Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

NME’s weekly science dose (Aug 30 – Sept 5)

Jordan and Syria capture the limelight this week. The Royal Society’s Atlas of Islamic World Science and Innovation reports on Jordan’s investment in science, technology and innovation, highlighting the need to overhaul its education system.

Specifically, the report underlines the need for Jordanian universities to include entrepreneurial and commercial skills in their curricula. Nevertheless, the Royal Society lauded Jordan’s investment in science and technology, though other critics noted the lack of R&D in high-risk potential areas of growth. Get the full story here.

In Syria, we highlight the conflict’s ongoing toll on ancient monuments and artefacts. While gathering accurate data is difficult in the midst of all the violence, archaeologists and citizens have been trying to document the destruction of historical sites. For instance, an archive of damaged monuments is being compiled by academics and the public in a dedicated multi-lingual Facebook page called Syrian Archaeological Heritage Under Threat.

The page is hoped to help future restoration missions. Read more about this here.

Beyond the hood

The question of whether you can “train your brain” to stave off some of the cognitive decline associated with ageing has been a recurring one. Can cognitive exercise equipment keep our brains nice and cognitively buff? And might video games be the ultimate brain work out?

A new study from the University of California suggests that this may possibly be so. The researchers behind the recently published study designed a video game called NeuroRacer that involves two tasks: pressing a button only when a blue circle appears on the screen and not reacting to other symbols that pop up, all the while using a joystick to control a car zooming down a virtual track.

The experimenters had 16 healthy older adults (aged 60-85) take the game home and play it three times a week for a month. When these subjects returned to the lab, they were found to perform better than untrained 20-year-olds. They also maintained these skills for 6 months after the training without any other further practice.

Beyond the game, these subjects also saw improvements on certain memory and attention tests, suggesting that NeuroRacers changes key mechanisms in the ageing brain. Here’s a link to the study.

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