The most striking observation was “the complexity and pattern of convolutions on certain parts of Einstein's cerebral cortex”, especially in the prefrontal cortex, and also parietal lobes and visual cortex.
The prefrontal cortex is important for the kind of abstract thinking that Einstein would have needed for his famous thought experiments on the nature of space and time, such as imagining riding alongside a beam of light. The unusually complex pattern of convolutions there probably gave the region a larger-than-normal surface area, which may have contributed to his remarkable abilities.
scibri writes: Once a Tyrannosaurus took down a Triceratops, how did it go about eating it? By looking at the bite marks on Triceratops fossils, a group of paleontologists have pieced together the steps, and created an illustrated guide. Step one? Pull off the head.
A team of Japanese researchers scanned the brains of three people as they slept, and compared the scans to those of the same people looking at photos of common objects. They were then able to tell, with 75% — 80% accuracy, if one of those images appeared in a dream.
Top economists are publishing a paper that claims a country’s genetic diversity can predict the success of its economy. To critics, the economists’ paper seems to suggest that a country’s poverty could be the result of its citizens’ genetic make-up, and the paper is attracting charges of genetic determinism, and even racism. But the economists say that they have been misunderstood, and are merely using genetics as a proxy for other factors that can drive an economy, such as history and culture.
Chemist Olga Nikolaevna Zelenina heads a laboratory at the Penza Agricultural Institute. She is an expert in the biology of hemp and poppy, and is a sought-after expert in legal cases involving narcotics produced from these plants. Last year, she was asked by defence lawyers to give her opinion in a case involving imported poppy seeds. The prosecutors didn't like her evidence though, and now she's in prison accused of complicity in organized drug trafficking.
They used a "magic trick" to reverse a person's responses to such moral issues as "Large-scale governmental surveillance of e-mail and Internet traffic ought to be forbidden as a means to combat international crime and terrorism", by switching "forbidden" to "permitted" when the subject turned the page of the questionaire. When asked to read back the questions and answers, about half of the subjects did not detect the changes, and a full 53% of participants argued unequivocally for the opposite of their original attitude in at least one of the manipulated statements.
scibri writes: Robots designed to perform whole-cell patch-clamping, a difficult but powerful method that allows neuroscientists to access neurons' internal electrical workings, could make the tricky technique commonplace.
Scientists from MIT have designed a robot that can record electrical currents in up to 4 neurons in the brains of anaesthetized mice at once, and they hope to extend it to up to 100 at a time. The robot finds its target on the basis of characteristic changes in the electrical environment near neurons. Then, the device nicks the cell’s membrane and seals itself around the tiny hole to access the neuron's contents.
Facebook's data scientists have been involved in publishing more than 30 papers since 2009, but because the company fears breaching its users’ privacy, it does not release the underlying raw data.
The new plan, if it comes into effect, still has some strings attached: researchers would have to travel to the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, because Facebook would not risk sending the data electronically, and they would have access to aggregated data only, and no personally identifiable information. The company would also allow access for only a limited period — and contingent upon researchers signing a non-disclosure agreement. The external scholars would also not be allowed to conduct their own studies on the data sets.
scibri writes: The vision of Neanderthals as inflexible carnivores has been used to suggest that they went extinct as a result of food scarcity, whereas omnivorous humans were able to survive. But evidence is mounting that plants were important to Neanderthal diets — and now a study reveals that those plants were roasted, and may have been used medicinally.
Researchers used organic compounds embedded in 50,000-year-old dental plaque to study the Neanderthal diet. The plaque contained a range of carbohydrates and starch granules, hinting that the Neanderthals had consumed a variety of plant species. By contrast, there were few lipids or proteins from meat.
They also found, lurking in the plaque of a few specimens, a range of alkyl phenols, aromatic hydrocarbons and roasted starch granules that suggested that the Neanderthals had spent time in smoky areas and eaten cooked vegetables (Abstract).
Among the compounds found were chemicals from plants such as yarrow and camomile, which taste bitter and have no nutritional value. So why they would intentionally eat them? The researchers think they may have been using them medicinally — the plants are used by modern herbalists as anti-inflamatories and antiseptics.
“There’s going to be a huge massacre of theoretical ideas in the next couple of years,” predicts Joe Lykken, a theoretical physicist at Fermilab. The data has shored up the standard model, but technicolor is dead and supersymmetry is starting to look pretty ropey now. Theorists are now poking at the mathematical chinks in the standard theory in the hopes of being the first to find a deeper truth about how the Universe works.
Articles would either be made immediately accessible online, with the Commission paying up-front publication costs (expected to be 1% of the total research budget); or researchers could make their articles available through an open-access repository no later than six months after publication (or 12 months for social sciences and humanities). The Commission has already developed such a repository – the OpenAIRE repository.
The Commission’s plans are merely proposals at the moment – they face a good year of back-and-forth debate with the Parliament and European Council before they can take effect.
scibri writes: The UK's research councils have put in place an open access policy similar to the one used by the US NIH. From April 2013, science papers must be made free to access within six months of publication if they come from work paid for by one of the UK’s seven government-funded grant agencies, the research councils, which together spend about £2.8 billion each year on research (press release).
The councils say authors should shun journals that don't allow such policies, though they haven't said how those who don't comply with the rules will be punished.
scibri writes: Chemists have proved that a smelly rock is the only known place on Earth where fluorine exists in its elemental form, F2 (Abstract).
The rock is antozonite, a calcium fluoride (fluorite) mineral that is dark violet or even black in colour, also known as fetid fluorite or stinkspar. Needless to say, this rock stinks. The pungent smell is given off when antozonite is crushed, and chemists and mineralogists have argued over the origin of the stench since the early nineteenth century.
It turns out French chemist Henri Moissan, who first isolated fluorine in 1886, was right. The rock contains pockets of fluorine that are released on crushing.