always be prepared
01-03-2013 For those of you who've been following the Alzheimer's blog on this website, you'll know a bit about the disease. You'll know that scientists have found it very hard to pinpoint a cause, and that potential treatments are only that - potential. I was really touched by watching this TED lecture from Alanna Shaikh. It's not your typical lecture from a global health expert. No awe-inspiring charts, no fancy statistics, not even a powerpoint. It's her own personal testimony about her Dad's Alzheimer's and how her fear of developing the disease herself has led her to make changes in her life that will prepare her for it. She eats right, she exercises, and she's keeping herself mentally active. Same old same old. But she's also thought of really practical ways of making sure that she's happier for longer when and if she gets Alzheimer's. For instance, she's taken up knitting and drawing to give her hands a familiar activity that her carers could present her with to keep her happy. In Shaikh's words "if the monster wants you, the monster's going to get you". There's a great deal of public education programmes about identifying the symptoms of Alzheimer's and learning to live with the disease. Perhaps we should go about educating people with this kind of practical advice too?
who am i?
20-02-2013 This week, I went to the London Science Museum and visited the 'Who Am I?' exhibit. It hosts a variety of displays and activities that explore what it means to be human. For instance, one exhibit discusses what your memories are, and the possibility of regeneration. If scientists were able to regenerate all the neurones in your brain, would you still be the same person? What if they downloaded these memories onto a chip? It's also got lots of really amazing artefacts, such as an MRI helmet and incredibly accurate sketches from the artist Stephen Wiltshire.
Definitely worth a visit in my opinion.
iq tests and the mensa elite
11-02-2013 Comedian David Mitchell recently made a rather interesting point about IQ in one of his soapbox shows. We look at IQ for a kind of benchmark of human intelligence - that's what the test was created for. But some scientists believe that these tests do not accurately capture all elements of intelligence. Using an online intelligence test launched by the Telegraph and the New Scientist, researchers are trying to establish a better way of assessing cognitive ability without one standardised measure like an IQ test. Read the original article in the Telegraph here.
04-02-2013 I was reading an old issue of Scientific American from July 2012 and came across a really interesting piece on 'jumping genes' or 'retrotransposons', which are thought to account for the individuality of each person's brain. Retrotransposons are sequences of genes which can replicate themselves and insert their copies somewhere else in the genome. They are particularly active in the brain, and their effect on activating different genes could explain why identical twins have differently functioning brains.
Bit o' poetry
27-01-2013 I found this poem really inspiring. Dickinson compares our brains to 'the sky', 'the sea' and even the 'weight of God' - it's truly amazing what our brains can do! This poem also looks at the relationship between the brain and the outside world which is pretty hard to get your head around. Do our brains make new information, or do they simply rely on what they know from experiencing the world?
The Brain—is wider than the Sky--
For—put them side by side--
The one the other will contain
With ease—and You—beside--
The Brain is deeper than the sea--
For—hold them—Blue to Blue--
The one the other will absorb--
The Brain is just the weight of God--
For—Heft them—Pound for Pound--
And they will differ—if they do--
As Syllable from Sound—
22-01-2013 Ever heard of people 'losing their personalities' to anti-depressant drugs? Prescription self-help books could be a surprisingly effective alternative.
17-01-2013 The hippocampus is a component of the limbic system in the brain and is thought to have a role in memory and spatial navigation. The name hippocampus comes from the latin word for 'seahorse' because scientists initially likened the shape of the hippocampus to that of a seahorse.
05-03-2013 Look at the two shapes on the left. One of them is called "Bouba", the other "Kiki". Can you tell which is which? The vast majority of people will identify the purple one as 'Bouba" and the orange one as "Kiki". What happens is your brain makes connections between the edges of the shapes and the shape that your mouth makes when you say the names. This is a kind of phenomenon known as "synesthesia". People with this condition can respond to a stimulus in one neuronal pathway with a second neuronal pathway. For example, a person may associate a particular letter or number with a colour, or even with a personal characteristic. Some people experience taste stimulation with certain words!
fly on the wall cyborgs
26-02-2013 Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, believe it or not, it's an insect cyborg. This may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but for years the US government has been investigating the technology behind creating tiny, flying robots for surveillance. Scientists are able to use electrodes to manipulate actual insects so that they can remote-control them, effectively turning them into robots. Freaky, huh?! Well it's coming to a home near you! Using this technology, a pair of neuroscience post-doctorates started a company called Backyard Brains, which sells kits that enable the amateur scientist to carry out simple experiments on a cockroach model. Read the related article on the guardian website.
building a brain
15-02-2013 The Human Brain Project has just received a grant of
"We think of the project as like a CERN for the brain. The model is our way of bringing everyone, and our understanding, together."
The first step of the project will involve creating a model for a rat brain, for which they have already developed an algorithm. Then they will progress onto modelling the human brain. But what will come of this? The project aims to be able to use the model in robotics, classification of brain diseases and 'learning' computers. Clearly there are some ethical questions to be raised here. In this article from the New Scientist, the interviewer wonders whether the model could be conscious. Markram dismisses this as 'a philosophical question - and an unresolved one'. While this model has the potential to be incredibly useful in many areas of science, maybe it's worth thinking about the potential consequences before we find ourselves with some Frankenstein creation.
the brain is wider than the sky - review
06-02-2013 This book honestly changed how I see the world. I’ve recommended it to all of my friends, both scientists and non-scientists. Bryan Appleyard writes in a way that illuminates the role of science in our lives. In a single chapter, the reader travels from the extremophiles in the depths of the ocean to NASA explorations into space to the Green Revolution in Bali to a detailed description of scientist James Lovelock. He discusses the poetry of Emily Dickinson, the tragedy of the banking crisis, the curse of celebrity and the strange cult-like following of ‘the Singularity’. We live in a world where exponentially advancing technologies provide an uncertain future. Someone has to ask what will become of the meaning of humanity. In this book, Bryan Appleyard does precisely that.
zebrafish and the matrix
31-01-2013 So this is unbelievably cool. Using paralysed zebrafish, scientists have been able to watch neurones firing within the brain of a zebrafish as it reacts to changes in current. The zebrafish are paralysed and held by pipettes above a screen of moving bands of light which simulate current. Kind of like a real life zebrafish version of The Matrix. Their neurones are then filled with a calcium sensitive green dye which can be seen on a microscope. Scientists are therefore able to use these microscopes to observe motor neurone currents in the zebrafish brain as it reacts to these changes in current.
See the article in Nature: http://www.nature.com/news/mapping-brain-networks-fish-bowl-neuroscience-1.12272
attention all gamers
24-01-2013 People tend to have quite mixed opinions about gaming. Some believe gaming is the pinnacle of human idleness and ultimately a drain on general productivity. Others may roll their eyes at this idea, and insist that, sure, gaming may not be the BEST use of time but there's probably no harm in it. And then there's Jane McGonigal. In this TED talk, she explains why gaming could actually be beneficial to human cognitive function.
P.S. The current top comment for this video highlighted a website http://fold.it/portal/. A group of scientist had a protein solving problem and decided to turn it into a game on this website to get people to solve it - with great success!
20-01-2013 What if you had the ability to remember every moment of every day of your life? This is the case for people who suffer from a rare condition called hyperthymesia. Suffers have an unusual ability to remember a huge amount of autobiographical events and spend abnormal lengths of time thinking about the past. When asked about a specific date, they are often able to recall very specific details about that day such as the weather. Watch the clip below to see hyperthymesia sufferer of Brad Williams demonstrating his incredible recall in a Jimmy Kimmel interview:
about the Author.
Hi, I'm Catherine. I'm a high school student who thinks the brain is really awesome. I hope you'll agree.