Sunday, June 04, 2006


The Woman Who Never Forgets

Does AJ have the world's best memory?
By Susan Kruglinski
DISCOVER Vol. 27 No. 06 | June 2006 | Mind & Brain

"I can remember everything that has happened to me—what day it was on, what was happening in the world, who was in my life at the time, and usually what the weather was like," says the subject known only as AJ. Researchers at the University of California at Irvine describe AJ as the first reported case of a person capable of near-perfect feats of recollection without using mnemonic tricks.

But K. Anders Ericsson, a cognitive scientist at Florida State University, contends that his research shows how ordinary people can easily acquire extraordinary recollection skills. AJ kept a 24-year diary and admits that she ruminates over dates and events. That obsessive quality may be the key to her ability, Ericsson says. "It's possible that anyone who put in half an hour a day thinking about what they were doing would be able to build up a memory comparable to hers." James McGaugh, one of the Irvine scientists who has studied AJ, remains convinced of her superlative memory and is determined to find out how it works. "She is not a mnemonist," he says. "She does it naturally and inadvertently."

To read an interview with AJ, click here


The Dark Side of the Sun

Scientists spot solar storms before they spin this way
By Bjorn Carey
DISCOVER Vol. 27 No. 06 | June 2006 | Astronomy & Physics

On the sun, what you can't see can fry you. The sun rotates so slowly that it takes about a month to complete one turn, meaning that activity on its farside is hidden for up to two weeks at a time. If a giant magnetic storm is brewing on the farside, it will hit Earth with a flood of radiation as it finally rotates into view. That happened in 2003, when the unexpected blast knocked out communications satellites and interfered with airplane navigation systems. Now scientists using NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite can peer right through the sun and anticipate such storms well before they hit.

The secret is learning to "see" the sun in sound, says Phil Scherrer of Stanford University. Every second about 7,000 California-size bubbles of hot plasma rise to the surface of the sun and pop, creating a cacophony of sound waves. As the waves reverberate through the interior, they reflect off the surface of the sun's farside before returning to the front, where they create a slight ripple that SOHO's instruments can detect. Sound waves speed up when they hit a magnetically active region on the back side, so if they return to the front a bit sooner than normal, that means a magnetic storm is brewing.

The new method should give significantly more advance warning to satellite operators and air traffic controllers. It may help protect astronauts on the moon or traveling to Mars (see "Impossible Journey?"). "Now we don't have to wait to see the storm," Scherrer says. "You can see that it's coming around the corner."


No More Nerve Damage

A new drug reverses nerve damage in diabetics.

By Eva Gladek

May 26, 2006 | Biology & Medicine

It could be the first treatment for a terrifying problem faced by people with diabetes – the nerve damage that's a leading cause of amputations. A new drug being tested in people with diabetic nerve damage uses a patient's own genes to treat them.

Diabetic neuropathy nerve damage, which causes a loss of sensation in the hands and feet, can allow small injuries to go unnoticed and become severely infected, to the point where amputation is the only option. Tight control of blood sugar can keep neuropathy at bay, but there is no cure.

"There are a variety of medications that are available now that can help with the pain but unfortunately, there's nothing available to help with numbness or prevention of nerve damage," says diabetes specialist Mark Kipnes, MD, director of the Diabetes and Glandular Disease Research Clinic in San Antonio, Texas.

Read more here

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