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Research Roundup: Apollo COVID-19 national survey, Martian craters, children’s brains under stress

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Each week, The Daily’s Science & Tech section produces a roundup of the most exciting and influential research happening on campus or otherwise related to Stanford. Here’s our digest for the week of April 19-25.

Stanford researchers launch national survey on COVID-19 effects

Stanford researchers launched a national survey to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected people physically, socially, financially and emotionally. The survey is a part of a smartphone application that screens patients when they visit COVID-19 testing sites.

“We want to learn how people are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of the impact on their lives,” epidemiology and population health chair and professor Melissa Bondy told Stanford Medicine News. “We don’t know how many will complete it, but we hope thousands will soon be filling it in.”

The smartphone application, Apollo, helps users figure out if they qualify for COVID-19 testing and connects them with nearby testing sites if they do. The Stanford-based survey is offered in nine languages and generally takes 10 minutes to complete.

“Hopefully, we’ll get information from a wide spectrum of people that will help us understand the impact of COVID-19 on individuals and their entire households,” Bondy told Stanford Medicine News.

Martian crater may harbor evidence of ancient life

Jezero crater, the destination for NASA’s next Martian rover, may harbor evidence for past life on Mars, found a study published on April 23 in “AGU Advances.”

“There probably was water for a significant duration on Mars and that environment was most certainly habitable, even if it may have been arid,” geological sciences assistant professor Mathieu Lapôtre told Stanford News. “We showed that sediments were deposited rapidly and that if there were organics, they would have been buried rapidly, which means that they would likely have been preserved and protected.”

The Jezero crater site has a river delta. On Earth, such deltas are known to provide organic molecules associated with life. However, researchers were previously unable to determine the time scale of river delta development on Mars.

The findings suggest that the river delta at the Jezero crater took from 20 to 40 years to form, but the formation was likely intermittent and spread out across 400,000 years.

“Being able to use another planet as a lab experiment for how life could have started somewhere else or where there’s a better record of how life started in the first place — that could actually teach us a lot about what life is,” Lapôtre told Stanford News. “These will be the first samples that we’ve seen as a rock on Mars and then brought back to Earth, so it’s pretty exciting.”

Stressed children may have difficulty regulating negative emotions

In a child who experiences chronic stress or anxiety, their brain’s fear center sends signals to the decision-making center, interfering with their ability to regulate negative emotions, found a study published on April 21 in “Biological Psychiatry.”

Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to study the amygdala and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which serve as the brain’s fear center and executive functions reasoning center, respectively.

“The more anxious or stress-reactive an individual is, the stronger the bottom-up signal we observed from the amygdala to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex,” psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor Vinod Menon told Stanford Medicine News. “This indicates that the circuit is being hijacked in more anxious children, and it suggests a common marker underlying these two clinical measures, anxiety and stress reactivity.”

No effects were observed in the opposite direction.

“Thinking positively is not something that happens automatically,” child and adolescent psychiatry professor Victor Carrion told Stanford Medicine News. “In fact, automatically we think negatively. That, evolutionarily, is what produced results. Negative thoughts are automatic thoughts, and positive thoughts need to be practiced and learned.”

Contact Derek Chen at derekc8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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