From the Archives: Valentine Reading List

Since talk of love is all the rage this week, let’s look back at a few of our past articles on love and attachment. First up is a Cerebrum essay by Rutgers anthropologist Helen Fisher that — after 15 years — is still on our Top 10 list of most-popular pages on dana.org.

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Image: Beatriz Gascon J/Shutterstock

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A Study of Motivation

Adcock, R. Alison_heashot“What makes us curious? What makes us play with our environment and investigate it? Why are some people more curious than others—and why does my own curiosity wax and wane over time?” These are questions Dana Foundation grantee R. Alison Adcock has asked herself since she was child, and which have led her to focus her scientific research on motivation.

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Monitoring the Body’s Invisible Clock

Our body is regulated by an invisible clock that influences our wakefulness, sleep, thoughts, and emotions. The circadian clock is an important regulatory feature, yet neuroscientists still don’t completely understand it. Although cognitive tests can be performed, it was difficult to monitor brain cells over the course of a day until neuroscientist and Dana Alliance member Huda Akil, M.D., designed an experiment that gave a new perspective on circadian clocks.

“Maybe it’s simple-minded, but nobody had thought of it,” she said to The New York Times in a recent article. Her team examined the healthy brains of 55 donors who had died suddenly at different times of the day. As reported by the Times:

As each person died, his brain cells were in the midst of making proteins from certain genes. Because the brains had been quickly preserved, the scientists could still measure the activity of those genes at the time of death.

Most of the genes they examined didn’t show any regular pattern of activity over the course of the day. But they found that more than 1,000 genes followed a daily cycle. People who died at the same time of day were making those genes at the same levels.

The findings were so consistent that they even enabled the scientists to determine the time of death within the hour.

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From the Archives and Beyond: The Dancing Brain

lab-solo-20040117Economist Ivar Hagendoorn’s fascination with dance led to a decade of neuroscience research, described in his 2003 essay in our Cerebrum journal. In  “The Dancing Brain” he argues that while it is the limbs that move, it is the brain that is dancing:

Reading and thinking for several years about what we find interesting when we watch someone dance brought me no closer to understanding what I saw on stage. At some point it struck me that this was the wrong track. Everything we see, hear, feel and do is mediated by the brain. To understand what fascinated and literally moved me in watching dance, we have to look to the brain.

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Big Lessons from Small Creatures

The Secret Science Club is not your average science talk. It’s held at the Bell House, a hip Brooklyn bar and music venue that from the outside looks like it might hold 300 eager science fans. The atmosphere is laid back, with the audience sipping the night’s themed cocktail, the “Perfect Swarm,” and the speaker, biologist Simon Garnier, drinking beer onstage as he wins over the crowd with videos of puppies and summary tweets.

Garnier, director of the SwarmLab, studies what he calls “Swarm Intelligence,” the ability of animals to self-organize efficiently. He focused on one of his major areas of study, slime mold, a multi-nucleated single cell that—minus a brain— makes decisions and solves problems in its search for food. He calls this the “Homer Simpson paradox,” using the “brainless” cartoon character—who Garnier argues is successful because he has a good job that pays enough to support a family. Garnier points out that Homer Simpson and slime mold commonly prompt the same question: “How can an organism without many neural cells make good decisions and end up successful?”

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