Archive for: May, 2011

SCIENCE 101: Cranial Nerve II: The Optic Nerve, part 1, aka, the EYE

...or rather, the visual system. Cause you can't really talk about the optic nerve unless you talk about the rest of the eye along with it.

We humans rely pretty heavily on vision as a species. At least, being able to see is a lot more important to our daily lives than, say, being able to smell. But the visual system is, in many ways, surprisingly simple. In many OTHER ways, it's confusing as all get out. I will do my best. 🙂

So, I'm going to start with this: an image is going to come in. It will get flipped BACKWARD. It will hit the first cells LAST. It will then go along to the back of the brain, and on the way it will get flipped upside down. And then our brain processes it, and everything's all right. It's opposite day, my friends!!!

Got it? Good.

Let's go!

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Friday Weird Science GUEST POST: The distance between your testicles and your anus, 'taint unimportant

May 13 2011 Published by under Friday Weird Science, Uncategorized

Today's post comes to us from the fabulous Allie Wilkinson, science journalist and blogger at "Oh, for the love of science!" When she told me she had a new paper on anogenital distance...well I had to see it. And when she said she had a VIDEO to go WITH...well it's below the fold. Everyone give a shout out to Allie!

PS: The authors took the opportunity in the manuscript to thank their hardworking, and probably long suffering, medical illustrator. Yes, Matthew Timberlake, our hats are off. How we do thank YOU. You are, in your own way, a Real Man of Genius (TM)

Men, let's talk about that space between your testicles and your anus (taint anus, taint balls - Sci). The length of your member doesn't really have a whole lot to do with your reproductive fitness, but the length of your taint does. It's time to put away the rulers and whip out the digital calipers!

A new study came out in PLoS ONE earlier this week, claiming to be the first assessment of anogenital distance in adult men, as well as the first examination of the relationship between anogenital distance and a man's fertility. I hate to break it to the researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and Stanford University School of Medicine, but you are not the first. A VERY similar study came out two months ago in Environmental Health Perspectives, which Sci so awesomely blogged. As Sci mentioned, anogenital distance is used to sex animals-- shorter for females, longer for males. Anogenital distance has also been studied in human infants, mirroring what we know to be true in the animal world (which makes sense, because we are animals)...but no one had studied this in adults up until recently, which leads us back to the sudden interest in measuring men's taints.

Eisenberg ML, Hsieh MH, Walters RC, Krasnow R, Lipshultz LI, 2011 The Relationship between Anogenital Distance, Fatherhood, and Fertility in Adult Men. PLoS ONE 6(5): e18973.

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SCIENCE 101: Cranial Nerve I: The Olfactory Nerve

May 11 2011 Published by under Basic Science Posts, Uncategorized

Today's is the first in a series of posts on the CRANIAL NERVES, the nerves that innervate a good chunk of your body, and which emerge DIRECTLY from your brain. We're going in order from the "front" of the brain, "brackward". So today's post is about the cranial nerve that's the closest to your face, the olfactory.


Take a nice, BIG sniff. What do you smell? Sci smells coffee, some nice spring air outside, car exhaust (ah, city living), my know, the basics. Whatever it is YOU smelled...well I hope it wasn't gross.

The reason you can smell what you're smelling is entirely due to the glory of your olfactory nerve. So today's post is, in a way, a salute to your nose. 'Cause it KNOWS.

(Used under Creative Commons, some rights reserved. Source)

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14 responses so far

Please Welcome Scientist Mother to the Guest Blogge!

May 10 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

YES, FOLKS! We have a new guest blogger over at the Scientopia Guest Blog! Please go and welcome Scientist Mother, a fantastic blogger on life and science and raising her own experiments. 🙂

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SCIENCE 101: Introduction to the Cranial Nerves

I've been waiting for a while to take on another multi-part project (ok, I needed to recover from EB first), and now I think it is TIME. Time for a series SO LARGE that it's going to take me probably more than three weeks, or even four to finish (with breaks for Friday Weird Science, hey, I know what you're really here for). This is going to be INTENSE.

Today I would like to introduce you to the CRANIAL NERVES. When many people think of nerves, they tend to think of white, ropey kind of things which go down your hand. You know, like this:


The nerves that we tend to think of are bundles of neurons which extend from the central nervous system to provide impulses to, and receives sensory information from, various areas of our body. Most people think that these nerves extend exclusively from the spinal cord, and that all the impulses that you need travel up and down via the spinal cord. And these nerves certainly exist and you couldn't do a whole lot without them. But what a lot of people don't know is that a large portion of your body is innervated DIRECT from your brain, with nerves that we call the cranial nerves (because they emerge from, you know, the cranium). There are twelve of these cranial nerves, and over the next several weeks, you all will be getting a crash course in neuroanatomy as I go through them in detail, where they come from, where they go, what they are generally responsible for, and what happens when they are not working properly.


You can see the twelve cranial nerves listed in the photo above. Numbered 1-12, grad students in neuroscience and medical students in anatomy have to remember them all, as well as their characteristics (luckily for you, there will be no quiz at the end of this lesson!). To help in these we've contrived various mnemonics over the years. My favorites (the ones that aren't horribly dirty) are below.

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Friday Weird Science: I hope you like your sperm, and your cell phones, "neat"

May 06 2011 Published by under Friday Weird Science, Uncategorized

Ok, really today's post isn't about that. But it's definitely the one major thing I took away from this paper. This post is actually about the effects of cell phones on semen. But refer to your semen as "neat" once, and well, it sticks with you.

(These scientists like their semen the way they like their whiskey. Neat. Source, via Creative Commons License).

Agarwal et al. "Effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic waves (RF-EMW) on human ejaculated semen: an in vitro pilot study" Fertility and Sterility, 2009.

You all may be aware that I've posted on cell phones before. People are very nervous about their electronics (even as we love them, oh yes, yes we do), and the potential effects that constantly carrying them on our persons could have. Could our cell phones cause brain cancer? (answer, we don't know, no one has shown anything before or against yet). Could they cause ear cancer? How about jaw cancer? Throat cancer? Hand cancer?

And then, of course, the REALLY important question: what will the cell phone do to your junk?

(There's some junk below the fold. You were warned)
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16 responses so far


May 04 2011 Published by under Basic Science Posts, Uncategorized

Sci has been intending to do one of these posts for a while. I seem to spend ages talking about neurons, synapses, action potentials, connections, neurotransmitters, and different brain areas. But for all that, a lot of people don't really know what a neuron looks like and where the connections are taking place. So it's time to get back to basics. And that means a neuron (of course, things can get WAY more basic and in turn get more complicated, but we're sticking with the neurons for now).

And to help me out with this, I'm gonna take my first hack at Vuvox, a program allowing me to make an interactive collage. I saw Ed try it out to great effect for a post on ants as rafts (yes, AS rafts, it's awesome, go look), and I knew I HAD to try this one myself.

Here's what I've got:

The full text of the entry, with pictures in order and minus the popouts, is below. But it's much cooler up there, huh?

Welcome to...THE NEURON

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Easily distracted? Chances are you're not one of those young kids.

May 02 2011 Published by under Behavioral Neuro, Uncategorized

When we think of demographics that are easily distracted, we tend to think of younger generations, people on their phones over dinner or texting while driving, or only listening to you with one ear while they listen to their ipod with the other. But when we're talking about cognitive tasks like working memory, the ability to work without distractions is actually highest when you're younger, and decreases with age. Working memory is the ability to store bits of information and manipulate them over a short period of time. How long the working memory lasts for depends on what you're trying to remember (say, a string of words that makes sense over a string of numbers that doesn't), the amount of information you're trying to process, and...on how distracted you are.

So today's post for you is something that...oooh, look, something shiny!!!


...where was I?


Clapp et al. "Deficit in switching between functional brain networks underlies the impact of multitasking on working memory in older adults" PNAS, 2011.

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