Dig through the JUnQ

Here you find all contributions made by external authors to JUnQ. This includes peer-reviewed articles and editorial board reviewed open questions.

Oct 032016
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The story of music and human cognition is intricate and intertwined from the beginning. Since close to fifty millennia, music has remained an integral part of being human.[1]

Music has always aroused feelings of rapture and desire, even though it is intangible. And now science has unlocked the mechanism. As the reward center in the brain gets primed with the anticipation of listening to familiar music, there is a flood of dopamine, the “happiness” neurotransmitter.[2] Things can get discordant too. If one listens to unpleasant music, there is a reduced production of serotonin, our mood-regulator.[3]

Music for peace of mind.

Music for peace of mind.

It is quite natural to ask, if the audience is experiencing euphoria, what is the artist feeling ? Well, scientists have looked into that aspect as well.

The brains of musicians light up like a celebration of fireworks when they play.[4] The left and right hemispheres enter in a harmonious exercise when an artist performs on their musical instrument.

But can music improve how we interact with life ? And the answer is a resounding “YES”.

Learning an instrument with structured and disciplined practice, has an array of benefits.[5] It can enable us to find more creative solutions to problems in social as well as academic settings. Playing music makes for a greater neural plasticity in the brain which can better help with retrieving and indexing information – in short, a better functioning memory.

Even though we know what neurotransmitters are responsible and the neural pathways they seem to take in the brain when we hear music, still there is so much more that we do not know. For instance, the auditory cortex is still quite unknown to us in its organization and functions. Only recently, there was a discovery of two separate populations of neurons, sensitive to how we process music and human speech, different from ambient sound in the environment.[6] Though, it is still a question of speculation – are we born with it or is it developed through experience.

Four hundred years have passed since William Congreve remarked, “Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast”. Music, has indeed, displayed the ability to heal. It has shown promise to improve the lives of those affected with schizophrenia.[7] As music also helps in better connecting our episodic memory, it can have a positive influence in individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s or PTSD.

So let’s tune in to some nectar for the brain and turn those frowns upside down.

– Soham Roy

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music#History
[2] Salimpoor, VN et al. Nature Neuroscience, 14, 257–262 (2011).
[3] Evers, S et al. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci., 250, 144–7 (2000).
[4] http://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-playing-an-instrument-benefits-your-brain-anita-collins
[5] Miendlarzewska, EA et al. Front Neurosci., 7, 1–18 (2013).
[6] Norman-Haignere, S et al. Neuron, 88, 1281–1296 (2015).
[7] Talwar, N et al. BJP, 189, 405–409 (2006).

Aug 162016
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You certainly know the game little kids play where they have a cube, a sphere and a pyramid, and they have to put them through holes of the corresponding shape. In the beginning, this might be difficult, but it becomes quite easy and dull after some time. Now, it is simple for most people, but how difficult is the same task for blind people? i.e., Can people who have been blind for their entire life and are familiar with different shapes by their tactile sense, recognize the same shapes when they gain the ability to “see”?

This question, referred to as the Molyneux Problem, was first asked by William Molyneux, an Irish philosopher and politician, in 1688.[1] Of course, answers that could verify this question were not easy to find in the 17th century due to the impossibility of highly complex surgeries at that time. Nevertheless, a lot of discussions arose about the co-operation between our senses. For instance: Is the eye able to understand the geometry of objects or is the visual recognition just possible by a learned collaboration with the tactile sense?[2] Or the other way around: How do blind people understand shape; how do they “look” for them?

Just recently, in 2011, five children, who were born blind, became able to see after surgery at the ages between 8 and 17. They were familiar with several shapes by examining them with their hands. Interestingly, they were not able to relate this tactile information with the visual input from these objects, but they learned to connect both senses quite fast.[3] However, discussions are still not at an end, to unequivocally explain the outcomes.

The Molyneux Problem once again shows that even simple questions can result in long-lasting discussions and unexpected outcomes. Never stop asking questions and dig through the JUnQ to find the hidden treasures!

— Andreas Neidlinger

[1] W. Molyneux: Letter to John Locke, 7 July 1688, in: The Correspondence of John Locke (9 vols.), E.S. de Beer (ed.), Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978, vol. 3, no. 1064.
[2] S. Pasewalk: „Die fuenffingrige Hand“: Die Bedeutung der sinnlichen Wahrnehmung beim spaeten Rilke, De Gruyter; Auflage: 1., 2002, pp. 106.
[3] R. Held, Y. Ostrovsky, B. de Gelder, T. Gandhi, S. Ganesh, U. Mathur, P. Sinha, Nat. Neurosci. 2011, 14, 551–553.

Aug 072016
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Lying on the grass and looking into a sparkling star-filled summer sky. Can there possibly be anything more beautiful? But it also makes me think about how small we really are and are we truly alone in the universe. This question has bothered humans since the beginning of our existence.

In the observable universe, there are at least 100 billion galaxies containing 100-1000 billion stars each. Not to mention the gigantic number of existing planets surrounding those stars including trillions of habitable ones. Consequently, there must be plenty of opportunities for alien life to develop.

But is the contact with extraterrestrial life really that likely? It has to be mentioned, that a huge number of existing galaxies are completely out of reach because of the expansion of the universe. Only the ones being part of our local group come into consideration for a theoretical alien contact. Anyways, if life had developed only on 1% of all planets in habitable zones in the Milky Way, there would be millions of planets inhabited by aliens. Since life on earth emerged rather late compared to the age of the Milky Way, potential super-intelligent and technologically advanced aliens would have had much time to build powerful space ships and to make a trip to our blue planet. In fact, if those guys would have been able to build generation space ships, they could colonize the Milky Way in a few million years. And that is not a long time when we think that life on earth exists since 4 billion years and the fact that other planets might have had developed life long before earth did. So if only one of those theoretical alien races would have developed into a super-technological civilization, shouldn’t we know by now?

So where are all the aliens? Why did they not contact or – in a bad scenario – attack us so far? This lack of proof for aliens despite its apparently high probability is called the Fermi Paradox, named after the physicist Enrico Fermi.

There are different scenarios which can resolve the Fermi Paradox and some of them are quite amusing and imaginative. Here is a small selection:
1. In spite of the apparent high probability, we are alone in the universe. We might always have been and always will be. The condition for the emergence of life could be much harder and complicated than we assume.
2. There were intelligent aliens long before humans came into existence. They could have gone extinct before someone on earth ever thought about extraterrestrial life at all. Indeed, we do not know everything concerning different thresholds life has to overcome in order to survive. We might just be lucky that we do not yet have encountered one really tough barrier, like the dinosaurs obviously did. Or maybe at some point, every sophisticated culture will destroy itself by inventing a highly destructive super-weapon.
3. Our extraterrestrial friends want to observe us in order to do psychological studies or maybe we are just part of some “galactic zoo” for aliens. They also might just wait until we are a threat to them and then kill us. This has also been a topic in various science fiction books.
4. Life forms from outer space are already among us and we do not notice.
5. The aliens are simply not interested in having communication or imperialistic wars with anyone else and stay peacefully and happy on their home planet.
6. The universe is full of extraterrestrial signals but we are not advanced enough to detect them.

Maybe there will be a day in the future when we get a more definite answer to the Fermi Paradox. Let’s just hope it will be a salubrious one!

– Jennifer Heidrich

Read and watch more:
— M. H. Hart: Explanation for the Absence of Extraterrestrials on Earth. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society. 1975, 16, 128.
— A. Frank and W.T. Sullivan: A New Empirical Constraint on the Prevalence of Technological Species in the Universe. Astrobiology. 2016, 16, 359.
The Fermi Paradox — Where Are All The Aliens? (1/2)
Drake’s Equation – A Deep Dive | Answers With Joe

Jul 312016
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Christina Pahl,a Igor Cavalcanti da Silveira,b Armando Dias Duarte,c Arleson Kennedi Franca dos Santosb

aTechnische Universitaet Ilmenau, Ilmenau, State of Thuringia, Germany
bFederal Institute of Education, Science and Technology of Pernambuco, Caruaru, Brazil
cFederal University of Pernambuco, Caruaru, Brazil

Received 14.03.2016, accepted 25.04.2016, published 26.07.2016

JUnQ, 6, 2, 1–6, 2016

The continuous growth in human population implicates an increasing need for water. This demand encloses especially industrial structures. The federal state Pernambuco is one of the leading textile producers in Brazil. Although, the dry sub-humid state represents less than 5% of its national population, it covers approximately 20% of nationally manufactured jeans. Its high water consumption exacerbates the environmental situation during the actual strong drought which continues to impact the entire
northern part of the South American continent. One main factor is the emission of chemically contaminated effluents from industrial laundries to Ipojuca river, being the third most contaminated river in Brazil. In this study, we analyse impact factors contributing to anthropogenic environmental damage in one of Pernambuco’s main jeans producing region, Caruaru, and provide a sustainable solution towards waste water treatment. The methodology encloses a comparison of the exemplary sewage water management in the city Hof, Germany. Our results enclose parameters responsible for the damage to the fragile environment in Pernambuco and the Ipojuca River as well as a model for a sustainable infrastructure of the intended expansion of the industrial park in Caruaru.

Download the article here: Sustainable Processing

Jul 312016
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Alexander F. G. Goldberg,a Klaus Roth,b,1 CJ Chemjobberc

a Department of Organic Chemistry, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel
b Institut fuer Organische Chemie und Biochemie, Freie Universitaet Berlin
c 3170 Road 40 1/2, Shell, WY 82441, USA

Adapted and translated with permission from A. F. G. Goldberg, K. Roth, CJ Chemjobber, Chem. unserer Zeit 2016, 50, 144–145.
© 2016 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co KGaA, Weinheim.

JUnQ, 6, 2, 8–9, 2016

Household products from the food and cosmetics industry are advertized as “chemical free” in a nearly inflationary way. This declaration is mostly incorrect and it suggests that the products are produced from natural products, are extremely healthy, or completely free of artificial ingredients. We have investigated these labels for a broad variety of such products, including herbal supplements, processed food and beverages, next to cosmetic products and cleaning agents. As a result we were able to compile a complete list of all “chemical free” domestic products.

Download the article here: Chemical Free Household Products

Jul 302016
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Dr. Gerta Ruecker, a mathematician by training, works as a biostatistician at the Medical Center – University of Freiburg, Germany. Her special area is meta-analysis, and she is associated with Cochrane Germany. She has written a large
number of research papers on statistical methods, and co-authored a number of Cochrane reviews. Additionally, she is engaged in teaching meta-analysis methods and is one of the authors of a book ‘Use R for meta-analysis’.

Find the Interview here: Interview with Dr. Gerta Ruecker

Jul 302016
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PD Dr. Nicolai Bissantz is a mathematician at the Ruhr University Bochum, Germany. His research fields are applied and mathematical statistics, in particular with applications in science and engineering. Amongst these fields are applications of statistical inverse problems in astronomy and in image reconstruction. Such problems arise e.g., in the recovery of images from fluorescence microscopy imaging and in medical imaging devices such as PET (positron emission tomography).

Find the Interview here: Interview with PD Dr. Nicolai Bissantz

Jul 302016
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Dr. Rainer Wanke is a physicist working in the field of experimental particle physics at the University of Mainz, Germany. He is working on the NA62 experiment at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland, which measures ultra-rare K-meson decays. This involves both, particle detector development and the analysis of data taken with those particle detectors. He furthermore teaches statistics for undergraduate students in Mainz.

Find the Interview here: Interview with Dr. Rainer Wanke

Jul 282016
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Theresa Weidner

JUnQ, 6, 2, XXVII–XXVIII, 2016

A Commentary on “Most People are not WEIRD” by Joseph Henrich et al., Nature (2010)

Prof. Joseph Henrich is an anthropologist at the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, Cambridge, USA. His focus is on evolutionary approaches to psychology, decision-making and culture. Together with his colleagues Stephen J. Heine and Ara Norenzayan at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, CA, he was the first to point out that, in economics, psychology and cognitive science, conclusions are generally drawn from study participants with the same background: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD). In addition, primarily students form the majority of test subjects. Still, researchers – often unintentionally – claim that their findings apply to everybody.

Read the full article here: The Use of the Term “People” in Research

Jul 282016
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Kai Litzius

JUnQ, 6, 2, XXV–XXVI, 2016

Open access sharing contributes nowadays a major part to the publication process in many different scientific disciplines. One could think it is an invention of modern time, however, the idea to make data and literature widely available is quite old: Libraries.

Read the full article here: A Quick Word on Open Access Sharing