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Pockets of the Brain Can Fall Asleep During the Day

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A team of neuroscientists at MIT think they know what causes people to zone out when they're sleep deprived. According to a study published this week in the journal eLife, as far as sleep is concerned, the brain is not a binary system. The researchers discovered a brain circuit in the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN) that triggers small areas of the brain to become less alert or even fall asleep. This neurological phenomenon is known as "local sleep," but it is often referred to as spacing out.

The researchers weakly stimulated the TRN of mice with optogenetics, which MIT News explains is a technique that allows scientists to stimulate or silence neurons with light. The stimulation caused slow waves to appear in a small part of the brain's cortex, and with more stimulation the entire cortex showed slow waves. These slow waves are associated with deep sleep (as well as coma and general anesthesia). After TRN stimulation, the animals start to act like they’re drowsy, lead author of the study, Laura Lewis, said. "They’ll stop moving around, their muscle tone will go down."

The results have given the researchers more knowledge about the TRN's role on the local level as a "gatekeeper for sensory information entering the thalamus," which is important in studies of memory, cognition, and sleep. Understanding the brain's arousal mechanisms could be instrumental to developing sleep aids and anesthetics that better mimic natural sleep.

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Design
A Florida Brewery Created Edible Six-Pack Rings to Protect Marine Animals

For tiny scraps of plastic, six-pack rings can pose a huge threat to marine life. Small enough and ubiquitous enough that they’re easy to discard and forget about, the little plastic webs all too often make their way to the ocean, where animals can ingest or become trapped in them. In order to combat that problem, Florida-based Saltwater Brewery has created what they say is the world’s first fully biodegradable, compostable, edible six-pack rings.

The edible rings are made of barley and wheat and are, if not necessarily tasty, at least safe for animals and humans to ingest. Saltwater Brewery started packaging their beers with the edible six-pack rings in 2016. They charge slightly more for their brews to offset the cost of the rings' production. They hope that customers will be willing to pay a bit more for the environmentally friendly beers and are encouraging other companies to adopt the edible six-pack rings in order to lower manufacturing prices and save more animals.

As Saltwater Brewery president Chris Gove says in the video above: “We want to influence the big guys and kind of inspire them to also get on board.”

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History
When Chuck Yeager Tweeted Details About His Historic, Sound Barrier-Breaking Flight

Seventy years ago today—on October 14, 1947—Charles Elwood Yeager became the first person to travel faster than the speed of sound. The Air Force pilot broke the sound barrier in an experimental X-1 rocket plane (nicknamed “Glamorous Glennis”) over a California dry lake at an altitude of 25,000 feet.

In 2015, the nonagenarian posted a few details on Twitter surrounding the anniversary of the achievement, giving amazing insight into the history-making flight.

For even more on the historic ride, check out the video below.

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