This is the personal blog of a science writer and journalist. It's for anyone who loves, wants to love or doesn't know how to love science.

Contact or Follow

Recent tweets

Liked on Tumblr

More liked posts

Exercise is brain food

Exercise not only helps you stay healthy it also feeds your brain. Evidence suggests that exercise is actually a lot more vital to our human body: Physical activity enhances brain health at every stage of life.

As one of the body’s most energy-hungry organs, the brain relies on a steady supply of nutrients and oxygen through an intricate network of capillaries. Physical activity can encourage the construction of these supply lines, and it can also ease their maintenance.

image

The US Department of Health is now encouraging schools to offer more physical education and the Institute Of Medicine recommends that elementary school children get 30 minutes of physical activity a day, and then 45 minutes daily in middle and high school. “We need to have kids moving every day, not just because it makes sense health-wise, but because it raises test scores,” Ratey says.

[Detailed report by NewScientist]

Tags science health exercise brain brainfood

This human brain is one of the oldest ever found - it’s over 4000 years old. Seems you can preserve brain tissue not just by freezing it: This brain was preserved by being boiled in its own juices inside its unlucky owner’s skull.
Meriç Altinoz at Haliç University in Istanbul, Turkey, who together with colleagues has been analysing the find, says the clues are in the ground. The skeletons were found burnt in a layer of sediment that also contained charred wooden objects. Given that the region is tectonically active, Altinoz speculates that an earthquake flattened the settlement and buried the people before fire spread through the rubble.
The flames would have consumed any oxygen in the rubble and boiled the brains in their own fluids. The resulting lack of moisture and oxygen in the environment helped prevent tissue breakdown.
The final factor in the brains’ preservation was the chemistry of the soil, which is rich in potassium, magnesium and aluminium. These elements reacted with the fatty acids from the human tissue to form a soapy substance called adipocere. Also known as corpse wax, it effectively preserved the shape of the soft brain tissue (HOMO – Journal of Comparative Human Biology, doi.org/nz6).

This human brain is one of the oldest ever found - it’s over 4000 years old. Seems you can preserve brain tissue not just by freezing it: This brain was preserved by being boiled in its own juices inside its unlucky owner’s skull.

Meriç Altinoz at Haliç University in Istanbul, Turkey, who together with colleagues has been analysing the find, says the clues are in the ground. The skeletons were found burnt in a layer of sediment that also contained charred wooden objects. Given that the region is tectonically active, Altinoz speculates that an earthquake flattened the settlement and buried the people before fire spread through the rubble.

The flames would have consumed any oxygen in the rubble and boiled the brains in their own fluids. The resulting lack of moisture and oxygen in the environment helped prevent tissue breakdown.

The final factor in the brains’ preservation was the chemistry of the soil, which is rich in potassium, magnesium and aluminium. These elements reacted with the fatty acids from the human tissue to form a soapy substance called adipocere. Also known as corpse wax, it effectively preserved the shape of the soft brain tissue (HOMO – Journal of Comparative Human Biology, doi.org/nz6).

Tags science brain archeology

Afternoon siestas boost learning ability in 3-5 year old kids. 
Getting young children to take an hour-long nap after lunch could help them with their learning by boosting brain power, a small study suggests.
The study authors say their results suggest naps are critical for memory consolidation and early learning.
When the children were allowed a siesta after lunch they performed significantly better on a visual-spatial tasks in the afternoon and the next day than when they were denied a midday snooze.
Following a nap, children recalled 10% more of the information they were being tested on than they did when they had been kept awake.
Close monitoring of 14 additional youngsters who came to the researchers’ sleep lab revealed the processes at work in the brain during asleep.
As the children napped, they experienced increased activity in brain regions linked with learning and integrating new information.
Image: Getty 

Afternoon siestas boost learning ability in 3-5 year old kids. 

Getting young children to take an hour-long nap after lunch could help them with their learning by boosting brain power, a small study suggests.

The study authors say their results suggest naps are critical for memory consolidation and early learning.

When the children were allowed a siesta after lunch they performed significantly better on a visual-spatial tasks in the afternoon and the next day than when they were denied a midday snooze.

Following a nap, children recalled 10% more of the information they were being tested on than they did when they had been kept awake.

Close monitoring of 14 additional youngsters who came to the researchers’ sleep lab revealed the processes at work in the brain during asleep.

As the children napped, they experienced increased activity in brain regions linked with learning and integrating new information.

Image: Getty 

Tags science brain neuroscience brain activity

 Source BBC

Fear Memories Can Be Reduced During Sleep
A fear memory was reduced in people by exposing them to the memory over and over again while they slept. It’s the first time that emotional memory has been manipulated in humans during sleep, report Northwestern Medicine scientists.The finding potentially offers a new way to enhance the typical daytime treatment of phobias through exposure therapy by adding a nighttime component. Exposure therapy is a common treatment for phobia and involves a gradual exposure to the feared object or situation until the fear is extinguished.Read more here.

Fear Memories Can Be Reduced During Sleep


A fear memory was reduced in people by exposing them to the memory over and over again while they slept. It’s the first time that emotional memory has been manipulated in humans during sleep, report Northwestern Medicine scientists.

The finding potentially offers a new way to enhance the typical daytime treatment of phobias through exposure therapy by adding a nighttime component. Exposure therapy is a common treatment for phobia and involves a gradual exposure to the feared object or situation until the fear is extinguished.

Read more here.

Tags science Neuroscience brain news futurejam

Reblogged from Laboratory Equipment 

First scientific evidence: We use memory combinations to make decisions

Ever tried beetroot custard? Probably not, but your brain can imagine how it might taste by reactivating old memories in a new pattern.

Helen Barron and her colleagues at University College London and Oxford University wondered if our brains combine existing memories to help us decide whether to try something new.

So the team used an fMRI scanner to look at the brains of 19 volunteers who were asked to remember specific foods they had tried.

Each volunteer was then given a menu of 13 unusual food combinations – including beetroot custard, tea jelly, and coffee yoghurt – and asked to imagine how good or bad they would taste, and whether or not they would eat them.

"Tea jelly was popular," says Barron. "Beetroot custard not so much."

When each volunteer imagined a new combination, they showed brain activity associated with each of the known ingredients at the same time. It is the first evidence to suggest that we use memory combination to make decisions, says Barron.

Tags science new brain neuroscience discovery futurejam

 Source newscientist.com

This is your brain on insomnia.
The A column shows brains from good sleepers, while the B column shows brains from people with primary insomnia. The brain scans demonstrate brain activation in response to task difficulty.
Researchers have new clues as to why it’s so hard to concentrate after a bad night’s sleep.
A new study published in the journal Sleep shows that even though people with insomnia and people without insomnia were able to perform equally on a working memory task, the brains of those with the condition did not work as efficiently.
Specifically, people without insomnia were able to pull more resources to the network of the brain responsible for working memory as the task grew in difficulty. But people with insomnia were unable to pull these resources.
In addition, insomniacs were unable to “turn off ‘mind-wandering’ brain regions irrelevant to the task.

This is your brain on insomnia.

The A column shows brains from good sleepers, while the B column shows brains from people with primary insomnia. The brain scans demonstrate brain activation in response to task difficulty.

Researchers have new clues as to why it’s so hard to concentrate after a bad night’s sleep.

A new study published in the journal Sleep shows that even though people with insomnia and people without insomnia were able to perform equally on a working memory task, the brains of those with the condition did not work as efficiently.

Specifically, people without insomnia were able to pull more resources to the network of the brain responsible for working memory as the task grew in difficulty. But people with insomnia were unable to pull these resources.

In addition, insomniacs were unable to “turn off ‘mind-wandering’ brain regions irrelevant to the task.

Tags science brain Neuroscience insomnia sleep

 Source The Huffington Post

Five Incredible—and Real—Mind-Control Applications


Welcome to a dawning era of brain-controlled devices and actions.
Scientists achieved the first remote human-to-human brain interface this week, when Rajesh Rao sent a brain signal over the Internet that moved the hand of colleague Andrea Stocco—even though Stocco was sitting all the way across the University of Washington’s campus.
Using one human brain to direct another person’s body via the Internet was an amazing breakthrough. But other feats of mind control are already realities, particularly in the realm of human machine interfaces (HMIs).
1. Compose and Play Music
2. Screen Mobile Phone Calls
3. Create a 3-D Object
4. Drive a Wheelchair—And a Car
5. “Bionic” Limbs

Five Incredible—and Real—Mind-Control Applications

Welcome to a dawning era of brain-controlled devices and actions.

Scientists achieved the first remote human-to-human brain interface this week, when Rajesh Rao sent a brain signal over the Internet that moved the hand of colleague Andrea Stocco—even though Stocco was sitting all the way across the University of Washington’s campus.

Using one human brain to direct another person’s body via the Internet was an amazing breakthrough. But other feats of mind control are already realities, particularly in the realm of human machine interfaces (HMIs).

1. Compose and Play Music

2. Screen Mobile Phone Calls

3. Create a 3-D Object

4. Drive a Wheelchair—And a Car

5. “Bionic” Limbs

Tags science national geographic brain mind control brain-controlled devices

World first: One step closer to mapping the brain

A group of scientists have successfully identified wiring amongst 950 neurons within a small patch of a mouse retina. The significance of this? 

The human brain has 100 billion neurons, connected to each other in networks that allow us to interpret the world around us, plan for the future, and control our actions and movements. Mapping these networks, will help create a wiring diagram of the brain that could help scientists learn how we each become our unique selves.image

Tags science brain MIT neurons neural brain mapping

Better thinking after physical exercise

A recent article in Scientific American makes me, a devote triathlete, very happy. I often attributed my ‘clear mind’ after training to the raised endorphin levels in my body. However, turns out there is another reason for it:
The hippocampus, a part of the brain critical for learning and memory, is highly active during exercise. When the neurons in this structure rev up, research shows that our cognitive function improves. Other recent work indicates that aerobic exercise can actually reverse hippocampal shrinkage, which occurs naturally with age, and consequently boost memory in older adults. Yet another study found that students who exercise perform better on tests than their less athletic peers.

Tags science brain Neuroscience hippocampus exercise

Changing the World: 3-year-old Grayson is the first child to receive an auditory brain stem implant. Here is the moment he hears his father’s voice for the first time - It’s totally worth putting up with the cheesy background music. 

Let’s hope this ends up a successful trial, so that more deaf children can hear the sounds of our world. 

Tags science implant Neuroscience brain stem cell

How the brain controls a ‘mind machine’

Activity observed in the brain when using a “mind machine” is similar to how the brain learns new motor skills, scientists have found.

Participants’ neural activity was recorded by using sensors implanted in their brain, which were linked to a computer that translated electrical impulses into actions.

The researchers believe people will be able to perform increasingly complex tasks just by thinking them.

The study is published in PNAS journal.

Image credit: V.J. Wedeen and L.L. Wald, Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH

Tags science mind brain Neuroscience

 Source BBC

If you had 5% chance of being revived in the future -would you cryopreserve your brain?

A group of Oxford dons are spending roughly the same amount per month as a gym membership to be cryo-preserved after they die - or frozen in liquid nitrogen at -196C.

The hope is that in a few hundred years, technology will be developed enough to revive them.

Anders Sandberg told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme’s Evan Davis that that he is one of the academics planning to have his head frozen.

Listen to the interview here.

Tags science life and death cyrogenetics brain neuroscience

 Source BBC