Mini-brains—that’s right. It sounds like something from Frankenstein, doesn’t it?
I gazed in awe as my mentor showed me these ‘mini-brains,’ aka cerebral organoids. Much like soufflés, mini-brains must grow without falling apart and require a lot of care and patience. They ‘rise’ to the challenge of helping physicians and scientists better understand the brain and develop treatments for diseases that affect us and our loved ones.
A bionic woman trains her robotic ear to recognize the sound of footsteps two blocks away. A man taps on a holographic screen to view a recording of his own memory. A scientist puts their finger to their temple to mentally command an army of robots.
You might recognize those scenes from popular science fiction, but technologies that can literally read our minds now exist in early forms, thanks to brain research. The nearly 1 in 5 people who have physical disabilities could benefit from devices like these to help them move their artificial limbs using just their thoughts. And as the field of futuristic research develops, we might see cool, new technologies that can improve anyone’s life. But low participation in medical research is preventing progress. Although 57% of Americans believe that it is important for everyone to take part in clinical trials, fewer than 16% have ever done so. More volunteers with and without disabilities are needed to fine-tune these technologies that depend on Brain-Machine Interfaces (BMI).
Last year, my 95-year-old grandfather passed away from Alzheimer’s disease. Although he lived a long life, it was hard to watch him slowly forget the people and places he loved. Unfortunately, my grandfather’s story is all too common. Almost 1 out of every 7 individuals worldwide suffers from a disease of the brain or nerves, aka a neurological disorder.
We know astonishingly little about how to prevent and treat neurological disorders. However, we may be able to find answers in a surprising source: fish. Apart from their culinary value, fish provide key insights into human development and disease. The zebrafish in particular is helping us understand how connections between neurons develop and why disorders like Alzheimer’s occur in the human brain. Through zebrafish research, we may be able to understand—and in turn find solutions to—complex neurological diseases.
On a muggy day in June of 2018, after two and a half weeks at sea, the Research Vessel Endeavor’s crew, the science team, and I pulled into our last study site off the coast of Virginia. The weather was warm and overcast; the sea was calm. Dr. Miksis-Olds had just given the word to “pop the lander,” which meant to release the equipment anchored on the ocean floor. All us scanned the immediate vicinity, looking for the orange floats attached to the underwater microphones and other equipment. The equipment’s 20-minute journey to the surface was a waiting game we had performed successfully six other times: finding and retrieving the equipment, downloading the data it collected, and plunging the equipment back to the ocean floor to continue collecting data.
As I stood, gazing intently down near my feet, I felt the water flow past my knees. Even with my waders on, I could feel its cool relief in the summer sun. As I looked into the water, I caught a glimpse of a dark, circular shape under the muddy stream bed. I reached down to grab it, and as I pulled, I realized that it was not going to budge. What I thought was a lone bike tire was actually still attached to an entire bike, buried under the muck. I called my teammate, undergraduate researcher Sam Fredrickson, over and we traced the pattern of the metal crossbars and found a place to grip. With our combined effort, we pulled the frame free from under the layers of mud that had accumulated over it.
About 100 trillion neutrinos just passed through your body a second ago. Did you feel them? Neutrinos are one of the most abundant particles in the universe, but they’re also the most elusive. They can pass through just about anything, including your body, without being noticed. Now, imagine if we could harness this power. Imagine the possibilities if you could control a particle that can pass through anything undetected.
Think back to your days in chemistry. What tools were most useful to you? Your goggles? A lab coat? Maybe it was the notebook where you scribbled furiously so as not to forget anything? There’s probably another tool you might have forgotten, that has proven itself extremely useful for generations of students and scientists: the periodic table of elements. Continue reading “The Father of the Periodic Table”
As a high school student, I had a love of technical subjects, such as physics, math and computer programming. I also spent a great deal of time in art classes. I was blessed with a generous and dedicated art teacher (thank you, Leona Mackey).
Those interests overlapped for me in photography, which I dove into deeply. While shooting, I immersed myself in my senses. When composing, I leveraged intuition and critical thinking. And in the darkroom, I practiced my analytical thinking skills as I developed and printed my photographs.Continue reading “Navigating the Space between Art and Science”
The world suffers from a plethora of natural and man-made disasters. From destructive floods to violent conflicts, society is faced with complex global challenges that can only be solved through collaboration. Politicians and the media often focus on short-term collaboration for discreet goals, such as electing a specific politician or encouraging donations to a specific relief effort. But I believe we must consider the long-term implications of our actions, not only within the context of our immediate environment, but also for the larger global community.
Ah, the scientist. Wearer of the lab coat, gatherer of the data, publisher of findings both predictable and extraordinary.
It can be said that the scientist is the person who asks why and where, and analyzes data to come to a conclusion about a natural phenomenon on planet Earth or beyond. What scientists study ranges from biology (someone has to count those pesky invasive Asian carp in the Chicago river!) to physics (which explains why crazy uncle Gerald runs out to New Mexico with his telescope every year!). They are everywhere in our collective minds and media, ranging from Bill Nye to any number of frequent talking heads on a Discovery Channel special.
Do these individuals need to express an unrivaled passion for a science to participate in the discipline?? Absolutely yes. But does one need a degree in the sciences to help out? Absolutely not. Continue reading “The Citizen Scientist”
It may come as some surprise, but scientists don’t spend all day mixing chemicals, measuring reactions, and hunching over open flames. To ask the right questions and design cutting-edge experiments to answer them, they have to do a lot of reading. Scientists may read about many different topics, including techniques for executing an experiment, the latest findings in their specific field, or communications from outside fields to broaden their horizons. Most of what they’re reading, scientific literature, is filled with numerical data, jargon, and what, quite frankly, looks like gibberish to non-scientists. So when people have to rely on mainstream news for their science, how can anyone expect them to figure out which scientific advancements are on the verge of completion versus those that are just bunk? Let’s take a look. Continue reading “How to Read Like a Scientist”
If man with a diabetic grandfather and a woman with a family history of cancer decide that they want to have a child, but they are unsure of whether their families’ health problems may reappear in their children, where can they turn to get answers? A genetic counselor. What is genetic counseling, you ask? Continue reading “Decoding Your Genetic History”
Dogs and their human family members have always shared a special bond. It’s no mystery to a dog owner where the phrase “man’s best friend” came from. While it’s tough to know exactly what your pet is thinking, it is possible to train them and communicate with them to foster a loving relationship. Lynn Meador is an expert dog trainer who works for Constant Companion Dog Training. Lynn’s goal is to work with dogs and their human family members to teach the two species how to communicate with each other and cohabitate in a supportive, loving manner. Continue reading “Training your Dog with Science”