Team work is just as important in your brain as it is on the playing field: A new study published online on April 19 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that groups of brain cells can substantially improve their ability to discriminate between different orientations of simple visual patterns by synchronizing their electrical activity.
The paper, "Cooperative synchronized assemblies enhance orientation discrimination," by Vanderbilt professor of biomedical engineering A. B. Bonds with graduate students Jason Samonds and Heather A. Brown and research associate John D. Allison provides some of the first solid evidence that the exact timing of the tiny electrical spikes produced by neurons plays an important role in brain functioning. Since the discovery of alpha waves in 1929, experts have known that neurons in different parts of the brain periodically coordinate their activity with their neighbors. Despite a variety of theories, however, scientists have not been able to determine whether this "neuronal synchrony" has a functional role or if it is just a by-product of the brains electrical activity.
Until recently studies have focused on the firing rate of brain cells as the basic unit of information – the bits and bytes – used by our organic computer. The reason for this fixation was evidence that the firing rates of sensory neurons contain important information. For example, the higher the firing rate of the pain-sensing neurons in the back of your hand, the greater your brains perception of pain in that location.
David F. Salisbury | EurekAlert!
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If you've ever tried to put several really strong, small cube magnets right next to each other on a magnetic board, you'll know that you just can't do it. What happens is that the magnets always arrange themselves in a column sticking out vertically from the magnetic board. Moreover, it's almost impossible to join several rows of these magnets together to form a flat surface. That's because magnets are dipolar. Equal poles repel each other, with the north pole of one magnet always attaching itself to the south pole of another and vice versa. This explains why they form a column with all the magnets aligned the same way.
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In two experiments performed at the free-electron laser FLASH in Hamburg a cooperation led by physicists from the Heidelberg Max Planck Institute for Nuclear physics (MPIK) demonstrated strongly-driven nonlinear interaction of ultrashort extreme-ultraviolet (XUV) laser pulses with atoms and ions. The powerful excitation of an electron pair in helium was found to compete with the ultrafast decay, which temporarily may even lead to population inversion. Resonant transitions in doubly charged neon ions were shifted in energy, and observed by XUV-XUV pump-probe transient absorption spectroscopy.
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An international research group has observed new quantum properties on an artificial giant atom and has now published its results in the high-ranking journal Nature Physics. The quantum system under investigation apparently has a memory - a new finding that could be used to build a quantum computer.
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