Austin Lim, PhD
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Helix Magazine

is a publication by Science in Society, a Northwestern University research center for science outreach and public engagement.

FACE BLINDNESS IN A NUTSHELL: PUTTING A HUMAN FACE ON PROSOPAGNOSIA

Imagine looking directly at someone. If you had prosopagnosia, you wouldn’t be able to match that specific face with any other face you had seen before. As a result, you couldn’t identify the person. You might not be able to recognize your spouse or children, despite seeing them on a daily basis over the span of years. In severe cases, you wouldn’t even recognize your own reflection.

CHANGING YOUR MIND: THE SCIENCE OF TRANSPLANTING A HUMAN HEAD

The most difficult challenge may be reattaching the delicate nerve fibers from the recipient head to the donor body. If the nerve fibers had been damaged in something like a traumatic spinal-cord-crushing car accident, they would be frayed and inflamed. But in the carefully-controlled environment of the surgical theatre, Canavero’s team can cleanly and precisely cut nerve fibers to minimize inflammation. 

STARTING FROM SCRATCH: HOW THE BRAIN PROCESSES ITCH

Why do we itch? Scientists believe it is in our biological circuitry. Our skin is wired to have several open lines of communication with our central nervous systems (CNS). When the skin receives some sort of stimulation, neurons at the skin send signals to our CNS using a complex set of neurotransmitters. These chemicals can then excite, inhibit, or otherwise affect the activity of connected neurons. 

Illinois Science Council

was founded on the premise that understanding the scientific method and scientific discoveries is crucial to a well-rounded life. Appreciation of science and technology enhances our appreciation of our world and ourselves. It makes us better decision makers, smarter consumers, more knowledgeable voters, and better-informed citizens, and is also critical to understanding many major issues facing our nation. 

The Rhythm of Movement

Our bodies are built to have an inherent, subconscious sense of rhythm. From an early age, we unknowingly develop a rhythm in the way we move, from crawling across to the floor to walking on two feet. Most of the time, we don’t pay much attention to the rhythmic nature of walking at all.

BEEing like a Magnet

Like ancient mariners relying on a compass to guide them home, the honeybee (Apis mellifera) uses the Earth’s magnetic forces to help them chart their path back to the hive. Unlike sailors, however, honeybees don’t need a tool to tell them which way is north: they have a compass built directly into their bodies.

The Maillard Reaction: A Taste of Food Chemistry

Pronounced “mai-YAR,” the reaction was first described by the French chemist Louis Camille Maillard in the early 1900s. At temperatures between 110-150 degrees Celsius, a sugar molecular can bond with an amino acid, resulting in a “Maillard reaction product.” Some of these resultant compounds, like the melanoidins, contribute to the golden-brown color of cooked foods. Other compounds can add mouth-watering aromas with a range of flavor descriptors: roasty, toasty, cereal, sweet or caramel.