Inside the Brains of Jurors

When jurors consider shortening the prison sentences of convicted criminals, they use parts of the brain associated with sympathy and making moral judgments, according to new work by Caltech neuroeconomist Colin Camerer and colleagues. They found that the most lenient jurors show heightened levels of activity in a brain region associated with discomfort, pain, and imagining the pain that others feel.

Liquid-like Materials May Pave Way for New Thermoelectric Devices

In the continual quest for better thermoelectric materials—which convert heat into electricity and vice versa—researchers have identified a liquid-like compound whose properties give it the potential to be even more efficient than traditional thermoelectrics.

Astronomers Find Light-Bending Quasars

Astronomers have found celestial objects called quasars that bend and distort the light coming from galaxies behind them. The discovery may finally allow astronomers to determine the masses of galaxies that host quasars.

Experiment Observes Elusive Neutrino Transformation

An international team of physicists—including several from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech)—has detected and measured, for the first time, a transformation of one particular type of neutrino into another type. The finding, physicists say, may help solve some of the biggest mysteries about the universe, such as why the universe contains more matter than antimatter—a phenomenon that explains why stars, planets, and people exist at all.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

In both animals and humans, vocal signals used for communication contain a wide array of different sounds that are determined by the vibrational frequencies of vocal cords. Knowing how the brain sorts out these different frequencies—which are called frequency-modulated (FM) sweeps—is believed to be essential to understanding many hearing-related behaviors, like speech. Now, a pair of biologists at Caltech has identified how and where the brain processes this type of sound signal.

Looking at the Man in the Moon

Many of us see a man in the moon—a human face smiling down at us from the lunar surface. The "face," of course, is just an illusion, shaped by the dark splotches of lunar maria (smooth plains formed from the lava of ancient volcanic eruptions). Like a loyal friend, the man is always there, constantly gazing at us as the moon revolves around Earth. But why did the moon settle into an orbit with the man facing Earth?

 

 

Understanding Bacterial Sensors

Nearly all motile bacteria can sense and respond to their surroundings through a process called chemotaxis, which begins with proteins known as chemoreceptors. Now researchers at Caltech have built the first model that depicts precisely how chemoreceptors and the proteins around them are structured at the sensing tip of bacteria. Because chemotaxis plays a critical role in the first steps of bacterial infection, a better understanding of the process could pave the way for the development of new, more effective antibiotics.

Some Bacteria Attack Using Spring-loaded Poison Daggers

Bacteria have evolved different systems for secreting proteins. One, called a type VI secretion system, is found in about a quarter of all bacteria with two membranes. Despite being common, researchers have not understood how it works. Now a team, co-led by researchers at Caltech, has figured out the structure of the type VI secretion system apparatus and proposed how it might work—by shooting spring-loaded poison molecular daggers.

Buckyballs in Space

Buckyballs—those odd molecules made up of 60 carbon atoms arranged like hollow spheres—have been found, for the first time, in their solid form in space.

Caltech Oceanographer Tests New Technology at the Bottom of the Earth

The field of study of Andrew Thompson, assistant professor of environmental science and engineering at Caltech, presents not only theoretical challenges but logistical ones as well. That's because he is interested in the circulation and ecology of the Southern Ocean and the role it plays in global climate. The hostile environment of this area makes long-term research difficult, so he's part of a team that is seeking to monitor the region with autonomous underwater vehicles called gliders.

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