Research

It's the thought that counts

A sports person who has accidentally caused serious injury to a rival. A distracted driver who has caused an accident. Or a colleague who has involuntarily made a very serious error. Even outside the court room we have all been in situations in which we have had to express judgements on specific events on the basis of the seriousness of the incident but also on the intentions of those who caused them.

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It is easier for a DNA knot…

Anyone who has been on a sailing boat knows that tying a knot is the best way to secure a rope to a hook and prevent its slippage. The same applies to sewing threads where knots are introduced to prevent them slipping through two pieces of fabric. How, then, can long DNA filaments, which have convoluted and highly knotted structure, manage to pass through the tiny pores of various biological systems?

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Investigating altruism through virtual reality

A computer-based environment developed with the aim to shed light on the origins of altruism: this is the innovative approach used by a research group at SISSA in collaboration with the University of Udine. This new study - recently published in the journal Neuropsychologia – immersed participants in a virtual environment that reproduced a building on fire which they had to evacuate in a hurry, deciding whether to save their lives or interrupt their escape and help rescue an injured person.

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The smell of terroir

Our nose abilities are greater than we expected. In fact, our olfactory system allows us to distinguish two wines differing for grape variety and, even, for production geographical area, a feature defined terroir by experts. This is the evidence emerged from a new research, published in the journal Food quality and preference, carried out at SISSA by Francesco Foroni, now at the Australian Catholic University, together with other scientists led by SISSA neuroscientist Raffaella Rumiati and the collaboration of the University of Padua.

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“Cultural Learners” in the Cradle

Well before starting to speak, children from a very young age pay higher attention to the information received from native speakers of their language compared to the information received from “foreigners”. A new study shows that this behaviour, replicated already at the age of five months, might be the foundation of acquiring culture specific knowledge. The research coordinated by SISSA was published  in the Frontiers in Psychology magazine.

“Hey! You stole my food!”

Frontotemporal dementia is associated with a wide variety of abnormal eating behaviors such as hyperphagia, fixations on one kind of food, even ingestion of  inanimate objects, making an already-difficult situation even worse. A review by SISSA researchers gathers together the state of the art of what is known in this field, paying particular attention to the brain mechanisms involved. The information may be used for understanding eating disorders in healthy people. The review was published in the magazine Neurocase.

Where space-time becomes discrete

In quantum gravity, classical physics and quantum mechanics are at odds: scientists are still uncertain how to reconcile the quantum “granularity” of space-time at the Planck scale with the theory of special relativity. In their attempts to identify possible tests of the physics associated with this difficult union, the most commonly studied scenario is the one that implies violations of  “Lorentz invariance”, the principle underlying special relativity.

The missing recipe

It was one of the “missing pieces” in the Theoretical Physics of Materials puzzle and today a group of SISSA researchers has finally found it: for the first time, the phenomenon of thermal conduction has been accounted for by the fundamental laws of quantum mechanics. The study, just published in Nature Physics, will allow scientists to simulate this phenomenon numerically in extreme temperature and pressure conditions, such as those existing inside planets, or for materials, such as covalent glasses or liquids, to which currently available methods do not apply.

The gaze that hinders expression

It is not enough to observe what abilities are altered in autistic subjects, we also need to understand how each function interacts with the others. In fact, whereas in normal subjects joint attention appears to facilitate facial mimicry (both are skills relevant for human social interaction), the opposite holds true for autistic subjects. That is what a new study, just published in Autism Research, suggests.

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