Under Extremes, Big Groups Can Act Like A Force Of Nature
See on Scoop.it - Knowmads, Infocology of the futurePhysics students study how large crowds behave at mosh pits.
Large groups of humans emulate natural phenomena in surprising ways, especially when faced with extreme conditions such as riots, rock concerts, or earthquakes.
They may behave like molecules in a gas or in solid material, schools of fish, or flocks of birds, all without thinking or direction, researchers have found. And sometimes, conditions that look chaotic are not.
While group behavior is more likely to be a topic in a conference of sociologists or psychologists, several groups of physicists at a meeting of the American Physical Society in Baltimore, reported using some techniques of physics to describe and maybe predict human behavior in times of crisis.
Take, for instance, a heavy metal concert, where crowds informally create mosh pits, mobs of people moving randomly to cacophonous and throbbing, rhythmic music, bouncing off each other, sometimes transporting each other over the mob by hand.
A group of physics students at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., have recreated the activity in a computer, and the result may lead to better-designed concert halls and arenas and help protect against people being trampled to death at soccer stadium stampedes and concerts. Research like it could save lives.
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A new study from the University of Maryland School of Medicine suggests that depression results from a disturbance in the ability of brain cells to communicate with each other. The study indicates a major shift in our understanding of how depression is caused and how it should be treated. Instead of focusing on the levels of hormone-like chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, the scientists found that the transmission of excitatory signals between cells becomes abnormal in depression. The research, by senior author Scott M. Thompson, Ph.D., Professor and Interim Chair of the Department of Physiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, was published online in the March 17 issue of Nature Neuroscience.
“Dr. Thompson’s groundbreaking research could alter the field of psychiatric medicine, changing how we understand the crippling public health problem of depression and other mental illness,” says E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., Vice President for Medical Affairs at the University of Maryland and John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and Dean at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “This is the type of cutting-edge science that we strive toward at the University of Maryland, where discoveries made in the laboratory can impact the clinical practice of medicine.”
The first major finding of the study was the discovery that serotonin has a previously unknown ability to strengthen the communication between brain cells. “Like speaking louder to your companion at a noisy cocktail party, serotonin amplifies excitatory interactions in brain regions important for emotional and cognitive function and apparently helps to make sure that crucial conversations between neurons get heard,” says Dr. Thompson. “Then we asked, does this action of serotonin play any role in the therapeutic action of drugs like Prozac?”
To understand what might be wrong in the brains of patients with depression and how elevating serotonin might relieve their symptoms, the study team examined the brains of rats and mice that had been repeatedly exposed to various mildly stressful conditions, comparable to the types of psychological stressors that can trigger depression in people.
The researchers could tell that their animals became depressed because they lost their preference for things that are normally pleasurable. For example, normal animals given a choice of drinking plain water or sugar water strongly prefer the sugary solution. Study animals exposed to repeated stress, however, lost their preference for the sugar water, indicating that they no longer found it rewarding. This depression-like behavior strongly mimics one hallmark of human depression, called anhedonia, in which patients no longer feel rewarded by the pleasures of a nice meal or a good movie, the love of their friends and family, and countless other daily interactions.
A comparison of the activity of the animals’ brain cells in normal and stressed rats revealed that stress had no effect on the levels of serotonin in the ‘depressed’ brains. Instead, it was the excitatory connections that responded to serotonin in strikingly different manner. These changes could be reversed by treating the stressed animals with antidepressants until their normal behavior was restored.
“In the depressed brain, serotonin appears to be trying hard to amplify that cocktail party conversation, but the message still doesn’t get through,” says Dr. Thompson. Using specially engineered mice created by collaborators at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the study also revealed that the ability of serotonin to strengthen excitatory connections was required for drugs like antidepressants to work.
Sustained enhancement of communication between brain cells is considered one of the major processes underlying memory and learning. The team’s observations that excitatory brain cell function is altered in models of depression could explain why people with depression often have difficulty concentrating, remembering details, or making decisions. Additionally, the findings suggest that the search for new and better antidepressant compounds should be shifted from drugs that elevate serotonin to drugs that strengthen excitatory connections.
“Although more work is needed, we believe that a malfunction of excitatory connections is fundamental to the origins of depression and that restoring normal communication in the brain, something that serotonin apparently does in successfully treated patients, is critical to relieving the symptoms of this devastating disease,” Dr. Thompson explains.
(Image: McGovern Institute, MIT)
A magician is using his knowledge of magic theory and practice to investigate the brain’s powers of observation.
Hugo Caffaratti, engineer and semi-professional magician from Barcelona, Spain, has embarked on a PhD with the University of Leicester’s Centre for Systems Neuroscience.
Hugo has 12 years of experience working with magic – specialising in card tricks – and is a member of the Spanish Society of Illusionism (SEI-ACAI).
The engineer also has a longstanding interest in neuroscience and bioengineering, having taken a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering at University of Barcelona.
He hopes to combine his two interests in his PhD thesis project, which covers a new field of Cognitive Neuroscience: Neuro-Magic.
As part of his work, he will investigate how our brains perceive what actually happens before our eyes – and how our attention can be drawn away from important details.
He also plans to study “forced choice” - a tool often used by magicians where we are fooled into thinking we have made a free choice.
Among other experiments, Hugo will ask participants to watch videos of card trick performances, while sitting in front of an eye-tracker device.
This will allow him to monitor where our attention is focused during illusions – and how our brain can be deceived when our eyes miss the whole picture.
Hugo said: “I have always been interested in the study of the brain. It is amazing to be involved in the process of combining the disciplines of neuroscience and magic.
“I am really interested in the fields of decision making and forced-choice. It is incredible that many times a day we make a decision and feel free. We do not realise that we have been forced to make that decision.
“I am constructing an experiment to study what happens when we make forced decisions – to try and find the reasons for it. I am thinking about which kinds of tricks I know could be useful to give more insights about brain function.”
He will work under the tutelage of Professor Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, director of the Centre for Systems Neuroscience.
Professor Quian Quiroga’s recent work on memory formation was the topic of his recent book “Borges and memory” (MIT Press) and was also featured on the front page of the international science publication Scientific American.
Professor Rodrigo Quian Quiroga said: “I am very interested in connections between science and the arts. Last year, for example, we organized an art and science exhibition as a result of a 1-year rotation in my lab of visual artist Mariano Molina. Hugo’s PhD will look at decision-making and attention – and although he is doing his first steps in neuroscience, I think he already has a lot of expertise in this area based on his training as a magician.
“Magic theory has thousands of years of experience. Magicians have been answering similar questions that we have in the lab, and they have an intuitive knowledge of how the mind works. Hugo will likely bring a fresh new view on how to address questions we deal with in neuroscience.”
Hugo is also keen to carry on with his work in magic while studying for his PhD, and is hoping to perform in bars in Leicester while staying here.
He has also applied for membership with The Magic Circle – a prestigious magic society of London. He will have to sit exams to prove his magical mettle in order to join the exclusive club.
A team of sleep researchers led by UC Riverside psychologist Sara C. Mednick has confirmed the mechanism that enables the brain to consolidate memory and found that a commonly prescribed sleep aid enhances the process. Those discoveries could lead to new sleep therapies that will improve memory for aging adults and those with dementia, Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia.
The groundbreaking research appears in a paper, “The Critical Role of Sleep Spindles in Hippocampal-Dependent Memory: A Pharmacology Study,” published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Earlier research found a correlation between sleep spindles — bursts of brain activity that last for a second or less during a specific stage of sleep — and consolidation of memories that depend on the hippocampus. The hippocampus, part of the cerebral cortex, is important in the consolidation of information from short-term to long-term memory, and spatial navigation. The hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain damaged by Alzheimer’s disease.
Mednick and her research team demonstrated, for the first time, the critical role that sleep spindles play in consolidating memory in the hippocampus, and they showed that pharmaceuticals could significantly improve that process, far more than sleep alone.
In addition to Mednick the research team includes: Elizabeth A. McDevitt, UC San Diego; James K. Walsh, VA San Diego Healthcare System, La Jolla, Calif; Erin Wamsley, St. Luke’s Hospital, St. Louis, Mo.; Martin Paulus, Stanford University; Jennifer C. Kanady, Harvard Medical School; and Sean P.A. Drummond, UC Berkeley.
“We found that a very common sleep drug can be used to increase verbal memory,” said Mednick, the lead author of the paper that outlines results of two studies conducted over five years with a $651,999 research grant from the National Institutes of Health. “This is the first study to show you can manipulate sleep to improve memory. It suggests sleep drugs could be a powerful tool to tailor sleep to particular memory disorders.”
Ten mile walk to sort it all.
Space-based solar power (SBSP) has once again begun to attract attention with projects emerging in the US, Russia, China, India and Japan, among others. All are driven by increasing energy demands, soaring oil and gas prices, a desire to find clean alternatives to fossil fuels and by a burgeoning commercial space industry that promises to lower the cost of entry into space and spur on a host of new industries, says BBC Future.
Space-solar-power pioneer John Mankins, CTO of Deep Space Industries, is the man behind a project called SPS-Alpha, which aims to assemble a huge bell-shaped structure that will use mirrors to concentrate energy from the sun onto solar panels. The collected energy would then be beamed down to ground stations on Earth using microwaves, providing unlimited, clean energy and overnight reducing our reliance on polluting fossil fuels. The snag? It is unproven technology and he estimates it will take at least $15–$20 billion. . However, a 2011 report by the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) found that SBSP could be commercially viable within 30 years, driven in part by the rise of private space companies. (via Space-based solar farms power up | KurzweilAI)
When ships cross bodies of water, they leave behind visible “tracks” of pollution. NASA has been using satellite imagery to collect data on ship tracks, and the results are mildly disturbing.
The image above shows only nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions, and is a composite of data collected by the Ozone Monitoring Instrument on NASA’s Aura satellite from 2005 through 2012.
Nitrogen dioxide causes respiratory problems in humans in addition to creating ground-level ozone and fine particle pollution, and scientists are collecting data to see just how much shipping contributes to global NOx emissions. Right now, estimates are that shipping is responsible for between 15 and 30 percent, with the rest coming from sources as diverse as agricultural burning, oil drilling and even lightning.
In the image above, ship tracks can be seen in dark red. They’re concentrated around the most heavily trafficked and congested shipping routes, with the most prominent in the Indian Ocean between Singapore and Sri Lanka. Other visible tracks exist in the Mediterranean Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.
If you see areas without ship tracks, it isn’t necessarily because pollution is absent. In fact, it’s often quite the opposite: Ship tracks along the coasts of Europe, North America and China are obscured by existing pollution from offshore drilling and coastal cities. The Atlantic and Pacific oceans appear clear because they’re open enough for ship tracks to be widely dispersed, and weather prevents accurate data collection from the Arctic region. (via Satellite Image Shows Tracks of Shipping Pollution | Autopia | Wired.com)
Scientists Use Distraction To Improve Memory In Older Adults
See on Scoop.it - The future of medicine and healthCanadian scientists have found compelling evidence that older adults can eliminate forgetfulness and perform as well as younger adults on memory tests. The cognitive boost comes from a surprising source — a distraction learning strategy.
Scientists at Baycrest Health Sciences’ Rotman Research Institute (RRI) and the University of Toronto’s Psychology Department have found compelling evidence that older adults can eliminate forgetfulness and perform as well as younger adults on memory tests.
Scientists used a distraction learning strategy to help older adults overcome age-related forgetting and boost their performance to that of younger adults. Distraction learning sounds like an oxymoron, but a growing body of science is showing that older brains are adept at processing irrelevant and relevant information in the environment, without conscious effort, to aid memory performance.
“Older brains may be be doing something very adaptive with distraction to compensate for weakening memory,” said Renée Biss, lead investigator and PhD student. “In our study we asked whether distraction can be used to foster memory-boosting rehearsal for older adults. The answer is yes!”
“To eliminate age-related forgetfulness across three consecutive memory experiments and help older adults perform like younger adults is dramatic and to our knowledge a totally unique finding,” said Lynn Hasher, senior scientist on the study and a leading authority in attention and inhibitory functioning in younger and older adults. “Poor regulation of attention by older adults may actually have some benefits for memory.”
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Physicists of the University of Vienna together with researchers from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna developed nano-machines which recreate principal activities of proteins. They present the first versatile and modular example of a fully artificial protein-mimetic model system, thanks to the Vienna Scientific Cluster (VSC), a high performance computing infrastructure. These “bionic proteins” could play an important role in innovating pharmaceutical research. The results have now been published in the renowned journal “Physical Review Letters”.
Proteins are the fundamental building blocks of all living organism we currently know. Because of the large number and complexity of bio-molecular processes they are capable of, proteins are often referred to as “molecular machines”. Take for instance the proteins in your muscles: At each contraction stimulated by the brain, an uncountable number of proteins change their structures to create the collective motion of the contraction. This extraordinary process is performed by molecules which have a size of only about a nanometer, a billionth of a meter. Muscle contraction is just one of the numerous activities of proteins: There are proteins that transport cargo in the cells, proteins that construct other proteins, there are even cages in which proteins that “mis-behave” can be trapped for correction, and the list goes on and on. “Imitating these astonishing bio-mechanical properties of proteins and transferring them to a fully artificial system is our long term objective”, says Ivan Coluzza from the Faculty of Physics of the University of Vienna, who works on this project together with colleagues of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna.
Simulations thanks to Vienna Scientific Cluster (VSC)
In a recent paper in Physical Review Letters, the team presented the first example of a fully artificial bio-mimetic model system capable of spontaneously self-knotting into a target structure. Using computer simulations, they reverse engineered proteins by focusing on the key elements that give them the ability to execute the program written in the genetic code. The computationally very intensive simulations have been made possible by access to the powerful Vienna Scientific Cluster (VSC), a high performance computing infrastructure operated jointly by the University of Vienna, the Vienna University of Technology and the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna.
Artificial proteins in the laboratory
The team now works on realizing such artificial proteins in the laboratory using specially functionalized nanoparticles. The particles will then be connected into chains following the sequence determined by the computer simulations, such that the artificial proteins fold into the desired shapes. Such knotted nanostructures could be used as new stable drug delivery vehicles and as enzyme-like, but more stable, catalysts.