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Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 3960 | Comments: 0
Think back to your childhood Halloween: 9pm, a school night, pillowcase full of candy.

Just as you plunge into your pile of peanut butter cups, fun size this-and-thats, and spider rings (weren't they so exciting?), Mom ruins the party. "You can eat three. Then go brush your teeth and get ready for bed."

Did you eat just three? Or did you sneak an extra Baby Ruth or two when she wasn't looking?

A study published earlier this month in Cognition suggests that willpower is not the only factor in play when it comes to foregoing that extra piece.

Instead, a child's belief about their superiors' reliability can change their willingness to wait for a better payoff later.

Psychologist Celeste Kidd and colleagues of the University of Rochester created a modified paradigm of the "marshmallow task." Originally developed by psychologist Walter Mischel in 1972, the task involves an experimenter telling a preschooler that they can eat a marshmallow, cookie, or pretzel. If the child abstains and waits 15 minutes, however, the experimenter tells them they can receive two treats.

Kids lasted an average of six minutes before grabbing the treat in front of them. When fo . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 2098 | Comments: 0
Every year around this time, science bloggers from all over unite as a single force (in a non-Twitter format, no less) at DonorsChoose.org. The science blogging networks engage in monetary battle, raising money to buy school supplies for needy classrooms across the country.

This challenge runs until November 5.



Check out the various projects put forth by science bloggers here and consider making a donation, no matter how small. If you cannot donate, spread the word by Facebook, Twitter, word of mouth, telepathy, etc.

Let's give kids what they need to get the education they deserve!

. . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 1980 | Comments: 0
Do you have an ex?

Do you have a Facebook profile? Does your ex?

Do you stalk your ex on Facebook?

To the untrained eye, that photo of him eating dinner with...that girl...at Olive Garden is no big deal. But Olive Garden was our place, and—wait, is that the watch I got him? Oh, and it looks like he got into that grad school he wanted to go to. The one for which I edited his personal statement and quizzed him with GRE words...

Ugh.

I'm going to tell you something that you probably already know: you should stop doing this. And I'm armed with the psychology of why it's bad!

In a study published last month in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, Tara C. Marshall of Brunel University in England examined how individuals who use Facebook have—or, uh, haven't—moved on after a breakup.



The participants comprised of 464 individuals—mostly college-age students (60%), and 84% of whom were female. They were recruited via an online survey which, if you ask me, should have established a criteria to create a 1:1 ratio of males to females. But they didn't ask me.

First, th . . . More
Author: Brian Krueger, PhD | Views: 3283 | Comments: 3
Last by Brian Krueger, PhD on Sep 28, 2012, 5:02pm
One of the big stories that blew up on the internet the other day was the publication of some results that reportedly show that females who have birthed males have male DNA in their brain. That’s pretty cool stuff! This isn’t uncommon, it’s called microchimerism, or the deposition of cells or DNA from the fetus to the mother or vice versa. It has been shown in both mice and humans that the blood of the mother contains snippets of fetal DNA and even whole cells. These have even been used to completely sequence a fetal genome using only the blood of the mother. The finding that these DNA fragments or cells can deposit themselves in the human brain is novel, and potentially cool from a brain regulation standpoint. Maybe baby boy brain cells change the mother’s brain?

However, a quick read of the abstract of the paper yesterday immediately raised a few red flags in my own brain (absolutely full of male cells, by the way). The “discovery” was made using quantitative real-time PCR and only quantitative real-time PCR on a highly repetitive male gene on the Y chromosome. Most people who aren’t scientists don’t . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 3252 | Comments: 0
Scientific literature is, to say the least, pretty dull.

It's rife with redundant phrases, confusing methodologies, and tiny graphs. Reading page after page of long words in small font is better than any over-the-counter sleep aid out there for getting the job done.

Occasionally, the rare gem will come along just when you least expect it, providing a readable (dare I say—enjoyable) account of the latest research.

So begins a paper published this past week in Neurology:

"It was a quiet Thursday afternoon when 'A.S.', a 68-year-old woman from a suburb of Chicago, awakened from a nap to the realization that something was terribly wrong.

What?! What's wrong! Must...keep...reading...

As the article continues, we learn how A.S. and another patient, J.D., adjust to their lives before and after their diagnoses of Bálint's syndrome.

A.S. couldn't find doors or cabinets in her house. She had difficulty naming familiar household objects, and she was unable to read a book or the numbers on her phone.

Armed with an ophthalmologist's' note declaring 20/20 vision with glasses, the next step was to visit a neurologist.

J.D.'s fir . . . More
Author: Brian Krueger, PhD | Views: 3419 | Comments: 2
Last by Brian Krueger, PhD on Sep 08, 2012, 12:05pm
In 1990, the scientific community embarked on a landmark experiment to completely sequence the human genome. At the time, it was assumed that knowing the exact sequence of the human genome would provide scientists all of the information they ever wanted to know about genomics and how DNA contributes to human disease. At least this is how the project was presented to the public, however, every genome scientist knew that obtaining the sequence of the human genome was a lot like getting a cake recipe that listed all of the ingredients but didn't explain at all how much of each ingredient to use, how to mix the ingredients together or how long to bake that mixture to create a delicious cake. Compound that with the fact that the list contains over 35,000 ingredients and you can quickly understand why the sequence alone wasn’t very informative. We spent over 3 billion dollars to obtain this sequence and since the final publication of the sequence in 2003, the media has questioned its usefulness. Apparently, because cancer wasn’t cured in 10 years, the human genome project is largely seen by the media as a colossal waste of money; however, obtaining this sequence has been invaluable in speeding up research and has significantly contributed to our understanding of how som . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 3873 | Comments: 2
Last by Jordan Gaines on Aug 29, 2012, 8:27am
There are few things in this world more entertaining than cats. Except for, perhaps, cats on catnip.

Yes, "on" catnip. I speak of it like a drug, because it is.

Sure, make a laser pointer dance around the room and you've got endless hours of entertainment. But give Mittens a little toy mouse infused with catnip and—well, something changes.

Mittens will rub against the toy, rolling around and ecstatically chewing it. She may drool and become either sleepy or anxious. If you try to take the toy, she might act aggressive, scratching or biting at you.

Forget the mouse—Mittens wants the catnip inside. So what is catnip, and why is it causing your sweet kitty to behave so dichotomously?

What is catnip?

Catnip, also called catswort or catmint, is a plant of the genus Nepeta. Native to Asia and Europe, it's become common worldwide—in fact, you're likely to see it growing along many North American highways and railroads. Catnip is a relative of oregano and spearmint.

In the past, humans consumed the plant in the form of juice, tea, alcohol, or by smoking—for medicinal purposes such as pain, insomnia, colic, and, er, flatulence.

What is it doing to my cat?!

The toys that drive our feline . . . More
Author: Brian Krueger, PhD | Views: 8994 | Comments: 6
Last by Mike Gruidl on Feb 22, 2013, 1:22pm
It's bound to happen in every lab. Someone is going to get distracted and for whatever reason a box full of tubes or tubes themselves are going to accidentally get dropped in the lab's liquid nitrogen container. A lot of people might say, "Screw it," and leave those samples on the bottom of the tank. This might be a good solution for some samples, but what happens when you drop half a rack of boxes to the bottom of your tank? And what happens when those boxes are full of very important cell lines that keep your lab running?

I don't want to admit it, but this is exactly what happened to me today. I was preparing an order for a collaborator and getting 5 of my cell lines out of liquid nitrogen storage. I was explaining to my summer students how to safely handle liquid nitrogen, always wear cryoprotective gloves, lift the rack slowly and be sure to drain all of the liquid nitrogen before handling the boxes, etc. I got the box I needed, and put the rack back in the tank while I was hunting for my cells. Unfortunately, I forgot to put the wire back in the rack that holds the boxes in place. When I went to put the box back that I was handling, I pulled the rack up and half the boxes were gone. "Oh, shit."

So now the rack doesn't fit in . . . More
Author: JaySeeDub | Views: 2328 | Comments: 3
Last by Brian Krueger, PhD on Aug 15, 2012, 4:25pm
Science is facts; just as houses are made of stones, so is science made of facts; but a pile of stones is not a house and a collection of facts is not necessarily science.

~~ Henri Poincare

Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.

~~ Immanuel Kant

The sciences are not like Minerva, who sprang fully armed from the brain of Jupiter; they are the daughters of time, and take shape very gradually, at first by the assembling of methods developed through experience, and then later by the discovery of principles which have been deduced from the combining of these methods.

~~ Brillat-Savarin



Julia Child was my babysitter. Ok, not really. But after school, I’d turn on the TV and do homework with GI Joe and Transformers on. And then the news would start, so I’d change the channel - straight to channel 9 where Julia was. Sometimes it was reruns of her classic “The French Chef,” sometimes it was her and some chef I had not heard of until he’d popped up on the television with her. I’ll be honest; I didn’t watch the show for the cooking. Not at first. I thought her voice was just incredibly amusing. I didn’t find it funny. I thought it was just this incredibly warm and refined way of speaking – v . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 7570 | Comments: 0
I'm willing to bet you've made fun of the expression-less faces on heavily-Botoxed people.

With their vanished crow's feet, missing smile lines, lack of forehead wrinkles, and paralyzed cheeks, eventually we just can't tell whether Botox abusers are happy, sad, angry, worried, or just plain crazy. We can only assume the latter.

As it turns out, this side effect may actually be a good thing for individuals with depression who are resistant to other forms of treatment.

Back in March, I blogged about the neurochemistry of Botox (click here to read). Botox is the trade name for botulinum toxin, a powerful neurotoxin which, in very small medical doses, functions to paralyze the muscles of the face (or wherever it's injected). On the other hand, severe botulism poisoning, which occurs primarily through food contamination, can result in paralysis of respiratory muscles, leading to respiratory arrest, coma, or death if untreated.



Botox functions by blocking the neurotransmitter acetylcholine from being released by the axon terminal of a neuron. Typically, acetylcholine binds to receptors on muscle, causing contraction; inhibiting th . . . More
Author: Nick Fahrenkopf | Views: 4718 | Comments: 7
Last by Nick Fahrenkopf on Nov 27, 2012, 9:34am
Standard deviation. Error bars. Significance. Confidence interval. No matter what you call it, or how you calculate it, science is about more than numerical results. It’s about context. What do those numbers MEAN? (Statistics pun intended.)

. . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 15424 | Comments: 4
Last by Doctor Zen on Aug 19, 2012, 10:16am
In 1982, Angela Cavallo of Lawrenceville, Georgia received the Mom of the Year Award. (Not a real award, but if it existed, she would probably win, hands down). Her son Tony was working on the suspension of his 1964 Chevy Impala when the car suddenly slipped off the jack and pinned him in the wheel well.

Angela dashed outside to see her unconscious son trapped under the car. She yelled for a neighbor to get help but it was taking too long, so she took matters into her own hands. Literally. She proceeded to lift the car—high enough to replace the jacks—and pull Tony out from beneath.

Yep, you read that correctly. She lifted a 3,500-pound car from the ground.

There's not much more information to be found about Mrs. Cavallo aside from this incredible story, but I'll safely assume she wasn't a body builder. In fact, I'll bet the same for the other individuals who have also demonstrated this sort of "hysterical strength." But that's beside the point—if you were placed in a similar situation, you could probably lift a car, too!

It's all thanks to the handy little hormone called adrenaline.

Activating the stress response

The kicker abou . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 5039 | Comments: 0
A teacher calls on you when your hand isn't raised, and you feel the familiar sensation as your classmate's eyes immediately dart toward you. Mrs. So-and-So watches expectantly, smirking. A surge of blood races from your gut to your head and your cheeks become warm. Hot. A sheepish smile involuntarily follows. You know you're bright red, and that embarrasses you even more.

Everyone knows what it feels like to blush—whether from embarrassment, emotional stress, or even just receiving a compliment. Perhaps worse than the act itself is knowing that everyone else can see the physical manifestation of your discomfort, which inconveniently functions to further redden your face.

But for 5-7% of the population, blushing is a chronic problem—happening both more frequently and with greater magnitude than the average person. Physically, it's rather harmless—but psychologically, it can be devastating.

In late May, Brandon Thomas, a 20-year-old University of Washington student, committed suicide by jumping from his 11-story dorm. "I am tired of blushing," read his suicide note. "It is exha . . . More
Author: Brian Krueger, PhD | Views: 1836 | Comments: 0

GFAJ-1 Credit: Wolfe-Simon et al
Almost a year and a half ago, NASA ignited a media firestorm after it announced the discovery of a new organism with alien implications. The whole fiasco began when a scientist found a new bacteria in Mono Lake that could grow in the presence of high concentrations of toxic compounds. These types of bacteria are not uncommon on earth. Life seems to find a way to thrive at all extremes and a salty lake in California is no exception to this rule. Researchers have discovered a diversity of life in hot springs, at undersea volcanic vents, and on the cold arctic sea floor. The discovery of this new bacteria; however, was remarkable because the researchers believed that it could use arsenic in the place of phosphate. To the general public, this may sound trivial, but many of the biochemical reactions that provide life require phosphates. The reason why arsenic is so toxic to humans is that it injects itself into all of the processes that use phosphate and prevents those processes from working properly. For example, the molecular backbone that keeps our DNA together is composed of phosphate; the energetic molecules that are produced by the power factories in our cells are composed of phosphate; the specific addition of phosphate to some proteins turns them on or off. Phosphate and its derivatives are essential for life, so to find a bacteria that could function without phosphate and use arsenic in its place was an amazing discovery.

. . . More
Author: LaUra | Views: 2023 | Comments: 0
How has globalization impacted the spread of environmental information? So much information is available through the internet and social media. When messages can reach across the world in a matter of milliseconds, does this help or hinder the process of environmental change? Also, how has bringing about awareness through protests and activism changed?

The internet, petition websites, and the plethora if environmental websites allow everyday citizens (with a fast enough internet connection) to gain any type of information they desire. Websites like change.org, moveon.org, and care2.com allow people to become activists by either creating a petition or just by adding your signature to one. How much impact do these websites really have? Websites like these bring attention to people surfing the web by presenting issues and information that isn't found in mainstream media. They are also useful because they reflect the importance of some issues by how many people sign a petition or share it on a social media website. Petitions put pressure on people/organizations/b . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 1485 | Comments: 1
Last by jamie on Oct 15, 2012, 12:49am
For me personally, June has proven to be a rather disappointing and fruitless month. Just when things began to look brighter, I was involuntarily assigned to be the middle vehicle in a double fender-bender two days ago, and my car now needs almost $1,000-worth of repairs. And as a perfect metaphor for the crappiness of the past month, for whatever reason I was not paid my stipend yesterday for the month of June.

I don't often like to talk about my sour feelings with other people because a.) I'm bad at it, and b.) I have another outlet.

Everyday for the past 12 years (save for a few angsty months in 8th grade), I've been writing in a journal. A good, old-fashioned, hardbound, acid-free journal. Most entries are about the frivolous happenings of the day at school, but as I've gotten older, they've increasingly helped me outline my thoughts and feelings while keeping my head on straight.

Feeling so low, I journaled the night before my car accident, listing ten qualities I liked about myself. Remembering what I wrote as I spent the next day at the body shop and on the phone with the police and insurance companies is, I believe, what kept me from simply bursting into tears and throwing up my hands in defeat.

Writin . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 5660 | Comments: 9
Last by Sean Garvin on Jul 17, 2012, 10:23am
Dr. Perry Kendall asserted yesterday that the health risks of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine—or MDMA, the active ingredient in the drug ecstasy—are exaggerated, and that pure ecstasy is not dangerous when consumed responsibly by adults.

Its lethal dangers arise, he says, when gangs pollute the drug with other chemicals.

I'm not sure when the notion came into play that anything which doesn't kill you automatically means its "safe," but I would like to respectfully debunk Dr. Kendall's remarks with a very powerful and striking study published 13 years ago.

Specifically, MDMA induces release of the neurotransmitter serotonin by causing serotonin-containing vesicles to dock and enter the synapse. Higher-than-normal serotonin levels can result in neurotoxicity in the brain.

What, exactly, causes the euphoria from MDMA is not entirely clear; other drugs that release serotonin, such as fenfluramine, do not have this effect.

Remember those old "Just Say No" PSAs from the late '80s championed by First Lady Nancy Reagan? "This is drugs." An egg cracks into a sizzling skillet. "This is your brain on dr . . . More
Author: Cynthia McKelvey | Views: 2727 | Comments: 0
To many who read this blog, Notes of Ranvier is a title that probably evokes no thoughts of science or history. There is a backstory to the name, however, and a reason why I chose it as the title.

Notes of Ranvier is meant to be a play on words referring to the nodes of Ranvier, anatomical structures in certain types of neurons that have a myelin sheath. Every neuron has a long projection called an axon that transmits electrical signals to other neurons. Around the axons of some neurons is the myelin sheath, a fatty tissue that insulates the axon like plastic around a copper wire. Electricity can't travel though myelin, so there are even gaps between the sheath where the neuron is exposed and electrical currents can be propagated down the axon. These gaps were discovered by French scientist, Louis-Antoine Ranvier (pronounced rahn-vee-yeh), and thus bear his name as Ranvier's nodes or the nodes of Ranvier.

When you learn about Ranvier's nodes in class, not a lot of attention is paid to how they were discovered or why they have Ranvier's name instead of some other scientist. The treatment of the subject is far more along the lines of, "these exist, this is what they do, moving on." But the question still gnaws, who was Ranvier? How did . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 1092 | Comments: 0
3 Quarks Daily is a pretty fascinating site. In essence, the site writers post interesting tidbits daily, from science to art to literature to current affairs—anything they find interesting. I encourage everyone to check it out if they haven't already.

What I've been looking forward to most all year, however, is the 3 Quarks Daily 2012 Science Prize. And guess what? My blog post from back in February on the neuroscience of deja vu has been nominated!

If you are so inclined, I would appreciate a vote and a share! You can vote for me here—find me alphabetically under "Gaines, on Brains" (which is the name of my main blog). Voting is open until this Saturday at 11:59 PM.

Thanks for your support!

. . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 6769 | Comments: 4
Last by Sisu on Sep 07, 2012, 9:12am
Check out this short video of "Rusty the Narcoleptic Dog." I was first introduced to Rusty in a video presented to my high school psychology class. As expected in a classroom full of teenagers, we erupted into a fit of laughter when the happy-go-lucky dachshund suddenly collapsed into a deep sleep.

Gallup polls reveal that 56% of Americans complain that daytime drowsiness is a problem in their lives, the majority of which is caused by sleep deprivation. A controlled, objective scientific study once revealed that 34% of participants were considered "dangerously sleepy," even when they didn't complain about daytime sleepiness.

America is a sleepy country—but narcolepsy takes it to a whole new level. Imagine feelings of exhaustion at all times, accompanied by inappropriate sleep attacks. Sure, falling asleep on the job is embarrassing and unprofessional, but also imagine the danger of a narcoleptic attack while driving. What is narcolepsy, and what causes this mysterious disorder?




What is narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a curious disorder characterized by excessive sleepiness. The sleep attacks are particularly strange; typically, it takes us at least an hour of s . . . More
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