The top three news stories of the week, as chosen by our resident students. This week’s top stories are boosting your memory, Dr Neanderthal, and plastic in the food chain.

Article written by Jake Howden.

Boost your brain power

Scientists have been studying the brains of memory world champions and found that they are no different to yours or mine. This came as a surprise and so the researchers tried to see if they could train an average brain to perform at world champion levels. They found that using mental exercises and techniques such as mnemonic devices, regular joes and janes can boost their memory abilities. All it took was six weeks of training for 30 minutes a day. Subjects were able to boost their ability to remember words from a list from 26/70 words to 60/70 words. One of the techniques is to place words or objects into the rooms of an imaginary castle. To remember all of the words/objects all it takes is a walk through the imaginary castle, observing all of the rooms.

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Image: Brain train your memory

Neanderthal drug pushers

The idea that Neanderthals were stupid club wielding cave dwellers is a dead as the Neanderthals themselves. Archaeologists now believe that Neanderthals had complex language art and culture. Further evidence of their intelligence has been suggested by researchers studying the DNA locked away in the teeth of our ancient cousins. This DNA sheds a light on the diet of Neanderthals and it appears as though some of them were chewing on poplar tree bark (containing an aspirin-like compound) and eating penicillin mould. It seems as though they had a rudimentary idea of pain relief and medicine 40,000 years before we discovered penicillin. Neanderthals lived between 400,000 and 40,000 years ago in Europe and western Asia. Although they have become extinct, some of their DNA lives on in modern humans.

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Image: Neanderthal medicine

Plastic planet

Plastic is becoming a bigger environmental problem. The effects of plastic on large animals has been well documented; sea creatures from fish to whales can get caught in or eat waste plastic. However, we are only beginning to realise the effect of micro-particles of plastic that end up in our environment. The UN estimates that as many as 51 trillion particles of microplastic are in the world’s seas and oceans (more than all of the stars in our galaxy). Researchers have filmed, for the first time, these microparticles entering the food chain. Plankton is a small organism that is present throughout the world oceans and makes up part of the base of the food chain. They have now been observed to eat microplastics, meaning plastic is making its way into the food chain, the same one that we rely on. Plastic is currently considered non-hazardous waste, however, there are calls for this to change along with a UN #CleanSeas campaign.

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Clean Seas.

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Image: Plastic microbeads inside plankton

Article written by Jake Howden