Mar 29, 2011

Discovery Files: Earth Wake

The potential for a huge Pacific Ocean tsunami on the West Coast of America may be greater than previously thought, according to a new study of geological evidence along the Gulf of Alaska coast.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Finding fault[1]-- From Sendai to the San Andreas.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

The magnitude[2] 8.9 Japan earthquake and destructive tsunami cause many to be concerned about whether similar events could occur on our own west coast. Research led by the University of Texas at Austin following the Haiti quake is kind of a "sorta-good-news -- not-so-good-news" kind of thing. The sorta good news is that the San Andreas Fault is a "strike-slip" fault[3]. The two plates are passing each other moving in opposite directions. The Sendai quake occurred on a subduction[4] fault -- one plate riding under the other.

Traditionally, tsunami risk is considered to be higher in these subduction areas because they displace huge amounts of water when they rupture.

Which brings us to the not-so-good-news for the U.S. the research team found that you do not need a large quake to produce a large wake. In strike-slip areas like those around the San Andreas Fault, large tsunamis can occur through "submarine landslides." Sediment slides along the seafloor and displaces the water above it.

The team conducted geological surveys on and off shore around the epicenter[5] of the Haitian earthquake. They found that tsunamis around Haiti are about 10 times more likely to be generated by submarine landslides than previously thought. Meaning higher risk of destructive tsunamis in places near strike-slip faults -- like Kingston, Istanbul, and Los Angeles.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

[1] Fault
--A mistake.
--In geology, a fault(斷層) is a planar fracture in rock in which the rock on one side of the fracture has moved with respect to the rock on the other side.

[2] Magnitude規模
--The size of an earthquake.

Intensity of earthquake motion震度
--the strength of ground motion

[3] Strike-slip fault 平移斷層
--The fault surface is usually near vertical and the footwall(下磐) moves either left or right or laterally with very little vertical motion.

[4] Subduction 隱沒
--The sideways and downward movement of the edge of a plate(板塊) of the earth's crust into the mantle beneath another plate

[5] Epicenter震央
--The point on the earth's surface vertically above the focus(震源) of an earthquake.

Mar 28, 2011

Babies and Learning

The good, the bad and the baby

Babies know when their diapers are clean or dirty, or when their tummies are empty or full. All you have to do is ask any sleep-deprived parent. But can babies tell when someone is acting good or bad? With the help of some creative puppetry, Yale University psychologist Karen Wynn is proving they can.

Wynn runs the Infant Cognition Lab at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. With help from the National Science Foundation (NSF), she studies the roots of morality, addressing such questions as: what makes us cooperative and altruistic individuals, even from a very young age?

"Babies are oriented towards pro-social individuals. They prefer interacting with a pro-social individual over an anti-social individual," she explains.

Weekdays are often busy at the lab, with babies and their parents coming and going on the hour as scheduled. On the day we visit, Wynn demonstrates how the noon appointment, a 19-month-old named Sara, can easily distinguish a puppet's good behavior from bad behavior.

Sara is subjected to one puppet show starring a helpful, well-behaved doggy puppet displaying pro-social behavior, and then to another show starring a misbehaving doggy puppet. The shows are actually clever experiments devised by Wynn and her team to observe the reaction of toddlers to the good and bad puppets.

"We have a puppet who is trying to open a box; he sees a nice toy inside of it. It's a Plexiglas® box he's just trying to open--he can't lift [the] lid. Then another puppet comes along and helps him open the lid so he can get to the toy inside; so that's the helpful puppet," explains Wynn.

Then Sara is exposed to the second show, but this time the puppet that is trying to open the box is exposed to a different doggy puppet, with a very different outcome.

"Next, he's again trying to open up the box," continues Wynn. "And, a different puppet comes along and jumps on top of the box lid, slamming it shut and dashing his hopes of getting in there."

Sara watches each show a number of times. Now it's time for the plot twist that a 19-month old can appreciate. After the shows, a researcher brings out both doggy puppets to within Sara's reach, and each puppet has a plastic treat in a bowl placed in front of them.

The researcher then introduces a third puppet that also wants a treat, and Sara must decide which doggy must give up its treat to the new puppet: the nice doggy that opened the box or the mean doggy that jumped on top of the box. Wynn says a majority of the time, toddler's choices "are pretty clear, they will take the treat from the cad who was rude enough to slam the lid on the puppet."

Wynn says there is evidence that distinguishing between good and bad behavior starts even younger. For example, three-month-old Addisyn participates in an experiment for infants. She watches a different show. She bears witness to a kitty cat puppet playing ball with two bunny puppets. When they're done with their little game, one bunny returns the ball, while the other just takes it and goes away.

After the show, Addisyn, like 80 to 90 percent of the infants Wynn tests, spends more time paying attention to the "good" bunny that returned the ball. When Wynn first started testing infants she was surprised. "We weren't necessarily expecting to find responses as strong as we have found at such young ages," she says.

"In their first year, young infants appear to like others who reward good behavior and punish bad behavior, and in their second year, they themselves reward and punish deserving individuals appropriately," Wynn explains. "It shows that young infants have the capacity to assess others by their social behavior."

Wynn suspects these capacities and inclinations are universal and unlearned biological adaptations that make the cooperative social structure of human society possible. "It is essential for navigating the social world," she explains. "Adults assess the actions and intentions of the people around us, and make decisions about who's a friend and who's a foe, who's a potentially useful social partner and who is not. We judge good behavior as deserving of reward and bad behavior as deserving of punishment."

Wynn also believes there are benefits to understanding moral development. "Maybe we'll gain a better understanding of sociopathy or psychopathy. Understanding the roots of moral development could lead to a better understanding of developmental disorders like autism," she notes. "The more we understand about normal development, the better we are able to address problems when it goes awry."

From Science Nation

Mar 5, 2011

A Useful Tool for English Writing

The Microsoft Research ESL Assistant is a free web service that provides correction suggestions for typical ESL (English as a Second Language) errors (e.g., the choice of determiners “the” or “a” , and the choice of prepositions) and word choice suggestions from a thesaurus.

In order to help the user make decisions on whether to accept a suggestion, the service displays "before and after" web search results so that the user can see real-life examples of the usage of both their original input and the suggested correction.

The ESL Assistant is easy to use.

Step 1: Go to the website at
Step 2: Type or paste your text in the upper box.
Step 3: Click “Check” then you will see the suggestions in the lower box.

That’s it!