Light Friday: Debunking Common Brain Myths

Plus: A Day in NYC Transit, Super-Strong Artificial Muscles and Navigating a Robot Obstacle Course.

Common Brain Myths Dispelled

Do we really use only 10 percent of our brain? Are left handed people more creative? To separate myths from reality, a team of PhD students and fellows from the Champalimaud Neuroscience Programme in Lisbon have started an initiative aimed at helping the public better understand the brain during Madrid Science Week.

The researchers partnered with Smartplanet for a series that unravels common “myths” about the way our minds work, covering everything from the effects of narcotics to the value of brain-training games. For example, games that claim to raise your I.Q. usually fall short. While such games can jog the memory, they ultimately do not increase intelligence, which fluctuates over a person’s lifetime. “Playing sports and exercising add more to your mental skills than these games,” Smartplanet explains.

What about mind-altering drugs? While narcotics don’t necessarily “destroy” a brain — which is efficient at recovery, especially at a young age — they can leave it more susceptible to addiction in the future.

Researchers also say that the idea that we only use 10 percent of our brain is false. We do use all of our brain cells and structures, but not simultaneously. Additionally, left-handed people are no more creatively inclined or gifted than the rest of the population, which is mostly right-handed.

While the brain works differently for the left-handed, these differences can only sometimes be linked to increased creativity. Moreover, left-handedness is also linked to learning difficulties, according to Scientific American.

NYC Public Transit in a Day

Although Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast hard, shutting down a vast number of public services, infrastructure in the region has bounced back. The New York City public transportation system, the country’s largest mass transit network, was also battered and faced a system-wide shutdown. In just a few short days, though, it was up and running again.

A new video from STLTransit showcases the complex and thriving activity of a single day in New York’s public transit system, with individual lights highlighting the ebb and flow of traffic across the five boroughs. Based on General Transit Feed Specification data, the video series also offers a look at transit systems from other cities around the world.

Nanotech Muscles Provide Super Strength

Researchers at the University of Texas have invented an artificial muscle yarn that can support more than 200 times its own weight, Discovery reports. Project leader Ray Baughman and his team of nanotechnology researchers were able to mimic the composition of yarn in designing long threads of carbon nanotubes that function more like natural muscles.

Carbon nanotubes are thin particles framed in cylindrical combs, somewhat like a Buckyball. When the threads are weighted, they contract like a Chinese finger trap. Baughman and his team bonded the nanotube threads with paraffin wax – one thread wrapped into a larger thread, large threads wrapped into even larger threads, and so on. When the team heated the paraffin wax, it expanded, and when it cooled, it shrunk. The artificial muscles were able to contract every 25 milliseconds, signifying the amount of work the “muscles” can perform.

Baughman is enthusiastic about the future of artificial muscles. As he points out in the video below, yarn-shaped muscles may be woven to produce first-responder uniforms for fire safety workers. Check out the following clip to see the muscles in action:

The Robot Obstacle Course

While there have been numerous varieties of humanoid robots, most aren’t known for being particularly agile. A new Pentagon-sponsored project aims to change that with a prototype robot capable of climbing over obstacles and maintaining its balance while jumping.

The Pet-Proto, designed by Boston Dynamics, is a relative of other anthropomorphic and animal-inspired machines developed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The Pet-Proto can run, jump and climb, and is part of an effort to vastly expand the capabilities of robots so they can help repair meltdowns at nuclear plants, perform rescue operations and aid in other disaster-mitigation efforts.

“The skills that the Pet-Proto performs in the video are somewhat indicative of what DARPA wants out of its Robotics Challenge, announced in the spring,”’s Danger Room blog explains. “Contestants will have to go beyond the state of the art: DARPA will make the competing robot designs drive cars; walk over an uneven, debris-strewn surface; climb shaky industrial ladders and catwalks; use power tools to break through a concrete panel; find and close a valve near a leaky pipe; and replace a piece of industrial machinery like a cooling pump.”

Have a great weekend, folks.



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