From Brainwaves to Mind Reading

by Kathryn on September 26, 2016

My latest article was just published on Science News for Students: One day, computers may decode your dreams

Along with it, I wrote this explainer: How to read brain activity

When I set out to write this article, the only real guidance I had was to write something about the science of brainwaves, including what they are, and what scientists are learning about them. As I started researching, I found myself tugged in a couple different directions. I had research about using the mind to control robotic limbs, research about learning to read thoughts or dreams, and research about brainwaves as identifiers for cybersecurity.

Really, only the third type of research has anything to do with brainwaves, but I didn’t know that at first. I thought “brainwaves” just meant “brain activity.” But, as I learned in conversations with my sources, brainwaves are actually just a rough measurement of overall brain activity, usually visualized as the spiky readout from an EEG. In order to study mind control or read thoughts, scientists have to look deeper, at the activity of individual neurons or small groups of neurons. These signals are called action potentials.

As I was trying to put the whole article together, it was getting way too long and unwieldy. Something had to go, so I cut out the part about brainwaves and cybersecurity. It just didn’t fit with the theme of using technology to “read minds” in order to control a robotic limb or visualize thoughts. So my article about brainwaves wasn’t really about brainwaves at all! I changed the title to “The Mind Readers,” which I still think is a great title. I prefer it to what the editors wound up choosing.

Here is the story on the front page this past week:

Mind-readers

As an aside, I’m really happy that the editors chose a person of color for the lede image. In one of my articles a while back, I had chosen an image with a person of color and the editors switched it to a picture of a white person. That was frustrating. (In this case again, incidentally, the photo used is not the one I had selected. I had picked a photo of Jan, the subject of one of the experiments discussed.)

I know Science News for Students is really focusing on representing diversity, especially in source material. In every article, we must include at least one source who is female or a minority.  I think that’s a great policy to get a range of voices from the scientific community out there, even though it’s not always easy to find that minority source!

Alongside this feature article, I also wrote an explainer about reading brain activity. Most of this was in the original draft, but got broken out into a separate piece to keep the length of the main story down:

Brain-activity

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Thinking Differently

by Kathryn on September 7, 2016

I’ve been fact checking every issue of Muse magazine for a little over a year now. This job requires carefully reading every word of every issue. As a result, I feel a small sense of ownership for all of the articles, not just the ones I wrote. (I still contribute regularly, and someone else fact checks my articles.) It’s always exciting to see what the designer and artists do with the content.

This month’s issue focused on different ways of thinking. One of my favorite stories I ever wrote was re-published. I love this article because it’s so personal. It tells the story of when I worked in a preschool as a one-on-one aide to a three-year-old boy with autism. We grew very close during the year, and I still regularly wonder how he’s doing.

MUS1609-Autism

I also wrote a quiz based on the concept of Multiple Intelligences:

MUS1609-Quiz

Finally, my YourTech column this month focused on Artificial Intelligence, specifically the idea of a “superintelligence” that might surpass human mental ability. Scary stuff!

MUS1609-YourTech

 

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Chili Pepper Science

June 7, 2016

Sometimes, an article just seems to write itself. That was the case with my most recent piece, “The Cool Science of Hot Peppers.” Usually, my articles for Science News for Students go through at least three rounds of substantial edits. It can be a long, painstaking process to make the article the best it can [...]

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News Reporting: Teen Health

April 25, 2016

A couple of months ago, I started reporting on news stories for Science News for Students. My first few topics ranged from nuclear energy to sea otters. Recently, though, I seem to have stumbled onto a theme: health news. My last few stories have looked at obesity, acne, and tooth decay. Health has never been an [...]

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From Crazy Critters to Magic Potions

March 25, 2016

This spring, I have three silly activities coming out in Muse magazine. Writing an activity is always a fun break from working on a feature article. Especially when I get to try out the experiment myself and take pictures! The first game, appearing in the March 2016 issue, challenges kids to figure out which creatures are [...]

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Cutting Edge Technology

February 18, 2016

Last spring, I wrote two books in three months. While also caring for my then-5-month-old son full time. Craziness! Today, I got to see the final product. These two beautiful books came in the mail: The books are part of a larger series on Cutting Edge Science and Technology from ABDO publishing. A book packager contacted [...]

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Animal Ethics

January 28, 2016

Usually, as a science writer, I cover topics that are pretty non-controversial. (To the general public, anyway. You’d be surprised how riled up some researchers get about seemingly mundane topics such as acne). In this month’s issue of Muse, however, the theme was ethics. And the editor asked me to cover animals. I wrote a [...]

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My First Infographic

January 15, 2016

My six-year-old nephew is obsessed with volcanoes and other disasters. I was so touched when my sister sent me a picture of him devouring my latest article in the January 2016 issue of Muse magazine! I got to write about his favorite topic. But it wasn’t a regular feature article. The editor asked me to develop [...]

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News Reporting: from Dogs to Nuclear Energy

December 29, 2015

I recently started covering news stories for Science News for Students. Usually, I have anywhere from a couple of weeks to over a month to research a topic, conduct interviews, write, and revise an article. As a news reporter, though, I have to turn around a story within a couple of days. That keeps me [...]

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Fun with Bacteria: From Acne to Bioreactors

November 20, 2015

I spent a good portion of August and September learning about bacteria. I wound up writing three articles all with a similar theme: bacteria are good for us… except when they go bad. The first article came out November 3 on Science News for Students: Slime Cities. It’s all about biofilms. I’d covered this topic [...]

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