Category "College"

15Oct2020

Have you ever played with building blocks? Maybe you’ve built a really tall tower, a cool building, or even an airplane from blocks or Legos. Your body is also made of building blocks. However, these building blocks look very different from the ones you are used to. They are called cells, and they make up your body.

There are many types of cells. They come in different shapes and sizes. For example, there are skin cells, muscle cells, blood cells, fat cells, and many more. There are even special brain cells, and these are called neurons.

You might have read the blog post about the nervous system. This blog talks briefly about the importance of neurons, but this post will look deeper into the function of neurons.

First, let’s talk about what a neuron looks like. As you can tell from the picture, neurons are not shaped like normal building blocks. The large, sort of circular part of the neuron is the soma. Soma is another word for the cell body. This is where a lot of important cell structures are housed. The branches that extend from the soma are called dendrites. They play an important role of receiving signals from other neurons and molecules. Their branches reach out and can gather information from their neighboring neurons. Messages from a neuron are sent down the long “tail” of the neuron. This is called the axon. It’s like a highway for the signal, as messages are quickly sent down the axon. Some axons have a special coating, called a myelin sheath, which helps messages travel even faster down them. At the end of the axon are the axon terminals. This is where messages are sent to the next neuron. 

What are these messages? Neurotransmitters are chemicals that communicate a message from one neuron to another. They are packaged into vesicles at the axon terminal and sent to the next neuron. Where is the message received? The dendrites. 

However, the dendrites of one neuron don’t actually touch the axon terminal of another neuron. They are separated by a very small space, called a synapse. Neurotransmitters, packaged in vesicles, must travel across this synapse to bring their message to the next neuron. It’s kind of like playing catch. Imagine throwing a ball to your friend. The ball is the neurotransmitter, and you, as the axon terminal, have to throw the ball across the synapse. It will then be received by your friend, the dendrites. 

Once neurotransmitters are received by the dendrites of a neuron, they can affect change in that neuron. This may result in that neuron sending a signal down it’s axon to send a message to the next neuron. 

According to the University of Queensland, there are about 100 billion neurons. That’s a lot of building blocks, and there are even more cells in the rest of your body! These 100 billion neurons play an important role of receiving sensory information, relaying messages, and sending commands to other parts of the body. Remember, neurons help make up the nervous system.

Neurons are just one of the many types of cells that make up the body. You are made up of many different types of building blocks!

Author: Grace Brolly

23Sep2020

Joy, anger, surprise, sadness, fear…all of these are examples of emotions we feel throughout our lives or even throughout a day. Emotions are a normal part of life. We might feel joy around our friends, surprise when we hear good news, or sadness when we lose something. The brain plays a big role in these emotions that we are feeling. 

In a previous blog we talked about the nervous system, and today we are going to discuss the limbic system. The limbic system is responsible for dealing with emotion, memory, and much more. It contains many different structures like the hypothalamus, amygdala, and hippocampus. We will talk about each of these in greater detail.

First, let’s look at the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is very connected to other parts of the brain and is an important control center. It helps maintain homeostasis. Homeostasis is keeping something at a regular point. A good example of homeostasis is body temperature. Your body wants to be at a constant temperature. However, if you go outside in the winter you can get too cold or too hot in the summer. Shivering in the winter cold and sweating in the summer sun is your body’s way of trying to return to a normal temperature. The hypothalamus has many other important jobs. According to Shippensburg University, the hypothalamus is also responsible for regulating hunger, thirst, pain response, and anger and other emotions. It does this by taking signals from other parts of the body and interpreting them. Next time your stomach growls, you can thank your hypothalamus for letting your body know it’s time for a snack. Remember learning about the nervous system? The hypothalamus is also connected to the nervous system to help control pulse, blood pressure, and breathing. The hypothalamus is obviously very busy with all of these important jobs!

The amygdala is another part of the limbic system. The amygdala deals more with emotions. Not only does the amygdala help you feel certain emotions, but it can help you tell what emotions other people are feeling. For example, if you see someone laughing, your amygdala helps you interpret that that person is probably feeling happy.

Next, we’ll focus on the hippocampus. Do you remember something fun you did over the summer? You can remember long-term memories thanks to the hippocampus. The hippocampus helps sort our memories and form connections between similar memories. It helps us recall stored memories. According to Dartmouth Neuroscience, the hippocampus helps in the process of encoding memories and retrieving them. If you read the “Creating Memories from Scratch” Brain Blog, you hopefully remember what encoding and retrieval are. Your hippocampus helps you when you are learning a new surrounding or remembering directions. 

As you can see, the limbic system is home to many important structures in your brain. It also includes many others. Overall, the main jobs of the limbic system are to regulate body function, interpret and sense emotion, and assist in the encoding and retrieval of memories. The limbic system has many complex jobs, but all of them help you function in your normal life. All the emotions you feel would not be possible without the limbic system!

9Sep2020

We communicate with other people around us all the time. Whether it’s family, friends, classmates, teachers, or anyone else, we are always sharing information with each other. Similarly, your brain is constantly communicating with the rest of your body. Your brain controls so much—like movement, breathing, and how you’re feeling. But how can your brain communicate this with the rest of your body?

The brain is connected to the rest of the body through the nervous system. The nervous system is made up of nerves that help the brain send messages to the body. The nervous system can be divided into two parts: the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system.

Let’s start by looking at the central nervous system. The central nervous system is made up of the brain and spinal cord. We already know that the brain is very important in controlling the rest of the body. The spinal cord runs down your spine and connects the central nervous system to the peripheral nervous system.

Next, let’s look at the peripheral nervous system. This part of the nervous system connects the central nervous system to the limbs and other organs. This helps the brain communicate with other areas of the body. The peripheral nervous system is divided even further into two parts.

The first part is the somatic nervous system. It has two main jobs. The first job is to connect the brain to muscles. To do this, special nerve cells called motor neurons transfer messages from the brain to muscles. This helps you to move your body, whether you are walking, writing, or tying your shoes. The second job of the somatic nervous system is to tell the brain sensory information. This can be what you touch or feel in the world around you. Nerve cells called sensory neurons carry this information. If you accidentally touch a hot plate, sensory neurons can help tell your brain to move your hand away.

The second part of the peripheral nervous system is the autonomic nervous system. The job of the autonomic nervous system is to control body functions that you are not aware of. This includes breathing, blood flow, and digestion. You don’t have to concentrate on every breath you are taking or control your blood flow by thinking about it thanks to the autonomic nervous system!

The different parts of the nervous system all work together by communicating to help you with everyday functions. Whether you are walking through your house or just simply breathing, your brain is helping the rest of your body. 

According to LumenLearning (https://courses.lumenlearning.com/wm-biology2/chapter/the-central-and-peripheral-nervous-systems/), the nervous system has three main functions: sensory input, integration of data, and motor output. Sensory input is the body’s way of collecting information from your environment. Integration of data describes how the brain processes this information. Finally, motor output is when the brain sends signals back to the rest of the body with directions on what to do. 

Communication is a key part of life—whether we are talking with others or within your body. The nervous system helps the brain stay connected with the rest of the body. What helps you stay connected with others in your own life?

Author: Grace Brolly

3Sep2020

Pictures are fun and easy to take on a phone or camera. But how could you take a picture of your brain? Brain imaging, also called neuroimaging, is very important to doctors and scientists. Pictures of the brain can help doctors detect problems in the brain and make sure it is healthy. But if they can’t use a regular camera, how do they take these images?

There are many different neuroimaging techniques that doctors and researchers can use to image the brain. One of these is Computed topography (CT) scans. If you have ever broken a bone, you have probably gotten an X-ray. X-rays produce black and white images of your bones. The doctors can see if there is a break in the bone. CT scans use X-rays too. They help to show the structure of the brain, but don’t help describe the function of different parts of the brain. Other imaging techniques can do this.

Another type of imaging is a PET scan. No, it’s not like the pets you might have at home. PET stands for Positron Emission Topography. According to Lumen Learning, PET scans measure the level of a sugar called glucose to show where brain activity is occurring. Just like you need to eat a yummy snack to have energy, your brain cells need fuel. This fuel is glucose. When certain areas of the brain are working hard, they are using this sugar more than other areas. Detectors can pick up these general areas, but they cannot pick up specific spots. These detectors not only take images, but they can also take videos of the brain. That being said, they are expensive cameras. 

An EEG is also an important imaging tool. EEG stands for electroencephalography. That’s a big word! What an EEG is basically doing is measuring the electrical activities of the brain, according to PsychCentral. It might sound weird that your brain has electrical activity since you use electricity every day for power, but it’s true! EEGs can help doctors diagnose medical problems like seizures. They are often used in research.

One last type of neuroimaging is an MRI. MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. MRIs are common for other parts of the body as well. You’ve probably played with magnets in school or at home. MRIs use super strong magnets to help them image the brain. If you ever get an MRI, you have to stay super still so that it can capture different dimensions of your brain.

 One special type of MRIs is a functional MRI, or fMRI. These fMRIs not only show the structure of the brain, but also its function. It shows brain activity by measuring where blood is flowing in the brain. Blood flows to active parts of the brain, so an fMRI takes a burst of quick images to show where the brain is active. FMRIs are very useful tools.

Just like you can take pictures on a phone or camera, there are many ways to image the brain. All of them are used by doctors and researchers for different purposes because they are all unique. They are constantly working on new and better ways to image the brain too!

Author: Grace Brolly

21Aug2020

Move your right arm in a circle. Now stomp your right foot. What side of your brain is controlling these muscles? You might think that the right side of your brain controls the right side of your body. This would make sense, but it’s actually the opposite. That’s right—when you move your right arm or stomp your right foot, the left side of your brain is at work.

The left and right sides of your brain are called hemispheres. They each have different jobs and responsibilities, which is known as lateralization. This basically means one side is the main controller of certain functions. However, the hemispheres ultimately have to work together to help us in our daily lives.

Let’s take a closer look at each hemisphere. We’ve already learned that the right hemisphere controls muscles on the left side of your body, but it has many other important functions. According to the University of Washington, the right brain is responsible for spatial abilities, face recognition, visual imagery, and music. This means the right hemisphere helps the body recognize and understand the space around it. It helps you interpret the world in 3-D. Face recognition means that the right brain helps you to identify your friend when you see them in school. The right side also involves many creative processes like art and music. When you paint a picture, listen to your favorite music, or play an instrument, the right side of your brain is hard at work. Overall, the right hemisphere is thought of as more artistic.

The left hemisphere also has an important job that goes beyond controlling the muscles on the right. The University of Washington describes the role of the left hemisphere to be language, math, and logic. It helps you form memories. The left hemisphere helps you read a great book or write a story. It’s also hard at work when you are talking with others or even learning a new language. Math can be a tricky subject, but luckily you have the left hemisphere to help you! When you are solving a puzzle or riddle, the left brain helps you use logic to solve problems. The left hemisphere has many important jobs related to logical thought. While it has different responsibilities from the right hemisphere, the two need to be a team and work together.

So, how do the two different hemispheres communicate? They are connected by the corpus callosum. It can be thought of as a bridge that connects one hemisphere to the other. The bridge helps the two sides communicate and share information. This is important in allowing the brain to work together as a whole. In your brain, the corpus callosum probably doesn’t look like the bridge you are imagining. According to ScienceDirect, it’s really a thick band made of millions of tiny nerve fibers. Nerve fibers are part of nerve cells. Thanks to the corpus callosum, the two hemispheres can work together as a team.

Move your left arm up and down. Now stomp your left foot. What side of your brain is at work? Hopefully you answered the right side! The next time you read a book, draw a picture, or do your math homework, think about what part of your brain is helping you. Remember, both sides are a team that works together to help you in every part of your day!

Author: Grace Brolly

9Aug2020

Our brain is sensitive to change. Over cycles of prosperity and endangerment, animals developed the organ to serve as a tool for adaptation to the environment. As intelligence enhanced, so did the potential for beings to shape the world according to their preferences. Soon enough, the evolution of mankind upgraded the brain to the extent that we overcame the natural limitations of animalistic competition and resource acquisition for our species. Although we developed the ability to turn the world into our playground, we lost the checks on our responsibility to the ecosystem. Consequently, we are now pumping into the world toxic pollutants to further our short term goals at the expense of our future. However, our actions have finally caught up with us. Our gift of intelligence may be taken away by the very pollutants it has generated. 

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2Aug2020

Yesterday, while surfing Youtube, I came across a video on baking dark chocolate brownies at home. The irresistible delight of seeing the chocolate pulp rise in the oven into an airy ball of dough conjured in my mind the sweet aroma of a bakery, leaving my drooling mouth desperate to chomp down one of those scrumptious treats. It is incredible that watching a short video can leave us with a complete experience. How can a simple visual exposure stimulate our gustatory and olfactory senses as well? The answer is as simple as it is complex: memory.

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26Jul2020

A brain engineered from metal. An outlandish concept established by sci-fi movies. Before we know it, the artificial mind evolves to possess a conscience and develops an undeterred hatred for the human race, leaving us embroiled in a precarious robot takeover. Man vs. Machine. Laser shooters. Perilous explosions. Is this all a bit much? Perhaps. However, we may truly be on the verge of a breakthrough allowing us to construct the artificial mind from scratch.

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