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Tag: humans

Curiosity Challenge: Hieroglyphs!

By Paola Salazar Long before we had most of our modern written and spoken languages, humanity’s earliest civilizations began writing in more simple terms—usually, this consisted of shapes and drawings as well as dashes or circles to represent numbers. There are several ancient forms of this, but one of the most renowned is the Egyptian hieroglyph, or mdju netjer, meaning “words of the gods.” Interestingly enough, while writing is pretty widespread across different cultures and social classes nowadays, hieroglyphs started off 3,300 years ago as a way to keep record of their nobility’s belongings, property, and domains, as well as religious and other important information. Eventually, the language got much more complicated, resulting in more than 700 individual signs! Hieroglyphswere mostly used to along the walls of temples and monuments, with one of two other forms of writing being used elsewhere or later in time—Hieratic (sort of like cursive, and… Read More

Curiosity Challenge: How Did Intelligence Evolve Over Time?

By Paola Salazar How intelligence evolved over time is not a simple question to answer, even with dozens of researchers spending lifetimes looking into it. Generally, intelligence across species is considered to be a result of how an animal responds and manipulates its environment. Our level of intelligence tends to be attributed to several different theories and has been a process of development for around 10 million years. There’s much debate around the different ideas about how we evolved into intelligent beings, but we’ll do our best to highlight the general idea behind a few of the standing theories! One theory is that the evolution of our intelligence is a result of our use of communication. The idea is that since we started walking upright and had our opposable (moveable) thumbs, we gradually began having more activities and capabilities that we wanted to pass on to younger generations, like how… Read More

Artists, Scientists, and Both: Creative Thinking on BOTH Sides of the Brain

By E. Rosser “The greatest scientists are artists as well.”  –Albert Einstein, 1923 Science is often thought of as a purely left-brain venture…but who says the creative thinking that leads to great discoveries can’t also produce some great art?  The Cambridge Science Festival aims to show off the “A” part of “STEAM” by urging Festival-goers let their inner DaVinci out at our various art events–from crafting kinetic sculptures to learning about baby birds through drawing.  It turns out that innovation and passion are important ingredients for art as well as science, technology, math, and engineering.   Some of the greatest minds that science has seen have also been known to stretch their artistic muscles.  Here are some famous scientists who have put down the lab notebook and picked up the sketchpad over the years–and artists who have taken up science! Drawing and Illustrating: Leonardo Da Vinci – Inventor and Illustrator… Read More

Homo naledi: A new Homo Species Shrouded in Mysteries

By Paola Salazar     Picture this: a woman covered head to toe in dirt and debris, her hair in a ponytail under a helmet, loose long clothing enveloping her lanky body, her hand reaching up to her cheek to wipe away sweat. She’s wearing a helmet with a big bright flashlight attached to the front, and as she approaches a crack in the ground ahead of her, she switches the flashlight on. The fissure is about 7.5 inches wide, and is the entryway to a cave system that’s about 30 meters deep. Robert Clark/National Geographic: Lee Berger’s daughter, part of the excavation team (left). Paola Salazar/Facebook/American Association of Physical Anthropologists: The FB announcement from Lee Berger (right). This is one of the “underground astronauts” who flew to South Africa’s Cradle of Humankind when in 2013, paleoanthropologist Lee Berger announced the need for researchers who could fit into the cave entrance of… Read More

More on the Brain: How Do Our Brains Control Our Bodies?

By Paola Salazar   [“El Jaleo” by John Singer Sargent, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, MA.] 12-year-old Amanda Kelly asks how it is that one organ (the brain) can control an entire body’s functions and motions. Again, the MIT student group Communicating Science provided an answer for us. The brain is made up of a vast number of special communication cells called neurons that carry signals around the body. The brain has a sort of special highway of neurons that carry instructions directly to your spine. This is the spinal cord, where motor (for motion) and sensory (for feeling) nerves branch out. [http://www.headbacktohealth.com/dictionary.html] From the spinal cord, the motor signals are sent out to your muscles, where they release tiny signal molecules called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters cause your muscles to contract, leading to motion.  We don’t really understand how the spinal cord knows which signals to send to which muscles,… Read More

Personalized Medicine: Our Human Genome

Our genome is the “code of our bodies.” Every cell in our system contains a complete set of DNA that contains “recipes” which influence every aspect of an individual. These genes work together to create each piece of who we are, this includes everything from eye color, hair color and hand size to which diseases a person will get or is susceptible to. The first gene sequences were completed in the late 70’s and since then genome sequencing has been revolutionized. Recently, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital have been able to curate a person’s entire genome sequence for personalized treatment. This personalization of medicine gathers ones genetic information and family’s genetic history to better diagnose and treat diseases. Personalized medicine can help diagnose many different types of cancers, some forms of Alzheimer’s disease, HIV/AIDS and many other diseases. This range to cure seems to be limitless. Over the past… Read More

Flash Mobbing Cancer Treatment

    Here’s the basic idea behind adoptive T cell therapy: Patients whose cancers don’t respond to conventional treatments can have some of their own immune cells known as T cells plucked, genetically re-engineered to better target their cancer cells, and reinserted. In recent years these treatments have achieved dramatic early clinical successes, and there’s a lot of excitement about them. This excitement made adoptive T cell therapy a prime candidate for the third annual Biology Flash Mob at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, which drew about 180 volunteers on Friday morning.  We volunteers were a diverse group—by a show of hands, one third of us worked at Koch and one third had never heard of the institute—and several of us were only two years old. Our Koch hosts divided us into groups of healthy cells (green shirts), cancer cells (red shirts), T cells (blue shirts)… Read More

Human Organs, Microchip Style

Microchips—tiny integrated circuits made of electrical paths that store information—are small by definition. Some of the ideas surrounding their use, however, are big. Very big. Dr. Donald Ingber, Director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard, is on the forefront of investigating what microchips can do for human drug development. Ingber is one of the speakers at this year’s “Big Ideas for Busy People” event, which is the running start to the Festival on April 29th, Festival-eve. The evening will involve revolutionary ideas in current science, presented at a rapid pace: picture a condensed version of TED talks. Ingber will deliver a five-minute talk called “Human Organs-on-Chips: No More Animal Studies for Drug Development?” Virtually all the pharmaceutical companies in the world use animal models to test drugs intended for eventual use by humans, says Ingber. He and his colleagues have been busy reproducing the function of… Read More

Thinking about Thoughts

The human mind does an incredible number of even more incredible things. Take, for example, the age old act of bartering. Whether trading ears of corn for livestock, or complex corporate negotiations, a large part of human enterprise has relied on our ability to think about others’ specific desires and intentions. We want what is best for us and our family or community, but realize that we need to compromise because the other party wants the same. Additionally, the other party may hold a grudge, or be ignorant towards current market values, and so on. All of this amazingly complex analysis happens at lightning speeds within the mind, while we haggle prices or make offers. We use this complex ability every day, and it has drawn the attention of many scientists. According to MIT Professor Rebecca Saxe: “Thinking about other minds is the foundation for both personal relationships and societal… Read More