Memory and the manipulations thereof.

Have you ever envied Kate Winslet’s character in the “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”? Have you ever wished that you could erase memories of a nasty ex just by pushing a button? (I sure did after one of my exes told me that trees have souls whereas I do not) Or that you could bring an elusive memory back into your head? (I bet everyone who has ever written an exam sure did). Basically: Would you like to manipulate memory?

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Watching your own dream on YouTube and reading your spouse’s mind: bad sci-fi idea or the thing to get ready for?

Who did not envy Professor X, the Vulcans or higher elves (I am so sorry, couldn’t think of less nerdier examples!) at least once in their lives? I sure did. Every time a question about superpowers comes up in “Would you rather?..” I always pick mind-reading without even hearing the second option. But how realistic is that? Will we be able to communicate without speaking any time soon? Create romantic moments by finishing each other sentences all the time? Win a Pulitzer Prize by knowing the true answers to all your interview questions? Just brainstroming here.

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I only use 10% of my left brain or The most common myths about brain debunked.

In every lab I worked in, the mentioning of Luc Besson’s 2014 sci-fi movie “Lucy” caused a wide range of reactions, most of them between an exhausted sigh and a badly concealed bulging of the forehead veins. And not everyone has even even watched it! So, what’s the reason for such a strong dislike? While the movie itself might be entertaining and all, it further perpetuates the myth saying that we only use 10% of our brain capacity (after increasing her usage up to 90%, Scarlett Johansson’s heroine gains abilities such as telepathy, telekinesis and uhm …defying gravity?). Seeing misconceptions about your field of work being promoted is just such a downer. So I wanted to debunk some hard-to-kill myths about the most fascinating thing in the Universe (okay, I know, will tone down fangirling, sorry).

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Science of being high: Your brain on acid.

Your ego disappears, you feel united with the Universe, you see things which are not there and your time perception is distorted: Even if you’ve never taken drugs these effects sound familiar to you; this is what your friends told you after they took acid at some festival or after their recent trip to Amsterdam.

Prehistoric art suggests that psychedelic drugs have a pretty long relationship with humans, their usage in spiritual and healing rituals going as far back as about 5000 years (our ancestors knew what’s up). However, due to political mostly than scientific reasons, psychedelic research was prohibited not long after blooming in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Currently, what can be called a reneissance in the research of psychedelic substances is taking place as more and more scientists turn their attention towards the neural correlates of the fascinating altered states of consciousness associated with psilocybin (the main component of magic mushrooms), ayahuaska and LSD.

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Shooting lasers into brain: sci-fi or reality?

Of all the stuff I came to do as a neuroscience undegrad there is one thing I particularly like to brag about. I shone lasers into mice brains, sliced them (brain, not mice) and created pretty fluorescent pictures out of them. Isn’t this the coolest opener at a party?

The way to have this kind of fun is called optogenetics and it is one of the hottest techniques in neuroscience right now. Pioneered by Karl Deisseroth of the Stanford University, this method is spreading like a wildfire through the neuroscience world and that for a good reason. As the name already suggests, genetical and optical technology are at play there. Gene technology is used to make specific cells light-sensitive, that is, to make them activate (or to shut down) when light falls on them and optical methods (=light) are used to subsequently manipulate these cells. This is done by the following steps:

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