The Physics of Folds and Grooves

guest post by Kayt Sukel

Gel-printed brain. Image courtesy of T. Tallinen, J-Y Chung and L. Mahadevan

Gel-printed brain forming folds after it was placed in liquid solvent. Image and video below courtesy of T. Tallinen, J-Y Chung, and L. Mahadevan

The human brain has a remarkably distinct shape. With its folds and valleys (gyri and sulci, respectively), there is no bodily organ like it. How and why does it have this accordion-like structure? That’s remained an open, and highly debated, question among neuroscientists. Some argued there must be some biological factors within neurons and supporting cells that program them to grow this way. Others hypothesized that the brain’s gulfs and valleys are due to simple physics—that is, the mechanical compression involved with developing inside the enclosed case of the skull. Now, work done at Harvard University and Finland’s University of Jyväskylä suggests the latter argument may be the correct one.

“The number, size, shape, and position of neuronal cells during brain growth all lead to the expansion of the gray matter, known as the cortex, relative to the underlying white matter,” says Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan, a physicist and applied mathematician at Harvard. “This puts the cortex under compression leading to a mechanical instability that causes it to crease locally, a process called gyrification.” Continue reading

National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week (January 25-31)


On Monday, National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week began, sparking local events across the country in an effort to “shatter the myths” about drugs and alcohol, particularly among teens.

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Dana News E-Blast: January

Here are some stories recently posted on

cere_article_Baumann_0116_featThe Changing Face of Recreational Drug Use

by Michael H. Baumann, Ph.D.

Known as “designer drugs,” new psychoactive substances (NPS) represents a disturbing new trend. Our article describes what is known about the molecular mechanisms of action, and highlights some of the considerable challenges in dealing with this public health problem. From Cerebrum, our online magazine of ideas.

Adcock, R. Alison_heashotA Study of Motivation

It’s difficult to know what motivates people, but R. Alison Adcock’s lab is using imaging to study how states like desire and curiosity can facilitate “motivated memory.” Her work could have implications in the education field, but also in other learning contexts like psychotherapy and behavior change. One of our series of Scientist Q&As. Continue reading

Empowering Female Neuroscientists

MDierssen-1When Mara Dierssen started her career as a neuroscientist, she often encountered gender discrimination. Working in a male-dominated field, she had to combat stereotypes about passivity and leadership. Lacking a female role model, she now realizes that she was unaware of many of the scientific community’s “unwritten rules,” like how to receive funding for projects, do interviews, and publish findings.

Years later, Dierssen’s strong drive to succeed, intense passion for neuroscience, and work ethic have helped her become  a senior scientist at the Centre for Biomedical Research, president of the Spanish Society for Neuroscience, a member of the European Dana Alliance, as well as a mother of four children. Dierssen, who recently talked about gender and neuroscience in an interview with the Society for Neuroscience (SfN),  has become a role model for today’s young female neuroscientists, not only because of her achievements as a neuroscientist, but also through her dedication to public outreach and gender equality.

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Get Ready for Brain Awareness Week 2016!

BAW2016Logo_withdateThe Brain Awareness Week (BAW) 2016 website has officially launched! Gearing up for BAW 2016, March 14-20, US partners can now order free publications and materials and international partners can access several new and spiffy downloadable materials (some available in multiple languages).

This year, our new Staying Sharp: Successful Aging and the Brain booklet debuts as a more condensed and updated version of the previous three Staying Sharp booklets. It answers questions such as “How do learning and memory change with age?”, and “When is memory loss a sign of dementia?”, and delves into topics such as memory formation, neuroplasticity, and living a brain-healthy lifestyle.

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