Science Beyond the SciLi: Your brain under anesthesia

anesthesia_limbo_patient_anesthesiologist_no_cap_spotlight

How anesthesia works is “really, really simple”–at least according to anesthesiologist,  neuroscientist and statistician Emery Brown. He is a professor of medical engineering and computational neuroscience at MIT, and an anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. Brown (the professor) came to speak at Brown (the university) on Thursday at the Presidential Colloquium Series ThinkingOut Loud (again, what is with this formatting?). Dr. Brown described how general anesthesia works and how it relates to our understanding of consciousness.

Anesthesia is a drug-induced state that is comprised of unconsciousness, amnesia, analgesia (the inability to feel pain) and akinesia (the inability to move). All of these also happen to be the symptoms of death–luckily, the final definition an anesthesia state is stability and control, allowing the state to be reversible. Being put under anesthesia is one of the most safe and and common clinical procedures.

Your brain activity can be tracked with EEG scans that record oscillations in brain signals. Slow oscillations are associated with a loss of consciousness under anesthesia.

When patients emerge from anesthesia, they first respond to the most salient stimulus, their name. Then, they respond to random words–such as “book chair,” in the study done on this topic–and then to tones. During this process, brain rhythms move from the front of the brain to the back, which can be seen in EEG scans from various parts of the brain. This process is known as anteriorization, and is key to determining the neural effects of anesthesia.

Continue Reading


Science Beyond the SciLi: Representation in Science

Though this is Science Beyond the SciLi, the issue of representation permeates the walls of the SciLi, the greater Brown campus and the rest of the scientific world. Read on to learn about some students’ perspectives on representation within the scientific community, from the SciLi basement to the Nobel Committee.

representation

Last weekend, the Brown Political Forum held a community forum to discuss “Representation in Science,” in collaboration with the Neuroscience DUG. A panel of five students, the “conversation starters,” reflected on their experiences in different fields of science at Brown and beyond through the perspective of their identities. The attendees also had the chance to break into small groups to discuss these issues and share personal experiences.

While minority groups, including women, racial minorities and members of the LGBT community, are underrepresented and disadvantaged in many fields, the statistics in science are particularly grim. Hispanics make up 7 percent of the STEM workforce, and blacks make up 6 percent. Women hold a quarter of STEM jobs, and in many fields this number is actually declining. I could go on and on listing the cold hard facts, but students’ personal stories are just as telling.

At the forum, the student panelists recalled experiences of professors and peers making judgments based solely on their identity.

Katie Byron was intending to declare computational biology as one of her concentrations, and she went to the concentration fair to discuss this with a faculty member. He responded, “Are you sure you’re up for taking all those math classes? Have you thought about just doing pure bio?” While the professor may have thought little of this afterwards, these kinds of comments are internalized and can bend the trajectories of students pursuing science.

Continue Reading


Science Beyond the SciLi: Are we alone in the Universe?

It can seem like the field of science is limited to torturous problem sets in the SciLi dungeon basement. But there is awesome stuff going on in the sciences at Brown and beyond, though it can be difficult to find when you’re wasting away in the library. BlogDH presents “Science Beyond the SciLi”; so even if you’re reading this inside those concrete walls, you can see a glimmer of scientific hope.

exoplanet-tm

Science isn’t a mystery novel, so here’s the punch line: we are probably not alone. There are most likely other life forms out there wondering if they are alone in the universe. Makes your midterms feel a little less important, doesn’t it?

Now, let’s back up a second. How can I make this crazy claim? Well, I went to the inaugural lecture of the Presidential Colloquium Series ThinkingOut Loud: DECIPHERING MYSTERIES OF OUR WORLD AND BEYOND (the formatting of the title might be the biggest mystery of them all). President Paxson introduced the speaker (hence “Presidential Colloquium”), John Johnson, a professor of astronomy at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who lectured on “Searching For Life Basking in the Warmth of Other Suns.”

Johnson’s job is to search for life on other planets. But he doesn’t just sit around basking in sunlight while sending signals to aliens and waiting for them to respond (although we have done that). He researches exoplanets, planets that orbit stars other than our own sun. A stellar astrophysicist by day and a planet hunter by night, Johnson finds undiscovered exoplanets and characterizes them, looking for planets that are not too hot and not too cold—ones that might be just right to harbor life. Continue Reading


Science Beyond the SciLi: Professor John Davenport on the State of Neuroscience

It can seem like the field of science is limited to torturous problem sets in the SciLi dungeon basement. But there is  awesome stuff going on in the sciences at Brown and beyond, though it can be difficult to find when you’re wasting away in the library. BlogDH presents “Science Beyond the SciLi,” so even if you’re reading this inside those concrete walls, you can see a glimmer of scientific hope.

davenport

On Thursday night, a packed audience gathered in the back of Flatbread Company to listen to neuroscientist R. John Davenport speak on “Wiring Connections in Brain Science.” The talk was hosted by Science Underground and powered by free Flatbread pizza, which is the ultimate brain food, as everyone knows. Davenport, an adjunct professor of Neuroscience and the associate director of Brown Institute for Brain Science, gave an overview of the current state of neuroscience and where the field is going.

Fun fact: The brain is made of 100 billion neurons. That’s as many stars as there are in the Milky Way galaxy. Each neuron makes a thousand connections with other neurons, so basically a neuron would be killing the LinkedIn game. But these connections are way more important than your endorsement-seeking acquaintances: they make up the brain functions that allow you to do everything from reading a map to playing chess. Neuroscientists are working on mapping all of these connections in what they call the “connectome,” the equivalent of the Human Genome Project for neural connections, so it’s a pretty big deal. Continue Reading