In 1989, when he was studying for a master’s degree in psychology at the University of Montreal, a man armed with a semiautomatic rifle walked into an engineering classroom on campus, separated the men from the women and shot the women. The gunman continued the massacre in other classrooms and hallways of the university’s École Polytechnique, shooting 27 people and killing 14 women before killing himself. To Nader and his colleagues, the experiment supports the idea that a memory is re-formed in the process of calling it up. “From our perspective, this looks a lot like memory reconsolidation,” says Oliver Hardt, a postdoctoral researcher in Nader’s lab. Like millions of people, Nader has vivid and emotional memories of the September 11, 2001, attacks and their aftermath. But as an expert on memory, and, in particular, on the malleability of memory, he knows better than to fully trust his recollections.
How do scientists calculate the age of a star?
Despite popular images of Jane Goodall observing chimpanzees, almost all early studies of primate behavior were conducted by men. Male primatologists generally adopted Charles Darwin’s view of evolutionary biology and focused on competition among males for access to females. In this view, female primates are passive, and either the winning male has access to all the females or females simply choose the most powerful male. It was not until 1926, when the National Academy of Sciences adopted the radiometric timescale, that we can regard the controversy as finally resolved. Critical to this resolution were improved methods of dating, which incorporated advances in mass spectrometry, sampling and laser heating. The resulting knowledge has led to the current understanding that the earth is 4.55 billion years old.
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But the data struck a more harmonious chord with some psychologists. After all, their experiments had long suggested that memory can easily be distorted without people realizing it. Nader believes he may have an explanation for such quirks of memory. His ideas are unconventional within neuroscience, and they have caused researchers to reconsider some of their most basic assumptions about how memory works.
A light microscope, of the sort commonly found in high school and undergraduate biology labs. Both magnification and resolution are important if you want a clear picture of something very tiny. For example, if a microscope has high magnification but low resolution, all you’ll get is a bigger version of a blurry image.
If participation in cultural practices is central to our development as humans, then these practices will influence how we learn and practice science. In psychology, scholars who have intentionally focused on cultural orientations have expanded previously accepted conceptions of identity development, motivation and resilience. Research on the effect of teaching children to appreciate their racial heritage has pushed boundaries of accepted conceptions of identity development. Minority scholars have pointed out that studies tend to focus on the effects of diversity rather than the effects of homogeneity and other gaps in scientific practices. Nevertheless, by the late 19th century the geologists included here had reached a consensus for the age of the earth of around 100 million years. Having come that far, they were initially quite reluctant to accept a further expansion of the geologic timescale by a factor of 10 or more. And we should resist the temptation to blame them for their resistance.
Researchers are brought into contact with those in parliament, government and the civil service with the main objective to help them understand that they have a part to play in the process. Training for most postgraduate scientists starts – and too often ends – in the laboratory, despite the fact that due to the shortage of senior university posts, many will need to deploy their skills elsewhere. With today’s emphasis on obtaining funding, the focus in universities is on achieving “high research ratings” through research published in premier league journals. This is not a bad objective, but in the process, preparing PhD students and postdocs for careers outside academia receives scant attention. Volunteers in the Ask an Expert forums check in on a scheduled day once a week in a forum that matches their area of expertise and provide guidance to students working on science projects.
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In the winter of 1999, he taught four rats that a high-pitched beep preceded a mild electric shock. That was easy—rodents learn such pairings after being exposed to them just once. Nader then waited 24 hours, played the tone to reactivate the memory and injected into the rat’s brain a drug that prevents neurons from making new proteins. Memories are stored in a region of the brain called the hippocampus, shown in red in this computer illustration.