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The Monitor (Episode 16)--In the Dark about White Matter No More

A train that doesn't even stop in Willoughby; Extinction rock; and more...

Created, written & designed by John Pavlus / Screencasts produced by Andrew Cahill / Music by Jeff Alvarez

Check out previous episodes of The Monitor. Subscribe to this video podcast via iTunes or RSS

Background on this week's stories:
#1. Mapping the brain''s own O''Hare
Olaf Sporns, co-author of the study in question (press release here) is no stranger to the creation of high-resolution maps of activity in the brain, having previously generated interesting results on all the electrical chatter present in the "resting" brain.

This time around, Dr. Sporns et al. discovered that the brain has a "central clearinghouse" of electrical activity that, as The New York Times put it, "provides a striking demonstration of how new imaging techniques focused on the brain's white matter—the connections between cells, rather than the neurons themselves—are filling in a dimension of human brain function that has been all but dark." (Other coverage of the finding can be found at Technology Review and National Geographic.)

Could the discovery of the brain's "activity hub" bear on previous findings that the aging brain is less connected than the younger brain? Only more research will tell.

Credits: Airport hub image via NASA, crowded airport image from Scott, and ranking of "Major Airport On-Time Arrival Performance" via the U.S. Department of Transportation.

#2. Next stop: Never?
Like a meme heard round the world, we first spotted the train that never stops on Carectomy, which was only the latest in a long chain of blog pickups stretching from BoingBoing through DVICE and Deputy Dog, arriving at the only mainstream coverage of the phenomenon so far, at Taiwan Headlines.

Details are sketchy, because the inventor, despite having an honorary doctorate, is more of a dreamer than an engineer.

Credit: Image of train arriving in station via Littlebtc and  Wikimedia Commons.

#3. Beat this, Tunguska!
Everyone knows an asteroid had something to do with the extinction of the dinosaurs (and that the Tunguska explosion above Siberia was caused by aliens), but the finding that a lesser planet-pummeling space rock might have wiped out the wooly mammoth in North America came as a surprise to Ken Tankersley, the co-author of the paper that suggests this was the case.

According to Physorg.com, "Ironically, Tankersley had gone into the field with [proponent of the theory] Dr. Allen West believing he might be able to disprove West's theory." (Additional coverage at the Montreal Gazette, United Press International and LiveScience.)

Credit: Images of the researchers courtesy the University of Cincinnati, asteroid image from goldenrectangle, and diamond images via Wikimedia Commons.

#4. Puncture kit for your brain
Polyethylene glycol can be found in everything from skin creams to laxatives, but injecting it into the bloodstream after trauma to prevent injury to the brain, as reported in the Journal of Biological Engineering, is a new one. (Coverage at Nature and The Financial Times.)

The horrific crash pictured at the start of this segment was widely reported.

Credit: Punctured tire image from David Hunter, molecular structure of polyethylene glycol via Wikipedia, image of a punctured tire under a creative commons license from Windell H. Oskay (www.evilmadscientist.com), and bicycle helmet image from Kevin Bryant.

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