Feeling Festive with Ion Channels

The tight embrace of welcoming hugs, the cozy warmth of a crackling fireplace, the brisk chill of afternoon walks in snowy woods—these are some of the feelings that, for me, make the winter holidays one of the best times of the year. This season, I’m also choosing to be thankful for the biology that makes these sensations possible.

This year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine went to two scientists who discovered the receptors that allow us to sense touch and temperature. Joining other sensory mechanisms recognized by the Nobel committee, these discoveries add to our knowledge of how we interact with the world around us.

Continue reading “Feeling Festive with Ion Channels”

Synaesthesia Revealed (or Why that Word is Yellow)

"The Handbook of Synaesthesia", cover, featuring an image I particularly enjoy.
“The Handbook of Synaesthesia”, cover, featuring an image I particularly enjoy.

A number of years ago I had the good fortune to hear Mr. Sonny Rollins play saxophone in Madison, WI. Rollins, then in his seventh decade, played with an intensity that was unbelievable. The music was amazing, the crowd appreciative. In fact, the entire experience was moving to the point that I saw Rollins, blowing into his saxophone, come out the other end of the horn. That’s right: Rollins appeared to pour into the saxophone, coming out the bell, along with the music.

The experience was ‘a gas’, entirely unaided by alcohol or elicit substance. Of course it was somewhat unsettling as well. And I couldn’t tell anyone about it. That is not until recently, when I met Dr. Edward Hubbard.

Dr. Hubbard is an educational psychology researcher at the University of WI-Madison. In 2001 Hubbard and V.S. Ramachandran introduced the cross-activation model of grapheme-colour synaesthesia in two publications: “Psychophysical investigations into the neural basis of synaethesia” (1) and “Synaesthesia: A window into perception, thought and language” (2). Continue reading “Synaesthesia Revealed (or Why that Word is Yellow)”