Monday, 15 December 2008

Beautiful brain #1

I always appreciate a good artistic rendering of a nice brain.

This one is off the album cover of Canadian producer/engineer/performer Dean Marino's (aka EX~PO) newest release "Central Meaner Street" recently reviewed by Barb (ex-science type sensibly converted to freelance writer) here

The thing is, brains are intrinsically beautiful. Complex and intricate with curves and crinkly bits and layers and shapes within shapes within shapes that fit perfectly snugly together to produce a sculpture that is really something to behold.

Problem: They're made out of really gross vomit-pink slimy custard-like stuff.

So anyone who makes one out of something altogether more appealing gets my vote. In this case the brain is a small village with lines of houses to represent the creases in the cortex, and even rows of what look like vegetables to represent the ridges of the cerebellum (the cauliflower looking thing at the back) - what's not to like?

Apparently the album is also good.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

And all this time I should've been dancing

In a blatant attempt at being down-with-the-kids, the American Association for the Advancement of Science launched this science dance contest in which entrants posted their offerings on YouTube.

Quote from the AAAS "the human body is an excellent medium for communicating science--perhaps not as data-rich as a peer-reviewed article, but far more exciting".

In the video, Miriam Sach from the University of Dusseldorf communicates "Cerebral activation patterns induced by inflection of regular and irregular verbs with positron emission tomography. A comparison between single subject and group analysis" via the medium of dance.

The research showed that irregular and regular verbs are processed in the same parts of the brain rather than by specialised cortical areas.

As if it wasn't obvious, here is a guide to how Miriam's research findings are represented within the dance...

This piece is subdivided into 3 sections: 1.) Introduction of regular verbs, 2.) Introduction of irregular verbs, 3.) Common neural network of regular and irregular verb inflection.
1.) Regular verbs are represented by the walking at the very beginning of this piece.
The walking is simple, straight forward and without irregularities. It is accompanied by the sound of crackling fire a metaphor for the firing neurons.
2.) In contrast, irregular verbs are represented by a huge variety of different movements: jumps, slides, turns, rolls, level changes. Irregularities are also displayed musically by using syncopes and off-beat emphasis in percussion as well as further changes in instruments.
3.) The sound of the falling rain is a cleansing moment with no movements to introduce the final section of the dance: the common neural network of regular and irregular verb processing. It is the first time that symmetrical movements occur to emphasize the common network for both verb forms. In addition, both regular and irregular movements are shown to elucidate the presence of both entities in this network.
Overall, fiber connections in the brain representing the connections between regular and irregular verbs are shown by wavy arm movements.

I like this because everybody loves a good dance, and yet so often, as a medium, it is wasted on the communication of simple concepts* such as "OMG I totally love this song", "I want to sex you up" or "I'm a jet and you're a shark, let's have a bloody good fight".

More of this please.

*Although bees have got the right idea - wiggling their stripey little asses to communicate the precise location of particularly juicy flowers. 10 points to the bees.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Parisians are officially the most humourous criminals non?

Word is, the hunt is on in Paris for armed robbers - SOME DRESSED IN DRAG – who relieved Harry Winston jewellers of some €80 million-worth of diamonds, precious stones and other sparkly goodness. That makes it the biggest jewellery-heist-carried-out-by-gender-ambiguous-criminals France has ever seen. They good as emptied the shop.

So there are wanted men, in drag, with guns, covered in an appalling amount of bling, in Paris - capital of elegance and style. They will surely be banged up before tea time won’t they?

It reminded me of that story about the illegal restoration of an antique clock housed in the Panthéon. Remember that?

I went and found the website of the group responsible - ‘The Untergunther’. They proclaim themselves to be “a clandestine group with a mission to restore the neglected heritage in Paris”. Fabulous. It makes me really badly want to be a member of a clandestine group. Perhaps our mission could be to hold guerrilla roller discos across the UK or something.

Anyway. Basically, these Untergunther geniuses, in a time-honoured fashion, got themselves locked into the Panthéon one night and set about sorting out a secret workshop in the Panthéon’s dome (furnished, and with views over Paris, naturally).

They spent a year piecing apart and repairing a clock that had been sat rusting since the 1960s. When finished they decided to tell the folks at the Panthéon, primarily so they would know to wind the clock up.

So the officials took legal action and tried to have the cultural crims prosecuted. But of course all stories that involve getting locked in museums overnight have happy endings and the judge ruled in favour of the Untergunther.

Their website is here, some really amazing photos of the clock, the workshop and the hugely desirable seating is here. Get some Wiki action with more details of the sorts of thrilling things the French get up to underground here.

Probably those gun-totting diamond thieves in dresses don’t have a website. Maybe they’re on facebook though.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Conference chic

Huzzah! I am recently returned from a Brain Research conference in Washington U.S.A. (hence the Americanised header). If forced at gunpoint (admittedly unlikely) I would have to say that fannying around chatting about sciencey things with exotic people all over the globe is possibly my favourite thing about research.

I have proof I have been in the U.S. - See Fig. 1 which depicts a pedestrian crossing. Note the helpful and considerate count-down informing people exactly how long they have left to dither about in the middle of the road (taking pictures and whatnot).

Fig. 1 Crossing the road Washington style

Here in the U.K. it is conventional for drivers to signal to pedestrians that their road-crossing time frame is coming to an end by revving their engines and creeping slowly forward. It's not as precise but it seems to work ok.

As you can imagine, much of the discussion at the conference was given over to this year's trends in conference fashion. While trying to figure out if I could subsist entirely on free conference pastries and cakes for the rest of my stay (apparently there's some sort of economic problem happening at the moment and my credit card was shivering at the prospect of check-out), I was interrupted by an enthusiastic Italian epigeneticist (don't ask) who wanted desperately to impress upon me that a) she owned the same dress as the one I was wearing and b)I look almost as fabulous in it as she does.

She told me I should come to an epigenetics meeting in Lille. But I don't know anything about epigenetics. It makes my head hurt. So? Lille is beautiful and the food is amazing.

Is this what they call networking? If so I love it. She cooed some more about the other dress I'd worn the previous day and I decided that I totally rock at networking.

I'd also like to give a special mention to the conference bags which, at every other conference I've ever been to, have always looked like this or a variation thereof...

Not at this, the best-dressed conference of 2008. Oh no. Behold eco-friendly and bang on trend, the Nexus conference bag made from jute canvas, complete with a clasp made from finest coconut shell. Biodegradable and sustainable. Round of applause please...