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     Volume 4 Issue 43 | April 22, 2005 |

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Baby Talks
A new study by University of Maryland researchers has revealed that noise levels in day-care centres and homes can interfere with the language development of infants younger than 13 months. The study suggests that, during their first year infants have difficulty differentiating between voices in even mildly noisy rooms. As a result, conversation directed at them may simply go unrecognised. "This might potentially delay the onset of speech. Caregivers may think they're giving the right kind of language experiences but all too often, the talk may be going over the children's heads. Not all homes and day-care centres are equally noisy but all caregivers should set aside quiet time or a quiet corner where infants can get the language experiences they need," said the study's author, Rochelle Newman. "There's a need for awareness. That first year is critical to infants. They're clearly struggling to hear what's said to them if there's too much noise and at the same time laying the foundation for learning to speak. Caregivers simply need to pay greater attention to background noise," Newman concludes.

Robotic Camel Riders
Camel racing is to be transformed as a spectator sport in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with robot riders taking the place of child jockeys. The remote-operated riders were developed following a ban on the use of jockeys under 16 years of age, imposed by the UAE Camel Racing Association in March 2004. Camel racing is a lucrative sport with a long tradition among Bedouin Arabs. But human rights groups have linked it to the kidnap and mistreatment of children as young as four years old. Riders have traditionally been younger than 16 and weighed less than 45 kg. The first full trials involving the remote-controlled robots have now been conducted successfully. "The mechanical jockey is light in weight and receives orders from the instructor via a remote control system fixed on the back of the camel," says a statement issued by the UAE government.

Coned Cattle Products
Milk and meat from cloned cattle appear safe for human consumption, a pilot study has found. Scientists in the US and Japan found that meat and dairy products from a bull and cow cloned using the "Dolly" technique met industry standards. The team says its results suggest cloning techniques could be used to boost food production, particularly in developing countries. Two beef and four dairy clones were used in the research, all derived from a single Holstein dairy cow and a single Japanese black bull. The scientists found no significant differences in their comparisons of the milk and meat. But the cloning technique has raised welfare concerns, as most copied animals do not make it to term before being born and many of those that do are born deformed or prone to illness. "We don't know what this technology will result in the future; we know so far that it is unsustainable," Compassion in World Farming director, Joyce D'Silva, told BBC News. "Huge numbers of animals die. They are born with deformed lungs, hearts and kidneys that don't function. They die slow and lingering deaths. Is this the technology that we need or want? I don't think so." Animal food products from clones have yet to enter the food chain in any country.

The Science of Superman
Comic strip characters like Superman and the Incredible Hulk reflect what society thinks about science, says a UK researcher. Dr Simon Locke of Kingston University says superhero comics present science, technology and scientists as a force for good and evil. Superman was the first comic strip superhero, created by Action Comics in 1938 and later brought to life on the big screen. Superman came from a planet with an advanced human race and had special powers due to his advanced physical structure. The Hulk was created when a scientist accidentally irradiated himself with his own "gamma bomb". Locke says people researching the public understanding of science have generally ignored superhero comics because they are a popular but "perverse" hybrid of art and literature, thought only suitable for "children and retarded adults". Some people have even thought they are harmful because they are highly implausible. But the conflicting way science and scientists have been portrayed in superhero comics reflects a broader societal ambivalence with science. He says scientists are presented as "saviour-heroes" with "techno-magical interventions" or mad villains trying to turn the world upside down. Australian science and fiction writer Dr Rosaleen Love says she is not surprised that Locke has found ambivalence towards science reflected in superhero comics. "I think that what he's saying is science is so pervasive in our culture that even something that would seem to be pretty remote from it is still reflecting the anxieties and the hopes about science more generally."

Space…the final frontier
The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) could be taking the wrong approach. Instead of listening for alien radio broadcasts, a better strategy may be to look for giant structures placed in orbit around nearby stars by alien civilisations. "Artificial structures may be the best way for an advanced extraterrestrial civilisation to signal its presence to an emerging technology like ours," says Luc Arnold of the Observatory of Haute-Provence in France. And he believes that the generation of space-based telescopes now being designed will be able to spot them. Arnold has studied the capabilities of space-based telescopes such as the European Space Agency's forthcoming Corot telescope and NASA's Kepler. These instruments will look for the telltale dimming of a star's light when a planet passes in front of it. They could also identify an artificial object the size of a planet, such as a lightweight solar sail, says Arnold.

Source: New Scientist, ZdNet and BBC Online.

Compiled by: Imran H. Khan

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