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Here you find all contributions made by external authors to JUnQ. This includes peer-reviewed articles and editorial board reviewed open questions.

Apr 142017
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Dr. Eckart von Hirschhausen

Mit freundlicher Genehmigung von Dr. Eckart von Hirschhausen und Spektrum.

JUnQ, 7, 1, III, 2017

Eine Stichprobengroesse von N = 1, da straeubt sich der Wissenschaftsjournalist. Aber da das N in diesem Fall nicht N. N., also noch zu benennen ist, sondern mir bekannt, weil ich es selbst bin, berichte ich heute ueber einen kleinen Selbstversuch im Hirnscanner. Ich habe mich zweimal in die Roehre gelegt, vor und nach dem Sommer. Dazwischen habe ich Tanzstunden genommen. Ich wollte wissen: Wie plastisch ist mein Gehirn?

Lesen Sie den ganzen Artikel hier: Vom Kopf in die Beine und zurueck

Apr 142017
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Dear Reader,

It is a pleasure for me to write the editorial of my first issue as editor-in-chief.

Right now, JUnQ is experiencing a very exciting and challenging time. A lot of our current members will be leaving the editorial board for job-related or family reasons, finishing this issue as their final work in the field of scientific journalism. Luckily their gap will be filled by new motivated members bringing a lot of fresh ideas with them. Bright minds of all scientific backgrounds are always welcome so don’t hesitate to contact our team if you are willing to contribute.

The focus of our first issue this year lies on the relation between science and arts. Is there a connection at all between rational and emotional processes and methods?

Read the entire Editorial Note by Tatjana Daenzer.

Apr 132017
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Dear Readers,

We have reached our baker’s dozen. It is a delight to bring to you the 13th issue of JUnQ – the baking was a tad too long. We take an in-depth look into Science and Art – the central theme of this issue. More so, on how one complements the other, even though from afar they may look like nothing alike. We have had engrossing discussions with Artists, who mix their craft with scientific foundations, and Scientists, who dabble in the creative outlets that Arts provides. Did you know that dancing could win us the battle against dementia or that dead inanimate objects can be breathed new life into through science….all this and more you can find between the covers. And we (the editorial team at JUnQ) have also harnessed our creativity in coming out with the JUnQ Photo Contest, where you can showcase your talent to identify the aesthetic appeal of science. Even though an issue like this doesn’t have the negative or null result-oriented articles we so wish to highlight, still it serves as an important vehicle to appreciate the other mediums of seeking knowledge, than the analytical. To whet your appetite, we have titivating essays about the wonderful history of Art and Science and not to forget, for the ever curious, Questions of the Week pages.

We understand and appreciate your patience. We hope you feel excited about our newest issue of JUnQ!

— Soham Roy on behalf of the editorial board

Download JUnQ Volume 7 Issue 1

Jan 162017
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Have you ever wondered why rubbing alcohol, i.e. isopropyl alcohol, which is used to disinfect cuts burns so much when applied to the wound? As my mother always said: “As long as it burns, it helps”. This didn’t help me much as a kid, anyway. But why does it burn in the first place? Do you feel the bacteria die? Do some of your cells get killed, too, and you feel that?

Feel the burn.

Feel the burn.

In fact, neither is true. Interestingly, the pain you feel is due to a heat reaction. But wait, doesn’t alcohol usually give you a cool sensation when applied to the skin? True, but when the alcohol is able to penetrate your skin, e.g. when you have a cut, it gets in contact with your vanilloid receptors-1 (VR1). These are heat-gated receptors that normally get activated when the temperature rises above 42 °C, sending a painful sensation to prevent tissue damage by overheating. But why do your VR1 send a pain signal, even though the temperature does not rise above 42 °C? A study, a few years back, showed that alcohol has a similar effect on VR1 as capsaicin, the substance from chilies responsible for the hot taste.[1] Alcohol and capsaicin “trick” the VR1 by lowering the switch temperature from the above mentioned 42 °C to roughly 34 °C. Accordingly, your body temperature is high enough to induce an alert signal of VR1, giving you a burning (heat) pain even though your tissue isn’t nearly hot enough.

Maybe it helps you in the future when disinfecting wounds (or eating hot food) when you think that the pain is not real but rather a trick by played due to your heat receptors.

–Andreas Neidlinger

[1] M. Trevisani, D. Smart, M. J. Gunthorpe, M. Tognetto, M. Barbieri, B. Campi, S. Amadesi, J. Gray, J. C. Jerman, S. J. Brough, D. Owen, G. D. Smith, A. D. Randall, S. Harrison, A. Bianchi, J. B. Davis, P. Geppetti, Nat. Neurosci. 2002, 5, 546-551.

Jan 082017
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According to media reports, the Italian neurosurgeon Dr. Sergio Canavero will attempt the first transplant of a human head (cephalosomatic anastomosis) in the end of 2017.[1] Valery Spiridonow is volunteering for this project since he suffers from spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and believes the surgery will offer a chance to escape from this fatal disease.[2]

Similar experiments have already been performed more or less successfully on animals. In some cases, the animals survived but they remained paraplegic and their cardiovascular and respiratory systems had to be supported. Also they did not survive quite long after the surgery.[3,4] In fact, many experts are strongly doubting the success of this highly expensive transplant too.

Head Transplant : Fact or Fiction ?

Head Transplant : Fact or Fiction ?

Even if it might become a 100 % success, there remain a lot of serious questions:
– Will the patient (the head) be mentally and emotionally the same person as before?
– Will the brain be able to cope with a completely strange body and vice-versa?

Of course, Spiridonow will first have to find a donor for the body. He needs the body of a physically healthy man suffering from cerebral death and the consent of his relatives. Spiridonow’s new body will have the genome of the donor, so what are the legal consequences for any offspring regardless of whether they were conceived before or after the transplant?

So once again we are confronted with the problem of how far mankind can go to explore the possibilities of science and consider ethics at the same time. I think we should be excited and enthusiastic for the outcome of this dramatic surgery if it is going to happen anyway.

— Tatjana Daenzer

Read more:
[1] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/russian-man-volunteers-for-first-human-head-transplant/
[2] http://www.desireforlife.org/valery-spiridonov/
[3] Canavero, Surg Neurol Int. 2013, 4, 335.
[4] Canavero, Surg Neurol Int. 2015, 6, 18.

Nov 162016
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Touchscreens are getting more and more important for modern media. The most striking advantage of this technology is the combination of intuitive in- and out-put devices, which allow the user to directly interact with the system and vice-versa. But how does such a screen work, which types are available, and why do certain type of touchscreens react to fingers, but not to a normal pen? These questions we will answer in this week’s featured question.

How a resistive screen works?

How a resistive screen works?

One of the first touchscreen technologies (that is still in use nowadays) is the so-called resistive screen. This specific screen type is composed of two conductive, relatively transparent layers (usually indium-tin-oxide (ITO)), which are held separated at a small distance by spacer dots. To the bottom layer, a small voltage is alternatingly applied in x- and y-direction, while the top layer connects to the second half of the circuit. They are capped by a stiff, but bendable layer and directly sit on the actual display. Touching the screen with a little bit of pressure bends the conductive layer on top and closes the circuit. The resulting currents along the x- and y-circuits can be measured and provide information about where the circuits are closed. The idea is that the longer the current path , the higher becomes the electrical resistance. This technology is still commonly found in cheaper devices and in devices meant to be operated with gloves and can yield high accuracy. However, due to the mechanical deformation the screen has a finite lifetime.

How a capacitive screen works?

How a capacitive screen works?

The second, and probably most common, technology is used in “projected capacitive screens”. Those screens are composed of two grids, rotated at 90° to each other, of very fine conductive wires (usually ITO deposited on glass) with spacers in between. In contrast to the resistive screens, they do not form a continuous layer. Instead, the ITO grids create a large amount of crossings, which act like little capacitors whose capacity changes whenever a conductive or dielectric object (like a finger) approaches the grid. A digital controller measures now the capacity of all grid points one by one and if a certain deviation from the saved standard value is reached, a touch is registered. This technology allows multi-touch applications since all grid-points are measured separately and the image quality is enhanced due to the lower amount of ITO between the user’s eye and the actual display. However, these touchscreens need specific materials to be able to detect a signal and barely work with thick gloves or normal pens due to the fact that the capacity does not change if a standard insulator (like plastic) is brought close to it.

There are far more types of touchscreens based on, e.g. infrared light, inductive coils, sound and the piezoelectric effect. However, the two types, mentioned here, are the most commonly found ones nowadays. In the future, there might exist even more sophisticated types of human-interface-devices (HIDs), but at the current time, touchscreens still are one of the most successful HIDs and were able to widely repress the simple push-buttons.

–Kai Litzius

Further reading:

Nov 062016
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There have been already two Questions of the Week about the weather: “Can we control the weather?” (http://junq.info/?p=2783) by Nicola Reusch and “Is accurate weather forecast possible?” (http://junq.info/?p=1318) by myself. Today, I do not want to go into detail about the meteorological work, but demonstrate a mathematical theorem by the means of weather.

You certainly heard about antipodes, i.e. points that lie on diametrically opposite sides on the earth’s surface. If you’d like to have a look where your antipode is at the moment, check refs. [1] and [2]. Now, these two parts of the earth are the farthest apart from each other as you can get, while staying on the ground; with the exemption that they are a little closer, when you are at sea level on both ends than they are when you are on top of Mount Everest on one side. Think about how different the climatic conditions must be between those two antipodal points. What if I told you that at any moment there are at least two antipodal points on earth’s surface which share the same temperature and air pressure. Would you believe me?

No? So too what I thought at first. But let me reveal that it’s true. Take a look at Fig. 1(left). There you see the two antipodes A and B. If we measure the temperature of both points and they are identical, fine, we did our job. But most likely this won’t happen. If we move from the original point A to point B on any path while keeping A and B antipodal points (Fig. 1, middle), the temperatures of the two points will swap (Fig. 1, right). Therefore, there must be at least one set of antipodal points, where the temperature of A and B is identical, since swapping would be impossible otherwise.

Fig. 1: Two antipodal points A and B (left), antipodal paths from A to B (middle), and swapped points A and B (right).

Fig. 1: Two antipodal points A and B (left), antipodal paths from A to B (middle), and swapped points A and B (right).

Since swapping will occur on one set of points on a given antipodal path, you can imagine a line separating hemisphere A from hemisphere B on which any pair of antipodes will have equal temperature (Fig. 2). If we check air pressure on one set of antipodal points, we most likely won’t find matching values. But we can also be certain that both values will swap, if we move from one point to the other, while staying on the equal temperature path from Fig. 2.

Fig. 2: Antipodal points on earth’s surface with equal temperature.

Fig. 2: Antipodal points on earth’s surface with equal temperature.

Therefore, we must find one pair of antipodes with equal temperature and equal air pressure on earth’s surface at any given moment. Fascinating, isn’t it? This is called the Borsuk-Ulam Theorem.[3] It is a mathematical theorem which remarkably illustrates that results which seem impossible can in fact be true, if you keep investigating in a scientific manner.

–Andreas Neidlinger

[1] https://www.jasondavies.com/maps/antipodes/
[2] http://www.findlatitudeandlongitude.com/antipode-map/#.WB71TfnhCUk
[3] http://www.und.edu/instruct/tprescott/papers/thesis/thesis.pdf

Oct 092016
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What is the most useful invention of humans? Sure, most people will answer this question with “The Wheel!” Indeed, today almost any machine runs with some kind of wheel. But do we know whom to thank for this gift? Let’s take a little journey back through time.

Rewind to our greatest invention.

Rewind to our greatest invention.

Of course there was a time before the wheel, around 5000 BC. People used slides and logs of timber to transport goods. During the Bronze Age (ca. 3500 BC), wheels of clay and of wood were being attached to carts. Records of those first wheels are found in different cultures of the same age. For a long time, it was believed that the Sumerians from Mesopotamia were the inventors of the wheel. But new findings prove that other cultures from Western and Eastern Europe of the same age built something similar. The main difference of those earliest constructions were in the suspension – some were rotating with the axis, some were rotating around it.

Over the ages, this technology spread all over the world. The wheels became lighter and more stable. The development of trade, technology and (even) warfare, is due to the wheel. The wheel has made it possible for us to wonder at all the modern engineering marvels.

Still it is unlikely to identify a group of people – not to mention a single person – as the inventors of the wheel. To imagine what fortune one would amass today from such an invention…

– Tatjana Daenzer

Read more:

Oct 032016
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The story of music and human cognition is intricate and intertwined from the beginning. Since close to fifty millennia, music has remained an integral part of being human.[1]

Music has always aroused feelings of rapture and desire, even though it is intangible. And now science has unlocked the mechanism. As the reward center in the brain gets primed with the anticipation of listening to familiar music, there is a flood of dopamine, the “happiness” neurotransmitter.[2] Things can get discordant too. If one listens to unpleasant music, there is a reduced production of serotonin, our mood-regulator.[3]

Music for peace of mind.

Music for peace of mind.

It is quite natural to ask, if the audience is experiencing euphoria, what is the artist feeling ? Well, scientists have looked into that aspect as well.

The brains of musicians light up like a celebration of fireworks when they play.[4] The left and right hemispheres enter in a harmonious exercise when an artist performs on their musical instrument.

But can music improve how we interact with life ? And the answer is a resounding “YES”.

Learning an instrument with structured and disciplined practice, has an array of benefits.[5] It can enable us to find more creative solutions to problems in social as well as academic settings. Playing music makes for a greater neural plasticity in the brain which can better help with retrieving and indexing information – in short, a better functioning memory.

Even though we know what neurotransmitters are responsible and the neural pathways they seem to take in the brain when we hear music, still there is so much more that we do not know. For instance, the auditory cortex is still quite unknown to us in its organization and functions. Only recently, there was a discovery of two separate populations of neurons, sensitive to how we process music and human speech, different from ambient sound in the environment.[6] Though, it is still a question of speculation – are we born with it or is it developed through experience.

Four hundred years have passed since William Congreve remarked, “Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast”. Music, has indeed, displayed the ability to heal. It has shown promise to improve the lives of those affected with schizophrenia.[7] As music also helps in better connecting our episodic memory, it can have a positive influence in individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s or PTSD.

So let’s tune in to some nectar for the brain and turn those frowns upside down.

– Soham Roy

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music#History
[2] Salimpoor, VN et al. Nature Neuroscience, 14, 257–262 (2011).
[3] Evers, S et al. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci., 250, 144–7 (2000).
[4] http://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-playing-an-instrument-benefits-your-brain-anita-collins
[5] Miendlarzewska, EA et al. Front Neurosci., 7, 1–18 (2013).
[6] Norman-Haignere, S et al. Neuron, 88, 1281–1296 (2015).
[7] Talwar, N et al. BJP, 189, 405–409 (2006).