Mindfulness Meditation: The Path to a Better Headspace

Now more than ever, we’re bombarded with messaging like “7 Tips to Calm Your Mind During a Pandemic,” but that messaging– to calm down, to be present, has been around for a while. Being present is marketed as the solution for a troubled mind, to decrease distressing, negative thoughts that pop into our minds and increase happiness. But being present can be so elusive!  What does science say about being present, and how to silence negative  thoughts and refocus your mindset?

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Machines Can Read Your Mind

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). 

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A Fishy Solution: Zebrafish Help Us Understand Neurological Disorders

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. 

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How Your Brain Finds your Phone When You Hear it Ringing 

It’s Monday morning and your about to head out to catch your bus for work. You’re in a bit of a rush because, when you were getting dressed, you couldn’t find a two matching socks and you had to dig through the clean laundry still sitting in your dryer to find a matching pair. As you approach the door, you reflexively pat your pockets, checking for everything you need to bring with you. Keys? Check. Wallet? Check. Cell phone? Your phone is not there. Continue reading “How Your Brain Finds your Phone When You Hear it Ringing “

Why Jet Lag Sucks: Your Body Clock and You

One weekend in early May, I endured one of the most confusing experiences in my life: a two-legged, 24-hour flight across 13 time zones. I took off from Chicago on Saturday evening, and 24 hours later, I arrived in Bali on Monday morning. In that 24 hour period, I ate two dinners and two breakfasts, while lunchtime didn’t exist. I couldn’t tell when I was supposed to be hungry or go to sleep, so I ate when food was placed in front of me and I tried to sleep when I got tired. Continue reading “Why Jet Lag Sucks: Your Body Clock and You”

Alzheimer’s Disease: Causes, Preventative Measures, and Ideal Outcomes

Have you ever wondered how people develop Alzheimer’s disease? Is it something that begins before the person or anyone else around them fully realizes that someone’s memory lapses are actually a symptom of something bigger? Is it all at the mercy of our genes, or can we take actions that lower the chances, or better yet, prevent the disease from occurring altogether? Finally, if a close family member or friend is diagnosed, what can we do to help alleviate the symptoms and slow down the pace of the illness? Continue reading “Alzheimer’s Disease: Causes, Preventative Measures, and Ideal Outcomes”

The Science of Lucid Dreaming

When I was about 12, I had a dream that children I didn’t know were chasing me and my friends around the YMCA’s playground. Normally, this dream would have been commonplace, except for a strange moment. I had just run up the jungle gym and was about to slide down, away from my pursuer, when I turned back to him and asked, “Why are you even chasing me?” He stopped, stared back into my eyes, and answered “I dunno – this is your dream after all!” In that moment, I had a short-lived realization that none of this scenario was real. Continue reading “The Science of Lucid Dreaming”

The Reason Sugar Tastes So Darn Good

Sugar is everywhere. Kids crave it, pastry chefs live by it, and dieters avoid it like the plague. It comes naturally in our fruits, it’s added to our drinks, and it’s found in some form in virtually every packaged item at the grocery store. Some of us live by it, and for many of us, it does not love us back. But no matter what you say about it, sugar and its relatives are important for our health and well-being. Continue reading “The Reason Sugar Tastes So Darn Good”

LSD and the Elephant

Humans are wonderful research subjects.  They can think pretty well, and they can speak, too. Our ability to speak is probably our most prized asset in research, as it is the only way scientists can find out directly how their research subjects are feeling.  For all the good that humans provide in research, however, researchers can only do so much with their brethren. It would be unreasonably risky or unethical to perform certain experiments on their fellow humans.  This is where animals come in. Continue reading “LSD and the Elephant”

Brain Games at the 2015 Science Cocktail Party

Thank you to to everyone who came to the Illinois Science Council’s Science Cocktail party!

As you may have noticed, because we thought the food, drinks, music, raffle, and photo booth wouldn’t be enough, we provided you with a healthy dose of science as well, in the form of brain games.  What would a science cocktail party be without real, mind-blowing brain games ?  In case you missed some of the demos, or if you want to learn more about the science behind them, you can read about each one here: Continue reading “Brain Games at the 2015 Science Cocktail Party”