By| May 31, 2017 01:00pm ET
The world’s most powerful X-ray laser has created a molecular “black hole.”
The black hole is not a tiny version of the supermassive celestial object that devours everything within its event horizon. Rather, when X-ray energy is aimed at a molecule, it strips away so many of the electrons that it creates a void that then sucks in all the electrons from nearbyatoms — in black-hole fashion.
“It basically sucked all the electrons away from the surrounding environment,” said study co-author Sebastien Boutet, a physicist at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California. “It’s an analogy to how a black hole gravitationally pulls everything in.” [Brightest X-Ray Laser ‘Blows Up’ Water Droplets in Stunning Video]
The molecular black-hole effect occurs thanks to the most intense X-ray beam of its kind — equivalent to focusing all the sun’s light onto a spot the size of a thumbnail.
The cognitive differences between men and women
When Nirao Shah decided in 1998 to study sex-based differences in the brain using up-to-the-minute molecular tools, he didn’t have a ton of competition. But he did have a good reason.
“I wanted to find and explore neural circuits that regulate specific behaviors,” says Shah, then a newly minted Caltech PhD who was beginning a postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia. So, he zeroed in on sex-associated behavioral differences in mating, parenting and aggression.
“These behaviors are essential for survival and propagation,” says Shah, MD, PhD, now a Stanford professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and of neurobiology. “They’re innate rather than learned — at least in animals — so the circuitry involved ought to be developmentally hard-wired into the brain. These circuits should differ depending on which sex you’re looking at.”
His plan was to learn what he could about the activity of genes tied to behaviors that differ between the sexes, then use that knowledge to help identify the neuronal circuits — clusters of nerve cells in close communication with one another — underlying those behaviors.