We often casually say that we are “hardwired” to feel certain ways or to have specific responses to events. But what do we really know about that neural wiring? How does it wend through the gelatinlike brain that contains all our hopes and dreams, all that makes us who we are?
First of all, the telecom analogy isn't that far off. Our nervous system uses the fibers known as axons to ferry information, in the form of electrical signals, among nerve cells. How, however, can scientists observe what bioengineer and psychiatrist Karl Deisseroth calls this “neural tapestry” when the tissue around it is decidedly opaque?
“A Look inside the Brain,” by Deisseroth, examines an exciting new technology that provides “A Look inside the Brain.” Scientists use polymers called hydrogels to create a see-through organ that retains its neural structures. This area of research has already begun to yield insights that will help us understand disorders such as parkinsonism, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis and autism, among others. In addition to detailing the findings, the article also does something else that is uniquely characteristic of Scientific American: it narrates a personal scientific journey of discovery, told by the investigator himself, with rich informational explanatory graphics, for which our art team is widely admired.
I do admit to a bit of a lifelong obsession about sharing the stories of science, especially given its role as a key driver of human progress. It's part of why I wanted us to create the annual “State of the World's Science,” which we began a few years ago—a vision that executive editor Fred Guterl has made into a reality. In this year's report, we look at the challenges of communication for science: when that knowledge sharing is limited by others and when limiting occurs within the research communities themselves.
Is there anyone in our audience who doesn't enjoy a scientific mystery? What, for instance, lies “Under the Sea of Enceladus”? This article, by Frank Postberg, Gabriel Tobie and Thorsten Dambeck, describes the increasing evidence for hydrothermal vents in the depths of one of Saturn's moons. On Earth, such bubbling vents are alive with fantastic-looking creatures, producing clusters of activity on an ocean bottom that can be otherwise forbidding. Could these vents be a place to look for life beyond our world? Another bit of intrigue for our marvelously wired brain networks to explore.