voice. The information then travels to Wernicke’s area to be interpreted, and after to Broca’s area to formulate a response. That message is then transmitted to the primary motor cortex, which signalizes to your larynx and mouth to vocalize the response.  

A screenshot of a cell phone

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Image: Shows functional areas of the human brain. Dashed areas shown are typically left hemisphere dominant.

What are the effects of brain injury on language?

When Broca’s area is injured, patients know what they want to say, but can’t find the words to express it. This is called expressive aphasia. 

When Wernicke’s area is damaged, the patient has trouble understanding language. They have no problems producing it, but they use grammatical sentences that don’t make any sense. This is called fluent aphasia. 

Some final thoughts

This is an oversimplification of the brain’s many complexities (if it wasn’t, this would have been much longer and way more confusing), and there is still so much yet to be discovered about the human brain. But, hopefully you learnt a bit about how you are able to understand and communicate with those around you. Also, congratulations! It seems you’re keeping up with educational reading, even during this strange summer quarantine: well done!

 Credits: The Neuroscience of Language: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ev_oKHWT_qk, How Humans Process Language: https://animals.howstuffworks.com/mammals/chimps-learn-language1.htm, Language Localization: https://digest.bps.org.uk/2013/11/19/where-is-language-located-in-the-brain-there-are-two-sides-to-this-story/, Bilateral Representation of Language (Bernal and Ardila, 2013): https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0911604413000602?via%3Dihub, Image Source: http://www.sci-news.com/othersciences/linguistics/language-ancient-general-purpose-brain-circuits-05677.html

This article was written by Sofia Pereira a new contributor and soon to be writer

Most of us have now been in quarantine for a few weeks and are starting to lose a bearing on time. Some of us have seized the opportunity and are doing various detoxes. Whilst some of us are drinking regularly to take the edge of the crisis and because frankly, we don’t have much else to do.

In fact, drinking has become such a popular past time that #quarantini has become a trending hashtag. Wine and alcohol companies such as winc have seen up to a 600% increase in new member sign-ups and deliveries. 

 We at Quarksnews wanted to know more and better advise ourselves and our readers about healthy drinking habits

What are the benefits of drinking?

Aside from taking the edge of a little, alcohol does have noted beneficial outcomes when it’s consumed. Some studies indicate that alcohol can reduce the risk of developing heart disease and cognitive disorders that are affiliated with age. Alcohol can also reduce the risk of diabetes. Nevertheless, a lot of alcoholic beverages contain large quantities of sugar and therefore the risk of diabetes could increase, depending on what is drunk. And although alcohol is classed as a depressant light and moderate use can lead to lower rates of depression.

Furthermore, certain alcoholic beverages can have their own beneficial effects. Such as:

 

 Guinness

  • High in antioxidants.
  • High in Iron.
  • High in phytoestrogen which improves bone strength. 
  • Due to its health benefits, it is often added to Irish dishes where the alcohol is boiled off and the healthy parts remain.

Red wine

  • Contains antioxidants. (Although red wine can in no way substitute for antioxidants you would otherwise consume).
  • Can reduce cancer.
  • Reduces insulin resistance.

Alcohol Dehydrogenase

There is one effect of regular drinking which many can see as a benefit or a consequence. This effect is the build-up of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase. This enzyme is responsible for the process that breaks down ethanol into non-toxic products. This process works by converting ethanol into acetaldehyde, then to acetic acid and finally, it converts the acetic acid into carbon dioxide and water. This is the process which allows you to regain sobriety or to not get drunk. The more you consume alcohol the more alcohol dehydrogenase will be produced and the harder it will be for you to get drunk. If you drink less the opposite will happen.

An image of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase

This is a benefit and a consequence depending if you want to have a higher tolerance and be able to drink more or have a lower tolerance and be able to get drunk cheaper. However, it is important to note that alcohol dehydrogenase is not the only factor that affects your tolerance and many other factors such as body mass and gender have a significant part to play as well.

 What are the dangers of drinking?

Needless to say, there are countless risks to drinking. The buzzed feel and loss of inhibition, which is chased by alcohol consumers, is dangerous by itself. These effects can cause serious damage due to falls, motor vehicle accidents and the increased number of fights. Drunkenness can even cause suicide as suicidal thoughts can be acted out without the brain stopping them. As alcohol is a drug withdrawal from it can cause withdrawal symptoms along with depression. However, these dangers mainly come along with heavy and binge drinking which is not the purpose of the article.

“When consumed in excess, alcohol can cause damage to immune cells in the lungs, upper respiratory system, and the gut. This, in turn, poses a higher risk for the chance of developing diseases like pneumonia or tuberculosis, making you more susceptible to COVID-19,”

Dr Niket Sonpal; Internist and Gastroenterologist.

Moderate drinking can play a role in the following issues:

  • Certain types of cancer.
  • Strokes.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Heart muscle damage.
  • Liver disease.
  • Brain damage to unborn children.
  • A disrupted sleep pattern.

Aside from these long term issues there clearly remains the issue of the high-calorie intake whilst drinking. Alcohol is often mixed with a sweet drink to offset the bitter dry taste. This means that although it may be easier to consume three rum and cokes than three cokes. You will still be having all the sugar, caffeine and additives from whatever the alcohol was mixed with.

What should we be doing?

As any health professional will tell you if you are going to drink, drink in moderation. To drink moderately, according to the CDC, is to drink up to one unit a day for women and two units a day for men.

 It is important to note that a unit is roughly equal to a 33cl beer so drinking a pint is more than the maximum daily intake CDC recommends for a woman. 

If you do want to drink in moderation, then:

  • Try and not to drink every day to avoid dependency. Up to three times a week is fine.
  • Try to drink healthier drinks. Stick to red wine or Guinness and avoid sugary drinks.
  • Be prepared for a potential change in your tolerance.
  • And although this is less of a concern during quarantine. Avoid being at risk to yourself or others and do not operate heavy machinery.

We hope you found this article interesting. If you have any further questions or remarks please leave a comment. If you want to write your own article and publish it here; you can become a writer by filling out the form in the about us page!

Deploying of The CubeSats

NASA has begun a new mission to create a weather forecast for space. The SunRISE experiment ( Sun Radio Interferometer Space Experiment) is an experiment designed to track and better understand giant space weather storms caused by solar flares from our suns corona. In a statement released by NASA, the project will release six CubeSat satellites that are “about the size of a toaster oven” into a super-geosynchronous orbit around our earth.

The launch will happen no earlier than the 1st of July, 2023 and will cost NASA a whopping 62.6 million US dollars. However, NASA is using an ingenious money and fuel-saving method to bring the satellites up into their orbit called NASA Missions of opportunity. Where the six toaster sized satellites will join another launch in the process known as a hosted rideshare. The launch they are scheduled to join is on a commercial satellite provided by Maxar of Westminster.

“We are so pleased to add a new mission to our fleet of spacecraft that help us better understand the Sun, as well as how our star influences the space environment between planets, the more we know about how the Sun erupts with space weather events, the more we can mitigate their effects on spacecraft and astronauts.” 

Nicky Fox, director of NASA’s Heliophysics division

How does the array work?

The SunRISE array will capture radio images of low-frequency emissions from the suns corona and will send the data back to Earth via NASA’s Deep Space Network. These images will aid NASA to form a three-dimensional map of particle emissions and the pattern of magnetic field lines reaching from the Sun. This will help determine what initiates and accelerates these giant jets of radiation and how they evolve as they expand outward into space. By tracing the radiation back to its origin, NASA hopes to develop a better understanding of these giant particle jets, and what accelerates them to such high velocities.

“Knowing which part of a coronal mass ejection is responsible for producing the particle radiation will help us understand how the acceleration happens.

Justin Kasper. Professor of Climate and Space Sciences at the University of Michigan

Although NASA can already detect solar flares, the earth’s ionosphere blocks out radiation which is vital to take these readings. At the moment with earth-based detectors, NASA doesn’t know if the solar flares they detect will be of a high enough energy to impact earth or space equipment and space travel. Therefore the SunRISE array will orbit about 35’000 kilometres above the earth’s ionosphere. In order to aid the quality of the data recorded each CubeSat would fly within 6 miles of one another and combine their data, acting as one larger device. This process called interferometry and is the same process which allowed the first-ever image of a black hole to be recorded with the event horizon telescope.

How will the array benefit us?

After the Mars curiosity rover completed its journey to the red planet, scientists were greeted with unwelcome news. The rover carried a particle detector on its journey and detected high levels of radiation, dangerous to any life making the same journey. This increased radiation from the solar flares can alter and permanently damage DNA. It can cause cancer, damage motor functions and behaviours, cause neurological disorders and could even result in death.

Luckily here on earth, we are protected by our ionosphere; a densely packed layer of ions and electrons which can deflect unwanted radiation from entering our planet. Although we are protected from the direct health issues from these flares on earth, our technology is not. Large flares can result in the shutdown of power grids and circuits. This can have widespread issues if certain circuitry is fried, such as rocket launches, missiles etc. Which could potentially result in large scale death and loss of assets.

By creating a ‘weather forecast’ for these particle bursts NASA can give warning allowing for dangerous and non-essential circuitry to be turned off as well as create safer precautions and flight plans for astronauts in orbit or even for the first colonizers going to Mars.

“It could also result in a unique warning system for whether an event will both produce radiation and release that radiation towards Earth or spacefaring astronauts.”

Justin Kasper, Professor of Climate and Space Sciences at the University of Michigan.

In addition to these health and safety benefits, the array will help us get a better understanding of our star as well as local gas giants.

The James Webb telescope is a new, massive, state of the art telescope which will be launched on 30th of March, 2021.

It has a 6.5 m wide, individually adjustable 18 segment primary mirror with an area six times larger than the Hubble’s primary mirror and one better than the Hubble. It will be deployed using an origami-like unfolding system where the small dense object will become a massive space telescope. Its sun shield and other thermoregulatory homeostatic devices give it an increase in temperature and pressure allowing it to operate only a few degrees above absolute zero.

You might ask yourself how this telescope is going to help the world. Well, it has amazing possible implications for space exploration, such as it can detect water vapor on distant planets which can give an indication of where. It has uncomparable inferred sensitivity allowing it to be observed heat traces of galaxies for the last 13.5 billion of years.

Researcher Dr. Glen Bremmar at the University of British Colombia has developed a dynamic glazed, or more commonly known as “smart glass”. This smart glass is sensitive to thermochromism (heat), photochromism (light), and electrochemical oxidisation (electricity) and can change colour when stimulated by these energies. The material change when will go through a chemical change once stimulated making a screen that can be affected autonomously controlling the heat and light intensity of a room, as well as be controlled by electricity for custom modification. This could be applied to buildings and offices helping to maintain heat levels and light intensity without air conditioning and blinds. This could have large economic and environmental advantages as it will greatly reduce energy used for ‘building homeostasis’ with an entirely sustainable option. At the moment Dr. Glen Bremmar is working on making the glass monochrome, turning it grey rather than blue, as it is a more neutral colour which does not disturb the environment. He is also working on making the price of the material cheaper, as at the moment the dynamic glazed glass is 500 to 1000 USD per square meter whilst regular glass ranges from 30 to 200 USD per square meter. Making the dynamic glazed glass the pricier option yet the more energy efficient one.

Credits:

  • ubcpublicaffairs
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XzDSsTxXYI
  • Science daily https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180308143049.htm
  • UBC http://www.ampel.ubc.ca/controlling-light-transmission-recent-developments-in-smart-windows-at-switch-materials-inc-dr-glen-bremner/

The total solar eclipse that occurred on the 21 August 2017 was the first in 99 years in the US and Across the Atlantic. And there have only been eight total solar eclipses in the last 500 years that have been visible from the UK. The next not being expected until the 23rd of September 2090. 

The Moon travels between the Earth and the Sun on a monthly basis, but due to its orbit being tilted to around 5 degrees, compared to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, yet the Moon is usually too high or too low in the sky to get in the way of the Sun’s light. But about once every 18 months, it lines up directly between the Earth and the Sun allowing the Moon to cast its shadow on Earth, causing a total eclipse. Yet this can fall anywhere on earth and as only 26 percent of the earth’s surface is inhabited not many eclipses are seen.

Actually, we can only see eclipses at all because of a term called ‘cosmic coincidence’. Meaning that eclipses don’t happen on all planets yet due to utter luck and complete chance, us on earth can observe this phenomenon first hand. This cosmic coincidence is due to the Sun being approximately 400 times bigger than the Moon, yet also being to be about 400 times further away from us. This makes them appear around the same size when viewed from Earth, so the Moon is able to block out the entire Sun for short periods of time. This exact matchup does vary slightly due to the Moon’s distance from us constantly varying due to its not circular orbit. Allowing for the variation in types of solar eclipse.

Credits: https://www.quora.com/How-much-land-on-Earth-in-terms-of-percentage-is-populated-by-humans

http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z29gcd

In the past Researchers have used a lower-intensity beam on small particles, which stripped away some electrons from the molecules iodine atoms but in a recent experiment a team used a high-intensity beam instead and the results came as a big shock. A single laser pulse stripped all but a few electrons in the molecule’s biggest atom from the inside out. Which created a void that pulled in electrons from the rest of the molecule very much like black hole in space that sucks in neighboring stars, but this was on a small scale.

The microscopic black hole didn’t live for long, though. Within 30 femtoseconds (which is 30 millionths of a billionth of a second) the molecule lost more than 50 electrons, and then exploded. With laser temperatures in the thousands of degrees, the molecule never was going to last much time.

U.S. and international scientists have both used powerful X-ray laser beams to attempt to image individual biological objects at high resolution. They’re also conducting experiments to see how matter behaves under extreme conditions and to increase their understanding of the charge dynamics of complex molecules.

This new technology can turn sunlight into a liquid which later can be released into heat energy.

Many consider the sun the energy source of the future. But one challenge is that it is difficult to store solar energy and deliver the energy without using large expensive batteries 

A research team from Chalmers University of Technology in  Sweden, has shown that it is possible to convert the solar energy directly into energy stored in the bonds of a chemical fluid. The liquid chemical makes it possible to store and transport the stored solar energy and release it on demand. The process is based on the natural compound norbornadiene that upon exposure to light converts into quadricyclane.

‘The technique means that that we can store the solar energy in chemical bonds and release the energy as heat whenever we need it.’ says Professor Kasper Moth-Poulsen. ‘Combining the chemical energy storage with water heating solar panels enables a conversion of more than 80 percent of the incoming sunlight.’

The research project was initiated at Chalmers over 6 years ago and the research team contributed in to a first conceptual demonstration. At the time, the solar energy conversion efficiency was 0.01 percent and the expensive element ruthenium played a major role in the compound. Now, four years later, the system stores 1.1 percent of the incoming sunlight as chemical energy. An improvement of a factor of 100. Also, ruthenium has been replaced by much cheaper carbon-based elements.