Better tools, better science: Being able to monitor the brain cells of an animal while it freely moves around and interacts with its environment, now that’s doing science the right way. No more tying the subject down inside a massive device and showing it pictures of changing scenery while scanning its brain. Well, actually there are some types of scanning that can only be done that way, but the creation of a scanning device small enough to be worn on the outside of the head…
…researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen have developed a way of actually watching the activity of many brain cells simultaneously in an animal that is free to move around the environment. By developing a small, light-weight laser-scanning microscope, researchers were able to, for the first time, image activity from fluorescent neurons in animals that were awake and moving around, while tracking the exact position of the animal in space. The microscope uses a high-powered pulsing laser and fiber optics to scan cells below the surface of the brain, eliminating the need to insert electrodes, which are traditionally used. Because of this, the microscope is non-invasive to the brain tissue.
There are limitations to this new piece of scientific equipment, such as scanning depth and resolution, but it’s indicative of technical improvements with obvious benefit. We’ll probably get a fancy acronym for it (Germans love acronyms too).