Observations of a blown mind

Posts tagged “Science

Science and early Christianity

Over the last thousand years Christianity has adopted many things from other religions, but it also took from science too.

A Spherical Harmony

The earliest ancient civilizations all shared the same fundamental view of the universe; that our earth lay at the centre. The characteristically inventive Sumerians of what we now call Iraq; the Amorite dynasty that founded the Babylonians; and also the North East African civilisation of the ancient Egyptians; all these ancient civilizations had the Sun, Moon, stars, and planets revolving around us. The specific explanations varied from society to society, but the viewpoint that came to dominate the minds of Europeans was established by successive generations of the ancient Greek philosophers. Though I say “ancient greeks”  they were in reality learned philosophers who lived across many centuries with their theories of the cosmos being somewhat refined over a time period scanning more than six hundred years.

Te first known idea of the stars being fixed to a sphere, or hemisphere, rotating around the earth is attributed to Anaximenes of Miletus, who lived in the 6th century BC. Like his predecessors, Anaximenes was preoccupied with cosmology, searching for the world’s origin in which he is most known for his assertion that air is the most basic and originary material and the source of all things. While empirical evidence was essential in Anaximenes’ work, the less evidentiary notions of the divine remained apparent as well. Perhaps in line with early Greek literature that rendered air as the soul, as in the ‘breath of life,’ Anaximenes relates air with god and the divine, according to the accounts of Aetius. The qualities of air, that has similar attributes as the qualities of Anaximander’s aperion, are those of the divine and the eternal. It is posited, by Aetius and later by Cicero, that there is a strong correlation between the notion of air as an originary principle element and the notion of air and breath as the divine and eternal substance of the soul and of god.

In the 6th century, Anaximenes of Miletus, saw the Earth as a kind of flat disc, or a flat-topped cylinder that floated like a cork in the air. Pythagoras of Samos – the same Pythagoras whose theory we use today to calculate the area of a triangle – changed the disc to a globe then placing it at the centre of concentric spheres, one for the Sun, the Moon and each of the planets, with the other stars ‘fixed’ at the furthest distance. For Pythagoras, the physical distances separating the spheres was of great importance, even seeing the seven planetary spheres (Moon and Sun included) and the shpere of the stars being separated in the same seven ratios as those of the musical scale. It was this particular notion that gave us the concept of the “harmony of the spheres” that was to resonate for two milennia.

The model that later became fixed stemmed from a proposition laid down by the philospher and methematician Plato circa.  400 BC. For Plato, the circle was the perfect form and he was totally convinced that the Sun and the Moon revolved around a spherical Earth in circular orbits. Plato’s students were left with the challenge of  creating a model that explained his philosophy. Eudoxus of Cnidus offered an ingenious solution of multiple concentric spheres. The orbit of our Moon illustrates this idea; to explain its apparent movement through the heavens the Moon needed three spheres; one rotating every day in order to explain the rising and setting; a second rotating every month in order to explain the movement through the zodiac (movement against the stars); and a third rotating monthly on a slightly different axis in order to explain its variation in latitude. To see Eudoxus solution click here.

The problem that was obvious to the ancient astronomers was that planets behaved in a strange fashion, sometimes they were closer, sometimes farther away from Earth, sometimes speeding up and sometimes slowing down or even appearing to travel backwards. The word “planet” comes from the Ancient Greek word for “wonder”. Our friend Eudoxus required 27 concentric spheres to explain the movements in the heavens, but that was later refined by his contemporary, the great philosopher Aristotle, in to a model of greater perfection. In an attempt to make sense of what was observed, he placed 55 concentric spheres around the Earth, each responsible for a specific movement of the heavenly bodies, always though in the perfect eternal motion of a circle, as they passed through the substance out there that he called the “aether”. At the furthest extremities he placed the “Unmoved Mover”, or the force that centuries later came to represent the all-powerful Christian God.

All this could have, and should have, been rendered irrelevant had the ideas of Aristarchus, also of Samos, caught on some 200 years later! Essentially he had it all worked out. He placed the Sun at the centre of the cosmos, with the Earth and other planets circling it, in the same order as we know them today.

Image credit Wikipedia Commons

Image credit Wikipedia Commons

But his theories did not stand up to the withering logic of the time. He was unpicking the established teachings of the great Aristotle and Plato. Yet it didn’t gain kudos because it seemed so self-evidently wrong. If indeed the Earth were moving through space, why would an object thrown upwards come straight back down? Surely it would land at a distance away as the ground the individual were standing on moved through space. So, the common sense of the time indicated that Aristotle had it right.





How electricity makes things work

Without electricity our appliances are just lumps of plastic and metal. But what does electricity really do? How does it make things work?

We use it every day, but most of us haven’t got a clue how electricity makes things work. What’s going on in the wires that make motors move, and heaters heat?

Whether it’s a toaster or a Laptop PC, everything that electricity does comes down to one thing: what happens when you teach electrons to line dance.

When electrons are forced to move in synch, they can produce heat and — way more impressive — they turn the wire they’re moving in into a magnet. Heat can boil water and make light bulbs glow, and magnets can make things move. And those two tricks are behind the ‘magic’ of every electrical appliance.

Getting electrons organised

The electrons that give our appliances their zing are in the wires that make up the circuits.

Wires are made of metal, and metals have always got loose electrons buzzing around throughout them. But if you can make those electrons move in an organised way, you’ve got an electric current flowing. That’s all an electric current is — electrons moving in an organised way.

The energy to get the electrons moving in an organised way comes from either a battery or a generator.

When a battery organises electrons they all move in the same direction at the same time — the battery pumps electrons through the circuit wires from the negative terminal to the positive. Because they’re all going in one direction, it’s called a direct current (DC).

The electricity generators at power stations organise electrons in a slightly different way. They pump electrons, but they change the direction they’re pumping them 100 times every second. So instead of moving along in one direction like in a DC circuit, the electrons stay pretty much where they are and constantly jiggle forwards and backwards. If you could see inside the power cord when an appliance is turned on, you’d think the electrons had just learned how to line dance — they’re all constantly taking one step forward, one step backwards in synch. The constantly changing direction is what’s behind its name, alternating current (AC).

So a current is just electrons moving in an organised way in a circuit. But how do electrons on the run make the heat that’s behind toasting, drying and foot warming?

electrical wires

Hotting things up

All wires get a little bit hot when they’ve got a current running through them, because as the electrons move in the wire they bang into the metal atoms. And whenever they prang into an atom, energy from the moving electrons gets given off as heat.

We use copper for electrical wiring because it’s easy peasy for electrons to move around in, so not too much energy gets wasted as heat. But if it’s heat you want, say for your hairdryer/toaster/electric jug, it’s dead easy to get. You just need to use a bit of metal that’s really hard for electrons to move through, like nickel.

Heating elements like the ones in toasters or hairdryers are bits of wire made of a nickel/chromium alloy called nichrome. Run a current through nichrome and you’ll get some serious heat. While the electrons in the copper wires can move around easily, the ones in the nichrome element are constantly banging into the nickel and chromium atoms and leaking heat all over the place. Which is just what you want on those wet-haired, stale bread days.

But heating is only one of the things electric appliances can do. Most of the other things involve making things move – and that involves a motor. So how do organised electrons make a motor spin?

Getting motors into a spin

Every appliance with moving parts more complex than a pop-up toaster has got an electric motor in it. And while they run thousands of different gadgets, electric motors really just do one thing — they spin whenever you turn on the power. And anything attached to them — like fan blades, wheels or washing tubs — spins too.

The spinning only happens when current is flowing — when electrons in the wire are organised into a current.

So how do moving electrons make a motor spin? They don’t. They do something way more swanky — they turn wires into magnets. And as any five-year-old knows, magnets are great for making things move.

We’ve all mucked around with magnets, but what a lot of us don’t realise is that magnets get their properties from the same thing that electricity does: organised electrons.

Electricity and magnetism … talk about co-dependent

Every electron is like a tiny, weak magnet. Most electrons hang around in pairs, and they cancel each other’s magnetic property out. But some materials — like iron — have got some unpaired electrons around their atoms. And if you can get those unpaired electrons to line up so their magnetic fields are all pointing in the same direction, your piece of iron is suddenly a magnet. Which is exactly what happens when you stroke a needle or paperclip with a magnet — the magnetic field around your magnet pulls some of the unpaired electrons in the needle into lines, so all their mini-magnetism adds up to a full scale magnet.

But you can also make any metal into a temporary magnet — an electromagnet — just by running an electric current through it.

Electromagnets work because the charge on an electron can create a magnetic field too, but only when it’s moving. So any time electrons in a wire are moving in synch (ie whenever a current is flowing), the wire becomes a magnet. It’s too weak to be a useful magnet as it is. But if you coil the wire around a piece of iron, the weak magnetic field around the wire forces unpaired electrons in the iron to line up, and all their mini-magnetism adds up just like in a bar magnet.

But unlike a regular magnet, the wire is only magnetic while the current is flowing — once it stops, the electrons in the wire get back to acting like sub-atomic dodgems. And the piece of iron its wrapped around goes back to being a piece of iron.

And it’s the ability of an electric current to turn wires into temporary magnets that makes it possible for us to have motors that can be switched on and off.

How motors work in 25 words or less …

If you’ve ever used one magnet to repel another, you already know the basics of how electric motors work. In fact, if you used the north end of one magnet to push the north end of another magnet around in a circle, you’d be doing pretty well the same thing an electric motor does. Except a motor doesn’t have a giant hand pushing one magnet to repel another — it relies on a set of magnets in a ring surrounding a loop of wire.

When the current flows, the wire loop becomes an electromagnet. And the magnets around the electromagnet are set up so their attractive and repulsive forces cause the electromagnet to constantly spin until the power is cut.

When the off switch is hit, it’s game over. Without the battery or generator to push them, the electrons are no longer organised, the wire is no longer magnetic, and the motor’s spin comes to a halt. The pumps/fan blades/belts attached to the motor stop sucking, blowing and driving.

The electrical ‘magic’ stops, and the appliance is just a lump of plastic and metal until the next time we turn it on.

Thanks to Ian Sefton from the Physics Research Education Group at The University of Sydney.

An old ‘New’ weapon in the war against Cancer

The Oxygen Challenge

 A multidisciplinary team at UT Southwestern Medical Center has found that measuring the oxygenation of tumors can be a valuable tool in guiding radiation therapy, opening the door for personalized therapies that keep tumors in check with oxygen enhancement.

The multidisciplinary investigation of Dr. Rami Hallac (left) and Dr. Ralph Mason has shown that measuring the oxygenation of tumors can be a valuable tool in guiding radiation therapy. Credit: UT Southwestern Medical Center

The multidisciplinary investigation of Dr. Rami Hallac (left) and Dr. Ralph Mason has shown that measuring the oxygenation of tumors can be a valuable tool in guiding radiation therapy.
Credit: UT Southwestern Medical Center

In research examining tissue oxygenation levels and predicting radiation response, UT Southwestern scientists led by Dr. Ralph Mason reported in the June 27 online issue of Magnetic Resonance in Medicine that countering hypoxic and aggressive tumors with an “oxygen challenge” – inhaling oxygen while monitoring tumor response – coincides with a greater delay in tumor growth in an irradiated animal model.

Over the past several years, the research of Dr. Mason, professor of radiology and the paper’s senior author, and his colleagues has been building on findings that show lack of oxygen actually stimulates the growth of new blood vessels in tumors and leads to metastasis and genetic instability in cancer. The theory follows that breathing oxygen or enriching the oxygen content of hypoxic (low in oxygen) cancer tissues improves therapy.

In the current study, supported by the National Cancer Institute, smaller tumors based on magnetic resonance imaging were found to be significantly better oxygenated than larger ones. This confirmed previous investigations that show a range of hypoxic environments depending on the size of the tumor.

“The next step is clinical trials to assess tumor response to radiation therapy,” said Dr. Mason, director of the cancer imaging program at the medical center. “Tumors determined to be hypoxic can be evaluated and made responsive through mild and easy-to-administer interventions, such as breathing more oxygen or taking a vasoactive drug. Monitoring the response to oxygen breathing tells us which tumors will benefit.”

If the results are confirmed in humans, the implications for personalized therapies for other cancers could mean fewer radiation treatments, or perhaps, ideally, one single high-dose treatment. Lung cancer, for instance, is a form of the disease whose tumors are poorly oxygenated despite being located in the principle organ charged with oxygenating the blood.

“The ability to stratify tumors based on hypoxia offers new opportunities to tailor therapy to tumor characteristics, potentially enhancing success through personalized medicine,” Dr. Mason said.

Together with Dr. Robert Timmerman, professor of radiation oncology at the Harold C. Simmons Cancer Center, and Dr. Ivan Pedrosa, professor of radiology and the Advanced Imaging Research Center, Dr. Mason is starting clinical trials to assess the effectiveness of oxygenation during treatment with stereotactic body radiation in humans – work that is supported by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) through one of its Multi-Investigator Research Awards.

With CPRIT support, Dr. Mason’s team has worked to understand how low oxygen concentration can cause radiation resistance in tumors. In some cases, the simple addition of oxygen to stereotactic body radiation greatly improves response. The key is to identify those patients who will benefit.


Dr. Rami Hallac, an imaging scientist at the Analytical Imaging and Modeling Center at Children’s Medical Center Dallas, was first author of the published study. Other UT Southwestern researchers involved were Dr. Heling Zhou, postdoctoral researcher; Dr. Rajesh Pidikiti, medical physicist; Dr. Kwang Song, instructor in radiation oncology; Dr. Strahinja Stojadinovic, assistant professor of radiation oncology; Dr. Dawen Zhao, associate professor of radiology; and Dr. Timothy Solberg, professor of radiation oncology. Dr. Peter Peschke of the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, Germany, also contributed.

Visit the Department of Radiology or UT Southwestern’s Harold C. Simmons Cancer Center to learn more about cancer research, screening, and therapy at UT Southwestern, including highly individualized treatments at the region’s only National Cancer Institute-designated center.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has many distinguished members, including five who have been awarded Nobel Prizes since 1985. Numbering more than 2,700, the faculty is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide medical care in 40 specialties to nearly 90,000 hospitalized patients and oversee more than 1.9 million outpatient visits a year.

This news release is available on their home page at http://www.utsouthwestern.edu/home/news/index.html

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Ancient horse fossil found in Yukon

University of Alberta researcher Duane Froese with the skull of the extinct Late Pleistocene horse Equus lambei in the Klondike area, Yukon.
Photo by Grant Zazula

When University of Alberta researcher Duane Froese found an unusually large horse fossil in the Yukon permafrost, he knew it was important. Now, in a new study published online today in Nature, this fossil is rewriting the story of equine evolution as the ancient horse has its genome sequenced.

Unlike the small ice age horse fossils that are common across the unglaciated areas of the Yukon, Alaska and Siberia that date to the last 100,000 years, this fossil was at least the size of a modern domestic horse. Froese, an associate professor in the U of A Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, and Canada Research Chair in Northern Environmental Change, had seen these large horses only a few times at geologically much older sites in the region—but none were so remarkably well preserved in permafrost.

Froese and his colleagues from the University of Copenhagen, who led the study, had dated the permafrost at the site from volcanic ashes in the deposits and knew that it was about 700,000 years old—representing some of the oldest known ice in the northern hemisphere. They also knew the fossil was similarly old. The team, which also included collaborators from the Yukon and the University of California, Santa Cruz, extracted collagen from the fossil and found it had preserved blood proteins and that short fragments of ancient DNA were present within the bone. The DNA showed that the horse fell outside the diversity of all modern and ancient horse DNA ever sequenced consistent with its geologic age. After several years of work, a draft genome of the horse was assembled and is providing new insight into the evolution of horses.

The study showed that the horse fell within a line that includes all modern horses and the last remaining truly wild horses, the Przewalski’s Horse from the Mongolian steppes. The 700,000-year-old horse genome—along with the genome of a 43,000-year-old horse, six present-day horses and a donkey—has allowed the research team to estimate how fast mutations accumulate through time.

In addition, the new genomes revealed episodes of severe demographic fluctuations in horse populations in phase with major climatic changes.

Who was Jules Cotard and what is Cotard’s syndrome?

zombie army.jpg

Jules Cotard (1 June 1840 – 19 August 1889) was a French neurologist who is best known for first describing the Cotard delusion, a patient’s delusional belief that they are dead, do not exist or do not have bodily organs.

He studied medicine in Paris and later went on to work as an intern at Hospice de la Salpêtrière, where he worked for, among others, Jean-Martin Charcot.

Cotard became particularly interested in cerebrovascular accidents (commonly known as ‘strokes’) and their consequences and undertook autopsies to better understand how these affected the brain. In 1869, Cotard left Salpêtrière, and at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, he joined an infantry regiment as a regimental surgeon. Cotard moved to the town of Vanves in 1874, where he remained for the last 15 years of his life. He made particular contributions to the understanding of diabetes and delusions. In August 1889, Cotard’s daughter contracted diphtheria and he reportedly refused to leave her bedside for 15 days until she recovered. He eventually contracted the illness himself and died on 19 August.

The Cotard delusion, Cotard’s syndrome, or Walking Corpse Syndrome[1] is a rare mental disorder in which people hold a delusional belief that they are dead (either figuratively or literally), do not exist, are putrefying, or have lost their blood or internal organs. In rare instances, it can include delusions of immortality.[2]

The syndrome is named after Jules Cotard (1840–1889), a French neurologist who first described the condition, which he called le délire de négation (“negation delirium”), in a lecture in Paris in 1880.[3][4] He described the syndrome as having degrees of severity that range from mild to severe. Despair and self-loathing characterize a mild state. Severe state is characterized by intense delusions and chronic depression.

In one of his lectures, Cotard described a patient with the pseudonym of Mademoiselle X, who denied the existence of several parts of her body and her need to eat. Later she believed she was eternally damned and could no longer die a natural death. She later died of starvation.

The central symptom in Cotard’s syndrome is the delusion of negation. Those who suffer from this illness often deny that they exist or that a certain portion of their body exists. Cotard’s syndrome has been found to have three distinct stages. In the first stage – Germination – patients exhibit psychotic depression and hypochondriacal symptoms. The second stage – Blooming – is characterized by the full blown development of the syndrome and the delusions of negation. The third stage – Chronic – is characterized by severe delusions and chronic depression.[5]

People with the Cotard Delusion often become withdrawn from others and they tend to neglect their own hygiene and well-being. The delusion makes it impossible for patients to make sense of reality, which results in an extremely distorted view of the world. This delusion is often found in psychotic patients suffering from schizophrenia. While Cotard’s Syndrome doesn’t necessitate hallucinations, the strong delusions are comparable to those found in schizophrenic patients.[6]
The novel, “Maître Mussard’s Bequest” (“Das Vermächtnis des Maître Mussard”) by German author Patrick Süskind, describes a strange character, Maître Mussard, whom we can see, through his own writings, become psychosomatically paralyzed (similar to rigor mortis) as a result of a severe case of Cotard delusion.

Young and Leafhead describe a modern-day case of Cotard delusion in a patient who suffered brain injury after a motorcycle accident:[7]

[The patient’s] symptoms occurred in the context of more general feelings of unreality and being dead. In January 1990, after his discharge from hospital in Edinburgh, his mother took him to South Africa. He was convinced that he had been taken to hell (which was confirmed by the heat), and that he had died of septicaemia (which had been a risk early in his recovery), or perhaps from AIDS (he had read a story in The Scotsman about someone with AIDS who died from septicaemia), or from an overdose of a yellow fever injection. He thought he had “borrowed my mother’s spirit to show me round hell”, and that she was asleep in Scotland.

An example of the distorted reality that results from Cotard Syndrome was described in a study of a 14-year-old patient with epilepsy. The child psychiatry OPD he was brought to described his history of expressing themes of death, being sad all the time, decreased play activity, social withdrawal, and disturbed biological function. He would have episodes about twice a year that lasted three weeks to three months at a time. In each episode, the child would say that everyone is dead, including trees. He would also describe himself as being a dead body. He warned that the world would be destroyed within a few hours. He showed no reaction to pleasurable stimuli and showed no interest in any activities.[8]

The underlying psychopathology and neurophysiology of Cotard’s Syndrome may be related to other problems involving delusional misidentification. Neurologically, Cotard’s is thought to be related to the Capgras delusion, and both are thought to result from a disconnect between the brain areas that recognize faces (fusiform face areas[9]) and the areas that associate emotions with that recognition (the amygdala and other limbic structures). This disconnection creates a sense that the observed face is not the person’s it purports to be, and therefore lacks the familiarity that should be associated with it. The disconnect results in a feeling of derealization. If it is the face of a person known to the sufferer, it is experienced as an impostor’s (Capgras); if the sufferer sees their own face they may feel no association between it and their sense of self, resulting in a sense that they do not exist.

Literature shows that Cotard’s is associated with lesions in the parietal lobe. Patients with Cotard’s generally have more brain atrophy than control groups and more median frontal lobe atrophy in particular.[10]
Cotard’s syndrome is encountered primarily in psychoses such as schizophrenia. It can arise in the context of neurological or mental illness and is particularly associated with depression and derealization. It has even been described in migraine.[9]
Cotard delusion has also been the result of adverse drug reactions to (val)acyclovir. The symptoms were associated with high serum concentrations of CMMG, the principal metabolite of acyclovir. Patients with impaired renal function seem to be at risk even after dose reduction; in the cited case, haemodialysis cured the delusions in a few hours[11] and it is suggested that this mental state may not always be a cause for psychiatric hospitalization.
Research shows that culture has an impact on the biographical experiences expressed by patients who suffer from Cotard’s. This finding supports Bering’s view of a cognitive system dedicated to forming illusory representations of immortality. Mainstream thought is that these illusory representations of immortality and other delusions evolved in response to sociological pressures.[12]

There are several reports of successful pharmacological treatment. Monotherapeutic and combination strategies are both reported.[13] Antidepressants, antipsychotics and mood stabilisers are used. Many report positive effect with electroconvulsive therapy, mostly in combination with pharmacotherapy.[13]

Recently the press have shown interest in this thankfully rare disease;


Read ten similar reports here;


  1. ^ Berrios G.E. and Luque R. (1995) Cotard’s delusion or syndrome?. Comprehensive Psychiatry 36: 218-223
  2. ^ Berrios G.E. and Luque R. (1995) Cotard Syndrome: clinical analysis of 100 cases. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 91: 185-188
  3. ^ Cotard’s syndrome at Who Named It?
  4. ^ Berrios G.E. & Luque R. (1999) Cotard’s ‘On hypochondriacal delusions in a severe form of anxious melancholia’. History of Psychiatry 10: 269-278.
  5. ^ Provider: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd Content:text/plain; charset=”UTF-8″ TY – JOUR AU – Yarnada, K. AU – Katsuragi, S. AU – Fujii, I. TI – A case study of Cotard’s syndrome: stages and diagnosis JO – Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica VL – 100 IS – 5 PB – Blackwell Publishing Ltd SN – 1600-0447 UR – http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0447.1999.tb10884.x DO – 10.1111/j.1600-0447.1999.tb10884.x SP – 396 EP – 398 KW – Cotard’s syndrome KW – depression KW – electroconvulsive therapy PY – 1999 ER –
  6. ^ Young, A. W., Robertson, I. H., Hellawell, D. J., de, P. K. W., & Pentland, B. (January 01, 1992). Cotard delusion after brain injury. Psychological Medicine, 22, 3, 799-804.
  7. ^ Young, A.W. & Leafhead, K.M. (1996). Betwixt Life and Death: Case Studies of the Cotard Delusion (in P.W. Halligan & J.C. Marshall. (eds.) Method in Madness: Case studies in Cognitive Neuropsychiatry). Hove: Psychology Press. p. 155.
  8. ^ Mendhekar, D. N., & Gupta, N. (January 01, 2005). Recurrent postictal depression with Cotard delusion. Indian Journal of Pediatrics, 72, 6, 529-31.
  9. a b Pearn, J. & Gardner-Thorpe, C (May 14, 2002). “Jules Cotard (1840-1889) His life and the unique syndrome that bears his name”. Neurology (abstract) 58 (9): 1400–3. PMID 12011289.
  10. ^ TY – JOUR T1 – Brain atrophy and interhemispheric fissure enlargement in Cotard’s syndrome. AU – Joseph,AB AU – O’Leary,DH PY – 1986/10/ JF – The Journal of clinical psychiatry JO – J Clin Psychiatry IS – 10 VL – 47 N1 – Case Reports, KW – Adolescent KW – Adult KW – Atrophy KW – Brain KW – Death KW – Delusions KW – Female KW – Frontal Lobe KW – Humans KW – Male KW – Middle Aged KW – Tomography, X-Ray Computed SP – 518-20 UR – http://ukpmc.ac.uk/abstract/MED/3759917 N2 – The hallmark of Cotard’s syndrome is the delusion of being dead. The literature indicates that it is often associated with parietal lobe lesions. This association was investigated by blindly comparing the computed tomographic scans of eight patients who had Cotard’s syndrome (one of whom is described) with those of eight controls matched as closely as possible for age, sex, race, and principal psychiatric diagnosis. Two trends emerged. Compared with controls, patients with Cotard’s syndrome had more brain atrophy in general and more median frontal lobe atrophy in particular. Parietal disease did not discriminate between the index and control groups. Cotard’s syndrome may be associated with multifocal brain atrophy and medial frontal lobe disease. ER –
  11. ^ Anders Helldén, Ingegerd Odar-Cederlöf, Kajsa Larsson, Ingela Fehrman-Ekholm,Thomas Lindén (Dec, 2007). “Death delusion” (Journal Article). BMJ 335 (7633): 1305–1305.doi:10.1136/bmj.39408.393137.BEPMC 2151143PMID 18156240.
  12. ^ Cohen, David; Consoli, Angèle (2006). “Production of supernatural beliefs during Cotard’s syndrome, a rare psychotic depression”. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29 (5): 468–470.doi:10.1017/S0140525X06299102.
  13. a b Debruyne H., Portzky M., Van den Eynde F., Audenaert K. (June 2010). “Cotard’s syndrome: a review”. Current psychiatric reports (review article) 11 (3): 197–202. doi:10.1007/s11920-009-0031-z.PMID 19470281.

Orbital Rolls Out Antares Rocket


Company Targets April 17 for Inaugural Launch of America’s Newest Medium-Class Space Launch Vehicle

Early this morning, Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB) rolled out the first fully integrated Antares(TM) rocket from its assembly building at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) in eastern Virginia in preparation for its inaugural flight that is scheduled for April 17 at approximately 5:00 p.m. (EDT). This morning, beginning at about 4:30 a.m., the Antares rocket was transported about one mile to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) launch pad complex aboard the Transporter/Erector/Launcher (TEL), a specialized vehicle that also raises the rocket to a vertical position on the launch pad and serves as a support interface between the rocket and the launch complex’s systems.

“With the completion of the Antares roll out today, we are on a clear path to a launch date of April 17, provided there are no significant weather disruptions or major vehicle check-out delays between now and then,” said Mr. Michael Pinkston, Orbital’s Antares Program Manager. “By later today, the Antares rocket will be in a vertical position and fully integrated with the launch mount on the MARS pad.”

The Antares test flight, dubbed the A-ONE mission, is the first of two missions Orbital is scheduled to conduct in 2013 under its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Space Act Agreement with NASA. Following a successful A-ONE launch, Orbital will carry out a full flight demonstration of its new Antares/Cygnus cargo delivery system to the International Space Station (ISS) around mid-year. In addition, the company is also scheduled to launch the first of eight operational cargo resupply missions to the ISS in 2013 under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA. All COTS and CRS flights will originate from NASA’s WFF, which is geographically well suited for ISS missions and can also accommodate launches of scientific, defense and commercial satellites to other orbits.

The Antares medium-class launch system will provide a major increase in the payload launch capability that Orbital can provide to NASA, the U.S. Air Force and other customers. The Antares rocket will launch spacecraft weighing up to 14,000 lbs. into low-Earth orbit, as well as lighter-weight payloads into higher-energy orbits. Orbital’s newest launcher is currently on-ramped to both the NASA Launch Services-2 and the U.S. Air Force’s Orbital/Suborbital Program-3 contracts, enabling the two largest U.S. government space launch customers to order Antares for “right-size and right-price” launch services for medium-class spacecraft.

About Orbital

Orbital develops and manufactures small- and medium-class rockets and space systems for commercial, military and civil government customers. The company’s primary products are satellites and launch vehicles, including low-Earth orbit, geosynchronous-Earth orbit and planetary exploration spacecraft for communications, remote sensing, scientific and defense missions; human-rated space systems for Earth-orbit, lunar and other missions; ground- and air-launched rockets that deliver satellites into orbit; and missile defense systems that are used as interceptor and target vehicles. Orbital also provides satellite subsystems and space-related technical services to U.S. Government agencies and laboratories.

More information about Orbital can be found at http://www.orbital.com


How do touch-sensitive screens work?

(Image: Fraunhofer IPA )

(Image: Fraunhofer IPA )

Touchscreens have used a variety of techniques over the last two decades to detect the placement of a finger on a screen—ranging from mechanical, optical, and electrical sensing. Today’s capacitive electrical touchscreens have proven to be the most versatile and efficient way to sense human touch.

A capacitor is an electrical circuit that, in its simplest form, is composed of two conductive electrodes separated by an insulating gap. A direct current (DC) of electricity can’t straddle this gap, but an alternating current (AC) can induce a charge to flow from one side to the other. The surface of a touchscreen is blanketed with a grid of electrodes. Wherever our finger comes to rest, a capacitive contact is formed and the AC current generated within the device induces a corresponding current within our body—which helps span the gap and complete the circuit.

Human beings are good conductors, so using our fingers to close an electrical circuit makes it very easy to detect human touch with high fidelity. If a grid location on the touchscreen is to sense the AC current, there has to be a return [electrical] path. For a touchscreen on a handheld device such as a smartphone, you’re holding it with the other hand, and this completes the electrical loop to the backside of the device, which is electrically grounded. If the touchscreen is part of an installation, such as an ATM, some part of our body is most likely in contact with an electrical ground. It’s very hard (for our bodies) to avoid making a ground contact, which virtually guarantees that humans (or their fingers) can close an electrical loop for capacitive screens.

If it sounds alarming to have electricity passing through your body, worry not. The AC currents in touchscreens are within levels for natural charge conduction in our bodies—and the true revolution and utility of modern touchscreens lies in the rapidity of their responses. The unsung hero is the microcontroller. Behind every electrode on a touchscreen grid lies an embedded microcontroller that has a clockspeed of nanoseconds. It is this fast response time that enables modern smartphones to have such smooth interaction with human touch, and it is this progress that has driven the growing appeal of touchscreens in recent years.

Capacitive sensing has led to unexpected new innovations, such as the leading sensor used in auto safety systems for cars to detect the location of their occupants, and based on a kind of imaging that uses electric fields. With a little cooperation between man and machine, touch-sensitive screens have opened the doors to a host of new interactive technologies.


Mars Missions in April affected by solar alignment

Image copyright NASA

Image copyright NASA

The positions of the planets next month will mean diminished communications between Earth and NASA’s spacecraft at Mars.

Mars will be passing almost directly behind the sun, from Earth’s perspective. The sun can easily disrupt radio transmissions between the two planets during that near-alignment. To prevent an impaired command from reaching an orbiter or rover, mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., are preparing to suspend sending any commands to spacecraft at Mars for weeks in April. Transmissions from Mars to Earth will also be reduced.

The travels of Earth and Mars around the sun set up this arrangement, called a Mars solar conjunction, about once every 26 months.

“This is our sixth conjunction for Odyssey,” said Chris Potts of JPL, mission manager for NASA’s Mars Odyssey, which has been orbiting Mars since 2001. “We have plenty of useful experience dealing with them, though each conjunction is a little different.”

The Mars solar conjunctions that occur once about every 26 months are not identical to each other. They can differ in exactly how close to directly behind the sun Mars gets, and they can differ in how active the sun is. The sun’s activity, in terms of sunspots and solar flares, varies on a 22-year cycle.

This year, the apparent angle between Mars and the sun (if you could see Mars against the glare of the sun–but don’t try, because it’s dangerous to the eyes) will slim to 0.4 degree on April 17. The sun is in a more active period of solar flares for its current cycle, compared to the 2011 conjunction, but this cycle has been relatively mild.

“The biggest difference for this 2013 conjunction is having Curiosity on Mars,” Potts said. Odyssey and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter relay almost all data coming from Curiosity and the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, as well as conducting the orbiters’ own science observations.

Transmissions from Earth to the orbiters will be suspended while Mars and the sun are two degrees or less apart in the sky, from April 9 to 26, with restricted commanding during additional days before and after. Both orbiters will continue science observations on a reduced basis compared to usual operations. Both will receive and record data from the rovers. Odyssey will continue transmissions Earthward throughout April, although engineers anticipate some data dropouts, and the recorded data will be retransmitted later.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will go into a record-only mode on April 4. “For the entire conjunction period, we’ll just be storing data on board,” said Deputy Mission Manager Reid Thomas of JPL. He anticipates that the orbiter could have about 40 gigabits of data from its own science instruments and about 12 gigabits of data from Curiosity accumulated for sending to Earth around May 1.

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is approaching its fifth solar conjunction. Its team will send no commands between April 9 and April 26. The rover will continue science activities using a long-term set of commands to be sent beforehand.

“We are doing extra science planning work this month to develop almost three weeks of activity sequences for Opportunity to execute throughout conjunction,” said Opportunity Mission Manager Alfonso Herrera of JPL. The activities during the conjunction period will not include any driving.

Curiosity, the newest asset on Mars, can also continue making science observations from the location where it will spend the conjunction period. Curiosity’s controllers plan to suspend commanding from April 4 to May 1.

“We will maintain visibility of rover status two ways,” said Torsten Zorn of JPL, conjunction planning leader for the mission’s engineering operations team. “First, Curiosity will be sending daily beeps directly to Earth. Our second line of visibility is in the Odyssey relays.”

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, manages the projects operating both NASA Mars orbiters and both Mars rovers for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

1st images from (LDCM) satellite

Image Courtesy NASA

Image Courtesy NASA

NASA and the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have released the first images from the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) satellite, which was launched Feb. 11.

The natural-color images show the intersection of the United States Great Plains and the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming and Colorado. In the images, green coniferous forests in the mountains stretch down to the brown plains with Denver and other cities strung south to north.

LDCM acquired the images at about 1:40 p.m. EDT March 18. The satellite’s Operational Land Imager (OLI) and Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS) instruments observed the scene simultaneously. The USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center in Sioux Falls, S.D., processed the data.

“We are very excited about this first collection of simultaneous imagery,” said Jim Irons, LDCM project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “These images confirm we have two healthy, functioning sensors that survived the rigors of launch and insertion into Earth orbit.”

Since launch, LDCM has been going through on-orbit testing. The mission operations team has completed its review of all major spacecraft and instrument subsystems, and performed multiple spacecraft attitude maneuvers to verify the ability to accurately point the instruments.

The two LDCM sensors collect data simultaneously over the same ground path. OLI collects light reflected off the surface of Earth in nine different regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, including bands of visible light and near-infrared and short-wave-infrared bands, which are beyond human vision. TIRS collects data at two longer wavelength thermal infrared bands that measure heat emitted from the surface.

By looking at different band combinations, scientists can distinguish features on the land surface. These features include forests and how they respond to natural and human-caused disturbances, and the health of agricultural crops and how much water they use. Data from LDCM will extend a continuous, 40-year-long data record of Earth’s surface from previous Landsat satellites, an unmatched, impartial perspective that allows scientists to study how landscapes all across the world change through time.

“These first scenes from the new Landsat satellite continue the remarkable output from the Landsat program with better, more useful imagery and information,” said Matthew C. Larsen, associate director for climate and land use change at the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Va. “We are gratified that this productive partnership between USGS and NASA has maintained the continuity and utility of this essential satellite tool, providing the foundation for land and water management around the globe.”

As planned, LDCM currently is flying in an orbit slightly lower than its operational orbit of 438 miles (705 kilometers) above Earth’s surface. As the spacecraft’s thrusters raise its orbit, the NASA-USGS team will take the opportunity to collect imagery while LDCM is flying under Landsat 7, also operating in orbit. Measurements collected simultaneously from both satellites will allow the team to cross-calibrate the LDCM sensors with Landsat 7’s Enhanced Thematic Mapper-Plus instrument.

“So far, our checkout activities have gone extremely well,” said Ken Schwer, LDCM project manager at Goddard. “The mission operations team has done a tremendous job getting us to the point of imaging Earth.” During the next few weeks, this team will calibrate the instruments and verify they meet performance specifications.

After its checkout and commissioning phase is complete, LDCM will begin its normal operations in May. At that time, NASA will hand over control of the satellite to the USGS, which will operate it throughout its planned five-year mission life. The satellite will be renamed Landsat 8. USGS will process data from OLI and TIRS and add it to the Landsat Data Archive at the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center, where it will be distributed for free via the Internet.

For more information on these first LDCM images, visit: http://go.nasa.gov/13cHhFJ

For more information on the LDCM mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/landsat

NASA’s Operation IceBridge

Image Copyright NASA

Image Copyright NASA

NASA’s Operation IceBridge scientists have begun another season of research activity over Arctic ice sheets and sea ice with the first of a series of science flights from Greenland.

A specially equipped P-3B research aircraft from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va., is operating out of airfields in Thule and Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, and Fairbanks, Alaska. The flights will carry out survey flights over land and sea ice in and around Greenland and the Arctic Ocean through early May.

NASA began the Operation IceBridge airborne campaign in 2009 as a way to continue the record of polar ice measurements made by NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite’s (ICESat) after the satellite stopped gathering data. By flying campaigns in the Arctic and Antarctic each year, IceBridge is maintaining a continuous record of change until the launch of ICESat-2 in 2016.

This year’s IceBridge campaign will continue closely monitoring Arctic sea ice and key areas of the Greenland ice sheet, while expanding coverage in Antarctica.

“Our long term plan, beginning with the Arctic 2013 campaign, is to scale back the land ice portion of the campaign while maintaining the same coverage of sea ice as in previous campaigns,” said Michael Studinger, IceBridge project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Dramatic changes to Arctic sea ice, such as the record-breaking minimum levels reached in 2012, and the potential societal effects of ice loss in the region are driving the demand for sea ice measurements. The mission will survey areas of Arctic sea ice near Greenland with flights out of the U.S. airbase in Thule. IceBridge also will carry out a series of flights from Fairbanks to measure ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas north of Alaska. Researchers will gather critical data during their flights between Greenland and Alaska.

In addition to sea ice, IceBridge will survey the Greenland Ice Sheet in the interior of the country and in rapidly changing areas along the coast, such as the Jakobshavn Glacier.

“We’re starting to see how the whole ice sheet is changing,” Studinger said. “Thinning at the margins is now propagating to the interior.”

IceBridge scientists will collaborate with other groups doing research in the region, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H., and the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington. The laboratories are working together to collect snow depth measurements on Elson Lagoon near Barrow, Alaska, to help NRL evaluate a snow radar they are using.

Joining the IceBridge team are three teachers who will spend time working with the researchers to learn about polar science. High school science teachers from Libertyville, Illinois; Aalborg, Denmark; and Sisimiut, Greenland, will spend time aboard the P-3B during IceBridge survey flights.

IceBridge is providing these teachers with a research experience they can use to better teach science and inspire their students to study scientific fields. The teachers’ involvement is the result of a partnership with the U.S. State Department, the governments of Denmark and Greenland, and the National Science Foundation-funded Polar Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating program.

For more about Operation IceBridge and to follow this year’s campaign, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/icebridge

For more about PolarTREC and the IceBridge teacher research experience, visit: http://go.nasa.gov/13cycwM