Sep 27, 2011

The Discovery Files: Birth And Syntax

Cognitive scientists at Johns Hopkins University have new evidence that confirms an older theory that human beings are born with some innate knowledge of certain rules of linguistics that make learning human languages easier.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Wired for Speech. (Sound effect: newborn baby cries)

(Sound effect: theme music) I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

"Gleej, slergena, glawb" do not adjust your ear buds. I'm trying to speak 'verblog' an artificial nanolanguage developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University to test a hypothesis from over a half-century ago.

Let me back up a bit. 50 years ago, linguist/philosopher Norm Chomsky[1] put it out there that we are born already knowing some grammatical rules or at the very least having certain language sense kind of wired into our brains.

The Johns Hopkins study demonstrates that perhaps Chomsky was right, and in addition to death and taxes[2], we might have two more things on the 'sure' list: birth and syntax. We come into this world knowing certain rules that make it easier to learn language.

To test the theory the team came up with this made-up language called 'verblog,' constructed to utilize word-order combinations not usually found in most human languages. Sure enough, participants had difficulty learning verblog in its pure form, but could more easily grasp versions of it if some of the word-order combinations were adjusted to match those commonly found in human languages. It's as if the brain knew that the structure was unlikely.

Now we may be born with some linguistic capabilities but I'm sure one of them wasn't how to diagram a sentence; still can't do that.

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] Norm Chomsky
-- An great American linguist. For more information, please visit at
[2] Death and tax
-- A proverb. Please refer to

Sep 16, 2011

Mysterious light (C8 Speech by Charles Lu)

Albert Einstein is perhaps the most famous scientist of the 20th century. One of his most well-known accomplishments is the formula E=mc^2. It means that energy is equal to the mass multiplied by the square of the speed of light.

Einstein realizes that mass and energy are really different forms of the same thing. Mass can be turned into energy and energy into mass. For example, here is one kilogram of pure water. If it could be suddenly turned into energy, it would become:

=1x 300,000,000x300,000,000
=90,000,000,000,000,000 Joules(焦耳) (ninety thousand trillion Joules)

This is the equivalent of the energy that we burn 10 million gallons of gasoline. That’s really unbelievable. Here in the formula, “c” represents the speed of light because light speed is a constant. It is always 300,000,000 meters per second invacuum under any circumstances.

Now let me try to explain it.

Suppose we are now riding a car and trying to chase a train. The speed of the train is 100 miles per hour and the speed of our car is 99 miles per hour. Then we can see the train is running away from us by the speed of 1 mile per hour. Now let’s replace the train with a beam of light, or suppose that the train’s speed has the same property with light. Then what we see is that the light beam is not running away from us by the speed of 1 mile per hour. It is still running away from us by the speed of 100 miles per hour. In that case, we don’t believe our eyes and try to accelerate our car to the speed of 99.99999 miles per hour. We consider that we are going to catch up with the beam of light, but when we look out of the window, the light beam is still flying away from us by the speed of 100 miles per hour. It seems like we are not moving.

It is very weird. How can it happen this way?

Einstein himself is very shocked when he finds out this phenomenon. He studies it more, and finally comes to an amazing conclusion. For the people riding in the car, TIME BECOMES SLOWER. If there is a bystander on the road and he uses a telescope to watch us, he can see that everyone in the car moves very slowly and he can see the car is squeezed into a flat thing like an accordion.

Scientists have proved this theory. Whatever our speed is, the light speed is always a constant-- that is, 300,000,000 meters per second. This is because when we move faster, the clock runs slower and the tool we use to measure the distance becomes shorter. Therefore, the result of the measurement is always the same.

Can we see or feel this effect? No. Because when we move near the speed of light, our minds would think with a slower process, and our bodies become thin in size. So we cannot perceive the change. Nature plays tricks on us. This is called “Special Relativity.”(狹義相對論). With further studies, Einstein finally figures out the distinguished formula E=mc^2.  This formula has completely changed our world.

Love (C4 Speech by Trinity Cao)

Without love, life is the seasons with no summer. Without love, life is like rock ‘n’ roll with no drummer. Without love, we have nothing. Have you ever thought what love is? Now Hollywood wants to make you think they know what love is, but I'm telling you what true love is. Love is not what you see in the movies. It is not the ecstasy. It is not what you see in that scene. Do you know what I mean? I'm telling you right now. True love is sacrifice. Love is thinking about others before you think about yourself. Love is selfless not selfish. Love is laying down your life for another whether for your brother, your mother, your father or your sister. It is even laying down your life for your enemies. That's unthinkable, but I’ve heard a touching story about this kind of true love.

When I studied in elementary school, there came a transferred student. Her name is Amy. She was quiet. Amy laughed and ate less than most classmates. She sometimes suddenly cried loudly in class and made everyone shocked. Most of my classmates thought that Amy was a freak. Someday I heard two of my teachers whispering about Amy. Amy was one of the survivors in 921 earthquakes.

My teacher asked me to take care of her because I was the class leader at that time. I tried my best to chat with her and eat lunch with her. At last, she told me what happened about her horrible experience of 921 earthquakes. In the midnight of twenty-first September in 1999, Amy fell asleep. She was woken by a severe shake. She heard many people shriek because of fear and despair. Amy’s grandmother took her hand and rushed out of their houses. Amy meant to save her pet cat in their house, so she struggled to go back. Amy’s grandmother stopped Amy to do so, she herself dashed into the caving house without hesitation. After Amy’s grandmother ran into the house, the earthquake became more and more violent. All of a sudden, Amy’s home collapsed. Her grandmother didn’t escape from their house in time. Amy broke down at once because she thought that she killed her grandmother. Fortunately, Amy’s parents survived this devastating disaster because they worked in other county. After the earthquake, she felt guilty deeply for her grandmother’s death. Although Amy’s parents tried their best to comfort her, she still wept every day. Finally, Amy’s parents sent Amy to another elementary school in order to help her to forget the misery.

Amy also told me that she was a stubborn girl before the earthquake. She rebelled her parents and didn’t care about if she hurt her parents’ feelings or not. She often argued everything with her grandmother though her grandmother

brought her up hard. Amy was a picky eater, so she was skinny. When she was little, her grandmother needed to use a spoon to feed her during the meal. She took her grandmother’s love for granted. Amy didn’t understand how much her grandmother loved her until she lost her grandmother. Amy also realized that her grandmother loved her so much that she went back to the crumbling building to save the pet for Amy. After earthquakes, Amy learned that she has to cherish her people around her. Amy is not selfish anymore. She is considerate now. She is also willing to help others.

What is love? Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. Love is not rude, it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, it always perseveres. Love never fails. Love is everlasting. It is eternal, it goes on and on, it goes beyond time. Love is the only thing that will last when you die. But ask the question why? Do you have love?

The Discovery Files: Brain Feed

According to researchers at Caltech deciding what to eat forces your brain to figure out how it feels about a food's taste versus its health benefits versus its portion size or even its packaging, and it needs to determine the importance of these attributes relative to each other.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Think Healthy, Eat Healthier.
(Sound effect: theme music) I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Decisions, decisions. When it comes to making food choices, your brain is in charge of weighing all the options. Almost instantaneously, complex neurological processes kick in, based on everything from palatability to portion-size to packaging. New research out of Caltech indicates that we may be able to sway the brain toward making healthier choices.

The study involved 33 hungry adult volunteers being shown pictures of various foods while brain activity was monitored. Each looked at 180 different food items, from chips and candy bars to chicken and broccoli. With three seconds to decide whether or not they'd want to eat the food shown. They knew they could be served any one of the foods from their "yes" or "strong yes" list at the end of the experiment.

One more thing: before every 10 food choices, one of three instructions appeared on the screen "consider the healthiness," "consider the tastiness" or "make decisions naturally."

When asked to think about healthiness, subjects were less likely to choose unhealthy foods. Just getting the health instruction increased activity in the part of the brain responsible for self-control -- helping them to make better choices.

Jeez, all this food for thought is making me hungry.

For the discovery files, I'm Bob Karson.

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.