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Watch High-Speed MRI Images of Someone Singing "If I Only Had a Brain"

Anyone who has had an MRI knows that when you get in the machine, you have to remain pretty still or risk messing up the scan, which captures about 10 frames per second. But to study how the approximately 100 muscles in the human head, neck, jaw, tongue, and lips work together to create speech and song, the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois has developed new technology that allows MRIs to capture 100 frames per second. They demonstrated the technology with a video of someone singing The Wizard of Oz classic "If I Only Had a Brain" (above).

It all started when Aaron Johnson, an affiliate faculty member in the Bioimaging Science and Technology Group at the Beckman Institute and an assistant professor at Illinois (and a former professional singer) wanted to find out if training seniors at retirement communities to sing in groups would make for stronger larynxes—and, therefore, more powerful voices. “The neuromuscular system and larynx change and atrophy as we age, and this contributes to a lot of the deficits that we associate with the older voice, such as a weak, strained, or breathy voice,” Johnson said in a press release. “I’m interested in understanding how these changes occur, and if interventions, like vocal training, can reverse these effects. In order to do this, I need to look at how the muscles of the larynx move in real time.”

But capturing real-time articulation with a typical MRI machine wouldn't be possible. So Zhi-Pei Liang, an electrical and computer engineering professor, and his team at Beckman, as well as a group led by Brad Sutton, technical director of Beckman’s Biomedical Imaging Center BIC and associate professor in bioengineering, developed and refined the high-speed imaging technique, which they described in a recent issue of Magnetic Resonance in Medicine.

“The technique excels at high spatial and temporal resolution of speech—it’s both very detailed and very fast,” Sutton said. “Often you can have only one of these in MR imaging. We have designed a specialized acquisition method that gathers the necessary data for both space and time in two parts and then combines them to achieve high-quality, high-spatial resolution, and high-speed imaging.” To capture the audio, the team used a noise-cancelling fiber-optic microphone and synced it with the imaging later.

“We have a very dynamic community at the Beckman Institute and Illinois working on this, from engineers to linguists, and we’re able to measure things with MRI in ways we couldn’t have just a couple of years ago,” Sutton said. “But what makes it worthwhile is having people like Aaron who ask the scientific questions that drive our research forward.” 

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26 Facts About LEGO Bricks

Since it first added plastic, interlocking bricks to its lineup, the Danish toy company LEGO (from the words Leg Godt for “play well”) has inspired builders of all ages to bring their most imaginative designs to life. Sets have ranged in size from scenes that can be assembled in a few minutes to 5000-piece behemoths depicting famous landmarks. And tinkerers aren’t limited to the sets they find in stores. One of the largest LEGO creations was a life-sized home in the UK that required 3.2 million tiny bricks to construct.

In this episode of the List Show, John Green lays out 26 playful facts about one of the world’s most beloved toy brands. To hear about the LEGO black market, the vault containing every LEGO set ever released, and more, check out the video above then subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up-to-date with the latest flossy content.

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Of Buckeyes and Butternuts: 29 States With Weird Nicknames for Their Residents
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Tracing a word’s origin and evolution can yield fascinating historical insights—and the weird nicknames used in some states to describe their residents are no exception. In the Mental Floss video above, host John Green explains the probable etymologies of 29 monikers that describe inhabitants of certain states across the country.

Some of these nicknames, like “Hoosiers” and “Arkies” (which denote residents of Indiana and Arkansas, respectively) may have slightly offensive connotations, while others—including "Buckeyes," "Jayhawks," "Butternuts," and "Tar Heels"—evoke the military histories of Ohio, Kansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. And a few, like “Muskrats” and “Sourdoughs,” are even inspired by early foods eaten in Delaware and Alaska. ("Goober-grabber" sounds goofier, but it at least refers to peanuts, which are a common crop in Georgia, as well as North Carolina and Arkansas.)

Learn more fascinating facts about states' nicknames for their residents by watching the video above.

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