January 21, 2019
Thanks to some college students and the HBO series "Curb Your Enthusiasm," scientists were able to better understand just how the brain "time-stamps" memories. And "NO," I'm not making this up. Might make a good episode of the show.
Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.
Until Next Time,
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*-- 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' helps neurobiologists study brain's sense of time --*
With the help of a group of college students and the HBO series "Curb Your Enthusiasm," scientists have gained a better understanding of how the brain time-stamps memories.
Using high-powered functional MRI, scientists observed brain patterns as students watched the hit TV show staring comedian Larry David. After watching an episode, scientists recorded the students' brain signals as they viewed still frames from the episode.
When participants were able to accurately recall the timing of events featured in a specific still frame, scientists noticed a surge of neural activity in the lateral entorhinal cortex and the perirhinal cortex.
Researchers detailed their discovery this week in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
"The field of neuroscience has focused extensively on understanding how we encode and store information about space, but time has always been a mystery," Michael Yassa, a professor of neurobiology and behavior at the University of California, Irvine, said in a news release. "This study and the Moser team's study represent the first cross-species evidence for a potential role of the lateral entorhinal cortex in storing and retrieving information about when experiences happen."
Both the lateral entorhinal cortex and the perirhinal cortex surround the hippocampus and have previously been identified as important to the formation of memories related to objects but not spatial location.
"Space and time have always been intricately linked, and the common wisdom in our field was that the mechanisms involved in one probably supported the other as well," said lead researcher Maria Montchal, a grad student in Yassa's lab. "But our results suggest otherwise."
Last year, researchers in Yassa's lab published a study showing adults with lower-than-average memory performance exhibited signs of dysfunction in the lateral entorhinal cortex and the perirhinal cortex.
Scientists have struggled to set up lab tests that replicate the way humans and their brains process time in the real world. "Curb Your Enthusiasm" offered a breakthrough. Its characters, scenes, dialogue, humor and pacing reflect the narrative qualities of everyday life.
"We chose this show in particular because we thought it contained events that were relatable, engaging and interesting," Yassa said. "We also wanted one without a laugh track. Interestingly, while the show is hilarious for some of us, it did not seem to instigate a lot of laughter among the college undergraduates we tested -- which was excellent for us, as we needed to keep their heads inside the scanner."
*-- Physicists find new ways to manipulate light, paving way for quantum tech --*
Scientists at Britain's National Physical Laboratory in London have developed new techniques for manipulating light.
The research, detailed in the journal Physical Review Letters, could pave the way for new quantum technologies and telecommunication systems.
While experimenting with an optical ring resonator, a small device capable of storing large amounts of high-intensity light, physicists discovered unusual new optical properties.
The wavelengths of light stored in an an optical ring resonator oscillate around the ring. While studying the resonating light, scientists discovered two new types of spontaneous symmetry breaking.
Under normal optical conditions, when time is reversed, in theory, light travels backwards toward its origin. The theoretical phenomenon is called time reversal symmetry. This symmetry is broken when high intensity light is stored in an optical ring resonator.
"When seeding the ring resonator with short pulses, the circulating pulses within the resonator will either arrive before or after the seed pulse but never at the same time," project scientist Francois Copie said in a news release.
Copie and his colleagues think they could use the break in symmetry to manipulate late in new ways. Optical pulses could be combined and rearranged in ways advantageous to faster, more efficient telecommunication networks.
During their experiments, scientists also found light in ring resonators can also spontaneously change its polarization. In future tests, scientists hope to utilize the resonator-specific property to manipulate light traveling through optical sensors and quantum technologies.
"Optics have become an important part of our telecoms networks and computing systems," said senior research scientist Pascal Del'Haye. "Understanding how we can manipulate light in photonic circuits will help to unlock a whole host of new technologies, including better sensors and new quantum capabilities, which will become ever more important in our everyday lives."