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Nov. 9, 2010 at 6:26 PM
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Talking numbers with children helps math

CHICAGO, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- Young children learn mathematics better the more their parents talk about numbers as the children grow up, a study by U.S. researchers says.

Researchers at the University of Chicago say the amount of time parents spend talking about numbers has an impact on how young children grasp math principles, a university release reported Tuesday.

"By the time children enter preschool, there are marked individual differences in their mathematical knowledge, as shown by their performance on standardized tests," psychologist Susan Levine, the leader of the study, said.

As an example, children with parents who talked with them more about numbers proved more likely to understand the cardinal number principle, that the size of a set of objects is determined by the last number reached when counting the set.

"These findings suggest that encouraging parents to talk about numbers with their children, and providing them with effective ways to do so, may positively impact children's school achievement," Levine said.

The researches recorded parent-child interactions in the home and analyzed the connections between parents' number talk and subsequent performance.

The variation in number words was startling for researchers as they reviewed tapes of youngsters interacting with their parents in everyday activities.

Some parents produced as few as four number words during the entire period they were studied, while others produced as many as 257.

Frequent use of number words is important, even if the child doesn't seem to pick up on the meanings of the number words right away, Levine said.

New pump made for infant heart surgery

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., Nov. 9 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say they've developed a new heart pump that could help infants born with congenital heart defects survive necessary surgeries.

Scientists at Purdue University have created a "viscous impeller pump" for children born with univentricular circulation, a congenital heart disease that is the leading cause of death from birth defects in the first year of a child's life, a university release said Tuesday.

The normal human heart contains two pumping chambers, called ventricles.

One circulates oxygenated blood throughout the body, while the other less-powerful ventricle circulates deoxygenated blood to the lungs.

Children born with univentricular circulation have only one functioning ventricle but can survive if blood vessels in the heart are restructured in a series of open-heart surgeries.

At least 30 percent of babies do not survive the surgeries, called the Fontan procedures.

To improve the survival rate, Purdue engineers and researchers developed the new mechanical pump to assist the heart during surgeries.

"A big advantage of this pump is that it gets delivered through the skin with a catheter without open heart surgery," Steven Frankel, a Purdue University professor of mechanical engineering, said.

"It is designed to be in the body for two weeks at most, almost like a disposable item," Frankel said.

The researchers have received a $2.1 million, four-year grant from the National Institutes of Health's National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to continue developing the heart pump, Purdue said.

Ocean acidification threatens coral reefs

MIAMI, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- Increasing acidification of the world's oceans could threaten the ability of the world's corals to maintain and create ocean reefs, U.S. researchers say.

Particularly worrying to researchers is that acidification, which happens as increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolve in the ocean and form acid, could interfere with coral egg fertilization and larval development, halving the amount of coral produced worldwide by 2050, ScienceNews.org reported.

In tests with seawater modified to have an acid content reflecting conditions expected later this century, a 13 percent drop in successful fertilizing of eggs occurred, Rebecca Albright of the University of Miami says.

With carbon dioxide emission growing since the industrial revolution, global seawater has dropped from about 8.2 on the pH scale to between about 8.05 and 8.1, about a 30 percent increase in acidity.

While seawater is still basic, and not yet acidic, the change in pH has been enough to have biological effects, researchers say.

Gamma ray mystery at heart of Milky Way

GREENBELT, Md., Nov. 9 (UPI) -- A NASA telescope has found a structure in the Milky Way that may be a remnant of an eruption in a black hole at the center of our galaxy, U.S. researchers say.

The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope detected the structure that spans 50,000 light years, covers half the visible sky and may be millions of years old, a NASA release said Tuesday.

"What we see are two gamma-ray-emitting bubbles that extend 25,000 light-years north and south of the galactic center," says Doug Finkbeiner, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.

"We don't fully understand their nature or origin," he says.

The structure's shape and emissions suggest it was formed as a result of a large and relatively rapid energy release, the source of which remains a mystery.

"In other galaxies, we see that star bursts can drive enormous gas outflows," David Spergel, a scientist at Princeton University in New Jersey, says. "Whatever the energy source behind these huge bubbles may be, it is connected to many deep questions in astrophysics."

Scientists say they are conducting more analyses to better understand how the never-before-seen structure was formed.

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