Month: July 2008

BioBlitz with The Discovery Channel

An upcoming BioBlitz scheduled on Long Island in the Tanglewood Preserve has the local academia and the local amateur scientists excited… and the event might also have piqued some interest from producers at The Discovery Channel.

The BioBlitz is an interesting movement where community members designate a 24-hour period to canvass their local region and identify and catalog all of the organisms that can be observed. This concept is a perfect idea and opportunity to unite citizen scientists and local professional scientists to help keep track of regional biodiversity, species evolution, and environmental impacts on the local biosphere.

The following report suggests an unofficial interest from The Discovery Channel to document one such event, which would be a wonderful publicity boon to supporting the role of the citizen scientist and will certainly inspire many more to look into opportunities in their local areas.

“Bio Blitz catches Discovery’s attention” :: Herald Community Newspapers Online :: July 31, 2008 :: [ READ ]

Learn more about the BioBlitz movement and to find events in your area [ BioBlitz on Wikipedia ].

How the Mind works According to Books

No one understands how our brains work.

But, there are certainly a lot of people trying to figure it out, and this author at Neuron News is certainly swimming in this ocean of many fish.

Here we reference a new list of published books that take another stab a cracking the code of the miraculous human mind. Brief reviews are written for each book, and Neuron News is neither subscribing to nor endorsing any particular approach… however, nearly any viewpoint on the brain is worth a look-see when one has no honest clue about what is really going on (and no one can honestly say that they have a fundamental grasp of brain function… we are just not there, yet.)

In the near future, Neuron News will likely plan on picking up a copy of A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination by Gerald M. Edelman and Giulio Tononi, so we will certainly let you know what we think. But, in the mean time please feel free to browse the collection and reviews, and let Neuron News know what you think by posting comments here in the journal.

“How the Mind Works: Revelations” :: The New York Review of Books :: Volume 55, Number 11 :: June 26, 2008 :: [ READ REVIEW ]

Volunteer for Wilderness in Montana

The Wilderness Institute at the University of Montana features a Citizen Science program that is a wonderful opportunity for our amateur research friends up north to explore their local natural wildlands and contribute to the region’s scientific monitoring.

They consider the contributions from their volunteers to be quite valuable and they seems quite supportive of the citizen science movement. The institute has programs going on right now, so visit the website by following the link below and contact the group to join in the activities. You might even make into an upcoming photogallery update!

[ VISIT PROGRAM ONLINE ]

If you are a Citizen Scientist involved with the Wilderness Institute, please let us know about your experiences by posting a comment below.

Not living in Montana, but want to explore a wilderness near you? Check out the national locater map at Wilderness.net sponsored by The University of Montana’s College of Forestry and Conservation.

Developing Three-Dimensional Cultured Neuron Networks

Visualize a computer chip for a moment… it’s a “flat”, 2-dimensional piece of electronics that does some fancy electron dance somewhere within the green-toned plastic. Now, visualize what a neurological computer chip might look like… how about we start with the same flat, green-toned plastic electrical processing unit and toss on a bunch of living neural cells scrambled all over the surface.

This sort of technological device–which is not entirely science fiction–is this idea of a two-dimensional, cultured neuron network interfaced with a microfabricated electrical circuit. This system in no way resembles the network structuring seen in the human brain, so the first immediate question would be to ask why would this living, 2-D neuron network successfully electrically interface with the brain?

Well, that is a good question… but this 2-D world was (and still is) a reasonable starting point for developing the technology. In fact, because the 2-D world is still an important system for developing merged devices composed of electrical circuits and living networked neurons, developing an understanding of the fundamental neuron network function–in two dimensions–is still critical and valuable for neurotechnological research.

But, the brain is still in three dimensions, so advancing the technology to grow cultured neuron networks in controlled ways in 3-D is quite exciting. With a current published article inNature Methods, researchers from the University of California Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab have begun some initial work on controlling the cultured growth of neurons in three dimensions along the bumps of blobs of colloidal crystals.

Micron-sized colloidal particles (i.e., really tiny balls made of clear plastic) are interesting for patterning neuron networks, because there has been a great deal of work on learning how to manipulate these objects using focused laser light called optical tweezers. If the wavelength of the laser beam is selected appropriately, then the living neurons will not absorb the wavelength and heat up and die. So, additional modifications to the underlying colloidal matrix could be made to the system while the neurons were growing and interconnecting along the 3-D lattice.

“Colloidal crystals make better neural networks” :: Ars Technica :: July 28, 2008 :: [ READ ]

“Colloid-guided assembly of oriented 3D neuronal networks” :: Nature Methods :: published online July 20, 2008 :: (doi:10.1038/nmeth.1236) [ READ ABSTRACT ]

Physicists are learning to Love the Citizen Scientist

The role of the citizen scientist continues to grow into a new, profound tool for the scientific community. This realization from the academic world is once again made apparent by a new Job Posting from the University of Oxford’s Department of Physics.

They are in search of not one, but two, postdoctoral associates to lead the development of new research programs that utilized citizen scientists in data collection. Most of this inspiration is stemming from another Oxford-lead program, GalaxyZoo, which is continuing to reap successful results from their world-wide community approach.

So, as a citizen scientists, it’s time to really jump on the bandwagon. It’s always a win-win … the academic world gets tons of free data, that’s reasonably reliable, and we get to be part of something important … and have a whole lot of fun with the experience.

“Postdoctoral Researcher in Internet-Based Citizen Science (two posts)” :: Department of Physics, University of Oxford :: July 27, 2008 posted :: [ READ JOB POSTING ]

Re-developing Hearing with Neural Network Implants

A research team from the Yonsei University College of Medicine, including Dr. Choi Jae Young, have recently completed a neural implant surgery on a young female patient to help her regain lost hearing. Although the girl’s brain functions normally, she has a damaged nerve that transmits auditory signals from her ear to her brain stem.

The implanted device converts sound into digital signal and transmits this to the brain stem and further processing in the brain. The details of the work is not clear in the posted media report below, and no published research with the results has yet been found by Neuron News (but, we’ll post updates as soon as possible).

Presumably, the electrical information transmitted by the computer chip implant is being received by the brain, but the child’s brain must first train itself to interpret the signals into meaningful patterns. The girl may have never before heard sound–let alone process and interpret sound–so, this work might also be an extremely interesting observation of how well the brain can take new electrical signals and integrate them successfully into a brain state that might be considered “normal” to another human who was born with complete hearing capabilities.

Will the girl hear differently, in some way, than other humans? Will we ever be able to determine if she is interpreting sounds in different ways, even if her brain figures out a way to process the signals and still interact with its environment “normally”?

“Doctors Use Artificial Network to Help Hearing Impaired” :: Arirang News IT/Science :: July 22, 2008 :: [ READ ]

Last updated April 5, 2020