Saturday, October 29, 2005

Brain's internal clocks and timing

Let's take a look at an interesting finding on the brain - from a new Nature Reviews Neuroscience article. This report gives new meaning to "internal clock!"

"The brain is a 'time machine,' say Duke neuroscientists Catalin Buhusi and Warren Meck. And understanding how the brain tracks time is essential to understanding all its functions. The brain's internal clocks coordinate a vast array of activities from communicating, to orchestrating movement, to getting food. Buhusi and Meck discuss the current state of understanding of one of the brain's most important, and mysterious, clocks - the one governing timing intervals in the seconds to minutes range. Such interval timing occupies the middle neurological ground between two other clocks - the circadian clock that operates over the 24-hour light-dark cycle, and the millisecond clock that is crucial for such functions as motor control and speech generation and recognition."

Meck says, "We're addressing two challenges. One is to find the molecular processes that underlie this internal clock. And the second challenge is to build more realistic models of how this timing process works, with constant, parallel input from throughout the brain." In these studies, the researchers say they "face the daunting process of trying to monitor the intricate swirling of neural activity throughout the entire brain."

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Nanotechnology and buckypaper

On the topic of nanotechnology, FSU researchers provide some fun facts below.

Among the possible uses for buckypaper that are being researched at FAC2T at FSU:

If exposed to an electric charge, buckypaper could be used to illuminate computer and television screens. It would be more energy-efficient, lighter, and would allow for a more uniform level of brightness than current cathode ray tube (CRT) and liquid crystal display (LCD) technology.

As one of the most thermally conductive materials known, buckypaper lends itself to the development of heat sinks that would allow computers and other electronic equipment to disperse heat more efficiently than is currently possible. This, in turn, could lead to even greater advances in electronic miniaturization.

Because it has an unusually high current-carrying capacity, a film made from buckypaper could be applied to the exteriors of airplanes. Lightning strikes then would flow around the plane and dissipate without causing damage.

Films also could protect electronic circuits and devices within airplanes from electromagnetic interference, which can damage equipment and alter settings. Similarly, such films could allow military aircraft to shield their electromagnetic "signatures," which can be detected via radar.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Neuromarketers test thoughts

According to my scan of the news, marketers already seem to know a lot about how we think, but what if they could actually watch our brains work as they test their products?

In an experiment last year, a researcher scanned volunteers' brains as they drank samples of Coke and Pepsi. When the colas were not identified, the tasters showed no particular preference for either. But when they were shown the iconic red-and-white label, they expressed a huge preference for Coke, irrespective of which cola they were actually sampling.

Coke's logo, the scans showed, lit up areas in the brain associated with pleasure expectation in a way that Pepsi's did not. Montague's conclusion: Coke's more pervasive brand marketing affected volunteers' preferences in ways they didn't realize - even if they were normally Pepsi drinkers.

And, neuroimaging is also extending into the fields of politics and commerce. FKF Applied Research, a company that uses fMRI to study decision making, found differences in brain activity between Bush and Kerry voters when they were shown political advertisements. Leadership qualities are under study by looking at how people's brains respond to an image of someone they would be willing to follow compared with that of someone they would not.

To learn more about neuromarketing, go to TIME.

Friday, October 07, 2005

AI covers doctor's post

Here is an interesting story about using artificial intelligence to mimic doctors in the an intensive care unit of a hospital.

The coverage on Biotechnology Channel says, "A team of systems engineers from the University of Sheffield is developing an intelligent computer system which imitates a doctor's brain to make treatment decisions for intensive care patients. The system will take some of the workload from emergency medical teams by monitoring patients' vital signs and then evaluating and administering the right amounts of different drugs needed - a job usually carried out by specialist medical doctors.

The system models all the possible interactions between different drugs and patients' bodies, and then makes intelligent decisions about the best way to treat patients during heart bypass operations, and post-operatively. This unique system can decide on the types and quantities of drugs to give to patients in a matter of seconds.

The researchers say the system's ability to learn, adapt, and make informed decisions is unique: This new system not only monitors and treats critical patients, but it can also learn from the experiences of medical staff, who can override the machine at any time. If overridden, the system assimilates the doctor's input and uses the new information to make decisions about similar cases in the future."

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

More clues on recent hurricanes' intensity

More on the recent hurricanes in the Gulf:

Scientists monitoring ocean heat and circulation in the Gulf of Mexico during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have a new understanding of how these tropical storms can gain intensity so quickly: The Gulf of Mexico's "Loop Current" is likely intensifying hurricanes that pass over eddies of warm water that spin off the main current.

The Loop Current is a horseshoe-shaped feature that flows clockwise, transferring warm subtropical waters from the Caribbean Sea through the Yucatan Straits into the Gulf of Mexico.
After Hurricane Katrina and a week before Hurricane Rita scientists deployed Airborne Expendable Conductivity, Temperature and Depth profilers; Current Profilers; and Bathythermographs to obtain information on water temperature to depths of up to 3,300 feet.

Learn more about these studies at the National Science Foundation web site.