This is Your Brain On Awesome Thoughts on the world from a student of the mind

9Feb/11

What does it take to see the entire Sun?

Well, after thousands of years of speculating, dreaming, and fearing that giant yellow blob in the sky, we are finally able to visualize the sun in its entirety.

Certainly, our knowledge of the sun has grown exponentially over the past century or so, moving from a celestial object of the gods to the giant burning atom smasher that we know and love today.  However, this marks a new step towards being able to use the activity of the sun to make all kinds of predictions about our galaxy.

Of importance for this video is the ability to predict aberrant electromagnetic activity that occurs as a result of the sun's shifting surface.  Generally called "solar flares", these  giant leaping arcs of energy and power have been known to disrupt GPS signals, communication, and other kinds of electronics that rely on wireless fields.

These flares do not completely come out of the blue, we can often anticipate one by looking at activity on the sun's surface.  However, until now, we'd only been able to look at a fraction of the total surface of the sun, meaning that activity on the "dark side of the sun" (kind of a misnomer, I know) was unknown.

Now, by having two circling satellites at opposite ends of our friendly fireball, we can see what's going on all the time, allowing us to more accurately predict solar activity.  Check out the video for more details and pretty pictures!

via NASA

ps, for those who might have noticed a less-frequent number of posts lately, I've been running all over the place getting interviews finished...I promise to take up more slack once things settle down!

5Jan/11

An inside look into some sweet 3-D magic

Check out the above video for a really interesting look into the incredibly complex and beautiful visual effects in Tron 2.0.  An insane amount of the movie is created using computer graphics, including most of the environments, the coolest parts  of the battle scenes, and even some of the main characters.

It takes a ridiculous amount of effort and detail to come up with each scene, and this gives a pretty interesting idea as to some of the steps that are involved in bringing together a movie this visually rich and unique.  Almost equally as impressive is that some of the stunts are actually done by human beings as well, they're only enhanced for extra eye-candy dazzle.  (for a quick e-digression, here's the wikipedia article on "tricking" aka throwing yourself in the midair and twisting about as though caught in an invisible washing machine).

Anyways, I hope you enjoy this beautiful look into the underbelly of Tron.  It may be a completely fantastical view of what the inside of a computer looks like (it's also beautiful, just in a slightly less violent way), but I certainly can't complain about colorful explosions and magical flying motorbikes...

(For those of you who haven't seen the movie, you may want to hold off unless you're willing to see a spoiler or two)

17Dec/10

The world’s coolest magnifying glass

So I'm tempted to describe this video using a bunch of physics jargon, complete with discussions about how much energy is contained within sunlight and how useful it could be if we were to make more efficient use of that energy, but I think this video can be summed up in much simpler terms.

Really, this video is about setting things on fire with little more than a fancy magnifying glass.  Do you really need more description to want to watch?  How about this: there is currently not a single material we know of that can withstand this kind of heat!  Talk about an untapped power of the universe...

For those who are curious, it comes from the Solar Furnace Research Facility in Southern France.  Unfortunately, the awesomeness of this video makes it almost impossible to find information on them, but I'll keep you updated if any other mind-boggling feats of the sun get unearthed!

via Bang Goes the Theory

23Nov/10

Simplicity and Complexity are two sides of the same coin

I recently came across this fascinating TED talk by Eric Berlow, a scientist that specializes in complex systems ranging from ecological networks to the political spectrum.

As someone who's job is to understand the interconnected nature of complex systems, he's got an insight into our world that we'd all benefit from learning...luckily that insight has been packaged into a 3 minute presentation!

It's often easy to get mired in the multidudes of information that are presented to us each day, but it's important to remember that underneath that jumbled mess of data is often a beautifully simplistic trend that can explain most of the effects that we're trying to understand.  

Take a look at this short presentation, and think about how you might be able to pull the simple out of the complex in your own life.

via TED.com

11Nov/10

Myosin, live and uncut!

The above video may not look all that clear or understandable (I feel like I'm watching a tiny bug walking along a vine or something), but in reality this is an incredibly interesting (and much tinier) video than one might assume.  What you see above you is a picture of a Myosin molecule walking along an actin chain.  It has been filmed by a group of Japanese scientists from Kanazawa University (in collaboration with a few others) using a technique called high-speed atomic force microscopy.

For those of you unfamiliar with molecular biology, myosin is a molecule that is pervasive in all multi-cellular organisms.  It serves a wide range of functions, although my personal experience with it has been (as usual) in the nervous system.

(to make the following section a bit easier on those unfamiliar with brain anatomy, here's a short and informative video)

Within the brain, myosin is often used to transport materials from the cell body of neurons down the axon to their terminal.  Basically, many neurons "package" neurotransmitters at their soma (the bulky center of a cell), but they need to get these materials to the end of their axons where they can be released into neuronal synapses.  They accomplish this by attaching the materials to myosin, which then methodically crawls up actin fibers that extend throughout the axon.  In this step-by-step fashion, cells are able to transport proteins, neurotransmitters, and other materials internally so that they can function properly.

It's a bit hard to believe that anything so tiny could act so similarly to the way we all move about the world, but the proof is in the protein, as they say!

via Nature