Science & Technology


New research suggests that hippocampus has a role in processing unconscious memory

A new study by a UT Dallas researcher challenges a long-accepted scientific theory about the role the hippocampus plays in our unconscious memory.

For decades, scientists have theorized that this part of the brain is not involved in processing unconscious memory, the type that allows us to do things like button a shirt without having to think about it.

But research by Dr. Richard Addante, a senior lecturer in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, raises doubts about that.

"These intriguing new findings raise important questions regarding the organization of memory systems, and will doubtlessly receive a great deal of attention from other investigators," said Dr. Bert Moore, dean of the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and Aage and Margareta M&ostroke;ller Distinguished Professor. "Dr. Addante's careful, thoughtful work provides exciting insights into the brain bases of memory."


A molecular compass for bird navigation

© Brian E. Small
Arctic Tern
Each year, the Arctic Tern travels over 40,000 miles, migrating nearly from pole to pole and back again. Other birds make similar (though shorter) journeys in search of warmer climes. How do these birds manage to traverse such great distances when we need a map just to make our way to the next town over?

Researchers have established that birds can sense the earth's magnetic field and use it to orient themselves. How this internal compass works, though, remains poorly understood.

Physicists at the University of Oxford are exploring one possible explanation: a magnetically sensitive protein called cryptochrome that mediates circadian rhythms in plants and animals. Blue or green light triggers electrons in the protein to produce pairs of radicals whose electron spins respond to magnetic fields. "As we vary the strength of the magnetic field, we can alter the progress of these photochemical reactions inside the protein," said lead researcher Peter Hore, who will present his work during a talk at the American Physical Society's March Meeting on Wednesday, March 4 in San Antonio, Texas.


Angry Norwegian lemmings: The bravest rodent and the myth of suicide


Angry Norwegian lemming
The angry Norwegian lemming is one of the bravest rodents in the world because it has evolved aposematic traits to ward off predators, a study has suggested.

Norwegian lemmings have an interesting reputation, with people often mistakenly believing they are "crazed creatures" that commit suicide by throwing themselves off cliffs, or exploding because they are so angry.

They have bold colouring - with a red-brown back, yellow flanks, a white chest, chin and cheeks, and a big black patch on its head - and so stand out from their less vibrant relatives.

While most other small rodents flee when they sense a threat and only very rarely aggressively protect themselves from predators, the Norwegian lemming laughs in the face of danger.

When predators approach, they make loud, severe barks, and fight back against attacks with lunges, bites and screams. In a BBC report about their behaviour last year, one group of researchers even reported a face off with a farm tractor, "leaving a trail of infuriated lemmings behind".


Dawn mission to Ceres reveals bright spots on dwarf planet

This image was taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft of dwarf planet Ceres on Feb. 19 from a distance of nearly 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers). It shows that the brightest spot on Ceres has a dimmer companion, which apparently lies in the same basin.
Dwarf planet Ceres continues to puzzle scientists as NASA's Dawn spacecraft gets closer to being captured into orbit around the object. The latest images from Dawn, taken nearly 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers) from Ceres, reveal that a bright spot that stands out in previous images lies close to yet another bright area.

"Ceres' bright spot can now be seen to have a companion of lesser brightness, but apparently in the same basin. This may be pointing to a volcano-like origin of the spots, but we will have to wait for better resolution before we can make such geologic interpretations," said Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Comment: The Dawn probe is set to begin a 16-month study of Ceres, the largest body in our solar system's main asteroid belt, which floats between Mars and Jupiter. The dwarf planet has an average diameter of 590 miles (950 kilometers).


Italian 'Frankensurgeon' says first head transplant will be possible in two years

© Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri
Controversial Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero claims he could perform the world's first ever human head transplant in 2017, despite ethical and scientific reservations from many of his colleagues.

"The Wright brothers flew their first plane when every so-called expert in the world thought that this was impossible. So, I don't believe the word 'impossible' - I have been working on this project for 30 years, and the technology is now there," Canavero, who heads the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, told Sky News.

Canavero's team, which previously touted their plans for a whole-eye transplant, published a paper outlining the procedure two years ago, and say they are now ready to find subjects for the experimental procedure.

"If society doesn't want it, I won't do it. But if people don't want it in the US or Europe, that doesn't mean it won't be done somewhere else," the neurosurgeon told the New Scientist.

Arrow Down

Future marketers could bypass the mind, tap brainwaves

© Wikimedia Commons
Seventy five percent of movies earn a net loss during their run in theaters. A new study in the Journal of Marketing Research finds that brain activity visible through EEG measures may be a much cheaper and more accurate way to predict the commercial success of movies.

"Several decades of research have shown that many important mental processes occur below the surface of consciousness, leaving people very limited in their ability to predict their own future behavior," write authors Maarten A. S. Boksem and Ale Smidts of Erasmus University. "This study suggests that neuroimaging technologies such as EEG machines can reveal information that is not obtainable through conventional marketing surveys."

The authors sat participants in comfortable chairs in a darkened room in front of a computer screen with a pair of speakers. Participants were then hooked up to EEG machines, and asked to view 18 movie trailers in random order while their brain activity was recorded. After watching each trailer, the participants were asked to rate how much they liked the trailer they'd just seen, and how much they'd be willing to pay for a DVD of each film.

Fireball 2

Icy snowball comet theory takes another hit - the "impossible" dunes of Comet 67P

The comet 67P has provided an avalanche of astonishing discoveries that may puzzle scientists for years to come. And one problem that will simply not go away is the seemingly impossible dunes, or dune-like ripples at the comet's neck. At its first observation, the feature drew virtual gasps of disbelief from scientists and science media. More recent, close-up images of the "impossible" dunes have only deepened the mystery. How does the electric universe explaining this baffling feature?

Comment: The only thing more astonishing is how desperately mainstream science clings to its original conceptions about comet composition, despite all the evidence coming in from Rosetta and other comet probes. What is behind their apparent refusal to give any credence to the Electric Universe theory, even though it provides simple, elegant explanations for cometary observations?


The weight of a butterfly, it's critical

A day that shook the world. What was left of Hiroshima, Japan.
The design for the first atomic bomb was frighteningly simple: One lump of a special kind of uranium, the projectile, was fired at a very high speed into another lump of that same rare uranium, the target. When the two collided, they began a nuclear chain reaction, and it was only a tiny fraction of a second before the bomb exploded, forever splitting history between the time before the atomic bomb and the time after.
At 17 seconds past 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay released the bomb from a height of 31,600 feet above the target, a T-shaped bridge in the center of Hiroshima, Japan.

The morning was cloudless, as the weather plane sent to scout for the
Enola Gay had reported in the hour before. If the weather had been poor, the plane would have set its course to one of the two alternate targets. As the bomb fell, a schoolboy closed his eyes and began to count as his friends hid along the way to school.

"I think we had all concluded that it was a dud," Theodore Van Kirk, navigator of the
Enola Gay, would later recall of the 43 seconds before the plane's cabin filled with the blinding white light of the bomb's explosion 1,890 feet above the target.
Going critical

A chain reaction begins when a stray neutron thrown from the nucleus of an atom runs into another nucleus, causing that atom to split apart, dislodging a couple more neutrons to collide with two more atoms, which break into four pieces and so on. When atoms break apart, some of their mass (the "m" in the equation E=mc²) is converted to energy, an enormous "E" of fire and heat and light and wind.

Comment: Blindly leading fledgling scientists and innocent workers through a project without a clue to the hazards, usage and intent of the results...would be interesting to see how many of these folks would have stuck with the job knowing then that what they were working on would set the world down a path to possible nuclear obliteration. We certainly are not the better for it with ongoing Fukushima-type disasters and the massive accumulated radiation counts from decades of testing by many nations, changing our environment and its inhabitants into a slow-moving nightmare we can't reverse. What's a couple more butterflies?

Nuclear Detonation Timeline "1945-1998"


Rovers will have 'Formula 1' race on Moon

© Screenshot from video
A "full-on Formula 1 kind of race" on the surface of the Moon is to be held as soon as next year. Private rovers will fight to grab the Google Lunar XPRIZE of $30 million.

Two companies leading in the competition - the Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic and Japanese rover-developer HAKUTO - have agreed to simultaneously release their rovers. They expect both machines to land on the Moon's surface at the same time.

"Once all the rovers are released and everyone's turned on and initiated...we'll line the rovers up, and then the green flag will go up, and the race is on. It'll be like a full-on Formula One kind of race on the surface of the moon," John Thornton, head of Astrobotic, told Popular Mechanics.

Comment: Looks like the next step is to have Google Moon.

Ice Cube

Hunters discover world's first 10,000 year old baby woolly rhino in Siberian permafrost

Remains of the baby woolly rhino.
A baby woolly rhinoceros, dubbed "Sasha," has been recently unearthed in Russian region of Yakutia, becoming a sensation for paleontologists.

The remains of the extinct creature - a particularly rare and historic find due to its age - were handed over to the Academy of Sciences in Yakutsk, the capital of the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, on Wednesday. The baby woolly rhino was found last September by Aleksandr Banderov, a hunter and businessman, and his friend, on the right bank of a stream flowing into the Semyulyakh River.

"We were sailing past a ravine and noticed hair hanging on the top of it," Aleksandr told the local YSIA news agency. "At first we thought it was a reindeer's carcass, but after it thawed and fell down we saw a horn on its upper jaw and realized it must be a rhino. The part of the carcass that stuck out of the ice was eaten by wild animals, but the rest of it was inside the permafrost and preserved well."