Percy Lavon Julian, Ph.D. (1899-1975) was a scientist who rose from humble beginnings, was trained and educated in an adverse cultural era and became a highly accomplished synthetic chemist and entrepreneur (Wikipedia; PubMed; ACS bio). From the American Chemical Society biography:

He was born in Montgomery, Alabama, on April 11, 1899, the son of a railway clerk and the grandson of slaves. From the beginning, he did well in school, but there was no public high school for African-Americans in Montgomery. Julian graduated from an all-black normal school inadequately prepared for college. Even so, in the fall of 1916, at the age of 17, he was accepted as a subfreshman at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. This meant that in addition to his regular college courses he took remedial classes at a nearby high school. He also had to work in order to pay his college expenses. Nevertheless, he excelled. Julian was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated with a B.A. degree in 1920 as valedictorian of his class.

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oooooooo. pretty.

January 9, 2009


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A recent post up at the Frontal Cortex points approvingly to a study of strollers, prams, toddlers and parental conversation. Jonah Lehrer concludes:

It would be nice to see this research filter down to stroller manufacturers, so that even cheap plastic strollers allow the infant to interact with the parent.

Very interesting. Must be strong evidence, no? And after all, we all want our little wackaballoons to be as smart and advanced as possible, do we not?

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The man who constituted one of the best explored case studies in cognitive psychology, perhaps the best explored case study ever, has passed away. As reported in the Montreal Gazette:

The 82-year-old man scientists have known only as HM died of heart failure Tuesday after decades in a Connecticut chronic care home, unaware of what he gave to science.

In short, H.M. suffered intractable epilepsy for which he underwent a removal of large portions of his temporal lobes. Although successful in curbing his seizures, the procedure resulted in a anterograde memory loss resulting in an individual stuck in time. The rather selective nature of his impairment led to a huge number of investigations and information on the neuronal basis of various processes that we think of under the general term”memory”.
RIP, H.M., voluntarily or not you are a lion of science.
[additional here; h/t: PP]

Recent discussion of the way papers should be presented and comments on the way papers were written in the good old days when Uncle Sol was a wee scientist motivated me to repost something I put up on the old blog July 11, 2007.

First, I’ll tip the hat to Shelley at Retrospectacle for starting a “tour of the vaults” with the classic LSD in elephants study. Today, I’m reaching way back for “A study of trial and error reactions in mammals” by G. V. Hamilton, Journal of Animal Behavior, 1911 Jan-Feb 1(1):33-66. This study is worth reading because it provides an often hilarious insight into the conduct of science at the turn of the past century but also because this study is a root (perhaps the taproot) of a relatively current subfield on spatial working memory and spatial search.

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Functional imaging approaches such as fMRI that indirectly detect changes in correlates of neuronal activity in volumetrically defined brain locations are extremely popular right now. Investigators put animals or human subjects in an imaging rig, and then have the subject perform tasks or respond to various stimuli. The idea is that by detecting particular brain regions that become more active during certain phases of a task, one gains insight into how the brain processes information.
This is an open thread for our commenters to discuss whether this set of approaches is a total waste of fucking time and effort that generates pretty picture fodder for making up wackaloon fantasy stories about how the brain works, or, alternatively, is really providing us with information that will lead to a genuinely more satisfying understanding of neural information processing. Go at it!

Science Mnemonics

April 22, 2008

A mnemonic device can be described as:

…a memory aid. Mnemonics are often verbal, something such as a very short poem or a special word used to help a person remember something, particularly lists. Mnemonics rely not only on repetition to remember facts, but also on associations between easy-to-remember constructs and lists of data, based on the principle that the human mind much more easily remembers insignificant data attached to spatial, personal, or otherwise meaningful information than that occurring in meaningless sequences.

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