Saturday, January 30, 2010

Selected readings 1/30/10

Interesting reading and news items.

These items are also bookmarked at my Diigo account.

Narcolepsy research triggers myriad brain studies
Research over the past decade has shown that narcolepsy is caused by the loss of a type of brain cell that produces orexin. Scientists have found that the chemical also helps determine when we are asleep and awake and plays a role in regulating appetite and addiction. [, 11/30/09]

H.M. recollected
These brains, normal and with various pathologies, will be preserved on thousands of slides that, in turn, are converted into extraordinarily high-resolution digital images freely available online. Researchers around the world will be able to use the material to conduct investigations ranging from parsing basic cognitive functions or the physical effects of diseases like Alzheimer’s to more abstract inquiries such as how memories are created and changed and the organic nature of consciousness. [, 11/30/09]

A Lost European Culture, Pulled From Obscurity
New research, archaeologists and historians say, has broadened understanding of this long overlooked culture, which seemed to have approached the threshold of “civilization” status. Writing had yet to be invented, and so no one knows what the people called themselves. To some scholars, the people and the region are simply Old Europe. [, 11/30/09]

The Psychology of Power
Joris Lammers at Tilburg University, in the Netherlands, and Adam Galinsky at Northwestern University, in Illinois, have conducted a series of experiments which attempted to elicit states of powerfulness and powerlessness in the minds of volunteers. Having done so, as they report in Psychological Science, they tested those volunteers’ moral pliability. Lord Acton, they found, was right. [The Economist, 1/21/10]

New-found galaxies may be farthest back in time and space yet
By pushing the refurbished Hubble Space Telescope to its very limits as a cosmic time machine, astronomers have identified three galaxies that may hail from an era only a few hundred million years after the Big Bang. The faint galaxies may be the most distant starlit bodies known, each lying some 13.2 billion light-years from Earth. [ScienceNews, 1/3/10]

7 Tipping Points That Could Transform Earth
When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issue its last report in 2007, environmental tipping points were a footnote. A troubling footnote, to be sure, but the science was relatively new and unsettled. Straightforward global warming was enough to worry about. But when the IPCC meets in 2014, tipping points — or tipping elements, in academic vernacular — will get much more attention. Scientists still disagree about which planetary systems are extra-sensitive to climate shifts, but the possibility can’t be ignored. [, 12/23/09]

Cancer genomes sequenced
Scientists have charted the most complete cancer genomes to date, according to two studies published in Nature this week, providing a catalog of some 90% of all the somatic mutations in melanoma and a type of lung cancer, as well as a starting point for identifying potentially causal mutations common to these types of cancer. [The Scientist, 12/16/09]

Pluripotency process unveiled
Scientists have identified a key component of cellular reprogramming that may aid in more efficiently creating induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, according to a study published online in Nature today (December 21). [The Scientist, 12/21/09]

Glial cells aid memory formation
Neurons need non-electrical brain cells known as astrocytes to establish synaptic memory, according to study published this week in Nature. The findings challenge the long-standing belief that this process involves only the activity of the neurons themselves, and bring glial cells onto the center stage in the study of brain activity. [The Scientist, 1/13/10]

Geeky Math Equation Creates Beautiful 3-D World
The quest by a group of math geeks to create a three-dimensional analogue for the mesmerizing Mandelbrot fractal has ended in success. They call it the Mandelbulb. The 3-D renderings were generated by applying an iterative algorithm to a sphere. [, 12/9/09]

Hungry Amoebas Spawn Biggest Viruses Ever
Made from a hodgepodge of genetic bits and pieces, the newly discovered Marseillevirus is the world’s largest virus. But fame is fleeting: It’s almost sure to be supplanted by another, even bigger virus. What’s really special about Marseillevirus is where it comes from. Like other giant viruses, it was found inside amoebas — lowly, single-celled organisms that devour anything they can absorb. Their voracious appetites make them incubators of genetic remixing among their prey, and may hint at processes that spawned complex life. [, 12/8/09]

Rethinking artificial intelligence: Researchers hope to produce 'co-processors' for the human mind
The field of artificial-intelligence research (AI), founded more than 50 years ago, seems to many researchers to have spent much of that time wandering in the wilderness, swapping hugely ambitious goals for a relatively modest set of actual accomplishments. Now, some of the pioneers of the field, joined by later generations of thinkers, are gearing up for a massive 'do-over' of the whole idea. [, 12/7/09]

Cosmic rays hunted down: Physicists are closing in on the origin of cosmic rays
A thin rain of charged particles continually bombards our atmosphere from outer space. The mysterious particles were first detected 100 years ago but until 10 years ago when a new type of telescope began to come online physicists weren't sure where the "cosmic rays" came from or how they were generated. They suspected the particles were accelerated by supernova shockwaves. [, 12/7/09]

Creativity in mathematics
Mathematicians have always felt a strong creative aspect in their subject, but only in recent years has the flowering of connections between mathematics and the arts made this aspect apparent to the general public. The collection of three articles in the Notices, together with Atiyah's short introductory piece, explore some of the various ways in which art and beauty appear in mathematics. [, 12/8/09]

XMM-Newton Celebrates Decade of Discovery
ESA's XMM-Newton X-ray observatory is celebrating its 10th anniversary. During its decade of operation, this remarkable space observatory has supplied new data for every aspect of astronomy. From our cosmic backyard to the further reaches of the Universe, XMM-Newton has changed the way we think of space. [ScienceDaily, 12/10/09]

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