A: The average cumulus cloud weighs 1.1 million pounds. Wow!
They look so soft and fluffy up there. But we all know both air and water have weight, so they must weigh SOMETHING, right?
If clouds are made up of particles, then they must have weight and density (the weight for a chosen volume, such as a cubic inch or meter).
To calculate weight, scientists evaluate the weight of the water droplets in the cloud, plus the weight of the air (mostly above the cloud, pressing down). One estimate of cumulus cloud density is given at https://www.sciencealert.com/this-is-how-much-a-cloud-weighs, as a density of about 0.5 gram per cubic meter. A 1-cubic kilometer (km3) cloud contains 1 billion cubic meters.
Doing the math: 1,000,000,000 x 0.5 = 500,000,000 grams of water droplets in our cloud. That is about 500,000 kilograms or 1.1 million pounds (about 551 tons), or roughly 100 elephants. But, just as oil floats on water because it’s less dense, that “heavy” cloud is floating over your head because the air below it is even heavier— the lesser density of the cloud allows it to float on the dryer and more-dense air.
Universal blood type organs created in groundbreaking procedure, making transplants available for all patients
TORONTO, Ontario — A revolutionary procedure could make donor organs available for more patients — regardless of their blood type. Researchers from the University Health Network in Toronto have proven that it’s possible to convert the blood type of an organ, creating a universal organ that would avoid rejection during transplants.
The procedure, conducted at the Latner Thoracic Surgery Research Laboratories and UHN’s Ajmera Transplant Centre, changed the lungs from a donor with type A blood into an organ with type O blood. Scientists consider type O the universal donor type. The breakthrough may significantly cut down on the disparity in organ transplant availability and shorten transplant waiting lists worldwide.
“With the current matching system, wait times can be considerably longer for patients who need a transplant depending on their blood type,” explains senior author Dr. Marcelo Cypel, Surgical Director of the Ajmera Transplant Centre, in a media release.
“Having universal organs means we could eliminate the blood-matching barrier and prioritize patients by medical urgency, saving more lives and wasting less organs,” adds Dr. Cypel, who is also a thoracic surgeon at UHN’s Sprott Department of Surgery.
Why is blood type so important?
A person’s blood type is dependent upon the antigens sitting on the surface of their red blood cells. People with type A blood have A antigens on their cells, while type B has B antigens and type AB has both. People with type O blood, however, have no antigens on the surface of their cells.
The reason this is important is because these antigens trigger an immune response if they’re foreign to a person’s body. This is also why patients needing a blood transfusion can only receive blood from donors with the same blood type — or from universal type O donors.
This problem also complicates organ donations. Researchers explain that antigens A and B are present on the surfaces of organs as well. Even people with type O blood have problems receiving transplants from type A or B donors. Since type O patients have anti-A and anti-B antibodies in their blood, receiving an organ from a type A donor will likely result in rejection.
For these reasons, doctors have to match up organs according to blood type as well as many other factors — leading to a wait for the perfect organ which can last several years. On average, type O patients actually have the longest wait for lung transplants — sometimes twice as long as type A patients. Kidney transplant patients can also end up waiting up to five years for a compatible donor.
“This translates into mortality. Patients who are type O and need a lung transplant have a 20 percent higher risk of dying while waiting for a matched organ to become available,” says explains study first author Dr. Aizhou Wang. “If you convert all organs to universal type O, you can eliminate that barrier completely.”
How did scientists make a universal organ?
In the proof-of-concept study, Dr. Cypel’s team used the Ex Vivo Lung Perfusion (EVLP) System to pump nourishing fluids through human donor lungs from a type A patient. This process allowed the researchers to warm the lungs up to body temperature so the team could convert the organs for transplantation.
Before the procedure, the donor’s lungs were not considered suitable for an organ transplant. During the experiment, study authors treated one lung with a group of enzymes to flush out the A antigens, while leaving the other lung untreated.
From there, they tested the conversion by adding type O blood with large concentrations of anti-A antibodies to the EVLP circuit. This simulated the conditions of an ABO-incompatible transplant. Results show that the treated lung was well tolerated, meaning the lung would likely be safe from rejection if the team placed it in a human patient. Meanwhile, the untreated lung showed signs of rejection, meaning such a transplant in a human would likely fail.
Gut enzymes are key to universal organs
Dr. Stephen Withers, a biochemist at the University of British Columbia, found a group of gut enzymes in 2018 which became the first step in creating these universal organs. Researchers used the EVLP circuit to deliver these enzymes to the lungs during the new experiment.
“Enzymes are Mother Nature’s catalysts and they carry out particular reactions. This group of enzymes that we found in the human gut can cut sugars from the A and B antigens on red blood cells, converting them into universal type O cells,” Dr. Withers explains. “In this experiment, this opened a gateway to create universal blood-type organs.”
“This is a great partnership with UHN and I was amazed to learn about the ex vivo perfusion system and its impact [on] transplants. It is exciting to see our findings being translated to clinical research,” Dr. Withers adds.
The study authors are working on a proposal to begin a clinical trial on this new technique. They hope that the trial could begin within the next 12 to 18 months.
The new material is a two-dimensional polymer that self-assembles into sheets and could be used as a lightweight, durable coating for car parts or cell phones, or as a building material for bridges or other structures. (Credits:Image: polymer film courtesy of the researchers; Christine Daniloff, MIT)
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. —Scientists at MIT have developed a material that is as light as plastic — but stronger than steel. They believe the material could revolutionize the car, mobile phone, and building industries.
The easily manufactured substance – up to six times more difficult to break than bulletproof glass – is the result of an engineering feat previously thought to be impossible. It is a two-dimensional polymer that self-assembles into sheets, unlike all other polymers, which form one-dimensional, spaghetti-like chains.
Until now, scientists believed it was impossible to induce polymers to form 2D sheets. Now, its developers hope the material could be used as a lightweight, durable coating for car parts or mobile phones. It could also serve as a worthy candidate for the construction of office buildings, bridges, or other structures.
“We don’t usually think of plastics as being something that you could use to support a building, but with this material, you can enable new things,” says senior author Michael Strano, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT, in a statement. “It has very unusual properties and we’re very excited about that.”
The researchers filed for two patents on the pioneering process they used to generate the material.
Birth of 2DPA-1
So how did this groundbreaking substance come to be? Polymers, which include all plastics, consist of chains of building blocks called monomers. The chains grow by adding new molecules onto their ends. Once formed, polymers can be shaped into three-dimensional objects, such as water bottles, using injection molding. Experts have long believed that if polymers could be induced to grow into a two-dimensional sheet, they should form extremely strong, lightweight materials.
However, many decades of work led to the conclusion that it was impossible to create such sheets.
One reason was that if just one monomer rotates up or down, out of the plane of the growing sheet, the material will begin expanding in three dimensions and the sheet-like structure will be lost. However, in the new study, Strano and his colleagues came up with a new polymerization process that allows them to generate a two-dimensional sheet called a polyaramide.
For the monomer building blocks, they use a compound called melamine, which contains a ring of carbon and nitrogen atoms. Under the right conditions, the monomers can grow in two dimensions, forming discs. Strano explains that these discs stack on top of each other, held together by hydrogen bonds between the layers, which make the structure very stable and strong.
“Instead of making a spaghetti-like molecule, we can make a sheet-like molecular plane, where we get molecules to hook themselves together in two dimensions,” says Strano. “This mechanism happens spontaneously in solution, and after we synthesize the material, we can easily spin-coat thin films that are extraordinarily strong.”
Because the material self-assembles in solution, Strano says it can be made in large quantities by simply increasing the quantity of the starting materials. The researchers showed that they could coat surfaces with films of the material, which they call 2DPA-1.
“With this advance, we have planar molecules that are going to be much easier to fashion into a very strong, but extremely thin material,” says Strano.
Revolutionary material ‘can completely prevent water or gases from getting through’
The researchers write that the new material’s elastic modulus – a measure of how much force it takes to deform a material – is between four and six times greater than that of bulletproof glass. They also claim that its yield strength – how much force it takes to break the material – is twice that of steel, even though the material has only about one-sixth the density of steel.
Strano says that another key feature of 2DPA-1 is that it is impermeable to gases. “While other polymers are made from coiled chains with gaps that allow gases to seep through, the new material is made from monomers that lock together like Lego, and molecules cannot get between them,” he adds. “This could allow us to create ultrathin coatings that can completely prevent water or gases from getting through. This kind of barrier coating could be used to protect metal in cars and other vehicles, or steel structures.”
The study’s findings are published in the journal Nature. The authors are now studying in more detail how the material is able to form 2D sheets. They’re also experimenting with changing its molecular make-up to create other new materials.
South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.
Here’s another reason to take care of our complexions: New research finds that increased collagen helps fight cancer. While topical creams may or may not make much difference (dermal penetration is minimal), treatments that build collagen such as Genesis and IPL (intense pulsed light) may do more than keep that youthful glow. Schedule that derm appointment STAT!
Anti-wrinkle cream ingredient collagen could hold the key to curing cancer
NEW YORK — A substance that the body creates naturally and is also an ingredient in anti-wrinkle creams could hold the key to stopping the spread of cancer. Researchers from The Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai say cancerous tumors secrete a form of the protein collagen that keeps them quiet for years, even as they spread to other parts of the body. Their findings reveal that these tumor cells only turn malignant once their supplies of collagen run out.
Experiments involving mice and humans found increasing levels of type III collagen — the form of the protein cancer cells produce and cover themselves in — stops diseased cells from spreading. The collagen that surrounds the cells forces them to remain in a dormant state, preventing recurrence and metastasis — where they migrate to other organs.
“Our findings have potential clinical implications and may lead to a novel biomarker to predict tumor recurrences, as well as a therapeutic intervention to reduce local and distant relapses,” says senior author Professor Jose Bravo-Cordero in a media release.
Using state-of-the-art scanning techniques, the team tracked breast, head, and neck cancer cells implanted in mice. This enabled them to visualize the supporting “scaffold” as they became dormant and how this covering changed as the cells awoke.
Covering tumor cells in collagen could keep cancer asleep
In samples from cancer patients, researchers found type III collagen predicted tumor recurrence and metastasis. In the mice, infusions of collagen around cancer cells blocked their progression, forcing them back into dormancy.
“This intervention aimed at preventing the awakening of dormant cells has been suggested as a therapeutic strategy to prevent metastatic outgrowth,” Prof Bravo-Cordero says.
“As the biology of tumor dormancy gets uncovered and new specific drugs are developed, a combination of dormancy-inducing treatments with therapies that specifically target dormant cells will ultimately prevent local recurrence and metastasis and pave the way to cancer remission.”
How cancer cells remain inert for long periods before awakening to wreak havoc throughout the body has baffled experts for decades. The study, published in the journal Nature Cancer, solves a major mystery and opens the door to therapies using collagen as a cancer treatment.
From cosmetics to cancer research
Most people likely know collagen for its use in helping people look younger. However, the protein is also a natural building block for the skin, bones, and connective tissues throughout the body. It provides strength and elasticity, but women experience a dramatic drop in production after menopause.
In cosmetic products, collagen injections can improve the contours of the skin. Fillers that contain collagen remove lines and wrinkles from the face. It can also improve the appearance of scars.
Study authors note that collagen is present in the extracellular matrix, an intricate network that determines the physical properties of tissues — including tumors. Most cancer deaths are due to these harmful cells spreading throughout the body, which can still happen several years after surgical removal of the original tumor.
Previous research has shown collagen dressings heal chronic wounds that do not respond to other treatments. Encasing a tumor in collagen may have similarly dramatic success, Prof. Bravo-Cordero explains.
The study author adds that wound treatment with collagen scaffolds has displayed promising results and is a therapeutic alternative for people with complex skin wounds.
“Our studies demonstrate the potential therapeutic use of type III collagen to prevent the reawakening of cancer cells by inducing and maintaining cancer cell dormancy in the primary site,” researchers conclude in a statement to SWNS.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.
Whoops, almost missed Monday this week. That’s what I get for spending hours attempting to delete all the cyber-hysteria emails that pop up like whack-a-mole: Delete twenty and another thirty-five pop up, seemingly instantaneously.
DUBLIN, Ireland — Blood contains all sorts of life-giving components, from red blood cells that carry oxygen to white blood cells that fight off infections. However, our blood also works hard to repair wounds. Thanks to platelet-rich plasma (PRP), blood clots around scraps and scratches, allowing our bodies to heal and limit scarring. Now, researchers in Ireland have discovered an innovative way of improving the healing process even further — 3D printing!
A team from RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences say replicating more blood plasma through 3D printing technology can help scientists create a PRP implant that speeds up healing. Platelet-rich plasma is the body’s natural healing substance and it makes up about half of a person’s blood.
The new study explored the possibility of extracting PRP from a patient with severe skin wounds and creating more of this substance in a 3D printer. Scientists would then use these platelets to form an implant doctors can place on difficult-to-heal skin wounds — like a scaffold — during surgery.
No more scars for serious wounds?
Tests by the RCSI team found that applying a PRP implant speeds up the healing process by triggering the development of new blood vessels (vascularization). The implant also inhibits scarring and the thickening of tissue around wounds (fibrosis). Researchers say both of these benefits are key for wounds to heal effectively.
“Existing literature suggests that while the PRP already present in our blood helps to heal wounds, scarring can still occur. By 3D-printing PRP into a biomaterial scaffold, we can increase the formation of blood vessels while also avoiding the formation of scars, leading to more successful wound healing,” says RCSI professor of bioengineering and regenerative medicine, Fergal O’Brien, in a university release.
“As well as promising results for skin wound healing, this technology can potentially be used to regenerate different tissues, therefore dramatically influencing the ever-growing regenerative medicine, 3D printing and personalized medicine markets.”
Wishing that those who spread misinformation and/or continue to cause harm to others by refusing to get vaccinated would be held accountable.
Bride-to-Be, 29, Who Was Fearful of Getting Vaccinated Dies of COVID: ‘Misinformation Killed Her’
Samantha Wendell’s funeral will now be held at the church where she had planned to have her wedding. By Julie MazziottaPeople Magazine
Samantha Wendell | CREDIT: BLAKE-LAMB FUNERAL HOME
A 29-year-old Kentucky woman who was fearful of getting vaccinated died of COVID-19 after missing her wedding while hospitalized with the virus.
Samantha Wendell had spent nearly the last two years planning her wedding to fiancé Austin Eskew, obsessing over every aspect of the big day, NBC News reported. The surgical technician from Grand Rivers had put off getting vaccinated, worried that her plans to have three or four kids with Eskew wouldn’t be possible after she heard false information from her co-workers that the shots led to infertility.
She “just kind of panicked,” Eskew, 29, said.
The Centers for Disease Control, OB-GYN groups and health experts have emphasized that the COVID-19 vaccines do not cause infertility and are entirely safe for hopeful or expecting moms. “It is just not true that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is associated with infertility in either males or females,” Dr. Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, previously told PEOPLE.
Wendell ended up changing her mind on getting vaccinated as the delta variant spread through the U.S., and decided that she and Eskew should get inoculated before their honeymoon in Mexico. She made appointments for them for the end of July, but after her bachelorette party a week prior, she started feeling sick and tested positive for COVID-19.
“She could not stop coughing,” Eskew, who got it too, said.
Neither of the couple had preexisting health conditions, and Eskew’s symptoms were mild. But Wendell continued to deteriorate and was hospitalized in August. She spent six weeks in the hospital, and five days before their planned wedding date of Aug. 21, Wendell was put on a ventilator. Just before, she asked doctors if she could get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“It wasn’t going to do any good at that point, obviously,” her mother, Jeaneen Wendell, said. “It just weighs heavy on my heart that this could have easily been avoided.”
This is a fascinating analysis of COVID’s two-month cycle, with the Delta variant following a similar pattern to the first outbreaks. (Apologies for formatting wonkiness — cutting and pasting NYT articles doesn’t always work well.)
A testing site in Auburndale, Fla., last month.Octavio Jones for The New York Times
Has the Delta-fueled Covid-19 surge in the U.S. finally peaked?
The number of new daily U.S. cases has risen less over the past week than at any point since June, as you can see in this chart:
The New York Times
There is obviously no guarantee that the trend will continue. But there is one big reason to think that it may and that caseloads may even soon decline.
Since the pandemic began, Covid has often followed a regular — if mysterious — cycle. In one country after another, the number of new cases has often surged for roughly two months before starting to fall. The Delta variant, despite its intense contagiousness, has followed this pattern.
After Delta took hold last winter in India, caseloads there rose sharply for slightly more than two months before plummeting at a nearly identical rate. In Britain, caseloads rose for almost exactly two months before peaking in July. In Indonesia, Thailand, France, Spain and several other countries, the Delta surge also lasted somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 months.
* Between February and July 2021, depending on the country.The New York Times
And in the U.S. states where Delta first caused caseloads to rise, the cycle already appears to be on its downside. Case numbers in Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Missouri peaked in early or mid-August and have since been falling:
The New York Times
Two possible stories
We have asked experts about these two-month cycles, and they acknowledged that they could not explain it. “We still are really in the cave ages in terms of understanding how viruses emerge, how they spread, how they start and stop, why they do what they do,” Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, said.
But two broad categories of explanation seem plausible, the experts say.
One involves the virus itself. Rather than spreading until it has reached every last person, perhaps it spreads in waves that happen to follow a similar timeline. How so? Some people may be especially susceptible to a variant like Delta, and once many of them have been exposed to it, the virus starts to recede — until a new variant causes the cycle to begin again (or until a population approaches herd immunity).
The second plausible explanation involves human behavior. People don’t circulate randomly through the world. They live in social clusters, Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist, points out. Perhaps the virus needs about two months to circulate through a typically sized cluster, infecting the most susceptible — and a new wave starts when people break out of their clusters, such as during a holiday. Alternately, people may follow cycles of taking more and then fewer Covid precautions, depending on their level of concern.
Whatever the reasons, the two-month cycle predated Delta. It has repeated itself several times in the U.S., including both last year and early this year, with the Alpha variant, which was centered in the upper Midwest:
The New York Times
In a few countries, vaccination rates have apparently risen high enough to break Covid’s usual two-month cycle: The virus evidently cannot find enough new people to infect. In both Malta and Singapore, this summer’s surge lasted only about two weeks before receding.
We want to emphasize that cases are not guaranteed to decline in coming weeks. There have been plenty of exceptions to the two-month cycle around the world. In Brazil, caseloads have followed no evident pattern. In Britain, cases did decline about two months after the Delta peak — but only for a couple of weeks. Since early August, cases there have been rising again, with the end of behavior restrictions likely playing a role. (If you haven’t yet read this Times dispatch about Britain’s willingness to accept rising caseloads, we recommend it.)
In the U.S., the start of the school year could similarly spark outbreaks this month. The country will need to wait a few more weeks to know. In the meantime, one strategy continues to be more effective than any other in beating back the pandemic: “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine,” as Osterholm says. Or as Nuzzo puts it, “Our top goal has to be first shots in arms.”
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Scientists may be one step closer to defeating cancer after finding what researchers at the University of British Columbia call the disease’s “Achilles’ heel.”
Their study has uncovered a protein that fuels tumors when oxygen levels are low. It enables the cancerous growths to adapt and survive and become more aggressive.
The enzyme, called CAIX (Carbonic Anhydrase IX), helps diseased cells spread to other organs. It could hold the key to new treatments for the deadliest forms of the disease, including breast, pancreatic, lungs, bowel, and prostate cancers.
“Cancer cells depend on the CAIX enzyme to survive, which ultimately makes it their ‘Achilles heel.’ By inhibiting its activity, we can effectively stop the cells from growing,” says study senior author Professor Shoukat Dedhar in a university release.
The findings, published in the journal Science Advances, will help researchers develop drugs that destroy solid tumors. These are the most common types that arise in the body. They rely on blood supply to deliver oxygen and nutrients which help tumors grow.
As the tumors advance, the blood vessels are unable to provide enough oxygen to every part. Over time, the low-oxygen environment leads to a buildup of acid inside the cells. They overcome the stress by unleashing proteins, or enzymes, that neutralize the acidic conditions.
Stopping cancer before it spreads
This process is behind the spread, or metastasis, of cancer cells to other organs — which is what can kill patients. Finding a way to prevent cancer from metastasizing is the “Holy Grail” of cancer research. One of the enzymes which appears to do this is CAIX.
The Canadian team previously identified a unique compound known as SLC-0111 as a powerful inhibitor. It is currently being tested in clinical trials. Experiments in mice with breast, pancreatic, and brain cancers revealed its effectiveness.
The compound suppressed tumor growth and spread, although there were side-effects, with other cellular properties diminished. Now, the researchers have demonstrated other weaknesses in CAIX using a technique called genome-wide synthetic lethal screening. The powerful tool systematically deletes one gene at a time to determine if a cancer cell can be killed by eliminating the enzyme.
Surprisingly, results pointed to an unexpected role of proteins and processes that control a form of cell death called ferroptosis. This process happens when iron builds up and weakens a tumor’s metabolism and cell membranes.
“We now know that the CAIX enzyme blocks cancer cells from dying as a result of ferroptosis,” Dr. Dedhar adds. “Combining inhibitors of CAIX, including SLC-0111, with compounds known to bring about ferroptosis results in catastrophic cell death and debilitates tumor growth.”
A large international effort is currently underway to identify drugs that induce ferroptosis. The study is a major step forward in this quest.
BOULDER, Colo. — Fossils of a creature which researchers compare to the character Beorn from “The Hobbit” may change how scientists look at the evolution of mammals following the extinction of the dinosaurs. The prehistoric mammal is one of three new species a team from the University of Colorado-Boulder have discovered that they say roamed North America shortly after the age of dinosaurs.
Paleontologists generally accept that the end of the dinosaurs is also the dawn of modern mammals on Earth. However, scientists have assumed that there was very little diversity in mammal species during the earliest Paleocene Epoch — a geological period roughly 56 to 66 million years ago. This new discovery suggests that mammals actually diversified much quicker after dinosaurs left the planet.
The three new species — Miniconus jeanninae, Conacodon hettingeri, and Beornus honeyi — range in size from rat-sized mammals to modern house cats. At the largest end of the spectrum, these creatures would be much larger than their fellow mammals living alongside the dinosaurs at the time.
A smile made for the movies
Researchers say each of these animals have unique dental features which reveal them to be separate species. In the case of Beornus honeyi, its inflated molars (or puffy cheek teeth) give it the appearance of being like Beorn from “The Hobbit” — hence its colorful name.
All three mammals belong to a group called archaic ungulates (or condylarths), which are the primitive ancestors to today’s hoofed mammals such as horses, elephants, cows, and hippos. The findings come from an analysis of unearthed lower jaw bones and teeth. These fossils provide insight into an animal’s lifestyle and body size.
The team’s examination points to the animals being omnivores who could grind up both plants and meat. Despite this, scientists can’t rule out that these early mammals only ate plants during this period. One thing is certain though, mammal life took off roughly 66 millions ago following the mass extinction event that wiped out the final era of their reptilian neighbors.
“When the dinosaurs went extinct, access to different foods and environments enabled mammals to flourish and diversify rapidly in their tooth anatomy and evolve larger body size. They clearly took advantage of this opportunity, as we can see from the radiation of new mammal species that took place in a relatively short amount of time following the mass extinction,” explains lead author Madelaine Atteberry from the University of Colorado Geological Sciences Department, in a media release.
North America had a diverse rodent population?
Atteberry and co-author Jaelyn Eberle analyzed the jaw bone fossils of 29 condylarth species to determine the anatomical differences between each animal. Using phylogenetic techniques, they assessed how each species compared to other early Paleocene condylarths living in the present day western United States.
From those studies, the team believes they have unearthed three completely new species from those first years following the demise of dinosaur life. Results also show that Beornus honeyi appears to be the largest of the three, measuring about the size of a modern feline.
While Conacodon hettingeri and Miniconus jeanninae are similar in size to other rodent-like early mammals, they differ in the shape and form of their last molars.
“Previous studies suggest that in the first few hundred thousand years after the dinosaur extinction (what is known in North America as the early Puercan) there was relatively low mammal species diversity across the Western Interior of North America, but the discovery of three new species in the Great Divide Basin suggests rapid diversification following the extinction,” says Atteberry. “These new periptychid ‘condylarths’ make up just a small percentage of the more than 420 mammalian fossils uncovered at this site. We haven’t yet fully captured the extent of mammalian diversity in the earliest Paleocene, and predict that several more new species will be described.”
BALTIMORE, Md. — Taking notes with a plain old pen and paper is becoming more antiquated by the day. However, a new study finds handwriting is actually the superior learning option, beating out both typing and watching videos when it comes to quickly picking up new information. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University report that handwriting is “surprisingly faster and significantly better” for learning certain skills.
“The question out there for parents and educators is why should our kids spend any time doing handwriting,” says senior author Brenda Rapp, a Johns Hopkins professor of cognitive science, in a university release. “Obviously, you’re going to be a better hand-writer if you practice it. But since people are handwriting less then maybe who cares? The real question is: Are there other benefits to handwriting that have to do with reading and spelling and understanding? We find there most definitely are.”
Pen and paper triples learning speed?
A group of 42 participants took part in the study. Researchers taught each person the Arabic alphabet after separating them into three learning groups: pen and paper, typing, and video watching. After all participants had been “introduced” to an Arabic letter via a short video, subjects had to attempt to absorb the new information according to their assigned learning group. The typing group had to find the letter they just saw on a keyboard. The video group saw an on-screen flash of a letter and had to answer if it was the same letter they had just seen. The handwriting group had to copy the letter with pen and paper.
By the time participants across all three groups had finished six “learning sessions,” pretty much everyone was able to recognize the letters. However, the writing group reached this level much faster than the other two groups, after an average of just two learning sessions.
Next, study authors set out to see if any of the groups could “generalize” their new knowledge. In simpler terms, while it’s great that they could identify the Arabic letters they had just learned, could they actually use them to write, spell new words, and recognize unfamiliar words? The writing group excelled in all three of those categories to a much larger degree than either the typing or watching groups.
“The main lesson is that even though they were all good at recognizing letters, the writing training was the best at every other measure. And they required less time to get there,” explains lead author Robert Wiley, a former Johns Hopkins University Ph.D. student who is now a professor at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.
Ultimately, the handwriting group showed far more of the skills necessary for expert adult-level Arabic reading and spelling.
Why do our brains react so well to paper?
As far as why handwriting is a cut above when it comes to learning, study authors believe it is because writing reinforces both visual and aural lessons. More specifically, they say that the very act of writing something down creates a “perceptual-motor experience” that fosters “richer knowledge and fuller, true learning.”
“With writing, you’re getting a stronger representation in your mind that lets you scaffold toward these other types of tasks that don’t in any way involve handwriting,” Wiley adds.
While these findings involved only adults, researchers are confident their work applies to children as well.
“I have three nieces and a nephew right now and my siblings ask me should we get them crayons and pens? I say yes, let them just play with the letters and start writing them and write them all the time,” Wiley concludes.
The study appears in the journal Psychological Science.