New method taps family trees for clues about conditions – Spectrum

Genetic puzzle: A new approach for finding risk variants considers data from multiple generations of a family. Hero Images/Getty Images

Asking participants in genetic databases about their family’s medical history can help researchers uncover genetic variants tied to uncommon conditions. Because people share 50 percent of their DNA with each of their parents, siblings and children, the DNA of the participants holds clues to the conditions of these relatives.

Read the full story in Spectrum.

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Maestro – Tufts Magazine

A new artificial intelligence system designed at Tufts has made it faster and easier to learn to play the piano. Is it the future of education? 

Illustration by Gaby D’Allesandro

In a fourth-floor Tufts lab, a computer program was in the process of convincing a student that she was actually interacting with a human. It was spring 2015, and the student had come to the lab for a study involving a new way of teaching people to play the piano.

Yuksel and Oleson call their AI system Brain Automated Chorales, or BACh. It’s the first AI system to collect brain data and use that information to adapt a task for learners in real time. “It’s a huge deal,” said H. Chad Lane, an educational psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who studies intelligent technologies for learning. “No one has really successfully integrated neuroscience into interactive digital learning very well yet.”

With BACh’s flexibility, it becomes possible to envision brain-based AI tutoring systems that students could use in daily life—while doing homework, for example.

Read the full story in Tufts Magazine.

What Skateboarding Tells Us About Innovation – Smithsonian

When Rodney Mullen first started skateboarding, the timing was perfect for invention. He considers himself lucky to have started at a time when his inspiration was the kid down the street rather than an accomplished skating expert, and a time when the sport was still coalescing. “It wasn’t like I analytically looked to see, this is a nascent sport and I have this opportunity—it’s not like that. You just look around, like, ‘That looks cool, and I bet I can do all kinds of cool stuff with this. This is wide open.’

Battle over US overtime pay rules leaves many postdocs in limbo – Nature

Mark Peterson/Redux/eyevine

An ongoing fight over overtime pay rules has left many US postdocs in financial limbo. Labour regulations set to take effect on 1 December would have effectively increased wages for many of these researchers, but on 22 November a US federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked the new rules. “The injunction coming down, especially right before the holiday weekend, was really disheartening,” says Colm Atkins, a postdoc at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

Mining the secrets of college syllabuses – Nature

Illustration by The Project Twins

Despite a growing movement to glean insights from scholarly materials that are available online—from articles and data sets to conference presentations and lectures—one kind of academic document remains little examined. And that is the syllabus: a document that lays out the reading materials, topics and expectations of college courses. That, at least, was the case until January this year, when the Open Syllabus Explorer launched, integrating more than 1 million publicly available syllabuses and laying open their data in a conveniently searchable format.

Fish fossil upends scientists’ view of jaw evolution – Nature

Dinghua Yang

A fossil fish found in Yunnan, China, has filled in a gaping hole in how researchers thought the vertebrate jaw evolved.

The 423-million-year-old specimen, dubbed Qilinyu rostrata, is part of an ancient group of armoured fish called placoderms. The fossil is the oldest ever found with a modern three-part jaw, which includes two bones in the upper jaw and one in the lower jaw. Researchers reported their find on 20 October in Science.

Read the full story in Nature.

First glimpse of a black hole being born from a star’s remains – New Scientist

Science Photo Library/Getty

We’ve received a birth announcement from 20 million light years away, in the form of our first ever glimpse of what seems to be the birth of a black hole. A team led by Christopher Kochanek at Ohio State University in Columbus have glimpsed something very special in data from the Hubble Space Telescope, from when it was watching the red supergiant star N6946-BH1, which is about 20 million light years from Earth.

Bees die needlessly as Zika prompts US state to spray pesticide – New Scientist

Micha Pawlitzki/Getty

It was an avoidable massacre. Beekeepers in Dorchester County, South Carolina, saw 48 of their hives killed off on 28 August. The culprit was a pesticide, sprayed from a plane with the aim of killing mosquitoes that can carry the Zika virus. But South Carolina’s mosquito population isn’t yet known to carry Zika – and even if the virus is present, there are ways to kill the mosquitoes without killing bees.