Saturday, September 24, 2011

Science Saturday 1.1: FTL, Mind Readers, Gamers and AIDS, & more

Welcome to a new segment on my little ol' blog.  I've been doing a lot more "scientific" reading in various blogs and news sources ever since I decided I wanted to pursue a PhD in the future.  So as a way to collect some of the cool stories I've found, I will be posting every Saturday (hopefully) with some geeky-science tidbits.  I hope it helps you discover something new!

*Disclaimer: I am in NO WAY a science writer/journalist.  I will most likely get some facts wrong (hopefully not).  I simply want to share news that I find interesting.  Knowing that my blog readers are most likely not science people, I will try to explain what I can in the simplest way possible so that anyone can learn something about science today.*

Volume 1 Issue 1

A group of Italian scientists have studying a beam of neutrinos (a small subatomic particle that is electrically neutral) traveling from a physics laboratory in Switzerland.  Recent results tracked these particles moving faster than light, defying modern physics and causing Einstein to roll in his grave.  Further research needs to be done, and the results need to be recreated by other laboratories for this breakthrough to become fully accepted by the scientific community.  But maybe I should start plans for building the Millenium Falcon.  I wanna beat Han's Kessel Run record.

Neuroscientists at UC-Berkeley have been able to map activity in the visual cortex of the brain while watching movie trailers.  They then were able to use YouTube clips as a database and recreate the movie images by assembling possible image matches with the brain scan results.  The quality is quite poor, but it is still a fascinating step towards being able to "mind read" and possibly visualize dreams or memories.

Are you a mom concerned with your child playing too many video games?  Well maybe they will be the next person to solve a puzzling problem in AIDS research! A game called Foldit was developed to recruit gamers to put together the 3-dimensional structure of various proteins.  While biologists have been working for years to find the right structure, gamers recently came up with multiple solutions for M-PMV (the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus which causes AIDS in monkeys) in 3 weeks.  This is one great example of citizen science, where non-scientists volunteer their time to contribute to research findings.

Featured microbe: Nipah virus
This virus served as the model for the fictional MEV-1 virus featured in the recent movie, Contagion.  Naturally occurring in fruit bats (Pteropodidae family), this virus is a zoonotic pathogen, meaning it can cause disease in animals and humans.  Human infection presents as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or respiratory disease.

Nipah virus electron micrograph


  1. I hope you keep this up! I love it! I'm not a "scientist" per say but I love to learn new things and discover new ideas and findings. I may from time to time have questions about the research and where to find out more. Especially discoveries in brain activity and moods and pahtologies.

  2. I saw that video game thing! That was really interesting.. You summed it up well.. Better than Yahoo front page!

    Janette the Jongleur