Neuroscience

A new study of electroencephalography (EEG) readings published in the Journal of Neuroscience says that despite the major neural overhaul underway during adolescence, most teens maintained a unique and consistent pattern of underlying brain oscillations.  They say this lends a new level of support to the idea that people produce a kind of brainwave "fingerprint."

They recruited 19 volunteers who were 9 or 10 years old and 26 who were 15 or 16 years old to sleep for two consecutive nights in the lab while EEG electrodes recorded oscillations in their brains during both REM and non-REM sleep. For each child she repeated the measurements about two years later.
There's a news story replicating on the web right now about a "Functioning Synapse Created Using Carbon Nanotubes," for instance here and here.  However, it's not quite as good as it sounds (yet) because it's just a SPICE (simulation) circuit.

Both of those example news stories include this partially relevant image with the caption "This image shows nanotubes used in synthetic synapse and apparatus used to create them."
A group of patients withneurodegenerative diseases have helped researchers discover a neurological basis of embarrassment.    The thumb-sized bit of tissue in the right hemisphere of the front part of the brain is called the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex and they found the link using...karaoke.

They recorded people belting out "My Girl" – the 1964 hit by The Temptations - and then asked them to listen to their own singing without the accompanying music.   The degree to which the singers were embarrassed in hearing themselves sing depended on the integrity of the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex region.
Recent research indicates that bilingual speakers can outperform monolinguals in certain mental abilities, such as editing out irrelevant information and focusing on important information, said Judith Kroll, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Penn State. These skills make bilinguals better at prioritizing tasks and working on multiple projects at one time.  Kroll said that these findings counter previous conclusions that bilingualism hindered cognitive development.
A new study in Proceedings of the Royal Society B says it is the first to demonstrate that birds possess empathy - and they say they have verified it using both behavioral and physiological methods to measure these traits.

Using non-invasive physiological monitoring, the researchers say domestic hens show a clear physiological and behavioral response to their chicks' distress.   During one of the controlled experiments, when the baby chicks were exposed to a puff of air, the hens' heart rate increased and eye temperature decreased. The hens also changed their behavior and reacted with increased alertness, decreased preening and increased vocalizations directed to their chicks.
If you saw the film version of "Mamma Mia!" you may have wondered why some of the actors could act, sing and dance and some, clearly, could not.

A new study in Current Biology says that people who are fast to learn a simple sequence of finger motions, like a piano piece, or quick to pick up dance numbers, are also those whose brains show large changes in a particular chemical messenger, gamma-aminobutyric acid(GABA), following electrical stimulation.    GABA is important for the plasticity of the motor cortex, a brain region involved in planning, control, and execution of voluntary movements.
A preliminary study in JAMA (JAMA. 2011;305[8]808-814.) has found that 50-minute cell phone use was associated with increased brain glucose metabolism, a marker of brain activity, in the region closest to the phone antenna, but that is not known to have any clinical significance.
How do we 'experience' our own bodies?     It has long been believed that our body image is limited by our innate body plan, so we cannot truly experience having more than one head, two arms and two legs but brain scientists at the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet say they have shown that it is possible to make healthy volunteers experience having three arms at the same time.
The schedule 1 illicit drug known as ecstasy has been used by up to 12 million people in the United States  and millions more worldwide. 

Past research has suggested that ecstasy users perform worse than others on some tests of mental ability but there have been concerns that the methods used to conduct that research were flawed, and the experiments overstated the cognitive differences between ecstasy users and non-users. 
Last year I attended a singularity conference and Ray Kurzweil's avatar predicted it was 25 years away.   Well, it's been 25 years away for a long time.  It's a nice, safe number, close enough that no one gives up and stops buying books (global warming will happen in 100 years, for example) and not so close anyone looks silly (Al Gore saying in 2006 that we were doomed in 10 years, for example) it if doesn't happen.

 In 1993, for example, Vernor Vinge said "Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended."