Newfound brain structure explains why some birds are so smart—and maybe even self-aware
Never before has “bird brain” been such a compliment: In recent years, birds have been found to make tools, understand abstract concepts, and even recognize paintings by Monet and Picasso. But their lack of a neocortex—the area of the mammalian brain where working memory, planning, and problem solving happen—has long puzzled scientists. Now, researchers have found a previously unknown arrangement of microcircuits in the avian brain that may be analogous to the mammalian neocortex. And in a separate study, other researchers have linked this same region to conscious thought.
Brain-scanning backpack brings neuroscience into the real world
Call it neuroscience on the go. Scientists have developed a backpack that tracks and stimulates brain activity as people go about their daily lives. The advance could allow researchers to get a sense of how the brain works outside of a laboratory—and how to monitor diseases such as Parkinson’s and post-traumatic stress disorder in real-world settings.
‘Viking’ was a job description, not a matter of heredity, massive ancient DNA study shows
It was a Viking saga written in genes. In 2008, construction work on an isolated Estonian beach near the town of Salme uncovered the skeletons of more than 40 powerfully built men. They were buried around 750 C.E. in two ships with Viking-style weapons and treasure—apparently the aftermath of a raid gone wrong. DNA from the bones has now added a poignant detail: Four of the men, buried shoulder to shoulder holding their swords, were brothers.
Deep beneath the high seas, researchers find rich coral oases
Aiming to bolster conservation on the high seas, a team of marine researchers today released the first comprehensive survey of coral reefs in the high seas–the roughly two-thirds of the ocean outside of national jurisdictions.
How big money is powering a massive hunt for alien intelligence
In 2015, Sofia Sheikh was at loose ends. Her adviser at the University of California (UC), Berkeley, with whom she studied hot, giant exoplanets, had left for a new job. Browsing reddit, she saw a post about a lavishly funded new search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) and noticed that its leader was also at UC Berkeley: astrophysicist Andrew Siemion. She asked her former adviser for an introduction and met with Siemion when he was still unpacking boxes in a new office. “Everything’s kind of history from there,” says Sheikh, who became the team’s first undergraduate student.
One of quantum physics’ greatest paradoxes may have lost its leading explanation
It’s one of the oddest tenets of quantum theory: a particle can be in two places at once—yet we only ever see it here or there. Textbooks state that the act of observing the particle “collapses” it, such that it appears at random in only one of its two locations. But physicists quarrel over why that would happen, if indeed it does. Now, one of the most plausible mechanisms for quantum collapse—gravity—has suffered a setback.
Warrior skeletons reveal Bronze Age Europeans couldn’t drink milk
About 3000 years ago, thousands of warriors fought on the banks of the Tollense river in northern Germany. They wielded weapons of wood, stone, and bronze to deadly effect: Over the past decade, archaeologists have unearthed the skeletal remains of hundreds of people buried in marshy soil. It’s one of the largest prehistoric conflicts ever discovered.
Watch levitating upside-down boats flip the law of buoyancy
If you’re a water sports fan looking for a new thrill, what about upside-down sailing? The idea might not be so outlandish. In a new study, physicists have managed to float tiny boats on the underside of a layer of liquid levitating in midair (see animation, above). Besides opening up some unusual nautical possibilities, the discovery quite literally flips our understanding of buoyancy on its head.
Some mosquitoes already have resistance to the latest weapon against malaria
An insecticide about to be widely deployed inside African homes to combat malaria-carrying mosquitoes is already losing its punch. Two years ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) gave the green light for clothianidin, long used in agriculture to kill crop pests, to be added to the current mainstays of indoor mosquito control, which are losing their effectiveness as the insects develop resistance. Since then, many African countries have been laying plans to spray the walls of homes with the pesticide—it would represent the first new class of chemicals adopted for such use in decades—and looking anxiously for evidence of pre-existing resistance.
The mysterious case of man who can read letters—but not numbers—exposes roots of consciousness
In the video, the man sounds creeped out. “This is too strange for words,” he mutters. He’s holding a plate-size, green foam 8. When upright, it looks to him like an incoherent jumble. But when he rotates it 90°, the shape snaps into focus; it looks like “a mask.” He begins to rotate the numeral back and forth, watching it melt and cohere over and over. He finally hands it to a nearby scientist, saying, “You gotta take that away.”