How Drinking Coffee Makes Us Younger and More Open-Minded

(p. C2) . . . , if a baby monkey heard a new sound pattern many times, her neurons (brain cells) would adjust to respond more to that sound pattern. Older monkeys’ neurons didn’t change in the same way.

At least part of the reason for this lies in neurotransmitters, chemicals that help to connect one neuron to another. Young animals have high levels of “cholinergic” neurotransmitters that make the brain more plastic, easier to change. Older animals start to produce inhibitory chemicals that counteract the effect of the cholinergic ones. They actually actively keep the brain from changing.

. . .

In the new research, Jay Blundon and colleagues at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., tried to restore early-learning abilities to adult mice. As in the earlier experiments, they exposed the mice to a new sound and recorded whether their neurons changed in response. But this time the researchers tried making the adult mice more flexible by keeping the inhibitory brain chemicals from influencing the neurons.

In some studies, they actually changed the mouse genes so that the animals no longer produced the inhibitors in the same way. In others, they injected other chemicals that counteracted the inhibitors. (Caffeine seems to work in this way, by counteracting inhibitory neurotransmitters. That’s why coffee makes us more alert and helps us to learn.)

In all of these cases in the St. Jude study, the adult brains started to look like the baby brains.

For the full commentary, see:

Alison Gopnik. “MIND & MATTER; How to Get Old Brains to Think Like Young Ones.” The New York Times (Saturday, July 8, 2017): C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 7, 2017, and has the same title as the print version.)

The article co-authored by Jay Blundon and mentioned above,is:

Blundon, Jay A., Noah C. Roy, Brett J. W. Teubner, Jing Yu, Tae-Yeon Eom, K. Jake Sample, Amar Pani, Richard J. Smeyne, Seung Baek Han, Ryan A. Kerekes, Derek C. Rose, Troy A. Hackett, Pradeep K. Vuppala, Burgess B. Freeman, and Stanislav S. Zakharenko. “Restoring Auditory Cortex Plasticity in Adult Mice by Restricting Thalamic Adenosine Signaling.” Science 356, no. 6345 (June 30, 2017): 1352-56.

In Batteries We Don’t Need Perfect; We Need Goodenough

(p. B5) In the race to make the next leap in battery technology, there is a 96-year-old who won’t give up.

Four decades ago, John Goodenough helped invent the battery that is used to charge cellphones, iPads and many other of today’s electronic goods. His work made batteries more powerful and portable by introducing lithium cobalt oxide to their inner workings.

Now Dr. Goodenough wants to kill off that creation by removing the cobalt that meant his lithium-ion battery could charge faster and last longer. In April [2018], the World War II veteran published research with three co-authors that he said is being used to develop a prototype of a liquid-free and cobalt-free battery.

“My mission is to try to see if I can transform the battery world before I die,” Dr. Goodenough says. “When I’m no longer able to drive and I’m forced to go into a nursing home, then I suppose I will be retiring.”

. . .

“He is driven by scientific curiosity, and he really wants to do something for society with the science he does,” says Arumugam Manthiram, a professor of engineering at the University of Texas at Austin who has worked with Dr. Goodenough for 33 years.

. . .

Dr. Goodenough arrives at the university between 8 and 8.30 a.m. and leaves around 6 p.m., working from home throughout the weekend, Dr. Manthiram says.

. . .

Despite having dyslexia, Dr. Goodenough excelled and went to study mathematics at Yale University.

. . .

. . . , Dr. Goodenough is supervising what he says is his final doctoral candidate, a 24-year-old materials science and engineering student.

“Dr. Goodenough says I’m going to be his last Ph.D. student, but apparently he says that every couple of years and then takes on new candidates,” says student Nick Grundish.

For the full story, see:

Sarah McFarlane. “Meet the 96-Year-Old Battery Pioneer Who Keeps Going and Going.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018): B5.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 9, 2018, and the title “The Battery Pioneer Who, at Age 96, Keeps Going and Going.”)

Obamacare Architect Ezekiel Emanuel “Will Be Satisfied” with 75 Years

(p. A13) Ezekiel Emanuel, a 61-year-old oncologist, bioethicist and vice provost at the University of Pennsylvania, says he will be satisfied to reach 75. By then, he believes, he will have made his most important contributions, seen his kids grown, and his grandkids born. After his 75th birthday, he won’t get flu shots, take antibiotics, get screened for cancer or undergo stress tests. If he lives longer, that’s fine, he says. He just won’t take extra medical steps to prolong life.

“People want to live to 100 but your horizon of what life is becomes much, much narrower,” he says.

For the full story, see:

Clare Ansberry. “TURNING POINTS; The Advantages—and Limitations—of Living to 100.” The New York Times (Tuesday, May 21, 2019): A13.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 20, 2019, and has the same title as the print version.)

At 70, James Dyson Embarks on Audacious Electric Car Project

(p. B5) James Dyson, best known for innovative vacuum cleaners, said recently that he was preparing to introduce a new electric car and had 400 people working on the project.

. . .

But breaking into the car business is far more complex than it might appear at first glance. A new carmaker must design the vehicle and figure out how to manufacture it — and that is only the beginning. Success requires a number of to-dos: effective marketing, a dealer network and, perhaps, arranging buyer financing.

“There is a huge list,” said Peter Wells, a professor at Cardiff Business School in Wales. “That has been one of the reasons why the barriers to entry in the automotive industry have been relatively high.”

Still, Mr. Wells said that the car industry is “at a very important pivot point in its history now, where a combination of factors are radically altering what is possible.” And Mr. Dyson, 70, . . . , could be in a position to take advantage.

. . .

Mr. Dyson has proved himself a dogged inventor, designing high-end vacuum cleaners and other products like hair dryers. His technological savvy gives him a chance of scoring a hit in the much more complex and costly global car industry, analysts said. In 2015, he bought Sakti3, an American start-up that is working with solid state batteries. Mr. Dyson said he could be on track to commercializing a so-called solid state battery, which analysts say might be more powerful and safer than the lithium ion devices now used in electric cars and cellphones. He said both the start-up and his own team were working on the project. Continue reading “At 70, James Dyson Embarks on Audacious Electric Car Project”

Caring Bonds Among Sentient Beings Refute “Anthropodenial”

(p. 1) The two old friends hadn’t seen each other lately. Now one of them was on her deathbed, crippled with arthritis, refusing food and drink, dying of old age. Her friend had come to say goodbye. At first she didn’t seem to notice him. But when she realized he was there, her reaction was unmistakable: Her face broke into an ecstatic grin. She cried out in delight. She reached for her visitor’s head and stroked his hair. As he caressed her face, she draped her arm around his neck and pulled him closer.

The mutual emotion so evident in this deathbed reunion was especially moving and remarkable because the visitor, Dr. Jan Van Hooff, was a Dutch biologist, and his friend, Mama, was a chimpanzee. The event — recorded on a cellphone, shown on TV and widely shared on the internet — provides the opening story and title for the ethologist Frans de Waal’s game-changing new book, “Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves.” Continue reading “Caring Bonds Among Sentient Beings Refute “Anthropodenial””

“Confidence Stops You from Learning”

(p. A15) Mr. Karlgaard, a former publisher of Forbes magazine, has plenty of vivid anecdotes to make his case for late bloomers.

. . .

Bill Walsh, the great coach of the San Francisco 49ers, got his first NFL head coaching job when he was 46 and won his first Super Bowl at 50. He was famously twitchy, self-deprecating and eager to learn, and had this to say about confidence: “In my whole career I’ve been passing men with greater bravado and confidence. Confidence gets you off to a fast start. Confidence gets you that first job and maybe the next two promotions. But confidence stops you from learning. Confidence becomes a caricature after a while. I can’t tell you how many confident blowhards I’ve seen in my coaching career who never got better after the age of forty.”

Late bloomers, Mr. Karlgaard argues, are not just people of great talent who develop later in their lives. They also possess qualities that can only be acquired through time and experience. They tend to be more curious, compassionate, resilient and wise than younger people of equal talent. This may be true, Mr. Karlgaard notes, of older people generally, who are being flushed out of the workforce much too early.

For the full review, see:

Philip Delves Broughton. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Standing Against Psychiatry’s Crazes.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, April 30, 2019): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 29, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Late Bloomers’ Review: Please Don’t Rush Me.”)

The book under review, is:

Karlgaard, Rich. Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement. New York: Currency, 2019.

“Can We Stay Forever?”

(p. A8) “Anyone who knew my mom knew Disney was her happy place,” said Jodie Jackson Wells, a business coach in Boca Raton, Fla., who in 2009 smuggled a pill bottle containing her mother’s ashes into Walt Disney World.

Once inside, Ms. Wells helped spread ashes on the platform of It’s a Small World near a head-spinning bird, a moment in the ride that always made her mother laugh. Later in the day, overcome with grief, Ms. Wells hopped over the barricade surrounding the lawn outside Cinderella’s castle and ran across the grass, flinging them as she crossed.

“I had two fistfuls of the ashes and I literally leapt like I was a dancer,” she said.

. . .

Caryn Reker of Jacksonville, Fla., remembers her father growing emotional while watching the Wishes fireworks show outside the ice-cream parlor on Disney World’s Main Street. When time came for her to spread his ashes, in 2006, she opted to do it in numerous spots around the area.

“It’s a sweet way to giggle and remember—he’s here. . . and there. . . and a little over there. . . yep, there, too,” she wrote in an email. She returned to Disney World last week to spread the ashes of her brother, an Epcot enthusiast who died this year.

. . .

Shanon Himebrook, a 41-year-old state-government employee from Kansas City, Mo., grew up making summer trips to Disney World with her father, a worker at a plastic factory in Indiana.

At Disney, “he wasn’t my tired, graveyard-shift Dad,” she said. “He was, ‘Let’s get you the Mouse ears! Let’s get your name stitched in it!’ It’s like, ‘I love this dad! Can we stay forever?’”

Ms. Himebrook spread his ashes earlier this year near the park gates.

. . .

Kym Pessolano DeBarth, a 47-year-old optometrist-office worker from Northfield, N.J., dumped a small amount of her mother’s ashes in the water underneath It’s a Small World. “I didn’t want to clog the filter,” she said.

In December [2018], she’ll return to the park to commemorate the 15th anniversary of her mother’s death.

“Instead of going to a grave,” she said, “I go to Disney World.”

For the full story, see:

Erich Schwartzel. “Disney World Has a Secret: Family Ashes.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018): A1 & A8.

(Note: bracketed year, and ellipses between paragraphs, added; ellipses internal to a sentence, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 24, 2018, and has the title “Disney World’s Big Secret: It’s a Favorite Spot to Scatter Family Ashes.”)