Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain, News

No laughing matter: scientists study the effects of laughing gas

Image: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, is a simple chemical composed of two nitrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (N2O). Despite being used as an anesthetic since the 1800s, the effects it has on the brain are not well understood. In a new study published in this week in Clinical Neurophysiology, MIT researchers reveal some key brainwave changes caused by the gas.

Mind & Brain, News, Nutrition

Eating green leafy vegetables keeps your brain strong

Image via Live in the Now.

Something as simple as eating more leafy veggies could significantly slow down cognitive decline and keep your brain healthier for a longer period of time. A new study found that nutrients and vitamins found in plants such as spinach, kale, collards and mustard greens help keep your mental abilities sharp.

Mind & Brain, News

Your memories last as long the neural connections: a long-standing theory now confirmed

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Neuroscientists have long posited that memories last as long as the connections in the brain, but putting this theory to test has always proved challenging. Using the latest imaging techniques and sheer innovation, a group at Stanford confirmed this as being true after the researchers literally peered into the brains of mice and studied brain connections as they formed or were replaced. Once the connection was lost, so was the memory.

Mind & Brain, Nanotechnology, News

Scientists create neural lace that fuses with your brain

The rolled electronic mesh is injected through a glass needle into a water-based solution. (Lieber Research Group, Harvard University)

In a world where in only a few decades we moved from clunky phones to wireless satellite-connected devices that allow you to be anywhere and do anything on the internet, it seems only normal that scientists will take it to the next level – to your brain. Already tested on mice, this fine mesh fits inside a syringe and unfurls on the brain to monitor its activity.

Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain, News

Scientists light the brain of mice to recall their lost memories

One of the most notable recent examples of a film showcasing amnesia is Memento (2001). It tells the story of a former insurance investigator, Leonard Shelby, and his attempts to track down the man who attacked him and his wife-killing her and leaving him with a brain injury that has destroyed his ability to form new memories. Image: IMDB

A team at MIT in collaboration with the Riken Brain Science Institute in Japan activated the lost memories of mice, suggesting memory deficiencies like amnesia have more to do with accessing data, than storage itself. Though far from applicable to humans, the research does show that it’s possible, in theory at least, to help patients with retrograde amnesia (who’d lost their memories following a trauma or brain injury) live a normal life once more.

Anatomy, Mind & Brain, Science

Risky brain, safe brain: MIT charts neural pathways involved in decision-making


Researchers at MIT have now identified a neural circuit that they believe underpins decision-making in situations such as this, and have started looking into mice’s brains to better understand the biological processes that make us tick and help us pick.

Mind & Brain, News, Nutrition

Obese teens are much more susceptible to junk food commercials, brain scans reveal

About a quarter of commercial television advertisements are for food.

It’s no secret that TV food commercials stimulate pleasure and reward centers in the brain, after all advertisers wouldn’t pay big money for them to air if they didn’t entice people to order more. In fact, food advertising has increased dramatically over the past 30 years. Teenagers are exposed on average to 13 food commercials on any given day. At the same time, childhood and adolescent obesity in the US has been on the rise fast and worrisome, so we can’t help but notice the connection. Now, researchers at Dartmouth found overweight teens are disproportionately affected by TV food commercials, as key brain regions that control pleasure, taste and – most surprisingly – the mouth are all much more stimulated than those teens with less body fat. The findings are important since they suggest overweight teens exposed to this kind of environment will experience further difficulties when they try to lose weight. A further insight is that dietary plans should also target subsequent thinking concerning eating food, not just the temptation.

Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain, News

Some foods taste better (or less atrocious) while flying

The loud noise that usually airline passengers have to deal with in mid-flight can significantly alter how food tastes. According to researchers at Cornell University sweet flavors are inhibited, while savory flavors are enhanced. This might serve to explain why, for instance, tomato juice is such a popular beverage served on flights. German airline, Lufthansa, reports its passengers consumed 1.8 million liters of tomato juice in a single year or just as much as beer. Quite a lot, considering few people actually buy tomato juice back on land.

Mind & Brain, News

Researchers home in on speech center in the brain

brain and speech center

Researchers have long theorized that the superior temporal sulcus (STS) is involved in processing speech rhythms, but it’s only recently that this has been confirmed by a team at Duke University. Their findings show that the STS is sensitive to the timing of speech, a crucial element of spoken language. This could help further our understanding of how some speech-impairing conditions arise in the brain, or aid tutors design next-generation, computer assisted foreign language courses.

Mind & Brain, News, Technology

Making computers ‘tick’ like the human brain: a breakthrough moment

An artificial synaptic circuit. Image: Sonia Fernandez

Researchers at UC Santa Barbara made a simple neural circuit comprised of 100 artificial synapses, which they used to classify three letters by their images, despite font changes and noise introduced into the image. The researchers claim the rudimentary, yet effective circuit processes the text much in the same way as the human brain does. In other words, like you’re currently interpreting the text in this article. Even if you change the font, printscreen this article and splash it with an airbrush in MS Paint, you’ll still be able to read at least portions of it, because the human brain is so great at scaling patterns and abstracting symbols. This kind of research will hopefully usher in a new age of more refined, energy efficient computing.