Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have found that a person's ability to feel empathy can be assessed by studying their brain activity while they are resting rather than engaged in specific tasks, according to a release on Tuesday.
Traditionally, empathy is assessed through the use of questionnaires and psychological assessments. The new findings offer an alternative to people who may have difficulty in filling out questionnaires or expressing their feelings, such as people with severe mental illness or autism, said Marco Iacoboni, senior author of the study and professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA.
For the study, published in Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, researchers recruited 58 male and female participants aged 18-35.
They were told to let their minds wander while keeping their eyes still by looking at a fixation cross on a black screen. Afterward, the participants completed questionnaires designed to measure empathy.
Using a form of artificial intelligence, also known as machine learning, to collect the resting brain activity data of the participants, the researchers can pick up subtle patterns in data, which more traditional data analyses can not do.
In the study, the researchers also applied a noninvasive technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging, which measures and maps brain activity through small changes in blood flow, to assess the participants' empathy ability.
"We found that even when not engaged directly in a task that involves empathy, brain activity within these networks can reveal people's empathic disposition," Iacoboni said.
"Empathy is a cornerstone of mental health and well-being. It promotes social and cooperative behavior through our concern for others. It also helps us to infer and predict the internal feelings, behavior and intentions of others," Iacoboni said.
The maiden flight of the Long March-5B rocket carrying a trial version of China's new-generation manned spaceship is expected to take place in April, indicating the imminent start of construction of China' space station.
The rocket, the prototype core capsule of the space station and the experimental manned spaceship are undergoing tests at the Wenchang Space Launch Center on the coast of south China's island province of Hainan.
During the flight in mid to late April, the experimental manned spaceship will be sent into space with no crew. The prototype of the core capsule of the space station will not be launched.
The Long March-5B is a modified version of the Long March-5, currently China's largest carrier rocket, and will be mainly used for sending capsules of China's space station and large spacecraft to the low-Earth orbit, according to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).
Space engineers developed a new large fairing, which is 20.5 meters long and 5.2 meters in diameter, for the Long March-5B. The whole rocket is about 53.7 meters long, with a 5-meter diameter core stage and four 3.35-meter diameter boosters.
The rocket uses environment-friendly fuel, including kerosene, liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. It has a takeoff weight of about 849 tonnes and a payload capacity of 22 tonnes to low-Earth orbit, said Wang Jue, chief director of the Long March-5 development team at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.
After the maiden flight of the Long March-5B, the Long March-5 carrier rocket will launch China's first Mars probe and the Chang'e-5 lunar probe later this year.
China aims to complete construction of the space station around 2022. According to the CMSA, more than 10 missions are planned in the next three years to complete the construction and master technologies for in-orbit assembly and construction of large complex spacecraft, long-term manned spaceflight in near-Earth space and large-scale space science experiments.
China still faces many challenges, so joint drills at the space launch center and the maiden flight of the Long March-5B are very important, said experts.
The space station will be a T shape with the Tianhe core module at the center and a lab capsule on each side. The core module -- at 16.6 meters long and 4.2 meters in diameter, with a takeoff weight of 22.5 tonnes -- will be the management and control center.
China's current largest spacecraft, the Tianhe core module will be able to support a long-term stay of three astronauts in space.
The living space in the core module is about 50 cubic meters. With the two lab capsules, the living space could be up to 110 cubic meters, which would provide the astronauts a confortable environment, said experts from the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), the main developer of the space station capsules.
The longest stay in space so far by Chinese astronauts is 33 days. The necessary water and oxygen were taken into space. To enable astronauts to stay longer in orbit, the space station will be equipped with a renewable life support system, said experts.
The water vapor exhaled by astronauts will be recovered by condensation, and urine will be recycled and purified as drinking water and domestic water. The hydrogen produced in electrolytic oxygen production and the carbon dioxide exhaled by astronauts can generate oxygen through chemical reaction, which can supplement oxygen for the space station.
Science facilities on the space station could support hundreds of research projects in fields such as astronomy, space life science, biotechnology, microgravity, basic physics and space materials.
More than a dozen advanced experiment racks will be installed, and an extra-vehicular experiment platform will be built. In addition, a capsule holding a large optical telescope will fly in the same orbit.
Israeli researchers have developed an energy-independent portable system for extracting and collecting water from the air, including in desert areas, the northern Israel Institute of Technology (Technion) reported on Monday.
The new technology is particularly relevant to small, isolated communities that are located far away from water sources, as water transportation costs to such areas are high.
Unlike existing air harvesting systems, the new, cheap, efficient system allows to produce water on site, without the need for external energy.
While today's systems are based on cooling of all incoming air, the new system only cools the water vapor (which is only about 3 percent of air mass), thus significantly reducing the energy needed to produce water.
The researchers' motive for developing the new system was the World Health Organization (WHO) estimation that by 2025, half of the world's population will be living in water-stressed areas.
The Israeli new technology is based on a two-stage cyclic process: separation of moisture from the air by absorption using a highly concentrated saline solution, and separation of the moisture from the desiccant under and condensing the vapor under sub-atmospheric pressure conditions.
The researchers said that apart from its basic existence and health importance, such independent water production can prevent bloody conflicts over water sources in dry areas, and can also allow young women in some societies to study instead of having to carry water for their families.
"Our development, first prototype of its kind in the world, makes water an affordable resource anywhere in the world, regardless of existing water sources. We hope to make the system a commercial product soon," the researchers concluded.
Record high temperatures reportedly measured in Antarctica will take months to verify, the U.N. weather agency said Sunday.
A spokesman for the World Meteorological Organization said the measurements made by researchers from Argentina and Brazil earlier this month have to undergo a formal process to ensure that they meet international standards.
"A formal decision on whether or not this is a record is likely to be several months away," said Jonathan Fowler, the WMO spokesman.
Scientists at an Argentine research base measured a temperature of 18.3 degrees Celsius (nearly 65 degrees Fahrenheit) Feb. 6 on a peninsula that juts out from Antarctica toward the southern tip of South America. Last week, researchers from Brazil claimed to have measured temperatures above 20 degrees C on an island off the peninsula.
Fowler said both measurements would need to be transmitted to Prof. Randall Cerveny, a researcher at Arizona State University who examines reported temperature records for WMO.
Cerveny then shares the data with a wider group of scientists who "will carefully evaluate the available evidence (including comparisons to surrounding stations) and debate the merits and problems of the observation," said Fowler.
The evaluation normally takes six to nine months, after which Cerveny would "formally either accept or reject the potential extreme," giving official WMO approval to the new record, he said.
Climate change is causing the Arctic and the Antarctic to warm faster than other parts of the planet.
NASA has selected four Discovery Program investigations to develop concept studies on the solar system, according to a release of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on Thursday.
NASA's Discovery Program invites scientists and engineers to assemble a team to design exciting planetary science missions, which will provide frequent flight opportunities for focused planetary science investigations, according to JPL.
"These selected missions have the potential to transform our understanding of some of the solar system's most active and complex worlds," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "Exploring any one of these celestial bodies will help unlock the secrets of how it, and others like it, came to be in the cosmos."
The selected proposals are Trident, VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy), DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus), and Io Volcano Observer.
Established in 1992, NASA's Discovery Program has so far supported the development and implementation of over 20 missions and instruments.