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AAAS 2010: This is your brain on music

In one of the more astonishing demonstrations heard at Saturday’s music and language session, Northwestern University neuroscientist Nina Kraus started by playing the sound of someone saying the syllable ‘da’. Then she showed an electronic analysis of the sound as recorded by a sensitive microphone. It was a short burst of oscillating waves that sudden rose in amplitude, then quickly faded to nothing. Next, she show the electrical signals her lab had recorded in a subjects’ brain stem as he listened to the sound. It looked almost identical. Finally, she played the brain stem recording through the speakers: it clearly said ‘da’, only slightly distorted.  Read more

AAAS 2010: Blogs, twitter, videos … oh my!

It would have been more appropriate to have my laptop open and to blog or twitter while at the talk on Communicating Science in the New Information Age. But alas, even if I had remembered my laptop at 8:30 in the morning, it would have been useless at the San Diego Convention Center; oddly enough, most of the rooms lack WiFi. So I stuck it out with the ways of the “old information age”: pen and paper.  Read more

AAAS 2010: 13 months of science and Obama

You have to hand it to Eric Lander: he gives a good talk. At last night’s plenary session, he admitted he would have been more comfortable talking about the human genome. But as one of three co-chairs of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) he was instead tasked with reflecting on science and technology in the Obama administration just over one year in, and he kept the full house rapt.  Read more

AAAS 2010: Stem Cells, Quackery, Ratings

With stem cells the latest therapy to be abused by unscrupulous practitioners, a research society plans to help patients identify quackery. Come April, the International Society for Stem Cell Research is to launch a program to rate and approve stem cell therapy programs worldwide.  Read more

AAAS 2010: Dust, Puffins, Iceland

A new trail to dust from receding Arctic glaciers began among a colony of Puffins on a small island off Iceland. For more than a dozen years, Joseph Prospero, a University of Miami in Florida atmospheric chemist who studies dust, had an aerosol-monitoring station on Heimaey Island, about 15 kilometres south of Iceland. This was far from the Caribbean, where Prospero for decades has studied wind-bourne dust transport from Africa to the Island of Barbados.  Read more

AAAS 2010: Energy that’s really green

Before too much longer, according to the participants in one of the AAAS press conferences this morning, we could be topping off our fuel tanks with processed pond scum, also known as algae. An algae-based biofuels industry would make the trade-off with food go away: algae will happily grow in ponds built out in the desert, or in other sites not useful for farming. It will thrive in waste water from sewage treatment plants and the like. It will eat up carbon dioxide from power plants, assuming that you bubble the exhaust through the algae pond on the way out. And every one of the intensely green algae cells is bulging with rich, oily lipids that are virtually gas-tank ready. Oh, and the residual solids are useful as fertilizer, or even as food additives.  Read more

AAAS 2010: It’s all about people

Scientists aren’t just building bridges to the rest of society – they are, of course, part of society. And to me, science is fascinating because it is about people: people obsessive about what they do, who make mistakes and do normal people-things.  Read more