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Golden Scholars: Pondering memory and income inequality; quotes from Berkeley's All–Nobel Laureate event.

Berkeley's researchers are studying how the public views income inequality and tries to uncover more details of how the nervous system works, with potential applications in Alzheimer's and blindness.


Can one researcher cure blindness and Alzheimer's?

Researchers in Ehud Isacoff's molecular and cell biology lab are trying to uncover how the central nervous system works, with potential applications in the formation and even the recovery of memories. I have so many memory-related jokes I want to use right now that I don't even know what to go with! Plus, Ruey thinks all my jokes are bad, so I won't even try here.

One aspect of their research is to look into how the neural system coordinates to initiate movement. Their lab also developed a novel way to control and mimic signalling in the cellular system with an easy to implement and manipulate method--light.

The key player in the research is a protein commonly used in food coloring that, surprisingly, changes shape when exposed to light. The scientists link the molecule to glutamate and its receptor on individual neurons. When light is beamed at the neuron, the protein changes shape, which brings the two together - just as if the cell had received glutamate from a neuron across the synapse.

The misled neuron then boosts its signal, increasing information flow through its circuit. A complementary approach can be used to block such communication.

This new technique has the potential to cure retinitis pigmentosa, a cause of blindness; these "tricked" cells prompt the patient's eyes to begin detecting light again, although the webpage doesn't go into detail as to how. This implementation of light is also being used to demonstrate how neurons affect one another in the process of forming memories using the zebrafish.

Nobel Laureates chit-chat

Saturday was Cal Day, which UC Berkeley celebrated by holding a talk featuring current Nobel Laureates who are also Berkeley faculty members. For full coverage, you can follow #BerkeleyTalks on Twitter, but I've included a few of my favorites here.

Check out this line-up!

One of the topics of discussion was the importance of their work with undergrads and the general quality of the undergrad experience at UC Berkeley.

And, of course, the conversation turned to parking on campus.

More money, more problems?

Claude Fischer, a professor of sociology at Berkeley, is discussing the awareness of income inequality among the American people, using the writings of Northwestern sociologist Leslie McCall. Surveys show most participants believe the gap in income between an executive is wider than what responses to the same survey in 1987 (yay 1987!) estimated. Interestingly, Americans on the whole are less concerned with the disparity in income, but are instead unhappy with how the 99.9% get here and how the 0.1% get there.

The rich getting richer is not itself a problem, they suggest, except to the degree that it makes it harder for other Americans to move up. Consistent with this claim, Gallup data show a large rise in the last 15 or so years in the percentage of Americans who are dissatisfied with the opportunities to get ahead in this country

While the majority of survey participants did support government intervention for greater taxes for wealthier citizens, that movement has not grown over time, despite the income gap's growth.

[I]n 2010′s, 46 percent of GSS respondents supported some effort by "Washington ... to reduce the income differences between the rich and the poor, perhaps by raising the taxes of wealthy families or by giving income assistance to the poor." This was more than the 36 percent who opposed the idea, but it is virtually the identical percentage of Americans who supported the idea in the 2000s, 1990s, and 1980s. Thus, support for direct redistribution did not grow with growing inequality.

It seems to me a little uniquely American that the average American is more concerned with the ability for hard work to pay off and result in success and wealth, a la the American Dream. What are your thoughts on the issues of income inequality? Should we allow it to remain unregulated or should something be down to help reduce that difference? Do you think it hinders the ability for the average American worker to advance and move up the income ladder?