We may soon be able to go on field trips with a holographic pocket camera able to capture a hologram of a complete three-dimensional space in a single shot. Israeli and British scientists believe this vision is close to being realized. Joe Rosen from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba and Gary Brooker from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore have developed a new way of recording holograms of 3-D objects illuminated by natural light and without using lasers, as is done today. This technology is based on a smart use of micro-liquid crystal displays. Its first application is a holographic microscope for observing 3-D biological specimens that radiate fluorescence. This kind of light is random and spontaneous, so it is impossible to create holograms with it by common techniques. However, with the new technology, it is not just possible; it is carried out rapidly - in a single camera shot - without scanning the object. This new technology is dubbed FINCH (for Fresnel INcoherent Correlation Holography). A report presenting the first demonstration of this technology - with a 3-D microscope called a FINCHSCOPE - has appeared in the March 2008 issue of Nature Photonics. ELECTION CAMPAIGNS ARE GOOD FOR BRAINS Although most Israelis think their too-frequent elections are a pain in the neck, researchers in Texas claim election campaigns actually stimulate voters' brains. "These political campaigns are having biological effects in people who are closely following the debates, participating in rallies or actively campaigning," said neuro-pharmacologist Prof. John Roache at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. "Regardless of political orientation, involvement is activating the brain, whether engaging cognitive and learning processes or arousing emotion and physical activity. Probably none of it is harmful and most of it is good for promoting health." The brain is hard-wired with systems that control attention, learning and behavioral activation in motivational processes such as hunger, sex and social involvement. Clearly, interest in politics can be arousing and stimulates many of these same processes, Roache said. "The bottom line is, if there is something that gets you motivated, interested or involved, "that is generally good for your brain," he said. ROBOT PET ALLEVIATES LONELINESS Numerous studies have shown that a pet can ease loneliness for old people. Now a robot "dog" that doesn't have to be fed or cleaned up after has been shown to be a good companion for retirees. Aibo, a sophisticated Japanese robot in dog shape, can be an alternative pet for the elderly, said researchers at Saint Louis University, a Jesuit institution of higher learning in Missouri. The researchers compared how residents of three nursing homes interacted with Sparky - a gentle medium-sized mutt, and Aibo, a doggie robot once manufactured by Sony. "The most surprising thing is that the robots worked almost equally well in terms of alleviating loneliness and causing residents to form attachments," said geriatric medicine Prof. William Banks. "For those people who can't have a living animal but who would like a pet, robots could address the issue of companionship," Banks says. To test whether residents connected better with Sparky or Aibo, researchers divided a total of 38 nursing-home residents into three groups. All were asked questions to assess their level of loneliness. One group saw Sparky once a week for 30 minutes, another had similar visits with Aibo, and a control group saw neither furry nor mechanical critter. During visits, Marian Banks (Banks' wife and co-researcher) brought Sparky or Aibo into a resident's room and placed the pet near the resident. Both pets interacted with residents - wagging their tails and responding to the people they visited. After seven weeks, all residents were asked about how lonely they felt and how attached they were to Sparky or Aibo. Residents visited by real or artificial pets felt less lonely and more attached to their canine attention-givers than those who got visits from neither. There was no statistical difference between the real and robotic dogs when speaking of easing loneliness and fostering attachments. The study was published in the March Journal of the American Medical Directors Association.