Friday, May 24, 2013

This week's Sci-Light

Some of you as readers of this blog are considering careers in STEM fields.  Maybe you're interested in biology or ecology, or perhaps others think in terms of applied medical science or engineering.  My guess is that you're long term goals are 10 years down the road at most.  Allow me to introduce you to a researcher who has been asking questions and making discoveries since the 1950s.  She's  a pioneer, in many ways, who changed the way we think about the brain and neurophysiology.
Photo credit:  Owen Egan
Dr. Brenda Milner's work with a patient known for years as H.M. changed the view that the brain functioned as a whole and recognized the importance and roles of different regions of the brain.  H.M., now known to be Henry G. Molaison, suffered from amnesia after a brain surgery to treat epilepsy.  He could not form new memories, so although Dr. Milner worked with him for decades, she would have to reintroduce herself daily.  Mr. Molaison died at the age of 82, but Dr. Milner, almost 95, continues her work still taking post-doctoral researchers. 

While her research is remarkable, it is the remarks at the end of the article by Claudia Dreifus called "Still Charting Memory's Depths" that provide the context for the work.  Ms. Dreifus asked, "Did you like him?" to which Dr. Milner replied, "We all loved H.M. Yet it was very strange, psychologically, because when he died we all felt as if we’d lost a friend. And this is funny because one thinks of friendship as a bilateral thing. He didn’t recognize us or know us, and we felt we’d lost a friend."

For more about Dr. Brenda Milner, visit The Great Canadian Psychology Website.  Some of the simple tests that H.M. was given are posted there under Dr. Milner's links. 

For those still forming their own career goals, remember that research is asking questions.  The answers to those questions may take you to places you've never imagined.  Dr. Milner's took us all there.

Friday, May 10, 2013

This Week's Sci-light

Elephants are large but gentle and intelligent creatures.  Have you ever wondered how they communicate with each other? Biologist and conservationist Joyce Poole and husband Petter Granli have begun to decipher their sophisticated sign language. Poole and Granli founded a charity called ElephantVoices, which advocates research and conservation of elephants in Africa. While aiding pachyderms in Africa, they thought it would be helpful to pick up on their mannerisms, and turn that into solid information about how they interact.
They created a sort of catalogue of the different elephant gestures and behaviors so that the information could be readily available to everyone.  The database includes different categories: attentive, aggressive, ambivalent, defensive, social integration, mother-offspring, sexual, play and death. Through their observing they have matched certain gestures and movements with emotions.  Ear spreading translates into aggression, sniffing signifies attentiveness, a group advance shows defensiveness and caressing demonstrates loving and comforting usually between a mother and her offspring. Read the whole article at NationalGeographic to learn more about how elephants have a sense of humor, how they deal with death and more.

Friday, May 3, 2013

This week's Sci-Light

A culture of dreams...

I was scanning the internet for today's sci-light and found the story of Bertrand Piccard and the solar plane he conceived of and partnered with AndrĂ© Broschberg of the Swiss Institute of Technology to build.  Read all about the plane powered by 12,000 photovoltaic cells in Diane Cardwell's NY Times article Cross-Country Solar Plane Expedition Set for Takeoff. 

Photo credit:  Jim Wilson/The New York Times
It wasn't the description of the plane, the expedition or the applications that struck me although they were fascinating.  It was the culture that Mr. Piccard described in his home as a child.  His grandfather, Auguste Piccard, was a physicist and friends with Albert Einstein and Marie Curie.  He designed a capsule for a balloon allowing he and a partner to be the first to fly into the stratosphere.  Father Jacques Ernest-Jean Piccard traveled with US Navy Lt. Don Walsh almost 7 miles in a pressurized bathyscaphe called Trieste to the deepest point on Earth--Challenger Deep of the Marianas Trench.

Son/grandson Bertrand Piccard said this in the article, "I thought this [incredible things] was the normal way to live and I was very disappointed to see that there are a lot of people who are afraid of the unknown, afraid of the doubts, afraid of the question marks."

Perhaps you're feeling that way--not knowing your next step, not getting what you wanted for the summer, unsure of how to find a job or where to even begin looking.  If so, this article is for you.  Life is not a series of knowns; it is a series of unknowns.  It is in the adventure of living--the highs of success and the depths of dispair and everything in between--that we actually experience the fullness of living.

Take a deep breath.  Don't try and map out the next year, the next month, the next day.  Live in this one.  Think about what you enjoy and find a way to experience it today.  Be open to the opportunities that come and grab them.  Study hard.  Learn much.  Do your work.  Explore your dreams.  Do what is to be done.  Live. 

For me, that means I write a blog...

...what is your culture of dreams.