Category Archives: Brain

For all your cerebral needs…

Scientific Images from Northwestern Photo Contest

August 19th, 2014 | Brain, Robot
Nanoscale Lego Puzzle - Radha Boya

“Nanoscale Lego Puzzle” – Radha Boya

The hidden beauty of the natural world is brought forth in laboratories around the country on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the general public usually doesn’t get the chance to see these incredible scientific images. However, Northwestern University has recently been holding a photo competition to share images “across a wide range of disciplines, including medicine, chemistry, engineering and nanotechnology.” They are truly a sight to behold.

Seen above is an image called “Nanoscale Lego Puzzle” by Radha Boya. Here’s a description of the piece:

“A thin film of gold has been deposited on a silicon mold. Each evenly spaced black dot is a groove in the silicon that has been filled by the gold. The puzzle-like shapes are made when the gold cracks and curls up. The darker shading indicates where the gold has curled in on itself. The metal tips fabricated by this method can be used in many applications, such as printing DNA chips.”

Meltdown - Keith Brown - Scientific Images

“Meltdown” – Keith Brown

“This image shows the aftermath of a case when a large voltage was applied between a thin film of gold (light blue) and silicon (dark blue), and electrons found a way through the thin insulating layer that separated them. As the current increased, the material was heated resulting in a catastrophic thermal expansion that resulted in a crater of solidified material (red).”

Graphene Oxide - Andrew Koltonow

“Graphene Oxide” – Andrew Koltonow

“Koltonow and his colleagues study a material called graphene oxide (GO), which is only a couple of atoms thick. They can assemble thin sheets of GO into a foam that conducts electricity. The foam can be used to create electrodes for batteries, making such energy storage devices smaller and lighter.

In this image, graphene oxide sheets (purple-orange) cast shadows from light that is scattered off of GO foam (green-yellow), creating an eerie effect.”

Colorful Directions - Mark McClendon - Scientific Images

“Colorful Directions” – Mark McClendon

“Imagine simply injecting healthy human cells into the body to repair damaged muscle tissue. This might one day be possible if scientists, like McClendon, can find a way to keep these cells organized at the point of injury until healing is complete. One solution might be placing the cells in a nanofiber gel, which can then be injected directly into the human body. The cells growing in the gel will eventually respond to their surroundings by stretching and migrating in the same direction as the nanofibers.

Shown in this image is a blob of nanofiber gel with encapsulated cells from a human heart. The color is a result of the alignment of nanofibers making up the gel, with each color corresponding to a cluster of nanofibers aligned one direction.”

black ghost knifefish - Oscar Curet - Scientific Images

“Black Ghost Knifefish” – Oscar Curet

“The black ghost knifefish, found in the Amazon Basin, can move rapidly and in many directions due to an elongated fin on its belly that runs nearly the entire length of the fish. Curet and his colleagues used a robotic replica of the knifefish to study this motion, which could prove useful when applied to the design of underwater vehicles like submarines.

This image maps the motion of the robotic fish as it moves in a vertical direction. The lines represent the path of the fluid motion and the color represents the velocity, where blue is slow and yellow is fast.”


The mysteries of science can be illuminated with a well-captured photo or illustration. I’m glad Northwestern is sharing some of this wonder with the general public.

You can check out the full list of winning scientific images at the Northwestern website.

-RSB

The 4 Stories We Tell Ourselves About Death: TED Talk by Stephen Cave

August 12th, 2014 | Brain

Stephen Cave - 4 stories about death

Presented above is a TED Talk by Stephen Cave discussing the 4 principal stories we tell ourselves about death:

  1. Elixir
  2. Resurrection
  3. Soul
  4. Legacy

I enjoyed the part of the video when Mr. Cave relates these ancient ideas to our modern times:

  1. Elixir –> Stem Cells
  2. Resurrection –> Chryonics
  3. Soul –> Religion
  4. Legacy –> Parenthood

It seems that everyone I’ve met employs one of these strategies to cope with their own mortality…

Who here remembers when they first realized they were going to die? Well, I personally don’t, but developmental biologists seem to believe we acquired this trait around the age of 4 or 5 (according to research conducted by Jacqui Wooley at The University of Texas).

Since this early age, I’ve probably gone through each of these 4 stories to try to understand death… What comes next? What happens to our consciousness when we die? What does “nothingness”  feel like? In time, I’ve realized that these questions don’t make much sense. As Dr. Cave points out, “being swallowed by the void is not something that any of us will ever live to experience.” In other words, when we die, that is all. Our sense of self and everything we’ve come to know will vanish. But, it’s nothing to fear! Fear itself will also vanish into this void.

So what does that leave us with? What is the purpose of life? I’m afraid I can’t answer that for you. I’m still looking for the answer. My advice would be to enjoy life to the fullest. Create memories of which you’re proud. Leave the world a better place. And if you want to employ one of the 4 stories from above to help you cope with your mortality, I say that is perfectly fine. It’s been happening since the dawn of humanity and I see no reason why it should stop anytime soon.

If this topic is of interest, you might want to check out Stephen Cave’s book about immortality found here.

immortality stephen cave

-RSB

p.s. I think Dr. Cave may have been incorrect when he assumed this was an entirely human trait. Some animals probably do have a sense of their own mortality. Elephants, primates, dolphins have been shown to have self-awareness and a level of consciousness, so it’s not a stretch to think they would understand the idea of death. Anyway, I’m getting off point. I suppose a takeaway from this TED talk is that most humans don’t even seem to truly understand their own mortality.

80,000 Neurons Firing in the Brain of a Zebrafish

July 29th, 2014 | Brain

Labeled_Zebrafish_80000_neuronsA team led by Drs. Jeremy Freeman and Misha Ahrens recently recorded the activity of approximately 80,000 neurons firing in the brain of a zebrafish larvae. The technique they implemented is called light-sheet microscopy. Briefly, the scientists genetically engineer zebrafish neurons to emit a fluorescent signal just after the neuron fires. Laser beams are the shot through the fish so that the activated neurons will glow and an overhead microscope records the whole thing. Of course, this technique only works because the zebrafish are entirely transparent, so don’t expect to have your brain scanned in this manner any time soon.

“At the beginning of the movie, the fish is resting and the forebrain region on the far-right is flashing away. That may represent whatever the fish is thinking about when it’s just hanging out.

Scientists then created the illusion that the fish was drifting backwards by sliding bars in front of its eyes. Its intent to swim to catch up was measured with electrodes on its muscles. When the bars start sliding, a few neurons sitting just behind the eyes light up followed by a huge cascade of activity, including massive pulses initiating swimming.”

“There must be fundamental principles about how large populations of neurons represent information and guide behavior,” says neuroscientist Jeremy Freeman of Janelia Farm Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia. “In this system, where we record from the whole brain, we might start to understand what those rules are.”

We know that the processing of sensory input and the generation of behavior involves large networks of neurons, and Dr. Freeman believes that observing networks with this sort of technology will enable us to gain deeper insight to how the brain functions.

It is important to note that the temporal resolution is fast enough to identify which neurons are involved in a given behavior but too slow to count how many times they fire. Thus, there is no way that this technique could ever decipher the neural computations that take place at the millisecond timescale in the human brain.

I think we’ll probably need nanobots to ever fully decode the brain…

Find the full article here… if you have a subscription :/

-RSB

[via Wired]

Paper Stuff by Bartek Elsner

July 3rd, 2014 | Brain, Robot

Paper Heart

Paper Heart 2

The Paper InternetPaper Fireplace 1Paper Fireplace 2Paper Gun ChainsawPaper Chainsaw

Paper Bomb

 

Paper Boombox

Bartek Elsner is an art director from Berlin, Germany. He’s made some really pretty impressive sculptures using only cardboard paper and glue.

It’s always inspiring to see someone create interesting works of art with minimal materials. You don’t need marble to create your masterpiece!

You can find more of his work on Behance and his website.

-RSB

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