More controversial that you'd think

Grab your lab coats and slap on your safety goggles, because the world of science is in turmoil. Sort of. This week Zealous Xenobiologist Zach Kagan brings you exciting tales of global warming, stem cells, the secrets of the the brain and more.

Last Wednesday Havemeyer Hall became a battleground over the future direction of Neuroscience research. In a public debate, moderated by Robert Kulwhich of Radiolab fame, two top neuroscientists argued over the direction of future research: In one corner we have Sebastian Seung, MIT professor of computational neuroscience and swanky dresser, and in the other corner we have the one-and-only director of the Center for Neural Science at NYU, Tony Movshon. Seung came into the ring swinging, arguing the the ways that neurons interconnect throughout the brain is the most important avenue for research. Movshon fought back, standing firm in his belief that scientists should specialize in which area of the brain they study, getting deeper into how each individual part functions. In the end both combatants went the whole fifteen without a knock out, but it was a hell of a show.

Most people, other than Fox news pundits, will agree that global warming is caused by increased carbon dioxide levels. However, there have been many other warm periods, which begs the question–was CO2 also involved in these instances? The answer is generally yes, according to a sweeping new study analyzing the global mean temperatures and carbon dioxide levels throughout time. When CO2 levels go up, temperature rises not long after. For example, approximately 21,000 years ago variations in the Earth’s orbit caused warmer summer in the norther hemisphere, causing glaciers to melt, the resulting glacial water altered the Atlantic current system, allowing deep sea CO2 to escape into the atmosphere, warming the planet. Columbia post doctorate fellow Jeremy Shakun remarks: “We constructed the first-ever record of global temperature spanning the end of the last ice age based on 80 proxy temperature records from around the world… It’s no small task to get at global mean temperature.” 

Lou Gehrig was a Columbia student and first baseman for the Yankees, but his name is perhaps better associated with Lou Gehrig’s disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Now Columbia researchers are working on fighting back against the disease that took a son of Knickerbocker. A recent study of individuals with ALS shows that there is progressive accumulation of a mutated form of a DNA-binding protein called TDP-43. It’s been hypothesized the build up of this protein in neuronal may be responsible for the onset and the progression of disease. To test that hypothesis scientists used stem cells to model the development of motor neural diseases. They discovered that TDP-43 build up does indeed result in the death of motor neural cells, a crucial step for developing treatments.
Today’s world offers more distractions than ever. To figure out the biggest causes of procrastination, Columbia doctoral graduate Jianzhong Xu has conducted a study where he examined how students get distracted from their homework and in what situations. It’s early, but so far his data has yielded some interesting results: girls are more likely to get distracted than boys, and 11th graders are more likely to get distracted than younger children. If you want his advice on how to stay on task, Xu says that it’s best to prioritize what needs to be done and create a constructive study space.
Got an interview coming up? Here’s a quick tip, from science! According to a new study 
narcissism pays off when looking for a job. While promoting ones self constantly is annoying in regular life, in the interview chair it makes you look confident, and that’s what employeers gravitate towards.

Tricky Little Bugger via Wikimedia Commons