* Locked In, But Not Out * The Raw and The Cooked * The Pitter-Patter of Predatory Feet * Primordial Gas * Knocking on Heaven's Door *


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Locked In, But Not Out

In recent years, fMRI technology has been used to determine a person's level of awareness, when in a vegetative or 'locked in' state.  It is an important diagnosis to make with accuracy for family members and doctors; both need this information to plan future treatment and care.  But fMRI is expensive, not easily accessible to everyone and not suitable for all vegetative patients.  New research by Dr. Adrian Owen and colleagues has found that there is a better, cheaper, and easier way of detecting awareness in these patients: EEG (electroencephalography).  Dr. Owen is Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging, and a Professor at the Brain and Mind Institute at the University of Western Ontario.  His research showed that EEG was able to detect brain responses to two distinct commands (squeezing the right hand and moving toes), in patients previously diagnosed as behaviourally unresponsive.
     

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The Raw and The Cooked

Lunch.jpg Copyright Alisdair McDiarmid
Human evolution took a different direction a couple of million years ago.  Our human ancestors became larger and stronger, but then, oddly, certain parts of our anatomy became less robust - particularly our jaws and teeth.  Some researchers have suggested that this paradoxical feature of our evolution could be explained by the development of cooking.  Rachel Carmody, a PhD candidate in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, has demonstrated in new work that cooking could enable both of these adaptations.  She showed that cooked food provides more energy than raw food, probably because it's more easily and efficiently digested.  This meant that early humans eating cooked food would get more energy from their food, allowing them to grow bigger, but would need less strong jaws and teeth, since the food was softer and easier to chew and digest.
     

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The Pitter-Patter of Predatory Feet

tegopelte.jpg Tegopelte reconstruction, by Marianne Collins
The famous Burgess Shale of the Rocky Mountains preserves some of the oldest fossils of complex animal life in the world, going back half-a-billion years.  And it preserves their footsteps as well.  Dr Nicholas Minter, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Saskatchewan, and his colleagues, have just described the first and oldest fossil trackways from the Burgess Shale.  They've attributed these fossil footprints to a bottom-skimming predator called Tegopelte, which moved swiftly across the ancient sea-bed on 66 legs, in search of its prey.
      

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  • Paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences
  • News Release from the University of Saskatchewan 
  • CBC News story
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Primordial Gas

primordial_gas.jpgSimulation of gas filaments forming into galaxies, by Ceverino, Dekel and Primack
Pollution, as we know, is everywhere.  That's true on Earth, and it was thought to be true in space as well.  But Dr. John O'Meara, a professor of physics at St. Michael's College in Vermont, and his colleagues, have found a tiny corner of the universe, 11 billion light years away, that is entirely unpolluted.  This part of space contains a gas cloud composed of pure hydrogen and helium, and they think it's left-over primordial gas from the Big Bang.  Since most of the universe was quickly contaminated with heavier elements from the first generation of exploding stars, they're at a loss to explain how this pocket of gas remained undisturbed.

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Knocking on Heaven's Door

knocking.jpg
100 years ago, some of the greatest minds in physics, including Max Planck, Ernest Rutherford, Marie Curie and Albert Einstein, met in Belgium to try to understand a revolution that was happening in physics.  New discoveries in relativity and Quantum Mechanics were revolutionizing our understanding of how the universe worked.   One hundred years later, we may be on the cusp of another such revolution, and Lisa Randall is one of those on the front lines.  Professor Randall is a theoretical physicist at Harvard University, and in her newest book, she gives a picture of where physics might be going, and the way that it's getting us there.  The book is called, Knocking on Heaven's Door - How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World.

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Theme music bed copyright Raphaël Gluckstein, Creative Commons License by-nc-nd-2.0