Memory

From Mind Control to Curing Brain Diseases, a Neuroscience Revolution Is Coming

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If the idea of physicalism is correct — that all of our mental states can be described in purely physical terms — then neuroscience is not only the study of our brains, but the study of our entire existence. Neuroengineering, defined as the application of engineering principles to neurological problems, then becomes how we engineer our relationship with existence itself.

Fifty years ago, nobody but computer programmers knew the personal computer was being developed, and the primary market for the device was thought to be scientists. Today, computers are a ubiquitous.

Digital technology has revolutionized nearly every facet of our lives. Today, neuroengineering is in a similar infancy. While most people would understand the basic idea of using engineering techniques to alter, improve, repair, and study neural systems, most people would lack for ideas on the application.

This article is part of a series sponsored by The Hertz Foundation. Discover more of what remarkable students can do in the sciences: — From Space Elevators to Drone Delivery, Looking for Failure Inspires Innovation

Dr. Ed Boyden is somebody who does not lack for those ideas.

Brain Science: Optogenetics and Expansion Microscopy Edward Boyden

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Brain Science: Optogenetics and Expansion Microscopy

Ed-boyden-hs

Edward Boyden

MIT Professor, Media Lab Synthetic Neurobiology Group Leader

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As professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the MIT Media Lab, Boyden has launched an award-winning series of classes at MIT which teach principles of neural engineering, starting with the basic principles of how to control and observe neural functions. While studying neuroscience at Stanford University as a Hertz Foundation Fellow, Boyden discovered that human memories are stored by a specific molecular mechanism, and that the content of a memory determines the mechanism used by the brain.

His work focuses on dramatically improving how the brain is imaged, opening a world of opportunities for people who wish to study the neural pathways that make our brains work. Dr. Boyden’s high resolution 3-D maps of the brain, unlike prior 2-D maps, allow researchers to pinpoint exactly what part of the brain they wish to…

Brain training turns recall rookies into memory masters

brain links
Compared with novices, trained memory experts have some connections between brain areas that are stronger (red) and others that are weaker (blue). The bigger spheres highlight brain areas that have more connections specific to people with supercharged memory.

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Just six weeks of training can turn average people into memory masters.

Boosting these prodigious mnemonic skills came with overhauls in brain activity, resulting in brains that behaved more like those of experts who win World Memory Championships competitions, scientists report March 8 in Neuron.

The findings are notable because they show just how remarkably adaptable the human brain is, says neuroscientist Craig Stark of the University of California, Irvine. “The brain is plastic,” he says. “Through use, it changes.”

It’s not yet clear how long the changes in the newly trained brains last, but the memory gains persisted for four months.

In an initial matchup, a group of 17 memory experts, people who place high in World Memory Championships, throttled a group of people with average memories. Twenty minutes after seeing a list of 72 words, the experts remembered an average of 70.8 words; the nonexperts caught, on average, only 39.9 words.

In subsequent matchups, some nonexperts got varying levels of help. Fifty-one novices were split into three groups. A third of these people spent six weeks learning the method of loci, a memorization strategy used by ancient Greek and Roman orators. To use the technique, a person must imagine an elaborate mental scene, such as a palace or a familiar walking path, and populate it with memorable items….