Host Sarah Crespi talks with Contributing Correspondent Joshua Sokol about magnetars—highly magnetized neutron stars. A recent intense outburst of gamma rays from a nearby galaxy has given astronomers a whole new view on these mysterious magnetic monsters.
Also on this week’s show, Christoph Zollikofer, a professor of anthropology at the University of Zurich, talks about the evolution of humanlike brains. His team’s work with brain-case fossils suggests the complex brains we carry around today were not present in the early hominins to leave Africa, but later developed in the cousins they left behind.
In this month’s episode, we learn that human brains differentiate musical pitch a way that macaque monkeys do not. In fact, speech and music shaped the human brain’s hearing circuits. Researchers are studying these circuits with an eye on developing treatments for neurological disorders.
Researchers have also documented clear links between aerobic exercise and benefits to other parts of the brain, including expansion of the prefrontal cortex, which sits just behind the forehead. Such augmentation of this region has been tied to sharper executive cognitive functions, which involve aspects of planning, decision-making and multitasking—abilities that, like memory, tend to decline with healthy aging and are further degraded in the presence of Alzheimer’s. Scientists suspect that increased connections between existing neurons, rather than the birth of new neurons, are responsible for the beneficial effects of exercise on the prefrontal cortex and other brain regions outside the hippocampus.