Tuesday, July 17, 2007

New Society for Neuroscience President-Elect: "Hey, I know that guy"

Well, sort of.

He's Dr. Thomas Carew, chair of the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at the University of California-Irvine. I met him during an interview with the program last February. Dr. Carew was formerly the chair of the psychology department at Yale and even more formerly the student of esteemed neuroscientist (and Nobel Prize winner) Eric Kandel. Dr. Carew flew in the face of the stodgy academic stereotype. During our brief meeting, we barely breached the topic of my research background, instead, Carew talked lovingly about Southern California, and surfing.

Kandel (and subsequently, Carew) became famous in the scientific community for his research on the cellular and molecular mechanisms of memory in the sea slug Aplysia. This work has greatly expanded our understanding of habituation, sensitization, and conditioning forms of learning.

This kind of research really got me interested in neurobiology. Particularly with Aplysia, complex learning behaviors can be distilled down to the interaction of several molecules across synapses. To think that the cellular mechanisms of long-term memory consolidation in a sea slug are more or less conserved in humans is astounding. For me, it lead to a sort of "ah ha!" moment that motivated my graduate school focus.

Even though I ended up in a different program doing different research, I still think my meeting with Dr. Carew ( and understanding of his work) was important. We all have people we aspire to imitate, whether in career accolades or otherwise. So remember that favorite author, artist, or actor, and draw inspiration where you can.

Anyway, here is a cool picture of a sea slug:

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Baby Mammoth Found

Researchers have discovered a baby mammoth in the permafrost of northern Siberia. The body remains almost completely intact, with even its eyes and some hair preserved. With such a complete specimen, some scientists are going to attempt to extract DNA. The ultimate goal is to create new mammoths or mammoth-elephant hybrids through cross-fertilization and nuclear cloning techniques.

Of course, impeding this process is the black-market selling of mammoth remains. Local people have horded scientifically-viable mammoth remains for the past few decades, and the Russions government has done little to stop them. Mammoth hair, for example, can go for as much as $50 an inch.

That said, I think it is likely that we will be cloning a mammoth pretty soon. Northern Russia is ripe with remains, mostly because a population of mammoths lived there until only 5,000 years ago. If scientists succeed, then they can overcome the negative effects of hunting and climate change that originally pushed the animals to extinction. Continue reading "Baby Mammoth Found"!

Monday, July 9, 2007

New Seven Wonders of the World

Yesterday, seven new wonders of the world were announced, following a popular vote online. Over 90 million people provided nominations, and the chosen monuments were:

The Great Wall, China
Petra, Jordan (which you may recognize from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)
Christ Redeemer, Brazil (statue)
The Taj Mahal, India
The Roman Colosseum, Italy
Machu Picchu, Peru
The Pyramid at Chichen Itza, Mexico (Mayan temple city)

These edifices are meant to represent global heritage, celebrate human creativity, and preserve cultural achievement. Apparently though, Egypt was not too happy that new wonders were declared while the pyramids of Giza - already an ancient wonder - still stand today. As a compromise, the pyramids retained an honorary wonder status.

What's bizarre about this is that the voting was conducted online and through text messages. Anyone could vote and there was no limit on votes per person. Shouldn't this have been conducted by some sort of scholarly institution? Some of the awe and "wonder" associated with the structures is lost when instead of professors of architectural history and anthropology deciding which human creations best represent the world, some kid in Rio de Janeiro can by using up his extra text messages.

Whenever I see that Christ Redeemer statue, this always comes to mind:

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First Post: I'll get the hang of this

Hello and welcome,

After mulling over the idea for some time now, I have decided to start a blog.

I am a recent graduate of West Virginia University, where I studied biology and psychology with minors in philosophy and communications. In a little over a month, I will begin graduate school in the Biopsychology Ph.D. program at the University of Michigan. After school, I plan to conduct research, teach, and write about science.

This blog is sort of a test project. Primarily, I will document my experience in graduate school, both for entertainment and illustrative purposes. I will also post about things that interest me in general, such as popular culture, politics, science/technology, and food and travel.

I'm going to use this site as a way to stay abreast of what's going on in the world, and hopefully pass on some useful and interesting information. Most likely, I will tweak things as I learn more about text editing and focus my posts over time. Feel free to comment with suggestions and viewpoints.

Thanks for reading,

Ben Continue reading "First Post: I'll get the hang of this"!