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December 2009


By: Dave | November 30 2009 | Category: Tidbits for Teachers


Graphic of cover to 2008 National Science Foundation report on cyberlearningIt seemed like I couldn't walk out the door this past year without someone mentioning cyberlearning. According to the 2008 report from the National Science Foundation, cyberlearning is "the use of networked computing and communications technologies to support learning." OK, that report came out in 2008, and I admit that it took me a year to realize what was going on.

Last month I attended the annual meetingExternal Web Site Policy of the National Science Digital LibraryExternal Web Site Policy, or the "NSDL" for short. The NSDL has undergone some big changes in the past year, all of which are intended to make it more useful to the classroom teacher. As you guessed, cyberlearning was a big focus of the meeting. I was impressed by the scope of the projects presented, all of which are searchable and findable through the NSDL.

As the Office of Science Education looks to 2010, we'll be aiming at smarter ways of incorporating technology into our educational programs. 

Stay tuned... and Happy New Year!

By: Cynthia | December 29 2009 | Category: NIH Resources, Science News


NIH Radio logoUnique audio programs covering current health topics and medical research

Do you prefer to get your news by watching videos, listening to podcasts, or reading? For me, the answer would be listening or reading. Listening to news, an audio book or music is my favorite way to make good use of a long commute. For all the listeners out there, you can tune into some great NIH resources and hear about research discoveries, hot health topics and inside information from the scientific experts themselves.

The NIH Radio News Service, provided by the NIH Office of Communications & Public Liaison, offers three unique audio programs:

  1. NIH Audio Reports – short (one to four minute) reports, posted twice a week, based on an NIH press release and/or a health related topic, often including comments from NIH experts.
  2. NIH Research Radio – biweekly podcasts of 15 to 25 minute episodes, each covering several topics and often including an interview with a prominent NIH researcher.
  3. NIH Health Matters – 60-second health reports for each day of the month, targeting all Americans and made broadcast ready for radio stations nationwide.

These audio files are available for listening online at the Web site, or to download. Spanish versions, archived files, transcripts and podcast episode notes are also available online.
By: Debbie | December 18 2009 | Category: NIH Resources, Tidbits for Teachers


Zebra FinchWhen my children were little, we used clay impression kits to immortalize their handprints and create cute wall hangings as gifts for their grandparents. As they pressed their little hands into the clay, it changed shape in response to the pressure. In much the same way, our brains are formed and molded in response to various stimuli. Scientists call it brain plasticity. The brain is changeable, or plastic, because new experiences can re-wire its circuitry, setting up new connections among neurons.

Sarah BottjerExternal Web Site Policy, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California, conducts research on brain plasticity by studying songbirds. Baby songbirds learn to sing the same way that human infants learn to mimic their parents' speech. Through trial and error, they eventually master the syllables and rhythms of their parents' vocalizations.

Scientists use the zebra finch as an animal model because its songs can be easily recorded and compared to brain activity. The zebra finch always sings the same short song, making it simple to study in detail. Songbirds were initially used to study speech perception and production in humans, but they are also promising models for studying many other complex human behaviors.

Learn more about Dr. Bottjer and how zebra finches are being used in medical research at the National Institutes of Health Web site, Animals in Research.
By: Cindy, Gloria | December 14 2009 | Category: NIH Resources, Science News


Dopamine is a neurotransmitter affecting behaviour, sleep, learning, perception of pain, mood and motivation. The debate about the causes of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, continues with a new piece of evidence linking it to the dopamine reward pathway. Nora Volkow’s team at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that subjects with ADHD had significantly lower levels of dopamine in various areas of their brains than did controls.

Dopamine plays important roles in regulating and controlling motivation, cognition, and voluntary movement.

The researchers had studied positron emission tomography (PET)External Web Site Policy images of brains from two groups of adult subjects: nonmedicated adults with ADHD and healthy controls.

Does this mean that we now have a single test for ADHD? Not quite. It means that there’s a measurable physiological difference between adults with and without ADHD. In time, this discovery may lead to a biochemical test for the condition.

The diagnosis of ADHD has been controversial because the characteristic behaviors -- impulsivity, daydreaming, and forgetfulness -- are within the extreme ends of the normal range of human behaviors.

Accurate diagnosis is important, because people who are underdiagnosed as children – and thus not treated -- may get into trouble constantly when their behavior clashes with what’s expected in certain environments, such as schools. Overdiagnosing can lead to unnecessary medication with stimulants, which carry risks of side effects.
By: Cindy, Gloria, Joanne | December 8 2009 | Category: Science History, Scientists in the Community


Tom Cech PhotoIn Light of New Evidence...

For years, we taught that “not all proteins are enzymes, but all enzymes are proteins.” By 1989, though, we knew that was wrong, thanks to research by that year’s winners of the Nobel PrizeExternal Web Site Policy in Chemistry.

Thomas R. Cech, born December 8, 1947, and fellow Nobel laureate Sidney Altman discovered that RNA is not just a passive information carrier. It can also catalyze chemical reactions in living cells.

In 1982, Cech’s research group at the University of Colorado, Boulder, showed that an RNA molecule from Tetrahymena, single-celled pond organisms, cut and rejoined chemical bonds in the complete absence of proteins. The discovery of self-splicing RNA was the first evidence against the long-held belief that proteins always catalyze reactions. RNA enzymes, or ribozymes, efficiently cleave -- and thereby destroy -- viral RNAs.
 
As an undergraduate at Grinnell College, Tom Cech became interested in physical chemistry. By the time he left, though, he’d realized that his personality wasn’t suited to physical chemistry research.

He discovered, he says in his autobiographyExternal Web Site Policy for the Nobel Foundation, that “I didn’t have a long enough attention span for the elaborate plumbing and electronics of gas-phase chemical physics.” He was then drawn to biological chemistry because “of the almost daily interplay of experimental design, observation, and interpretation.” As a postdoc at MIT, he strengthened his knowledge of biology and, he says, “enjoyed being part of the interactive science scene” there.
 
As we learn more about the science we study, we often find that we have to change what we hold as truth. We also learn what type of research is most compatible with our personality. We must give ourselves permission to change the text of our lessons and the direction of our studies.

Tom Cech gave himself permission to change his course and became a Noble laureate and, from January 2000 to April 2009, director of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
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