# Category Archives: Science Communication

## Usage of mathematics for an understanding of how the brain functions

When a tree falls in the middle of a forest and nobody heard it falling, can it be considered as a sound? Well, to answer this question, mathematics can guide us to understand how our vision and hearing works.

Priscilla Greenwood, a mathematicians and  Lawrence Ward, a neuroscientist at the University of British Columbia worked together on a research that explains how we perceive the things that occur around us as a part of our brain receives signals. Based on the enough patterns of the signals that occur when we use our senses, it is possible for a computer to imitate a real brain.

A part of our brain that lights up when we perceive things around us
Photo Credit: Flickr

To understand the pattern of the signals that our brains receive, we first need to encounter the shape of a Mexican hat, which is a shape of a tiny area of nerves that changes when we see an image. The pointy part of the diagram below shows the area of focus where the nerves respond the most and the dented area represents the area that we mostly ignore when encountering an image. In other words, as we pay more attention to a specific area, we automatically pay less attention to other areas.

A diagram of the Mexican Hat.
Image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Spontaneous_symmetry_breaking#/media/File:Mexican_hat_potential_polar.svg

We had the opportunity to interview Dr. Ward about the research for the better understanding of the concepts. Dr. Ward elaborated more on the activity of the tiny neurons in our brains in patterns, which matches with a shape of sombrero (similar to the Mexican hat shape). Listen to the explanation of their research in the following podcast.

Podcast credit: Kang Zhihao

Why did they choose the Mexican hat equation particularly to explain how we perceive the randomness of things? It is because it is a most suitable way to describe the aspects of brain activity and the pairing of the neurons and to calculate how we perceive sights around us. In the video below, Dr. Ward describes how a form of wave  of neural activity exist in our brain that varies according to the level of activity based on the activity of our senses.

What can we do with the information from this research? The important findings of this study may help us to construct a model that has a similar level of intelligence that a real brain consists. Also, the mathematics can be applied to recreate brain simulations possibly in the future, but the real brain still outlasts the machines. The answer to the question that was asked in the beginning, is that in order for us to hear the tree that falls in the middle of the forest depends on how high can the Mexican hat of our brain be.

-Group 5: Aaron yen, Zhihao Kang, Huanxin Zhang, Victoria Park

Video credit:

o Pattern Dynamics of Reaction Diffusion Equation: ak0amay Published on Oct 10, 2015 o Brain model: Growing a Brain Pattern: Particle Skull, Published on Jul 9, 2014 o What Are Brain Waves?: MinuteEarth, Published on Nov 7, 2017 o The brain waves when noised involved: Relaxing White Noise, Published on Feb 10, 2015 o Brain patterns in math: École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Published on Jun 12, 2017 Thanks to Dr. Janet Ochola and Dr. Andrew Trites for guidance and advice during the project. Thanks to Dr. Priscilla Greenwood for the insight and Dr. Lawrence Ward for the explanations.

Audio credit:

The background musics are public domain and licensed from y.qq.com

## The Diet for “Fast” Physical and Mental Health Benefits: Intermittent Fasting

You may have heard of the typical low carb or low fat diet, but have you heard of intermittent fasting? Intermittent fasting (IF) is a relatively new diet that has been recently growing in popularity because of its powerful, life-changing benefits for the body and the brain.

There are many diets out there that are complex and intimidating to follow; however, IF keeps it simple.

What is intermittent fasting and how does it work?

IF is an eating pattern where an individual cycles between periods of eating and non-eating. There are many variations of IF that contain different fasting and non-fasting timeframes. Which variation an individual should use is based on their personal preference and their lifestyle/goals. Compared to other diets that require you to limit your calories, IF requires you to cut out the entire meal itself. With IF’s unconventional dieting approach, this makes IF easy to follow for the average person. This has contributed to the diet’s rise in popularity as well as its benefits in body composition and the brain.

Why should I try this diet? What are its benefits?

There are many benefits with intermittent fasting. Below are some of the most important ones that separate this diet apart from others.

IF alters the function of cells, genes and hormones

When the body is in a fasted state, the body undergoes physiological changes such as changes in hormone levels. This allows the body to use stored fat as its main source of energy. Furthermore, insulin blood levels decrease which helps with fat burning. The human growth hormone (HGH) also gets elevated during fasting. Elevated levels of HGH further increase fat burning, muscle gain and other health benefits. As a result of decreased insulin levels and increased HGH, our cells undergo cellular repair processes and removes toxic waste from cells. This in turn can help prevent cancer.

IF benefits the brain

Previous studies have shown that IF improves certain metabolic features that are important for mental health. This involves lowering of blood sugar levels and insulin resistance which is important in fighting against certain diseases. Fasting up-regulates the secretion of brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF), a protein that is involved in cognitive functions, memory and overall brain health. A study that experimented with rats showed that IF can elevate the production of new nerve cells which positively impacts the brain. Secretion of BDNF also contributes to lower chances of mental disorders such as depression and other brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, a study involving animals has shown that IF prevents brain damage caused by strokes.

IF can lower the risk of Type 2 Diabetes

As mentioned earlier, fasting reduces insulin. The reduction of insulin levels ultimately lowers type 2 diabetes, a lifelong disease that increases the production of insulin beyond healthy levels. A study comparing IF to calorie restriction diets showed that IF has a stronger impact on lowering insulin levels and lowering blood sugar levels in the body. Collectively, studies have shown that IF can serve as an efficient protection mechanism for people at risk of type 2 diabetes.

IF can improve heart health

Today, heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women. It is still not well known whether IF can improve heart health due to the limited amount of studies out there. Emerging studies on the effectiveness of IF and heart disease are slowly on the rise.

Below is a video from the Intermountain Research & Medical Foundation discussing their findings on heart disease and IF.