Research

“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.

“Being Sigmund Freud”

The illusion of being in another body affects not only our perception (as is already known) but also our way of thinking. Thanks to virtual reality, some subjects embodied Sigmund Freud and proved better at giving themselves psychological advice compared to when they were simply themselves.

DOWNLOAD > Press release

From sounds to the meaning

Without understanding the “referential function” of language (words as “verbal labels”, symbolizing other things) it is impossible to learn a language. Is this implicit knowledge already present early in infants? A study conducted by the Language, Cognition and Development Lab of SISSA says it is.

DOWNLOAD > Press release

X-raying ion channels

The Nobel Prize winner Roderick MacKinnon suggested that ion channels (the pores on the cell membrane that regulate the exchange of ions between the inside and outside of cells) were like rigid tubes through which molecules of varying size move.

What happens inside a membrane

Little is known about how the proteins forming ion channels – the “pores” on the cell membrane - change when they open and close, especially the portion that is “embedded” in the membrane. Scientists at SISSA have invented a method, based on the combined and innovative use of known techniques, which allowed them to observe in detail a specific membrane protein and its structural changes. The study has just been published in Nature Communications

Desirable defects

Introducing flaws into liquid crystals by inserting microspheres and then controlling them with electrical fields: that, in a nutshell, is the rationale behind a method that could be exploited for a new generation of advanced materials, potentially useful for optical technologies, electronic displays and e-readers.

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