Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mouse Party!

Neuroscience has never been this entertaining. The University of Utah's Genetic Science Learning Center has developed an online game, Mouse Party, designed to teach players how different drugs affect the brain. Why are the effects of LSD so complicated? How come heroin makes you feel like a million bucks? What does an animated stoned mouse look like, anyway? Find out all this and more at the coolest rodent party in town.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Does your name define you?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Intellectual Blogging Award

As bloggers tend to do, I was checking out who'd been to my site recently and saw a couple of hits from An Unquiet Mind, a blog I didn't recognize. Curious, I went to the site and began reading a post about the "Intellectual Blogging Award," an award the blog gives to bloggers who really think on their own. Turns out that someone thinks I do that! Grrlscientist over at Living the Scientific Life, who came to speak to my NYU class one day last year, has nominated my blog for the award. Aw, shucks. I am honored!

And now I will nominate my favorite intellectual blogs. I realize these are very Scienceblogs-heavy, but hey, I used to work at Seed. What do you expect?

1. The Loom - I love microbes. So does Carl Zimmer. Naturally, I love his blog. (I realize he was already nominated, but I can't help it. His was the first that came to mind.)
2. Aetiology - Tara Smith writes a lot about microbes too. She's prolific and excellent.
3. Science Made Cool - A biology-focused blog that I've just discovered and quite enjoy.
4. Bad Science - The Guardian's bad science columnist dissects, well, bad science.
5. The Neurocritic - Picks apart new research findings in neuroscience and psychopharmacology. Very interesting stuff.

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Tesla coils dance spritely across stage

Well, not exactly. But in what is possibly the most wonderful display of dorkese I have ever seen, two self-described "tech coilers" have built solid-state tesla coil systems that lend themselves to audio modulation. The result? Tesla Coils that perform the Nutcracker's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Read more about how they did it here. (Thanks, Michael, for sending me the Youtube link.)


Friday, November 02, 2007

What's in the soil?

Ever wondered why HIV is so prevalent in Africa? Could it have something to do with the continent's geography? Sounds ridiculous, maybe, but there's at least some evidence to support the idea. Check out my new post on the subject at 60 Second Science...

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sleep for your sanity

It's no surprise that sleep deprivation is bad for emotional stability -- oh, how it makes you cranky. But until now, scientists haven't really understood why.

In what is the first neural investigation into what happens to the sleep-deprived brain, researchers at UC-Berkeley used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to look how activity in the amygdala, a brain region key to processing emotions, is affected by sleep deprivation. When subjects who had stayed awake for 35 hours were shown negative visual stimuli like mutilated bodies, the amygdala become hyperactive compared to subjects who had gotten a full night's sleep. And when the amygdala goes haywire, it consequently shuts down the prefrontal cortex, an area responsible for logical reasoning, preventing the release of chemicals needed to calm down the fight-or-flight reflex.

The amygdala is also closely connected to depression, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders. It could be that without sleep, the brain reverts back to more primitive patterns of activity, unable to put emotional experiences into context and produce controlled, appropriate responses, according to Matthew Walker, director of UC Berkeley's Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory and senior author of the study.

The study's findings lay the groundwork for further investigation into the relationship between sleep and psychiatric illnesses. Clinical evidence, for example, has shown that some form of sleep disruption is present in almost all psychiatric disorders; this is the first set of experiments demonstrating that even healthy people's brains mimic certain pathological psychiatric patterns when deprived of their 40 winks.

Halloween posts

It's been eons, but yes, I'm still alive -- just busy! Sorry for not blogging for, well, three months, and thanks to those who emailed me asking me to come back. I didn't even realize I had fans!

Over at Scientific American's 60 Second Science blog, I wrote a festive Halloween post about the effects of costuming on human behavior -- i.e., does Halloween make us go a little crazy? Check it out here.

The site has another great Halloween post about what science says about the supernatural. And you can probably guess what that is.

More to come soon, I promise!