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The most popular research news stories of 2014

Dec. 26, 2014, 10:34 AM

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Electricity, learning and outer space were the hot topics of 2014. What wasn’t hot? Early Earth—many of you were excited by our discovery that our home world was probably pretty temperate in its younger days. And in a year when marijuana policies underwent some pretty significant changes, a lot of you were interested in medical center research into how cannabis helps anxious brains chill out.

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10. Researchers explore links between grammar, rhythm
A child’s ability to distinguish musical rhythm is related to his or her capacity for understanding grammar, according to a recent study from a researcher at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center.

9. Early Earth less hellish than previously thought
Conditions on Earth in its first 500 million years may have been cool enough to form oceans of water instead of being hellishly hot.

8. Liberating devices from their power cords
A new type of supercapacitor brings us a step closer to a day when everything from cell phones to electric vehicles will no longer need separate batteries.

7. Are the world’s religions ready for E.T.?
David Weintraub’s new book explores how leaders in the world’s major religions will react to the discovery of extraterrestrial life.

6. Vanderbilt study reveals senses of sight and sound separated in children with autism
Children with autism spectrum disorders have trouble integrating simultaneous information from their eyes and their ears—as if they experience the world like a badly-dubbed movie.

5. Surprising new class of “hypervelocity stars” discovered escaping the galaxy
Two Vanderbilt astronomers are among an international team that has discovered a surprising new class of “hypervelocity stars” – solitary stars moving fast enough to escape the gravitational grasp of the Milky Way galaxy.

4. Electric eels deliver Taser-like shocks
A Vanderbilt biologist has determined that electric eels possess an electroshock system uncannily similar to a Taser.

3. Discovery sheds new light on marijuana’s anxiety relief effects
An international group led by Vanderbilt University researchers has found cannabinoid receptors, through which marijuana exerts its effects, in a key emotional hub in the brain involved in regulating anxiety and the flight-or-fight response.

2. Electric “thinking cap” controls learning speed
Vanderbilt psychologists show it is possible to selectively manipulate our ability to learn through the application of a mild electrical current to the brain, and that this effect can be enhanced or depressed depending on the direction of the current.

1. Are gifted children getting lost in the shuffle?
Gifted children are likely to be the next generation’s innovators and leaders—yet the exceptionally smart are often invisible in the classroom, according to a 30-year study conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College.

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