Monday, June 13, 2011

Neuroplasticity: The Movie!

I'm back!  Since it's been so long since my last post, I owe you something extra special.  So here it is!  The first of hopefully many original videos.  This is an educational movie I made with Lex Kravitz (yes, the same Lex Kravitz who controls brains with lasers!).  It's all about the ways our brains change when we learn.  And it stars me as a sea slug and Lex as the human.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Social Brain: Bigger is Better?

Humans are an incredibly social species.  How did we become that way?  According to the "social brain hypothesis," specific areas within the brain were selectively enlarged during evolution to support enhanced social functioning.

Humans are a social species
The precise underlying changes in the brain are not known, but many scientists are focusing on one particular area: the amygdala.  With its extensive connectivity throughout the brain and well-known involvement in a variety of social behaviors, including fear, anger, and certain types of learning and memory, the amygdala is an ideal candidate for study.  According to the social brain hypothesis, we

Sunday, February 13, 2011

So you think you know how to study?

What is the most effective way to learn?  Both students and teachers agonize over this question.  The general consensus is that active, concept-based "elaborative learning" techniques are the best way to truly absorb and understand a new topic.  In contrast, simply recalling the information is assumed to be a passive process, demonstrating how much is remembered but not contributing to learning at all.

In retrieval practice, students freely recall
as much information as they can
(image from
However, recent findings published in the journal Science reveal surprising new information that contradicts this assumption.  Jeffrey Karpicke and Janell Blunt at Purdue University had undergraduate students study science material using one of two main techniques and then compared how well they learned.  The first technique was concept mapping, an engaging and widely-used elaborative learning method.  The other technique, called retrieval practice, simply required students to freely recall as

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Controlling the brain, with lasers!

It's about time I started talking about what I actually work on!  I'll have much more to say (and sing!) about my own specific projects later... but for today I'll just briefly highlight one of the most exciting techniques our lab uses:  optogenetics.  My neuroscience friends are already well-acquainted with this super-hot new technique.  But for the uninitiated, allow me to introduce you to biology's latest & greatest fad!

First, check out this recent news story featuring our lab!


This news piece aired after the publication of a high-profile study led by Lex Kravitz, a postdoctoral fellow in our lab.  If you're interested, you can read the whole paper here.  It's

Friday, January 7, 2011

Psychic Powers!

Every so often there's excitement about possible scientific evidence of extrasensory perception (ESP).  But then attempts to replicate the findings fail, or critical flaws in the experiments are discovered.  So over the years, most of these results have been disproved and discredited.   

Claims of psychic powers are nothing
new, but proof has been lacking...

However, now there's compelling new evidence from a study published in a prestigious scientific journal and led by Daryl Bem, a well-respected psychologist at Cornell University.  In their article entitled Feeling the Future, the authors claim to demonstrate "anomalous retroactive influences on cognition and affect."  Translation: proof of ESP.  

Not surprisingly, this article is attracting a lot of attention.  I'll give a brief summary and then point out some of the major criticisms.  I'll also throw in some info about other ways we can "sense" the