David Kirkpatrick

January 13, 2010

Everybody’s workin’ for the weekend

Looks like there really is something behind the old trope.

Yeah I know this will make three releases in a row, but I haven’t done a release dump in quite a long time.

The release:

‘Weekend Effect’ Makes People Happier Regardless of Their Job, Study Says

From construction laborers and secretaries to physicians and lawyers, people experience better moods, greater vitality, and fewer aches and pains from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, concludes the first study of daily mood variation in employed adults to be published in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. And that ‘weekend effect’ is largely associated with the freedom to choose one’s activities and the opportunity to spend time with loved ones, the research found.

“Workers, even those with interesting, high status jobs, really are happier on the weekend,” says author Richard Ryan, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. “Our findings highlight just how important free time is to an individual’s well-being,” Ryan adds. “Far from frivolous, the relatively unfettered time on weekends provides critical opportunities for bonding with others, exploring interests and relaxing — basic psychological needs that people should be careful not to crowd out with overwork,” Ryan cautions.

The study tracked the moods of 74 adults, aged 18 to 62, who worked at least 30 hours per week. For three weeks, participants were paged randomly at three times during the day, once in the morning, the afternoon and the evening. At each page, participants completed a brief questionnaire describing the activity in which they were engaged and, using a seven-point scale, they rated their positive feelings like happiness, joy, and pleasure as well as negative feelings of anxiety, anger, and depression. Physical symptoms of stress, such as headaches, digestive problems, respiratory ills, or low energy, also were noted.

The results demonstrated that men and women alike consistently feel better mentally and physically on the weekend. They feel better regardless of how much money they make, how many hours they work, how educated they happen to be, or whether they work in the trades, the service industry, or in a professional capacity. They feel better whether they are single, married, living together, divorced, or widowed. And, they feel better regardless of age.

To tease out exactly why weekend hours are so magical, the researchers asked participants to indicate whether they felt controlled versus autonomous in the task they were engaged in at the time of the pager signal. Participants also indicated how close they felt to others present and how competent they perceived themselves to be at their activity.

The findings indicated that relative to workdays, weekends were associated with higher levels of freedom and closeness: people reported more often that they were involved in activities of their own choosing and spending time with more intimate friends and family members. Surprisingly, the analysis also found that people feel more competent during the weekend than they do at their day-to-day jobs.

The results support self-determination theory, which holds that well-being depends in large part on meeting one’s basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. This study, conclude the authors, “offers one of the first substantive and theory-based explanations for why wellbeing tends to be more favorable on the weekends: People experience greater autonomy and relatedness, which are, in turn, related to higher wellness.” By contrast, write the authors, the work week “is replete with activities involving external controls, time pressures, and demands on behavior related to work, child care and other constraints.” Workers also may spend time among colleagues with whom they share limited emotional connections.

The study also raises questions about how work environments can be structured to be more supportive of wellness. “To the extent that daily life, including work, affords a sense of autonomy, relatedness, and competence, well-being may be higher and more stable, rather than regularly rising and falling,” the researchers conclude.

The weekend effect study was coauthored by Jessey Bernstein, professor of psychology from McGill University, and Kirk Warren Brown, professor of psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University.

About the University of Rochester

The University of Rochester (www.rochester.edu) is one of the nation’s leading private universities. Located in Rochester, N.Y., the University gives students exceptional opportunities for interdisciplinary study and close collaboration with faculty through its unique cluster-based curriculum. Its College, School of Arts and Sciences, and Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences are complemented by the Eastman School of Music, Simon School of Business, Warner School of Education, Laboratory for Laser Energetics, Schools of Medicine and Nursing, and the Memorial Art Gallery.

June 2, 2009

Making water run uphill …

… through lasers and nanostructures. Lots of possible apps here, plus it’s just freaking cool.

The release:

Scientists create metal that pumps liquid uphill

Ultra-fast laser makes metal that attracts, repels and guides liquids

IMAGE: Chunlei Guo uses the femtosecond laser (behind him) to create nanostructures in metal that can move liquid uphill.

Click here for more information. 

In nature, trees pull vast amounts of water from their roots up to their leaves hundreds of feet above the ground through capillary action, but now scientists at the University of Rochester have created a simple slab of metal that lifts liquid using the same principle—but does so at a speed that would make nature envious.

The metal, revealed in an upcoming issue of Applied Physics Letters, may prove invaluable in pumping microscopic amounts of liquid around a medical diagnostic chip, cooling a computer’s processor, or turning almost any simple metal into an anti-bacterial surface.

“We’re able to change the surface structure of almost any piece of metal so that we can control how liquid responds to it,” says Chunlei Guo, associate professor of optics at the University of Rochester. “We can even control the direction in which the liquid flows, or whether liquid flows at all.”

Guo and his assistant, Anatoliy Vorobyev, use an ultra-fast burst of laser light to change the surface of a metal, forming nanoscale and microscale pits, globules, and strands across the metal’s surface. The laser, called a femtosecond laser, produces pulses lasting only a few quadrillionths of a second—a femtosecond is to a second what a second is to about 32 million years. During its brief burst, Guo’s laser unleashes as much power as the entire electric grid of North America does, all focused onto a spot the size of a needlepoint, he says.

The wicking process, which on Guo’s metal moves at a quick one centimeter per second speed against gravity, is very similar to the phenomenon that pulls spilled milk into a paper towel or creates “tears of wine” in a wineglass—molecular attractions and evaporation combine to move a liquid against gravity, says Guo. Likewise, Guo’s nanostructures change the way molecules of a liquid interact with the molecules of the metal, allowing them to become more or less attracted to each other, depending on Guo’s settings. At a certain size, the metal nanostructures adhere more readily to the liquid’s molecules than the liquid’s molecules adhere to each other, causing the liquid to quickly spread out across the metal. Combined with the effects of evaporation as the liquid spreads, this molecular interaction creates the fast wicking effect in Guo’s metals.

Adding laser-etched channels into the metal further enhances Guo’s control of the liquid.

“Imagine a huge waterway system shrunk down onto a tiny chip, like the electronic circuit printed on a microprocessor, so we can perform chemical or biological work with a tiny bit of liquid,” says Guo. “Blood could precisely travel along a certain path to a sensor for disease diagnostics. With such a tiny system, a nurse wouldn’t need to draw a whole tube of blood for a test. A scratch on the skin might contain more than enough cells for a micro-analysis.”

Guo’s team has also created metal that reduces the attraction between water molecules and metal molecules, a phenomenon called hydrophobia. Since germs mostly consist of water, it’s all but impossible for them to grow on a hydrophobic surface, says Guo.

Currently, to alter an area of metal the size of a quarter takes 30 minutes or more, but Guo and Vorobyev are working on refining the technique to make it faster. Fortunately, despite the incredible intensity involved, the femtosecond laser can be powered by a simple wall outlet, meaning that when the process is refined, implementing it should be relatively simple.

Guo is also announcing this month in Physical Review Letters a femtosecond laser processing technique that can create incandescent light bulbs that use half as much energy, yet produce the same amount of light. In 2006, Guo’s team used the femtosecond laser to create metal with nanostructures that reflected almost no light at all, and in 2008 the team was able to tune the creation of nanostructures to reflect certain wavelengths of light—in effect turning almost any metal into almost any color.

 

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This research funded by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation.

March 29, 2009

Play video games, improve your vision

Seems counterintuitive, but check out this study. Video gamers (especially kids), here’s some ammo against the argument your ruining your eyes playing hours of Halo.

The release from today:

Action video games improve vision

Ability to perceive changes in shades of gray improves up to 58 percent

IMAGE: This is a Pelli-Robson chart showing decreasing contrast from upper left to lower right. True contrast varies between monitors.

Click here for more information. 

Video games that involve high levels of action, such as first-person-shooter games, increase a player’s real-world vision, according to research in today’s Nature Neuroscience.

The ability to discern slight differences in shades of gray has long been thought to be an attribute of the human visual system that cannot be improved. But Daphne Bavelier, professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, has discovered that very practiced action gamers become 58 percent better at perceiving fine differences in contrast.

“Normally, improving contrast sensitivity means getting glasses or eye surgery—somehow changing the optics of the eye,” says Bavelier. “But we’ve found that action video games train the brain to process the existing visual information more efficiently, and the improvements last for months after game play stopped.”

The finding builds on Bavelier’s past work that has shown that action video games decrease visual crowding and increases visual attention. Contrast sensitivity, she says, is the primary limiting factor in how well a person can see. Bavelier says that the findings show that action video game training may be a useful complement to eye-correction techniques, since game training may teach the visual cortex to make better use of the information it receives.

IMAGE: This is an animation illustrating the difference between 38 percent contrast and 60 percent contrast — the approximate difference perceived by non-action gamers and action gamers.

Click here for more information. 

To learn whether high-action games could affect contrast sensitivity, Bavelier, in collaboration with graduate student Renjie Li and colleagues Walt Makous, professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, and Uri Polat, professor at the Eye Institute at Tel Aviv University, tested the contrast sensitivity function of 22 students, then divided them into two groups: One group played the action video games “Unreal Tournament 2004″ and “Call of Duty 2.” The second group played “The Sims 2,” which is a richly visual game, but does not include the level of visual-motor coordination of the other group’s games. The volunteers played 50 hours of their assigned games over the course of 9 weeks. At the end of the training, the students who played the action games showed an average 43% improvement in their ability to discern close shades of gray—close to the difference she had previously observed between game players and non-game players—whereas the Sims players showed none.

IMAGE: This is a photo illustrating 58 percent better contrast perception versus “regular ” contrast perception.

Click here for more information. 

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration that contrast sensitivity can be improved by simple training,” says Bavelier. “When people play action games, they’re changing the brain’s pathway responsible for visual processing. These games push the human visual system to the limits and the brain adapts to it, and we’ve seen the positive effect remains even two years after the training was over.”

Bavelier says that the findings suggest that despite the many concerns about the effects of action video games and the time spent in front of a computer screen, that time may not necessarily be harmful, at least for vision.

Bavelier is now taking what she has learned with her video game research and collaborating with a consortium of researchers to look into treatments for amblyopia, a problem caused by poor transmission of the visual image to the brain.

 

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This research was funded by the National Eye Institute and the Office of Naval Research.

April 1, 2008

Music file 1000 times smaller than regular MP3

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 4:36 pm

Amazing audio compression from the University of Rochester.

 From the linked release:

Researchers at the University of Rochester have digitally reproduced music in a file nearly 1,000 times smaller than a regular MP3 file.

The music, a 20-second clarinet solo, is encoded in less than a single kilobyte, and is made possible by two innovations: recreating in a computer both the real-world physics of a clarinet and the physics of a clarinet player.

Audio Files
(stored in .wav format for Web comparison)

The achievement, announced today at the International Conference on Acoustics Speech and Signal Processing held in Las Vegas, is not yet a flawless reproduction of an original performance, but the researchers say it’s getting close.

“This is essentially a human-scale system of reproducing music,” says Mark Bocko, professor of electrical and computer engineering and co-creator of the technology. “Humans can manipulate their tongue, breath, and fingers only so fast, so in theory we shouldn’t really have to measure the music many thousands of times a second like we do on a CD. As a result, I think we may have found the absolute least amount of data needed to reproduce a piece of music.”

In replaying the music, a computer literally reproduces the original performance based on everything it knows about clarinets and clarinet playing. Two of Bocko’s doctoral students, Xiaoxiao Dong and Mark Sterling, worked with Bocko to measure every aspect of a clarinet that affects its sound—from the backpressure in the mouthpiece for every different fingering, to the way sound radiates from the instrument. They then built a computer model of the clarinet, and the result is a virtual instrument built entirely from the real-world acoustical measurements.

The team then set about creating a virtual player for the virtual clarinet. They modeled how a clarinet player interacts with the instrument including the fingerings, the force of breath, and the pressure of the player’s lips to determine how they would affect the response of the virtual clarinet. Then, says Bocko, it’s a matter of letting the computer “listen” to a real clarinet performance to infer and record the various actions required to create a specific sound. The original sound is then reproduced by feeding the record of the player’s actions back into the computer model.

At present the results are a very close, though not yet a perfect, representation of the original sound.

“We are still working on including ‘tonguing,’ or how the player strikes the reed with the tongue to start notes in staccato passages,” says Bocko. “But in music with more sustained and connected notes the method works quite well and it’s difficult to tell the synthesized sound from the original.”

As the method is refined the researchers imagine that it may give computer musicians more intuitive ways to create expressive music by including the actions of a virtual musician in computer synthesizers. And although the human vocal tract is highly complex, Bocko says the method may in principle be extended to vocals as well.

The current method handles only a single instrument at a time, however in other work in the University’s Music Research Lab with post-doctoral researcher Gordana Velikic and Dave Headlam, professor of music theory at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, the team has produced a method of separating multiple instruments in a mix so the two methods can be combined to produce a very compact recording.

Bocko believes that the quality will continue to improve as the acoustic measurements and the resulting synthesis algorithms become more accurate, and he says this process may represent the maximum possible data compression of music.

“Maybe the future of music recording lies in reproducing performers and not recording them,” says Bocko.

This research is funded by the National Science Foundation.

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