What makes a memory? Prof Tomás Ryan, TCD will explain in public talk

Prof Tomas Ryan, TCD, will explain what a memory is, in a public talk on Wednesday 25th October (Source: TCD)

How are our memories, thoughts, and experiences stored in the brain?

The scientific search for what precisely makes a memory and the physical basis of self is older than science, psychology, or modern medicine.

The search even predates the theory of evolution and over the centuries has been led by priests and physicians, philosophers and physicists.

Only in recent time has a basic understanding of memory emerged from modern scientific investigations. Though such investigations are still in their infancy, some surprising findings have emerged.

In this public lecture, Assistant Professor in Trinity College Dublin’s School of Biochemistry and Immunology, Tomás Ryan, will discuss recent technology that he and his colleagues have developed that allows us to label and switch on (or off) specific memories.

Professor Ryan will also describe how such technology has allowed us to gain unprecedented insights into the true nature of memory loss, amnesia, and depression, before elaborating on the implications of such studies for our understanding of aging, dementia, mental health, and the nature of our own individuality.

The talk takes place in the Stanley Quek Theatre, Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute, Pearse Street.

Date: Wednesday, October 25th, 6:30 pm. Admission is FREE and all are welcome.

Dogs more loving pets than cats; The mysterious Tabby Star; Early risers have genetic differences; Why do Zebra’s have stripes

Click above to hear discussion on The Morning Show with Declan Meehan

(broadcast on 4/02/2016 on East Coast FM)

Dyson-Sphere
Could an artificial structure, built by aliens, called a Dyson Sphere (conceptualised here) be responsible for the huge dimming of a mysterious star, called the Tabby Star, about 1,500 light years away from Earth? (Credit: Market Business News)

Dogs love their owners more than cats, according to a new study, which found far higher levels of the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin in dogs when they were interacting with their owners – versus cats.

Scientists are struggling to understand why a mysterious Star – nicknamed the Tabby Star -has been steadily dimming for the past century, and flickering at irregular intervals.

The oft heard statement “I’m not a morning person” may be supported by science, as geneticists have found  genetic differences between people that refer to themselves as ‘early risers’ and ‘night owls’.

Zebras we all know, have stripes. The question is why, and it’s one that has baffled scientists at least as far back as Charles Darwin, who pondered what evolutionary advantage stripes gave to Zebras.

 

100 Years of Einstein’s Gravity – But Where are the Waves?

Click above to listen to discussion of Einstein, and his Theory of General Relativity on The History Show, RTE Radio 1

Broadcast on 29.11.15

Gravitational Waves, as predicted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity have not been discovered. The question is why not? (Credit: http://www.space.com)

Albert Einstein first presented his General Theory of Relativity to the Prussian Academy of Science almost exactly 100 years ago on the 25th November 1915. Science has since confirmed most of its predictions.

However, the one major aspect of the General Theory which has yet to be confirmed is the presence of something called gravitational waves, which are ripples in the space-time fabric caused by movement of energy across the Universe.

According to Einstein, space and time were each components of four dimensional reality, and that gravity was a force which pulled objects with mass along curves in space-time. Perhaps think of energy being like a mountaineer walking along the height contours of a geographical map.

Gravitational waves emerge from large objects with mass, according to Einstein, such as two stars closely orbiting each other. The waves then travel out into the Universe, as ripples in the fabric of space time, like a pebble dropped into a still lake.

Physicists get excited about gravitational waves because they can offer a final proof of Einstein’s General Theory, but also because they will carry information from the birth of the Universe, because gravitational waves were created when mass emerged somehow in those first moments.

Questions

In any case, gravitational waves have not yet been discovered yet, and the question is why?

This is one of the questions that will be addressed in a fascinating looking public lecture by Professor Mike Cruise taking place in St Patrick’s College Drumcondra on Wednesday evening 25th November this week.

This is 2015 Statutory Lecture of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) School of Cosmic Physics, to mark the 100th anniversary of General Relativity.

The public are all invited, but people are asked to register in advance of the talk at http://www.dias.ie/spscp2015

Predictions 

General Relativity shook up the science world in 1915, and over the past century it has stood up to testing and scrutiny remarkably well.

One prediction was that the speed of light, denoted as c in the famous equation e=mc2 was constant. That has proved correct, and it seems that the speed of light, as Einstein predicted, is the Universe’s ultimate speed limit.

Then there was the revolutionary idea that time was not constant, but relative. The passage of time depended on speed, and that as speed increased towards the speed of light, time would slow down.

This ‘time dilation’ effect has also proved correct. A simple proof lies in the fact that an atomic clock onboard a satellite will run slower than the same atomic clock on Earth. The people that design GPS systems – which are based on information from satellites received on Earth – know this and they must correct for it to ensure GPS works on the ground.

Another major prediction of General Relativity was that light waves would be distorted and bend around an object with a lot of mass, such as a Star. This was proved famously in 1919 and there’s an Irish connection to the story.

Irish connection 

When Einstein announced General Relativity to the world, scientists were blown away by it, but the rest of the world was preoccupied with WW1.

It wasn’t until 1919, when the remarkable new theory was put to its first serious test by the British astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington.

Eddington, unlike other British and English-speaking scientists, kept track of the work of top German scientists like Einstein.

He was a Quaker and a pacifist, and, not antagonistic towards Germans or Germany. He was also one of Britain’s leading astronomers.

Eddington decided that the best way to test General Relativity was to travel to see a solar eclipse, and see – with our Sun blocked out – whether the light from other Stars did, in fact, bend as they went around the Sun.

He got funding from the Royal Irish Academy, still very much in existence, to travel to a remote part of Brazil to view the eclipse in 1919.

The other Irish connection to this story was that the instrument he used to observe the eclipse, a coelostat, was made by the famous Irish scientific instrument makers – Grubb Brothers, of Rathmines.

The original coelostat used by Eddington, which has been restored by the Paris Observatory is currently on public display at DIAS.

Eddington observed that light – exactly as Einstein predicted – bent around the Sun. This result made news headlines around the world, and 4 years after he announced General Relativity, Einstein became famous.

Where? 

Whomever confirms the presence of Einstein’s waves, will, no doubt, be also the subject of global headlines.

There are many space missions ongoing, and planned, which hope to find the elusive waves – even one wave – and these will be mentioned by Prof Cruise in his lecture.

“Even one such detection with high precision would rule out many competing theories of gravity,” said Prof Cruise in an email.

The great quest of modern physics is to find a way to unite Einstein’s General Relativity, which relates to large macro objects, with Erwin Schrodinger’s Quantum Mechanics, which describes the weird behaviour of tiny particles.

(Another Irish connection here –  Schrodinger became an Irish citizen after he arrived here fleeing Nazi Germany, and became the first Director of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies)

This quest will be helped by finding gravitational waves because it would rule out many competing theories of gravity which have been devised, in an ad hoc way, to try and marry Relativity with Quantum Mechanics.

“In addition to proving Einstein right at a certain level of accuracy,” Prof Cruise continued, “the detection of gravitational waves, will allow us a very different view of the Universe than is currently available from optical, radio or X-ray telescopes.”

To find out more about this fascinating topic, why not go along to the DIAS lecture on Wednesday?

 

 

 

Black Holes a door to another Universe; Cancer cells re-programmed back to normal; Violent video games ARE a factor in criminal aggression; BMI not the best measure of health

Listen to the discussion The Morning Show with Declan Meehan on East Coast FM (broadcast on 26th August 2015)

Black Hole
An artist’s impression of a Black Hole, sucking up matter in its vicinity The question is, is the matter destroyed, or if it is not, then where does it go? (Credit: NASA)

Black Holes could be a cosmic door to another Universe, Stephen Hawking told a scientific conference in Toronto this week.

A Black Hole, just in case you didn’t know, is a deformation of the fabric of spacetime caused by a star collapsing under the weight of its own gravity.

Scientists have assumed that everything that went into a Black Hole was destroyed, but Hawking postulates that matter can survive and pass into an parallel Universe.

Meanwhile, Cancer cells have been re-programmed back to normal cells, according to researchers at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in the US.

The scientists have found instructor molecules, called microRNAs, which tell cells when to stop dividing, are absent, or not working properly in human cancer cells.

The plan now is to find ways to inject microRNAs directly into tumours to halt, or even reverse cancer, the researchers say.

Whether Violent Video Games trigger criminal aggression has been up for debate for decades, and many scientific studies have tried to find an answer.

This week, the American Psychological Association, said they had reviewed 300 separate studies on this topic between 2005 and 2013.

Their conclusion was that violent video games ARE one of the factors that can lead to criminal aggression, particularly in those with depression and antisocial tendencies.

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a standard way for health professionals to try to measure whether someone is at risk of health problems due to their weight.

However, BMI’s true effectiveness as a way to measure individual health has been questioned by many, who say more accurate strategies are required.

This is an issue of great importance to many Irish people, as, half of all Irish adults, as measured by BMI are either overweight or obese.

What happens to consciousness when we die? Are parallel universes acting on our own? Why do a lot more short men suffer dementia?

Near Death Experiences
People whose heart has stopped beating and are, clinically ‘dead, have come back and accurately reported what was going on around them during the time they were ‘dead’ [Credit: Daily Mail]
Science says that consciousness is the result of our physical brain, its structure, and its chemistry.

If that’s the case, then how does science explain how some people accurately report events when their brain was clinically dead?

Meanwhile, the Universe has a lot of other weirdness that cannot be explained, such as the odd behaviour of sub-atomic particles.

Does the explanation lie in the existence of parallel universes and how they are interacting with our own?

We do know, however, that a staggering 50 per cent more short men suffer dementia than tall men. The reasons are largely environmental.

Click below hear a discussion of these topics on The Morning Show with Declan Meehan –  broadcast on East Coast FM on 6th November 2014

Science unmasks ‘Jack the Ripper’; brain-to-brain communication; Carbon: What’s it for?

Discussion of some of the week’s’ top science news stories on East Coast FM’s The Morning Show with Declan Meehan (broadcast on 11 September 2014)