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While listening to the radio recently, I heard a story about a man who, in 1953, underwent experimental brain surgery in an attempt to alleviate debilitating seizures.* Surgeons removed portions of his medial temporal lobes, the regions of his brain that the doctors hypothesized were responsible for his epilepsy. The good news for H.M., as he's now known, is that the procedure did dramatically reduce the number and severity of the seizures-instead of several large and small seizures each day, he experiences only about one major seizure per year.
However, doctors soon discovered that the procedure robbed H.M. of the ability to channel short-term memories into long-term memories. While he can recall his youth and events prior to the surgery, he is unable to remember anything new. In interviews in the 1990s, he could not identify what he'd done the day before, or even what he'd had for lunch that day. Interestingly, while he does not have the ability to store new memories, he does have a limited capacity to learn. He could associate the correct first name with the appropriate last name of one of the researchers who had visited with him repeatedly, though he could not remember who she was.
Now in his 80s, H.M. lives in a nursing home in Connecticut. His unique case has been intensely studied and has led to a much broader understanding of the way the human brain processes and stores information in memory.
Though certainly much larger in scale, materials handling in the ceramic industry is thankfully less complex than memory handling. Not only do suppliers of materials handling equipment know exactly how each process works, they've created the systems to be as efficient and easy to use as possible. For example, a new line of vacuum conveyors has been designed to convey a wide range of materials safely and cost effectively. In addition, our “Materials Handling Equipment Roundup″ special department features the latest materials handling advances-from batching systems and mixers to screeners and bulk bag unloaders-that are available for ceramic manufacturers.
One area where efficiency and accuracy are of the utmost importance is the warehouse. With so many products, pallets and orders zooming around, it's easy for one small mistake to cause big problems. Luckily, as you'll read in “Zen and the Art of WMS Software,” software for warehouse management systems is available to help maintain “good flow" and process orders more effectively.
Speaking of processing, optimizing processes like calcination, synthesis and milling have resulted in doped cerias with refined surface areas and particle size distributions. Researchers have discovered that these tailored materials are better suited for advanced applications like solid oxide fuel cells and electrochemical oxygen generators (see “Tailor Made”).
I can't stop thinking about H.M., and how the removal of one piece of vital “equipment" so completely changed his life. His experience makes me appreciate not only my capacity to remember (which, admittedly, can be sketchy from time to time), but the memories-good and bad-I build every day.
*“H.M.’s Brain and the History of Memory” by Brian Newhouse is archived and available online at www.npr.org.