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Why you get brain freeze, how Einstein’s brain is different and how a moth can power a robot

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Everybody has experienced that painful throb in the head after eating ice cream or drinking ice-cold liquids too quickly. Last year, Dr. Jorge Serrador at Harvard Medical School in Boston investigated by having 13 healthy adults drink ice water through a straw and report their pain while hooked up to ultrasound equipment to monitor blood flow in the brain. The culprit? Pressure in the brain as the body attempts to keep it warm by flooding it with more blood. It’s similar to the effects of migraine. So far, the best remedy remains not to drink cold things so fast.

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Charles Higgins at the University of Arizona in Tucson is on the cutting edge of the brain-machine interface, combining engineering with biology: A moth was hooked up to a robotic platform on wheels, and the visual activity from the moth’s neural system was used to move the robot. Dr. Higgins hopes the moth’s simple brain, with hundreds of neurons, may hint at the complexities of the human brain, with millions of neurons. A promising area of research and development is prosthetics that need to be controlled by amputees. Higgins also sees a future of hybrid organic computers with machines run by living cells.

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On Albert Einstein’s 1955 death at the age of 76, his family agreed to have his brain removed, weighed, measured and fixed in formaldehyde. It was divided into 240 segments, some of which made it to McMaster University in Hamilton. The seven published studies mostly associate parts of the genius’s brain to his intellectual ability, but others say the conclusions are meaningless. The most recent was done last year with 14 rediscovered photographs of Einstein’s cerebral cortex, the outer layer of the brain. Dean Falk at Florida State University in Tallahassee compared the photographs with other brains and found Einstein had unusual development in the areas used for cognition.

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Yale University neurophysiologist José Delgado demonstrates the power of small remote-controlled devices he developed in the 1960s to implant into the brain. These devices could stimulate emotions and control behaviour. He allowed a bull implanted with a device to charge him, waited until it was just several feet in front of him, then hit the switch. The bull came to a screeching halt and then trotted off in the opposite direction. Partly because of ethical concerns, he stopped his research and retired in the 1970s, but his pioneering paved the way for innovative uses of brain implants for neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and depression. Watch the full video here

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The computer-chip company Intel has been looking into using human brain waves to control electronic equipment such as a computer, television or telephone. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) detects the flow of blood in the brain of human subjects depending on what visual images are shown. The idea is to get rid of the mouse, remote control and dial pad: All you have to do is think of what you want to do and it will happen.

VOLODYMYR GRINKO/Getty Images/iStock

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