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 2020, the study of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was undoubtedly the most urgent priority. But there were also some major breakthroughs in other areas. We’d like to take a moment to recognize them.
1. This year, we learned that we had severely underestimated the human brain’s computing power. Researchers are coming to understand that even the dendritic arms of neurons seem capable of processing information, which means that every neuron might be more like a small computer by itself.
2. The new Information Theory of Individuality completely reimagines the way biologists have traditionally thought about individuality. Armed with information theory, the researchers found objective criteria for defining degrees of individuality in organisms.
3. Deprived of sleep, we and other animals die within weeks. More than a century of scrutiny failed to explain why lack of sleep is so deadly. This year, an answer was finally found — not inside the brain, as expected, but inside the gut.