We live in a three dimensional world.  X, Y and Z are the coordinates that define the space in which we occupy and are the boundaries that define the natural world.  Nature has learned to take full advantage of this space and has created beautiful three-dimensional structures that fill every dimension to the fullest.  Below is a photograph from one of my favorite photographers, Ansel Adams.  Continue reading

New Microscope Helps Neuroscientists Ask New Questions

Last week, President Obama announced the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, a 10-year project to map the human brain.  President Obama introduced BRAIN as a way of encouraging neuroscientists to develop new technologies to study how neurons within the brain communicate with each other. New technologies are essential to helping neuroscientists ask new questions about how the brain works.  This project is similar to two other major projects: The Human Brain Project (European Union), which is working on a computer simulation of the entire brain, and The Human Connectome Project (National Institutes of Health) which is using state of the art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to track projections all over the brain.Continue reading

You Are Here: Mapping The World With Neurons

“You are here.”  It’s the phrase that you’ll find on almost any map, punctuated with the ubiquitous oversized arrow.  It is the salient mark in a sea of confusing lines, shapes and labels that provides orientation and a sense of direction.  Since the release of Google Maps and smart phones, many of us have become accustomed to having a boundless map in the palms of our hands, one that constantly updates according to our position in the world, complete with a large arrow.  But in the absence of a map, directory, or an oversized arrow, how do you find your way?  Where is the internal map in your brain and how does it store information about the world in a sea of connected neurons?  Neuroscientists have been asking these questions for nearly thirty years now, and we only have a vague idea of how the brain forms internal representations of the outside world.Continue reading

What do single cell green algae have to do with the state of the art of neuroscience?

Well, a lot actually!  Green algae, or Chlamydomonas reinhardtii to be formal, are the unicellular organisms with a unique trait that has been helping make huge advances in modern neuroscience in only the past eight years.  In their natural environment, these little organisms use an “eye spot” located inside the cell to detect light and to swim toward it (phototaxis).  Researchers have been studying these little critters for years and discovered the algae use a unique photosensitive ion channel that converts a light signal into a voltage change that provides information to the algae.Continue reading