Month: June 2008

Blood and the Brain

Sophisticated brain imaging has never been able to directly image the activity of neurons (namely, fMRI and PET scans). Instead, the realization that active neurons caused increased blood flow to occur in the vicinity allowed researchers to develop the techniques that could more easily monitor the flow activity. As blood flow increased in a region of the brain, then the neurons in the area must also be screaming with increased activity.

But, neurons do not have a direct connection to blood vessels and blood flow in the brain.

The correlation between active neurons and the resulting blood flow changes has just now been directly realized by a team at MIT who used two-photon excitation microscopydeveloped by the lab of Watt Webb at Cornell University. They found that another very common cell that composes about 1/2 of all brain cells, called an astrocyte which directly affects blood flow and is electrically quite unlike the neuron, instead reacts to non-electrical stimuli from surrounding cells.

This is a rather significant discovery and further research will lead to a deeper understanding of how our complex neural networks function and how they stay alive in our heads.


MIT unlocks mystery behind brain imaging :: June 19, 2008
read article ]

“Tuned Responses of Astrocytes and Their Influence on Hemodynamic Signals in the Visual Cortex”
James Schummers, Hongbo Yu, and Mriganka Sur
Science 20 June 2008: 1638-1643.
read abstract ]

Movies of visually evoked responses of neurons and astrocytes [ view ]

About Mriganka Sur at MIT

Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
visit ]

Find God in Your Head

So, the science we are looking at here is a little “iffy” — to be polite about it — but, since we don’t know everything about the brain quite yet, we really do have to keep our minds open to new ways of approaching ridiculously complicated problems. (To impart a bit of experienced wisdom, if I may: even if a method of thinking is crazy and entirely incorrect, it can certainly still lead to new and original brainstorms into potentially correct paths of inquiry!)

Slate Magazine covered a brain science “year in review” in 2007, and one interesting feature looked at neurotheology. (Yes, this is a little bit of old news now, but we’re still catching up!) No matter what you believe, human beings of all faiths and background really do have some sort of “spiritual” experience that is real in the sense that we can personally feel it happening if and when it does happen. This “feeling” certainly doesn’t prove that a Caucasian older gentleman with a long white beard sits up in a puffy white cloud watching over our every thought and motion, but it also doesn’t mean there isn’t something, evening if it’s not supernatural. It might be an illusion, but it is still something to understand.

So why not directly measure brain activity of those of us homo sapiens who have excessive spiritual feelings and see if there is anything different from those of us who don’t have similar experiences–or, those of us who inadvertently repress. It’s all in our heads… the complex neural network in our brain is everything, and maybe it’s also god… or maybe it’s the most amazing connection to the “real” god that is still beyond our comprehension. Even if the science is a little loosy-goosy at this point, religion is certainly an experience of human beings, which means it is a direct experience of our brains, which means our neurons have a whole lot to do with religion.

“God Is in the Dendrites” :: Slate April 26, 2007
Read the Article ]

You could have discovered a Voorwerp

This is real amateur science making real discoveries. Galaxy Zoo allows citizen scientists to help identify and classify astronomical objects in a way that is surprisingly much more efficient that a computer program. (This is featured as a DPRI eLab.) Read about this new discovery that has excited astrophysicists from around the world…

“Galaxy Zoo’s blue mystery (part I)” :: Science News June 19, 2008 [READ]

“Stars in their eyes” :: The Economist :: June 26, 2008 :: [ READ ]

iPhones for All Citizen Scientists!

Talk on your new iPhone, let the government track your every move, and help support social science research. Maybe Steve Jobs and the US Government can give us a subsidized phones to help with any potential projects Smile.

GPS-Equipped iPhone Could Enable New Citizen Science :: Wired Science June 09, 2008 [read]

Seriously, though, there certainly could be interesting projects to set up with GPS tracking and social movement, clustering, and other measurements of self-organizing masses of people.

Last updated July 10, 2020