Skip to main content

Stories by Ben Thomas

Using Light to Monitor and Activate Specific Brain Cells

The past several years have brought two parallel revolutions in neuroscience. Researchers have begun using genetically encoded sensors to monitor the behavior of individual neurons, and they've been using brief pulses of light to trigger certain types of neurons to activate.

January 22, 2015 — Ben Thomas

How Our Brains Process Books

We all know how it feels to get lost in a great book. Sometimes the characters and emotions can seem every bit as real as those of our everyday lives.

November 26, 2014 — Ben Thomas
The Search for a Nobel Prize-Winning Synapse Machine

The Search for a Nobel Prize-Winning Synapse Machine

2013s Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine honors three researchers in particular – but what it really honors is thirty-plus years of work not only from them, but also from their labs, their graduate students and their collaborators.

December 10, 2013 — Ben Thomas
The Neuroscience Revolution Will Be Crowdsourced

The Neuroscience Revolution Will Be Crowdsourced

As Albert Einstein famously said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” The history of science is littered with so-called “intractable”  problems that researchers later cracked wide open using techniques their ancestors could hardly imagine.

September 11, 2013 — Ben Thomas

This Brain Discovery May Overturn a Century-Old Theory

Stacked layers have fascinated us humans for as long as we’ve sought to organize the universe around us. Authors and artists have developed primitive conceptions of heaven, earth and hell into elaborate hierarchies of celestial and infernal spheres.

August 8, 2013 — Ben Thomas

A Secret Society of Cells Runs Your Brain

Your neurons are outnumbered. Many of the cells in your brain - in your whole nervous system, in fact - are not neurons, but glia. These busy little cells shape and insulate neural connections, provide vital nutrients for your neurons, regulate many of the automatic processes that keep you alive, and even enable your brain to learn and form memories.

June 24, 2013 — Ben Thomas

What's Individuality, and Where Does It Come From?

"Let's say you have an axe. Just a cheap one, from Home Depot," opens the horror-comedy novel John Dies at the End. "On one bitter winter day, you use said axe to behead a man." This blow splinters the axe's handle - so the story goes - so you get the hardware store stick a new handle on the blade.

May 22, 2013 — Ben Thomas

Tomorrow's Anti-Anxiety Drug Is... Tylenol?

[caption id="attachment_165" align="alignleft" width="336" caption="Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in the brand-name drug Tylenol, likely helps buffer feelings of social pain in addition to relieving muscle and joint aches."] [/caption] Horror isn't the only film genre that specializes in dread.

May 8, 2013 — Ben Thomas

Oliver Sacks Shares Tales of Musical Hallucinations

When the piece first premiered, critics When the piece first premiered, critics called it "repellent," "incomprehensible;" a "confusion." The audience didn't even call for an encore - a slight that threw the piece's composer into a rage.

April 22, 2013 — Ben Thomas

What's So Special about Mirror Neurons?

In the early 1990s, a team of neuroscientists at the University of Parma made a surprising discovery: Certain groups of neurons in the brains of macaque monkeys fired not only when a monkey performed an action – grabbing an apple out of a box, for instance – but also when the monkey watched someone else performing that action; and even when the monkey heard someone performing the action in another room.In short, even though these “mirror neurons” were part of the brain's motor system, they seemed to be correlated not with specific movements, but with specific goals.Over the next few decades, this “action understanding” theory of mirror neurons blossomed into a wide range of promising speculations.

November 6, 2012 — Ben Thomas

Revenge of the Lizard Brain

There’s a scene in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas in which the writer, high out of his mind on hallucinogens, watches a roomful of casino patrons transform into giant lizards and lunge at each other in bloody combat.

September 7, 2012 — Ben Thomas

No Wrapping Required

No Wrapping Required

Give the Gift of Science