Girls, boys have similar brains with equal math ability

News Network
November 9, 2019

Washington, Nov 9: There are no gender differences in math ability, according to a study that examined the brain development of young boys and girls.

The researchers, including those from Carnegie Mellon University in the US, conducted the first neuroimaging study to evaluate biological gender differences in math aptitude of young children.

The results of the study, published in the journal Science of Learning, revealed that there are no differences in the brain development of girls and boys, including how they processed math skills.

"This is an important reminder that humans are more similar to each other than we are different," said study co-author Alyssa Kersey from the University of Chicago in the US.

The study also noted that both boys and girls were equally engaged while watching educational videos.

"It's not just that boys and girls are using the math network in the same ways but that similarities were evident across the entire brain," Kersey said.

As part of the study, the researchers used functional MRI to measure the brain activity in 104 young children between the ages 3 to 10 (55 girls and 49 boys) while watching an educational video covering early math topics, like counting and addition.

They compared scans from the boys and girls to evaluate brain similarity.

The team also examined brain maturity in the children by comparing their scans to those taken from a group of adults -- 63 adults; 25 women -- who watched the same math videos.

The researchers also compared the results of the Test of Early Mathematics Ability -- a standardized test for children between 3 and 8 years of age -- from 97 participants (50 girls and 47 boys) to gauge the rate of math development.

Overall, the findings indicated that math ability was equivalent among the children, and did not show a difference in gender, or with age.

The researchers could also not find a gender difference between maths ability and brain maturity.

Jessica Cantlon, the lead researcher of the study from Carnegie Mellon University, said the society and culture likely are steering girls and young women away from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The researchers said families spend more time with young boys in play that involves spatial cognition, and many teachers also preferentially spend more time with boys during math class, predicting later math achievement.

Cantlon also suspected that children pick up on cues from their parent's expectations for math abilities.

"Typical socialization can exacerbate small differences between boys and girls that can snowball into how we treat them in science and math," Cantlon said.

"We need to be cognizant of these origins to ensure we aren't the ones causing the gender inequities," she said.

The current study looked at early childhood development using a limited set of math tasks, the researchers said.

Cantlon and her team plan to assess a broader array of math skills during childhood development such as spatial processing and memory and follow the children over many years.


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September 17,2020


New Delhi, Sept 17: Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Thursday said that the coronavirus vaccine will be made available in the country by the start of next year. The remarks come at a time when India is recording more than 50 lakh cases and people are awaiting the vaccine with bated breath.

"Just like other countries, India is also making efforts. Three vaccines candidates are in different phases. Under Prime Minister's guidance, an expert group is looking at it and there is advanced planning in place. We are hopeful that by the start of next year a vaccine will be available in India," Harsh Vardhan said in Rajya Sabha.

Two indigenous vaccines by Zydus Cadila and Bharat Biotech have completed phase 1. Serum Institute of India (SII) has again commenced the trials after getting clearance from the Drug Controller General of India.

India is the manufacturing partner of the vaccine candidate named Covishield, developed jointly by the University of Oxford's Jenner Institute's and AstraZeneca. The Pune-based firm, SII, is looking after the trials at 17 trial sites across India.

Besides this, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and Dr. Reddy's Laboratories Limited, a global pharmaceutical company headquartered out of India, have agreed to cooperate on clinical trials and distribution of Sputnik V vaccine in India.

Sputnik V, an adenovirus vector-based vaccine, was developed by the Gamaleya Scientific Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, along with the Russian Direct Investment Fund and registered on August 11.

"On regulatory approval in India, RDIF shall supply to Dr. Reddy's 100 million doses of the vaccine. The Sputnik V vaccine, which is based on well-studied human adenoviral vector platform with proven safety, is undergoing clinical trials for the coronavirus pandemic," said a statement from the fund.


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Dr Nandini Sankaranarayanan
September 28,2020


The booming market for digital devices has flooded us with plenty of options to choose from, for various purposes ranging from entertainment to educational and professional uses. Mobile phones, tablets, laptops and video gaming devices have come to play an important part in our daily lives, however, they have also impacted our lifestyles, resulting in some new types of health issues. One of the most common results of the improper/excessive use of digital devices has been an unpleasant eye condition called ‘digital eye strain’.

What is digital eye strain?

Digital eye strain results from spending long hours on digital devices. Common symptoms include watering, itching, stinging or burning sensation, with tired and achy eyes. Sometimes there may be blurring of vision and headache after intense use of digital devices.

Until recently, this condition was commonly seen among IT professionals. But lately, we see many children as young as 4-5 years old being brought to the Ophthalmologist, with digital eye strain.

What has changed for these children? With the shifting of schools to online learning due to the current pandemic, children now spend longer durations with gadgets. It is important that we teach our children on ways to use digital devices without straining their eyes.

Dos and Don’ts for children while using digital devices for long durations

1. Make sure that they sit in well-lit rooms.

2. The device must have a large screen. Avoid small screens like mobile phones or tablets.

3. The screen should be about 40-50 cm from the eyes with a tilt of 10-20 degree and just below the eye level for comfortable viewing.

4. Encourage them to take a break from the screen every 20 minutes or so, and look at some far off object about 20 feet away for 20 seconds before resuming work on the screen. This is called 20-20-20 rule which gives much needed relief for the muscles of the eyes.

5. Use break times to rest and relax the eye. Avoid using digital devices during breaks.

6. Encourage them to blink more often. The blink rate of eyes comes down to about 3-4 from a normal blink rate of 12-15, as one works on the screen for long periods. This hampers the spreading of tear-film, causing dry patches and discomfort in the eyes.

7. For any online extracurricular activities, it’s a good idea to cast it on television which has a bigger screen and can be viewed from far off distance without strain on the eyes.

8. Avoid screen-related activities about 1-2 hours prior to bedtime.

When to consult a doctor

Following the tips outlined above will go a long way in avoiding digital eye strain, especially in young eyes. In spite of all these precautions, it’s not unusual for the child to complain of redness, watering, itching, blurring, headache and in severe cases, even squinting of eyes.

In any of the aforementioned cases, immediate consultation must be sought from a qualified Specialist Ophthalmologist who will thoroughly evaluate their eyes and give appropriate treatment. It’s not unusual for the ophthalmologist to detect refractive problems or squint in eyes which the child and parents may not be aware of.

The only connect for our children with the outside world in these challenging times is through these digital devices! Let us not chide them for using these devices, but teach them the proper way of utilizing them for their benefit!


Dr Nandini Sankaranarayanan is a Specialist Ophthalmologist at Thumbay Medical and Dental Specialty Centre, Sharjah.


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News Network
September 19,2020


New Delhi, Sept 19: Scientists examined the effectiveness of common household fabrics used in homemade masks in blocking droplets generated by coughing and sneezing, and have found that they are considerably protective even as a single layer.

While earlier studies have focussed on the transfer of tiny, nanoscale aerosol particles through masks, the researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the US said speaking, coughing, and sneezing generates larger droplets -- about one millimeter in diameter -- that can carry virus particles.

They said the larger droplets pose a problem as they can squeeze through the pores of some fabrics if they have sufficient momentum, and break into smaller droplets and become airborne.

In the study, published in the journal Extreme Mechanics Letters, the scientists filled the nozzle of an inhaler with distilled water seeded with easy-to-find ultrasmall fluorescent particles -- which happens to be the size of a novel coronavirus particle.

The inhaler forced the water through the nozzle when puffed, and generated high-momentum droplets that collected on a plastic dish placed in front of the inhaler, the study noted.

The researchers repeated this process with the various materials placed over the collection dishes to test their ability to block the particles.

"We count the number of nanoparticles landing on the dish using a high-resolution confocal microscope. We can then use the ratio of the number collected with and without the fabric to give us a measure of droplet-blocking efficiency," said study co-author Taher Saif.

However, the scientists said for an individual to feel compelled to wear a mask, the material must not only be able to block the droplets, but also be comfortable and breathable.

"A mask made out of a low-breathability fabric is not only uncomfortable, but can also result in leakage as the exhaled air is forced out around contours of a face, defeating the purpose of the mask and providing a false sense of protection," Saif said.

"Our goal is to show that many common fabrics exploit the trade-off between breathability and efficiency of blocking droplets -- large and small," he added.

The scientists tested the breathability and droplet-blocking ability of 11 common household fabrics, including new and used garments, quilted cloths, bedsheets and dishcloth material, using a medical mask as a benchmark.

They then characterised the fabrics in terms of their construction, fiber content, weight, thread count, porosity and water-absorption rate.

Their analyses revealed that droplets leave the inhaler at about 17 metres per second (mps) while those released by speaking, coughing and sneezing have velocities within the range of 10 to 40 (mps).

"We found that all of the fabrics tested are considerably effective at blocking the 100 nanometer particles carried by high-velocity droplets similar to those that may be released by speaking, coughing and sneezing, even as a single layer," Saif said.

"With two or three layers, even the more permeable fabrics, such as T-shirt cloth, achieve droplet-blocking efficiency that is similar to that of a medical mask, while still maintaining comparable or better breathability," he added.

The researchers believe the new experimental platform may offer a way to test fabrics for their blocking efficiency against the small and larger droplets that are released as people breathe, or cough.


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