Mammalian perseverance, rapid radio bursts and health justice


The great rupture of our ancestors happened 66 million years ago, the worst day in the history of the Earth. An asteroid slammed into our planet, sparking tsunamis, volcanoes and wildfires, and darkening the skies for years. The catastrophe was the end of the dinosaurs (besides the birds) but a new beginning for the mammals – or at least the mammals that survived. In our cover story, paleontologist Steve Brusatte completes this origin story with fascinating new details about the mammals that thrived in the before and a deeper understanding of how some survived in the after.

Child development is one of the richest and most productive areas of research today – so much happens from birth through the first years of life. The brain develops rapidly and makes a million connections per second as children learn languages ​​and social relationships and how to explore the world. As a researcher and physician on childhood learning, Dana Suskind and writer and American Scientist Editor Lydia Denworth explains that research has identified two crucial factors that promote healthy cognitive development: protection from stress and nurturing interactions with caregivers. The work they share has pressing implications for policies that help children thrive.

By delving deeper into how the brain learns to make sense of the world, neuroscientist György Buzsáki presents an “inside-out” theory of brain function. The classic “outside-in” view holds that the brain begins as a blank page and is inscribed by perceptions and experience. But the brain has its own ideas about how to organize, generalize, and respond to external stimuli. Human and animal studies and AI research show how the brain’s internal algorithms can be used to shape our experiences, plan ahead and learn efficiently.

Powerful flares called fast radio bursts erupt with as much energy in an instant as our sun emits in a month. Astronomers aren’t sure exactly what causes the flashes, but they made a lot of headway when a particularly energetic fast radio burst in 2020 was traced to a magnetar, a huge remnant of a supernova. However, not all fast radio bursts appear to be from magnetars, and some may be repeaters rather than single bursts. It’s a hot area of ​​astronomy, as science writer Adam Mann describes it, and it’s about to get hotter – fast radio bursts could help reveal the matter they’ve traveled through since their origins. to our telescopes.

A fundamental injustice of modern times is that privileged people live longer and healthier lives than people who face discrimination, powerlessness and systemic prejudice. Our special feature on health equity explains what we know about the disparities in our health systems and, more importantly, how to fix them. Heart disease, the number one cause of death worldwide, is even more deadly in disadvantaged groups. The world’s oldest pandemic, tuberculosis, has been largely eliminated in the rich world but persists in poverty. Mental health care should be a right, not a privilege. And you’ll meet people who are finding solutions to health inequalities around the world and learning ever-relevant lessons from the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

All of us at American Scientist thank Curtis Brainard, our editor, for leading the health equity portfolio in this issue and so many other innovations and projects. Curtis joined our publication in 2014 as a blog editor and soon began overseeing all of our online content. He became editor in 2017 and acting editor in 2019 and took us through the onset of the COVID pandemic. Curtis leaves American Scientist (reluctantly, he says) for a nice new job in Paris, and we all wish him luck, but damn it, we’ll miss him!


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