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Sorting Out Stroking Sensations

Katie Neith
The skin is a human being's largest sensory organ, helping to distinguish between a pleasant contact, like a caress, and a negative sensation, like a pinch or a burn. Previous studies have shown that these sensations are carried to the brain by different types of sensory neurons that have nerve endings in the skin. Only a few of those neuron types have been identified, however, and most of those detect painful stimuli. Now biologists have identified in mice a specific class of skin sensory neurons that reacts to an apparently pleasurable stimulus.

Research Update: Wordy Worms and Their Eavesdropping Predators

Katie Neith
For over 25 years, Paul Sternberg has been studying worms—how they develop, why they sleep, and, more recently, how they communicate. Now, he has flipped the script a bit by taking a closer look at how predatory fungi may be tapping into worm conversations to gain clues about their whereabouts.

Social Synchronicity: A Connection Between Bonding and Matched Movements

Katie Neith
Humans have a tendency to spontaneously synchronize their movements. For example, the footsteps of two friends walking together may synchronize, although neither individual is consciously aware that it is happening. Similarly, the clapping hands of an audience will naturally fall into synch. Although this type of synchronous body movement has been observed widely, its neurological mechanism and its role in social interactions remain obscure. A new study, led by cognitive neuroscientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), has found that body-movement synchronization between two participants increases following a short session of cooperative training, suggesting that our ability to synchronize body movements is a measurable indicator of social interaction.

Watson Lecture: "Brain Control with Light"

Douglas Smith
Viviana Gradinaru (BS '05) might one day be getting inside your head—but in a good way. An assistant professor of biology at Caltech, Gradinaru is trying to map out the brain's wiring diagrams. Gradinaru will discuss her work at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, December 5, in Caltech's Beckman Auditorium. Admission is free.

An Eye for Science: In the Lab of Markus Meister

Katie Neith
But Meister, who earned his PhD at Caltech in 1987 and was the Tarr Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard before returning to Caltech.

A Fresh Look at Psychiatric Drugs

Drugs for psychiatric disorders such as depression and schizophrenia often require weeks to take full effect. "What takes so long?" has formed one of psychiatry's most stubborn mysteries. Now a fresh look at previous research on quite a different drug—nicotine—is providing answers.

Developmental Bait and Switch

Katie Neith
A Caltech-led team has discovered the enzyme responsible for the development of neural crest cells in vertebrates.

Progress for Paraplegics

Michael Rogers
Caltech engineers, who last year helped enable a paraplegic man to stand and move his legs voluntarily, have developed a new method to automate the system, which provides epidural electrical stimulation to people with spinal-cord injuries. This advancement could make the technology widely available to rehab clinics and thousands of patients worldwide.

Two Faculty Members Named Packard Fellows

Marcus Woo
Two Caltech faculty members have been awarded Packard Fellowships for Science and Engineering. Biologist Alexei Aravin and astronomer John Johnson each were awarded $875,000, to be distributed over five years.

Wordy Worms

Katie Neith
Lurking in the crevices of our planet are millions and millions of microscopic worms. They live in soil, plants, water, ice, wildlife, and sometimes even humans. In fact, nematodes are among the most abundant and diverse animals on Earth, where they play a variety of roles.