The first human magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan was acquired almost 40 years ago. The scanner — hand-built by Dr. Raymond Damadian with the help of his two postdoctoral fellows — took nearly five hours to produce one snapshot of the human chest, and Dr. Damadian was eventually awarded the National Medal of Technology for his accomplishment.
Sometimes it’s hard to understand why scientists do what they do. Why spend a career studying cells, fungus, or flies? Other than being nerdy and wanting to learn about our world, what’s the point?Continue reading
The octopus almost reaches alien status when it comes to its brain and nervous system. And yet, the differences can help us understand more about the human brain as well as unique solutions nature has come up with for difficult problems like camouflage. Octopuses can see polarized light, but cannot see color. However, their skin changes both color and texture to camouflage with the surroundings.Continue reading
Brain stimulation might sound like some Frankensteinian demonstration from a Victorian science fair. But in reality, it is a contemporary technique making a huge impact in neuroscience by addressing a longstanding limitation of traditional methods for investigating human brain function. Such techniques, like EEG and fMRI, can only be used to infer the effects of a stimulus or task on brain activity, and not vice versa. For example, a scientist might use EEG to study the effect of a task like arm movement on brain activity, but how can one study the effect of brain activity on arm movement?Continue reading
You’re on your way to the traditional Thanksgiving family get-together. You drive down a familiar street, locate your familiar house, and park in a familiar spot.Continue reading
Last month, on the big island of Hawaii, I swam with giant, beautiful aliens. Or at least that’s what it felt like. I went night snorkeling with manta rays and had the privilege of seeing 10 or 11 graceful behemoths. Some had a wingspan of over 10 feet long. Before our group got in the water, to prepare us for what we were about to see, our guide reassured us that manta rays are like sharks, but only the good parts, none of the scary parts. They don’t have teeth, they only eat plankton, and they have no stinger like their sting ray counterparts.Continue reading
What does eye-witness identification have to do with neuroscience? A lot, actually.Continue reading
Everyone knows sharks are fierce predators. How exactly they hunt so well is in part due to their extra sixth sense: electroreception!Continue reading
Consider three scenarios. A kid joins a new high school and eats lunch by herself. A recently separated man is alone for the New Year’s Eve countdown. A prisoner becomes aggravated in a solitary confinement cell. The common thread that runs through these disparate experiences is the universal feeling of loneliness.Continue reading
It is no surprise that a child prefers its mother’s voice to those of strangers. Beginning in the womb, a fetus’s developing auditory pathways sense the sounds and vibrations of its mother. Soon after birth, a child can identify its mother’s voice and will work to hear her voice better over unfamiliar female voices. A 2014 study of preterm infants showed that playing a recording of the mother’s voice when babies sucked on a pacifier was enough to improve development of oral feeding skills and shorten their hospital stay. A mother’s voice can soothe a child in stressful situations, reducing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and increasing levels of oxytocin, the social bonding hormone. Scientists have even traced the power of a mother’s voice to infants’ brains: a mother’s voice activates the anterior prefrontal cortex and the left posterior temporal region more strongly than an unfamiliar voice, priming the infant for the specialized task of speech processing.
While it makes intuitive sense that a mother’s voice has special power over infants and toddlers, what happens as children grow up? Continue reading
Marine mammals, such as dolphins, whales, and porpoises, spend their entire lives at sea. Like us, they need to breathe, avoid danger, and care for their young. Like us, they need to sleep, which — for us — involves almost total unconsciousness and paralysis. So how do these marine mammals not drown when they sleep?Continue reading