HUMANS & SOCIE TY
Beliefs on intelligence can affect grades
STEM professors’ views may widen the racial achievement gap
ATOM & COSMOS
LIGO will get a
Updates could lead to daily
gravitational wave detections
BY BRUCE BOWER
Beliefs among some university professors that intelligence is fixed, rather than
capable of growth, contribute to a racial
achievement gap in STEM courses, a
Over a two-year period, the disparity
in grade point averages separating Asian
and white STEM students from black,
Hispanic and Native American peers was
nearly twice as large in courses taught by
professors who regarded intelligence as
set in stone versus malleable, psychologist Elizabeth Canning and colleagues
report online February 15 in Science
Advances. Canning, of Indiana University in Bloomington, also presented these
findings February 15 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the
Advancement of Science.
Professors may subtly communicate
stereotypes about blacks, Hispanics and
Native Americans allegedly being less
BY EMILY CONOVER
Gravitational wave detectors are
going quantum. A planned revamp of
the Advanced Laser Interferometer
Gravitational-Wave Observatory, LIGO,
relies on finessing quantum techniques,
LIGO scientists announced February 14.
That $35 million upgrade could let scientists catch a gravitational wave every
day. LIGO’s tally of 11 events could be
surpassed in a week, researchers said in
a news conference at the annual meeting of the American Association for the
Advancement of Science.
Starting up in 2024, the revved-up
detector, known as Advanced LIGO Plus,
Canning and colleagues. Black, Hispanic
and Native American undergraduates
may respond by becoming less motivated
or more anxious, leading to lower grades.
Even small dips in STEM grades —
especially for students near pass/fail
cutoffs — can accumulate across the 15
or more science, technology, engineer-
ing and math classes needed to become
a physician or an engineer, Canning says.
That could jeopardize access to financial
aid and acceptance to graduate programs.
“Our work suggests that academic
benefits could accrue over time if all
students, and particularly underrepresented minority students, took STEM
classes with faculty who endorse a
growth mind-set,” Canning says.
This is the first study to link teachers’ mind-sets about intelligence to students’ academic performance. Related
research suggests that women and racial
will seek to wrangle a quantum rule, the
Heisenberg uncertainty principle, to
improve the machine’s ability to detect
ripples in spacetime. The Heisenberg
uncertainty principle states that it’s
impossible to precisely measure certain properties, such as the position and
momentum of an object, at the same time.
In LIGO, this translates to a give-and-take in the light monitored to detect
gravitational waves. At each of LIGO’s
two detectors, in Livingston, La., and
Hanford, Wash., laser light bounces back
and forth within two 4-kilometer-long
arms arranged in an “L.” To determine
whether a gravitational wave is passing
through, scientists measure the brightness of the light where the arms meet and
the beams recombine (SN: 3/5/16, p. 22).
Due to quantum mechanics, that
light fluctuates in two ways: in its phase
(the timing of the light wave) and in its
amplitude (which determines the light’s
intensity). This variation muddles LIGO’s
minorities achieve fewer advanced
degrees in fields where, according to
academics, success hinges on innate
brilliance (SN Online: 1/15/15).
Canning’s group examined links
between the mind-sets of 150 college
STEM faculty — including professors,
lecturers, postdoctoral instructors and
graduate teaching assistants — and grades
earned by more than 15,000 under-
graduates taking courses from those
instructors at a large, public university.
Classes included more than 1,600 black,
Hispanic and Native American students.
Instructors rated how much they
agreed with statements that people in
general, and their students in particular,
have a certain amount of intelligence that
can’t be changed. Beliefs did not appear
to be linked to instructors’ race, sex, age,
field of study or teaching experience.
All students tended to perform worse
in courses led by professors with fixed
mind-sets, compared with students
taught by professors with growth mind-sets. But grades suffered most among
blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans.
On average, Asian and white STEM
measurements, making it more difficult
to pick out the subtle signals of a gravitational wave. So in LIGO’s next round
of operation, to begin in April, researchers will for the first time use quantum
“squeezed” light, in which the fluctuations in the light’s phase are decreased.
LIGO will better capture waves of higher
frequencies — ripples that would have a
higher pitch if converted into sound.
“That’s exciting, but it comes with a
The gravitational wave detector LIGO (shown)
will begin using quantum techniques in April,
with more quantum upgrades to follow in 2024.