Find your favorite flora and fauna

The Encyclopedia of Life, No Bookshelf Required – New York Times

It sounds surreal, and yet scientists are writing the Book of All Species. Or to be more precise, they are building a Web site called the Encyclopedia of Life (www.eol.org). On Thursday its authors, an international team of scientists, will introduce the first 30,000 pages, and within a decade, they predict, they will have the other 1.77 million.

Definitely the most impressive thing here is the automated populating of the pages using existing databases. What a fantastic idea. Right now, it’s easy to find information for a few model organisms that have large scientific followings but this kind of wikipedia of all organisms is long overdue. Here’s a link to the EOL website.

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SciVee provides video supplements for academic publications

The supercomputer center in San Diego has created a cool site called SciVee for scientists to upload brief videos introducing/explaining their publications.

There is quite some variety in the style of these short lectures (even though there are only a few currently posted). Some give a list of the key findings of the publications and others doing a much better job of making their work more accessible by providing an introduction/context and avoiding technical jargon.

Why Americans resist neuroscience more

Science has a special online feature this week on behavioral science. One of the articles is a review by Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg (a fellow SymSys alum!) presents some interesting evidence about how dualistic ideas about mind/brain are present from an early age. They state:

Another consequence of people’s common-sense psychology is dualism, the belief that the mind is fundamentally different from the brain (5). This belief comes naturally to children. Preschool children will claim that the brain is responsible for some aspects of mental life, typically those involving deliberative mental work, such as solving math problems. But preschoolers will also claim that the brain is not involved in a host of other activities, such as pretending to be a kangaroo, loving one’s brother, or brushing one’s teeth (5, 17). Similarly, when told about a brain transplant from a boy to a pig, they believed that you would get a very smart pig, but one with pig beliefs and pig desires (18). For young children, then, much of mental life is not linked to the brain.

And,

For one thing, debates about the moral status of embryos, fetuses, stem cells, and nonhuman animals are sometimes framed in terms of whether or not these entities possess immaterial souls (20, 21). What’s more, certain proposals about the role of evidence from functional magnetic resonance imaging in criminal trials assume a strong form of dualism (22). It has been argued, for instance, that if one could show that a person’s brain is involved in an act, then the person himself or herself is not responsible, an excuse dubbed “my brain made me do it” (23).

The authors conclude that adult resistance to science is strongest in fields where scientific claims are contested by the society (that is, contested by non-science alternatives rather than by scientific uncertainty). They claim that this accounts for the difference in the United States (versus other countries with less vociferous advocacy of non-science) in the resistance to the central tenets of evolutionary biology and neuroscience.

I think this says something important about science education, namely that it should start earlier in life. And there’s no reason that neuroscience should be left as a “college-level” subject. I think modern neuroscience has progressed to the point where we can confidently teach some basics at a high-school or earlier stage. Judging from my own experiences, I think the desire to learn about neuroscience is certainly there in younger children.

Amazing human neural plasticity

Echolocating kid, who had both his retinas surgically removed at an early age:

This dramatic example of human neural plasticity is amazing! Someone should go study this kid and his parents and find out more about how he developed his echolocation strategy. Are there other examples of this occurring in the medical literature? I’ve heard that blind people have very good hearing (and other senses) but this seems like a little more than “good hearing.” Also, thanks to Ben Huh for pointing me to this!

Neurotechnology Ventures: New Course

Our brains have a lot of problems that need to be solved — now. And neurotechnology is a hot field. But what knowledge and skills do you study if you want to be a neurotechnologist? What problems are important, but also tractable within a reasonable timeframe? And, can you survive while climbing this possibly-very-high mountain?

A team of three academics at MIT and the University of Hong Kong is launching an international collaboration to create a set of novel courses to address this need. The first one, Neurotechnology Ventures, is being taught in Spring 2007 and focuses on neurotechnologies that are close to solving major human problems. The class explores the problems that neurotechnologists encounter when envisioning, planning, and building startups to bring neuroengineering innovations to the world.

Emphasizing the global nature of any modern neurotechnology, Neurotechnology Ventures will be videoconferenced between the U.S. and China, which is increasingly becoming a major neurotechnology player (including some very daring and scientifically interesting developments in fields such as human spinal cord regenerative medicine). Information will be posted online as the class evolves dynamically, to the web site HTTP://Neuroven.Media.MIT.edu. The goal is to open up this new field to the world, and see if we can solve the major problems of the brain in an open and efficient way.

Ed

Help Please: Future of Neural Engineering: From Job perspective

Dear Members,
I am a prospective graduate student interested in taking up Neural Engineering under EE or Biomedical Engg for research. But I have a lot of concerns and need help from a person who knows about the field well.
1. I have studied VLSI, DSP, Image Processing, Wireless Communication, Control Systems and Embedded Systems as graduate and undergraduate courses and have some research interest in Neural Networks and Machine Learning(That’s how I got interested in Neural Engg and Prosthetics). Which of these subjects will be of help in Neural Engg/Prosthetics research. Which will be of most relevance. Please list them in the order of relevance(high->low).
2. What are the applications of the research ?
3. What is the research and JOB scope for this field? Are there any companies who recruit people with this specialisation? How is the job scene in academia? How many univs are doing research in this field in US? Please let me know about the career progression in academia, like how much time does it take to get full time academic position after PhD?
4. Especially, what are the applications of this research in Robotics?
5. What are the current problems and research themes in universities?
6. What imaging technologies are used in this research?

Though my queries may seem a bit ameteuristic, it is very important for me to get clarity on these doubts.
Hope my queries will be answered.
Thanking all of you in advance,
sudhi

Neuroengineering and the MIT TR35 innovators

Today MIT’s Technology Review magazine released its annual list of innovators under the age of 35 who were nominated for recognition. Interestingly, almost a full quarter are doing work relating to or impacting the field of neuroengineering — including ways to tag synapses with quantum dots, activate neurons remotely, improve machine vision, classify whole-brain states for prosthetic purposes, and make nanowire arrays.

http://www.technologyreview.com/TR35/