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UPI NewsTrack Science and Technology News

  |   Jan. 2, 2013 at 7:01 PM
Study: Babies learn language in the womb

TACOMA, Wash., Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Babies start learning language in the womb and can differentiate at birth between sounds from their native language and a foreign language, U.S. scientists say.

Researchers at the University of Washington and Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma report unborn babies are listening to their mothers talk during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy and at birth can demonstrate what they've heard.

That's because sensory and brain mechanisms for hearing have developed by 30 weeks of gestation, they said.

"The mother has first dibs on influencing the child's brain," Washington researcher Patricia Kuhl said. "The vowel sounds in her speech are the loudest units and the fetus locks onto them."

Although previous studies have shown babies are born ready to learn and begin to discriminate between language sounds within the first months of life, the Washington study is the first evidence language learning had occurred in the womb.

"This is the first study that shows fetuses learn prenatally about the particular speech sounds of a mother's language," lead study author Christine Moon of Pacific Lutheran said. "This study moves the measurable result of experience with speech sounds from six months of age to before birth."


Analyst: iPhones in more colors coming?

NEW YORK, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Black and white iPhones could be joined by models in more colors in spring or summer with the same color options as the iPod Touch, a U.S. analyst says.

Brian White of Topeka Capital Markets said he's been told by sources the next version of the iPhone will be introduced in May or June with "more color patterns and screen sizes," CNET reported Wednesday.

"These colors included pink, yellow, blue, white and silver, black and slate ... We believe the addition of color to the iPod Touch lineup was a testing ground for adding color to the next generation iPhone that we believe could be available in eight colors in total," White said.

Apple has used the iPod Touch as a way of testing consumer reaction to a possible improvement to the iPhone lineup before, CNET said.

Offering different screen sizes could be Apple's way of offering both a lower-priced iPhone with a smaller screen as well as going after consumers who've shown interest in so-called "phablets," smartphones with screen sizes approaching tablet territory, White said.


Findings say gravity moves at light speed

BEIJING, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Chinese scientists say evidence based on data gleaned from eclipses and Earth tides support the hypothesis that gravity travels at the speed of light.

Researchers at the Institute of Geology and Geophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences said six observations of total and annular solar eclipses, as well as records of Earth tides, showed gravitational force released from the sun and gravitational force recorded at ground stations on Earth did not travel at the same speed.

The time difference exactly matched the time it takes light to travel from the sun to observation stations on Earth, they said.

By applying the data to equations concerned with the propagation of gravity, the team obtained a speed of gravity of about 0.93 to 1.05 times the speed of light, with a relative error of about 5 percent -- providing the first set of strong evidence showing that gravity travels at the speed of light, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Scientists who have been trying to measure the speed of gravity for years with experiments and observations have been struggling to come up with valid methods, Xinhua said.

The findings are set to be published in the Chinese Science Bulletin.


Study will see why astronauts get taller

GREENBELT, Md., Jan. 2 (UPI) -- NASA says it will use ultrasound technology to study why astronauts aboard the International Space Station grow as much as 3 percent taller in space.

Astronauts get measurably taller after a few months in microgravity although they return to their normal height upon returning to Earth, the space agency said Wednesday.

NASA's Spinal Ultrasound investigation will utilize a new ultrasound instrument onboard the ISS to allow researchers to analyze the phenomenon's impact on the spine.

"This is the very first time that spinal ultrasound will be used to evaluate the changes in the spine," Scott A. Dulchavsky, principal investigator for the station study, said. "Spinal ultrasound is more challenging to perform than many of the previous ultrasound examinations done in space.

"Today there is a new ultrasound device on the station that allows more precise musculoskeletal imaging required for assessment of the complex anatomy and the spine," he said. "The crew will be able to perform these complex evaluations in the next year due to a newly developed Just-In-Time training guide for spinal ultrasound, combined with refinements in crew training and remote guidance procedures."

Six ISS crew members will serve as test subjects for the spinal ultrasound scans.

One goal of the research is to develop exercises for better crew health in space and improved rehabilitation techniques when astronauts return to Earth, NASA said.

Topics: Brian White
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