UAB Magazine Weekly - Features on Research
UAB Neuroscientists Stretch the Boundaries of the Mind
The big news in neuroscience these days is that you can change your mind. Not just in superficial ways, either, such as opting for milk over creamer or paper instead of plastic, although plasticity has a lot to do with it. The field is abuzz with mind-bending research indicating that the adult brain can be shaped—repaired, expanded, optimized—in ways that were unimaginable only a few decades ago.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, the saying goes. And for decades, scientists thought the same thing about the human brain. An adult brain, the textbooks said, is not plastic—that is, it has no ability to change, to grow, to repair itself if injured. At birth, in infancy, and through childhood, the central nervous system is malleable; it can grow and change depending on different stimuli. But researchers were certain that this ability fades upon maturity, leaving the adult brain with the capacity to diminish—through injury, disease, or simply old age—but not to grow new cells or structures, or to repair the damage it accumulates over a lifetime. Distinguished Spanish neuroscientist Ramón y Cajal summarized the viewpoint succinctly in 1913: “Everything may die; nothing may be regenerated.”
Designing a Bridge That Lasts
By Grant Martin
America’s infrastructure is decaying. That fact was made painfully clear in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed the levees in New Orleans, and again in 2007, when a major Interstate bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, collapsed into the Mississippi River, killing 13 people and injuring 145 others. Unlike the levee breaches in New Orleans, there were no extraordinary conditions on that August day—just normal, everyday traffic flow.
The cause of the I-35 tragedy was eventually traced to under-designed gusset plates. These plates, which connect truss members, were only half as thick as they should have been, based on the codes and specifications in use when the bridge was built in the 1960s. But if a 40-year-old bridge in a large metropolitan area could suddenly fail, what does that say about the hundreds of thousands of other bridges in the United States that are the same age and older?