Tag Archives: science

Explaining the Neuroscience of the Zombie Epidemic – Forbes

Fast zombie brain vs. slow zombie brain (Credit: Zombie Research Society)

Neuroscientists Bradley Voytek and Timothy Verstynen of the Zombie Research Society have begun a multi-part examination of the neuroscience of the zombie brain. Each part will focus on one key aspect of what makes a zombie, and develop a brain model that explains such zombie behavior.The introduction to the project describes their methodology:

Neuroscience has shown that all thoughts and behaviors are associated with neural activity within the brain. Therefore, it should not be surprising that the zombie brain would look and function differently than the gray matter contained in your skull. Yet, how would one know what a zombie brain looks like?

Luckily, the rich repertoire of behavioral symptoms shown in cinema gives the astute neuroscientist or neurologist clues as to the anatomical and physiological underpinnings of zombie behavior. By taking a forensic neuroscience approach, we can piece together a hypothetical picture of the zombie brain.

So far, they’ve examined two key symptoms of the zombie epidemic. Dr. Voytek has examined the the aggression of zombies, and notes that the most likely explanation for this behavior is a lack of a functioning orbitofrontal cortex. Dr. Verstynen examined the gait of zombies, and has differentiated between “fast” and “slow” zombies. “Slow” zombies likely suffer from damage to the cerebellum, leading to their lumbering, uncoordinated style of movement. “Fast” zombies, by contrast, appear to have no such difficulties.

More symptoms will be analyzed and explained from a neuroscience viewpoint over the coming weeks, so be sure to stay tuned to Oscillatory Thoughts and The Cognitive Axon over the course of the next few days. For more about what to do in the event of a zombie outbreak, the CDC has basic preparedness on their website here, and has a comic book on zombie preparedness here. For more background on Dr. Voytek’s neuroscience research, check out my interview with him here.

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook. Read my Forbes blog here.

BBC Nature – ‘Criminal’ penguin caught on film

The soundtrack and narration are really kind of cute here.

A “criminal” stone-stealing Adelie penguin has been captured on camera by a BBC film crew.

The team, filming for the documentary Frozen Planet, spent four months with the penguin colony on Ross Island, Antarctica.

The footage they captured shows a male penguin stealing stones from its neighbour’s nest.

Read the accompanying article at bbc.co.uk

First Cyborg Cerebellum | IdeaFeed | Big Think


What’s the Latest Development?

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have successfully engineered a robotic cerebellum that functions in the brain of rats. First the scientists sought to understand what kind of signal a rat cerebellum sends when it receives stimuli, then they duplicated that response in the mechanical cerebellum they engineered. “Attaching the synthetic cerebellum to the rat, the scientists tried to condition it to blink at the sound of a tone. To get the rat to blink they first fired a puff of air at the rat when the tone sounded and then just sounded the tone.” When the motorized cerebellum was attached, the rat blinked. 

What’s the Big Idea?

The artificial cerebellum represents a higher order of brain-computer interface than what is currently experienced by users of advanced prosthetics that receive and execute orders from the brain. Since the cerebellum is but a part of the brain, the scientists had to engineer the “cerebellum to receive information from one part of the brain and send it back to another.” Scientists need to understand more about how the cerebellum functions before a test is performed on humans but this recent experiment is good news for those with brain injuries. 

Read it at Discovery News

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Sam Wang

Neuroscientist, Princeton University

A lesson in physics: Schrödinger’s Cat via @sciencebase #MeowMonday

The Neuroscience of Decision Making

IN AN ATTEMPT TO PUT MATTER OVER MIND, researchers are beginning to decipher what exactly is happening in our brains when we are making decisions.

Our thoughts, though abstract and vaporous in form, are determined by the actions of specific neuronal circuits in our brains. The new field known as “decision neuroscience” is uncovering those circuits, thereby mapping thinking on a cellular level. Although still a young field, research in this area has exploded in the last decade, with findings suggesting it is possible to parse out the complexity of thinking into its individual components and decipher how they are integrated when we ponder. Eventually, such findings will lead to a better understanding of a wide range of mental disorders, from depression to schizophrenia, as well as explain how exactly we make the multitude of decisions that ultimately shape our destiny.

Recently, three experts in decision neuroscience discussed their work, describing the genesis of this cutting-edge field and why it incorporates several disciplines. They also identified the driving questions in the field and reflected on the potential practical applications of this research. The investigators who participated are:

  • DAEYEOL LEE, PhD, Department of Neurobiology and Kavli Institute for Neuroscience, Yale University School of Medicine
  • C. DANIEL SALZMAN, MD, PhD., Department of Psychiatry and Neuroscience and Kavli Institute for Brain Science, Columbia University School of Medicine
  • XIAO-JING WANG, PhD., Department of Neurobiology, Physics and Psychology; Director,  Swartz Program in Theoretical Neurobiology; Kavli Institute of Neuroscience, Yale University School of Medicine
Read the interview here: kavlifoundation.org

Addiction Is Not A Disease Of The Brain

circa 1870:  Anatomical drawing of a man's brain and cerebral nerves.

Enlarge Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Addiction has been moralized, medicalized, politicized, and criminalized. And, of course, many of us are addicts, have been addicts or have been close to addicts. Addiction runs very hot as a theme.

Part of what makes addiction so compelling is that it forms a kind of conceptual/political crossroads for thinking about human nature. After all, to make sense of addiction we need to make sense of what it is to be an agent who acts, with values, in the face of consequences, under pressure, with compulsion, out of need and desire. One needs a whole philosophy to understand addiction.

Today I want to respond to readers who were outraged by my willingness even to question whether addiction is a disease of the brain.

Let us first ask: what makes something — a substance or an activity — addictive? Is there a property shared by all the things to which we can get addicted?

Continue reading at npr.org

Autotune your science! Symphony of Science – The Quantum World!

Night Owls More Likely to Experience Nightmares

Good reason to turn in early….

girl having a nightmare
Like to stay up late? The downside may be more bad dreams, research suggests.

CREDIT: Dreamstime

Night owls might think staying up late is a real hoot, but a new study hints that delayed sleep might have a sinister side. People who hit the sack late might have a greater risk of experiencing nightmares, according to scientists, although they add that follow-up research is needed to confirm the link.

“It’s a very interesting preliminary study, and we desperately need more research in this area,” says Jessica Payne, director of the Sleep, Stress and Memory Lab at the University of Notre Dame, commenting on the new findings.

Previous reports have estimated 80 percent of adults experience at least one nightmare a year, with 5 percent suffering from disturbing dreams more than once a month. The new paper, from a group of scientists writing in the journal Sleep and Biological Rhythms, surveyed 264 university students about their sleep habits and frequency of nightmares, defined as “dysphoric dreams associated with feelings of threat, anxiety, fear or terror.”

Continue reading at livescience.com

The U.S. Electric Grid vs. Extreme Weather

Yesterday, Hurricane Irene weakened to become Tropical Storm Irene – but not before leaving at least 4 million homes without power and causing fuel shortages along the United State’s Atlantic coast. This hurricane brought on-land wind speeds of more than 85 mph in the continental United States, and maintained its hurricane status through most of its trek north. Though the storm had diminished by the time it hit New York today, it still carried 65 mph winds and drenching rain. And, with this wind came downed power lines and poles along the entire east coast, leaving many stranded without power.

The good news is that the east coast knew that this storm was coming. As David Biello said on Thursday – it’s best to be prepared. And, thanks to our nation’s storm tracking abilities, east coast utilities were able to ready road crews so they could repair power lines that were taken down by the high winds. Power plants lying within Irene’s projected path were able to prepare their facilities to be hit by the wind and rain, helping them to avoid extended supply disruptions.

Continue reading at blogs.scientificamerican.com

A Small Step for a Robot, A Great Leap for Space Travel? | Think Tank | Big Think


What’s the Big Idea?

Robonaut is literally ascending its stairway to the moon in baby steps. Robonaut, aka R2, the first humanoid robot in space, was delivered to the International Space station on space shuttle Discovery’s final flight this past February, and finally powered up this week. “Sure wish I could move my head and look around,” Robonaut said in the tweet. (You can follow Robonaut’s progress on Twitter here: @Robonaut)

Sorry, R2, but that won’t happen until next week, when the robot will finally get to wiggle its fingers and move its arms and hands. R2 will still not be able to walk, as its legs are currently being designed and will not be attached to its torso until 2013.


And yet, who needs legs when you have a Centaur rover (above) as your whip? An improved set of wheels–developed by GM and NASA, called the Centaur 2 was produced in 2010 and features prospecting censors, excavation implants,and devices for converting planetary materials into usable products.

What’s the Significance?

While Robonaut may take a while to get its space legs, it is considerably cheaper than a human astronaut. And cheaper is the name of the game in 21st century space exploration. While the U.S. space program has its sights on landing on an asteroid, and making an eventual Mars landing, a permanent robot presence may be the most feasible option for future lunar exploration.

That is still a long way off, as the goal right now is for R2 to fulfill the mission it was primarily designed for–to serve as a human assistant, as explained in the video below.

Watch here: