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It's all in your head

McGill ophthalmology professor Frederick Kingdom and students Ali Yoonessi and Elena Gheorghiu recently won Best Visual Illusion at the Vision Sciences Society conference for demonstrating the principles of visual illusions with two identical photos of the leaning tower of Pisa that the mind sees as different because they're side by side.

Published: 6 Jun 2007

It was 40 years ago today

McGill neuroscientist Dan Levitin writes, in a Washington Post op-ed piece on the 40th anniversary of the release of the Beatles' eighth album, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band": "A hundred years from now, musicologists say, Beatles songs will be so well known that every child will learn them as nursery rhymes, and most people won't know who wrote them. They will have become sufficiently entrenched in popular culture that it will seem as if they've always existed, like 'Oh! Susanna,' 'This Land Is Your Land' and 'Frère Jacques'... Figuring out why some songs and not others stick in our heads, and why we can enjoy certain songs across a lifetime, is the work not just of composers but also of psychologists and neuroscientists."

Published: 1 Jun 2007

Kids on meds -- trouble ahead

Amir Raz, a professor of clinical neuroscience in the psychiatry department at McGill, is one of a handful of researchers raising concerns over the continued use of antidepressants in children and teens. "The human brain is developing exponentially when we are very young," he says. "And exposure to antidepressants may affect or influence the wiring of the brain, especially when it comes to certain elements that have to do with stress, emotion and the regulation of these."

Published: 31 May 2007

Revolutionaries: Altering human memory

McGill neuroscientist Karim Nader is one of Forbes magazine's "Revolutionaries: Ten People Who Could Change The World." Nader's research is on reducing the severe pain of traumatic memories.

Published: 23 May 2007

Alien species: Controlling global swarming

A virus is causing mass die-offs of fish in the Great Lakes, the world's largest freshwater fishery. The virus is one of nearly 200 alien species that have invaded the region. Anthony Ricciardi, professor of environmental science at McGill, co-writes in an op-ed in the Globe & Mail that a national strategy is needed to address the issue of alien species. "We need to develop biosecurity programs to identify and eliminate the vectors that deliver alien species to our country. We must also increase our capacity to detect new threats early and determine appropriate emergency responses."

Published: 16 May 2007

Putting the Knowledge Economy to the test

L'un commercialise les découvertes des chercheurs de l'Université de Montréal. L'autre trouve du financement pour ceux de McGill. Tous deux sont inquiets. Fait-on suffisamment de recherche universitaire au Québec? Cette recherche contribue-t-elle réellement à l'essor économique de la province? Faut-il maintenir une cloison étanche entre les chercheurs et l'entreprise? Marc Leroux, président de la société en commandite Univalor, et Denis Thérien, vice-principal à la recherche et aux relations internationales de l'Université McGill, ont le même sentiment de fierté à l'égard de la recherche au Québec. Ils partagent aussi la même passion pour les exploits et les prouesses des chercheurs de leurs établissements respectifs. Enfin, tous deux s'inquiètent de l'état du réseau universitaire et de son financement. Toutefois, leurs conceptions du rôle de la recherche diffèrent.

Published: 16 May 2007

Bird's eye view: Humans can help birds wing it

David Bird, professor of wildlife biology and director of the Avian Science and Conservation Centre at Macdonald campus of McGill, writes on the resilience and adaptive behaviours of some of our birds to changes in their environments.

Published: 16 May 2007

Couple's necessity was the mother of invention

In what is being billed as a world first, a Canadian couple has given birth to a little girl who was conceived through a two-step, test-tube method that could herald the next revolution in baby making. Researchers at the McGill Reproductive Centre say the baby, now a healthy 10-month-old, is the first baby in the world known to be born of an egg that had not only been frozen, but that had never ripened inside of a woman. The process allowed the mother to undergo in vitro fertilization without taking standard fertility drugs.

Published: 12 May 2007

Talking Heads

Seed Magazine carries the transcript and video of an extensive conversation between Daniel Levitin, James McGill Professor of Behavioural Neuroscience and Music and author of the New York Times bestseller "This Is Your Brain on Music," and singer, songwriter and artist David Byrne at STK in New York's meatpacking district, in which the two talk about everything from the soundtrack of Psycho to empathy and mirror neurons.

Published: 30 Apr 2007

Language acquisition

According to Fred Genesee, a professor of psycholinguistics at McGill, a child simply needs to be exposed to a different language for at least 30 percent of his or her waking time to acquire it. This means that up to three languages can be learned simultaneously, although the learning process will be more complex, in particular for the adults doing the teaching.

Published: 26 Apr 2007

The beat goes on -- in the brain

McGill's Daniel Levitin continues to garner media attention with an article appearing in last month's Rolling Stone magazine, the London Daily Telegraph's Sunday Magazine and, more recently, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. The producer-turned-neuroscientist Levitin is trying to understand why and how music moves us.

Published: 19 Apr 2007

Master origamist at McGill

Robert Lang, one of the world's top origami masters, comes to McGill next week, where he'll construct the model of a giant pteranodon. Lang's pteranodon should be ready for permanent installation alongside the dinosaur in the main gallery of the Redpath Museum by the end of the week. To benefit the museum, McGill hopes to sell a limited number of Lang's mini-pteranodons in a silent auction.

Published: 16 Apr 2007

Chicken à la King?

A 68-million-year-old T-Rex thigh bone find ties the King of Dinosaurs to modern-day species, with its soft tissue most closely matching that of chickens. "I'd call it a milestone," says paleontologist Hans Larsson of McGill. "Dinosaurs will enter the field of molecular biology and really slingshot paleontology into the modern world."

Published: 13 Apr 2007

Genetic mutation boosts memory

Canadian researchers have discovered a gene mutation that actually improves long-term memory and could eventually lead to a memory-enhancing pill. Working with mice, lead researcher Mauro Costa-Mattioli, a postgraduate fellow at McGill, and colleagues found that rodents that had a defective version of a gene that produces a memory-blocking protein could learn and remember tasks faster than normal mice.

Published: 5 Apr 2007

Researchers identify gene for spina bifida

Researchers at McGill have identified a gene that causes the developmental disorder spina bifida, the second most prevalent birth defect after cardiac abnormalities. The discovery is expected to aid in the diagnosis of the condition, which in its most severe form can lead to crippling disabilities. "We've known for years that there's a genetic component, and now we've discovered one of the culprits," said Philippe Gros, the biochemistry professor who led the team in co-operation with researchers at the Instituto Giannina Gaslini in Genoa, Italy.

Published: 5 Apr 2007