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Gizmorama - August 15, 2018

Good Morning,

Want to hear something cool? Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Engineering in Medicine (The MGHCEM) have created a way to bring liquids to supercool temps without causing them to freeze. Cool, right?

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*--- Scientists develop way to supercool liquids without freezing them ---*

Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Engineering in Medicine have developed a new way to supercool liquids without freezing them.

Scientists used the method to significantly decrease the freezing points of water and water-based solutions, allowing them to keep the liquids at extremely cold temperatures for a long period of time.

To prevent freezing, scientists relied on insulation.

"Our approach, which we dubbed 'deep supercooling,' is simply to cover the surface of such a liquid with a solution that does not mix with water, like mineral oil, to block the interface between water and air, which is the major site of crystallization," researcher Berk Usta said in a news release. "This surprisingly simple, practical and low-cost approach to supercooling solutions for extended periods can enable many medical and food preservation methods, as well as fundamental experiments that were not previously possible."

As previous research has shown, the formation and growth of ice crystals is triggered by impurities -- pieces of dust or bacteria -- at the water-air interface.

Traditional supercooling attempts have relied on high pressure, which can damage biological samples, and involved only small amounts of liquid kept at subzero temperatures for short amounts of time.

During their first round of experimentation, scientists sealed small samples of water and water-based solution with basic hydrocarbon-based oils, including mineral oil, olive oil and paraffin oil. The researchers succeeded at keeping the samples' temperatures as low as negative 13 degrees Celsius for up to a week.

In followup experiments, scientists improved upon their initial results using more complex oils, as well as pure simple hydrocarbons like alcohols and alkanes. The researchers were able to supercool small samples to negative 20 degrees Celsius and maintain the subzero temperatures for 100 days. The scientists were able to keep larger samples at similarly frigid temperatures for a week.

The team of scientists proved their novel supercooling technique could be used to preserve red blood cells for 100 days. Under normal storage conditions, cell quality begins to decline after two weeks.

Researchers detailed their breakthrough this week in the journal Nature Communications.

"Along with potential applications in medicine and food preservation, we also believe this invention could be used to study chemical reactions in the liquid state at low temperatures without the usual costly and complicated high-pressure equipment," Usta said.

*-- Experimental video game may improve empathy in children --*

Researchers have developed a video game they believe can improve empathy of children in middle school.

The game was developed by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers to see how learning empathy skills from the game can change neural connections in the brain. The results were published Tuesday in the journal npj Science Learning.

The researchers found in as little as two weeks that children showed greater connectivity in brain networks related to empathy and perspective taking. In addition, some showed altered neural networks commonly linked to emotion regulation.

Youth between the ages of 8 and 18 play more than 70 minutes of video games daily, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. At the same time, during adolescence, there is a big increase in brain growth, as well as a time when kids are susceptible to first encounters with depression, anxiety and bullying.

"The realization that these skills are actually trainable with video games is important because they are predictors of emotional well-being and health throughout life, and can be practiced anytime -- with or without video games," research leader Tammi Kral, a UW-Madison graduate student in psychology at the Center for Healthy Minds, said in a press release.

In the game, a space-exploring robot crashes on a distant planet. To gather the pieces of its damaged spaceship, it needs to build emotional rapport with the local alien inhabitants. They speak a different language but their facial expressions are remarkably humanlike.

The game, called "Crystals of Kaydor," was developed in partnership with Gear Learning at UW-Madison and researchers Constance Steinkuehler and Kurt Squire, who are now professors of informatics at the University of California, Irvine. The game is not available to the public.

In the study, 150 middle schoolers were randomly assigned to two groups: one played the experimental game, and the others played a commercially available game called "Bastion" that does not target empathy.

The researchers measured how accurately the players in the experimental game identified the emotions of the characters in the game.

In the other game, participants collected materials needed to build a machine to save their village -- "Bastion" is not designed to teach or measure empathy.

The team had magnetic resonance imaging scans performed before and after two weeks of gameplay. Participants completed tests during the brain scans that measured how accurately they empathized with others.

The researchers found stronger connectivity in empathy-related brain networks for those playing "Crystals of Kaydor" compared with "Bastion." Also, "Crystals" players with strengthened neural connectivity in key brain networks for emotion regulation also improved their score on the empathy test.

"The fact that not all children showed changes in the brain and corresponding improvements in empathic accuracy underscores the well-known adage that one size does not fit all," Davidson said. "One of the key challenges for future research is to determine which children benefit most from this type of training and why."

Davidson also wants further research to explore whether games that teach empathy skills may help children on the autism spectrum.

"This platform has the potential to be widely accessed and readily consumed by adolescents who are eager to use the newest electronic entertainment, and parents who would like positive alternatives to the commonly available games," the researchers wrote. "The benefits of training empathy include the possibility to improve social interactions during a time of life when social support could be critical to overcoming hardship and improving wellness."


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