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Tag: brains

Curiosity Challenge: How do Brains Think?

Hi Maise, That’s a good question! You probably know that your brain is important for a lot of what you do: learning new lessons in school, remembering those lessons when you take a test, controlling your hands as you write the answers to your test, and even telling your lungs to breathe while you’re working! Your brain works in a similar way to do all those tasks. The main way your brain works is by making connections between its different parts. In the early 1900s, a scientist named Ivan Pavlov did a famous experiment with his dogs that helped us learn how the brain makes these connections. Pavlov wanted to know if he could train his dogs to think about food every time he rang a bell. He started by ringing a bell every time he fed his dogs. One day Pavlov rang the bell without giving the dogs food,… Read More

Curiosity Challenge: How does the brain process information?

Dear Jessica, Thanks for your question! To think about how the brain processes information, I think we must first consider how our brains gain access to information. Because the brain is confined within our heads and mostly separated from the rest of the world, there must be something external to the brain that communicates information from the outside world. In fact, this is the precise purpose of our five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Information comes in the form of patterns of light (images), vibrations of the air (sound), physical touch, and the chemical compounds around us that we taste and smell. Each of these types of information is received by a particular type of nerve cell, called peripheral neurons, in the relevant parts of our bodies. We have these neurons in our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and underneath our skin, which when activated, send electrical signals to neurons… Read More

Curiosity Challenge: How Did Intelligence Evolve Over Time?

By Paola Salazar How intelligence evolved over time is not a simple question to answer, even with dozens of researchers spending lifetimes looking into it. Generally, intelligence across species is considered to be a result of how an animal responds and manipulates its environment. Our level of intelligence tends to be attributed to several different theories and has been a process of development for around 10 million years. There’s much debate around the different ideas about how we evolved into intelligent beings, but we’ll do our best to highlight the general idea behind a few of the standing theories! One theory is that the evolution of our intelligence is a result of our use of communication. The idea is that since we started walking upright and had our opposable (moveable) thumbs, we gradually began having more activities and capabilities that we wanted to pass on to younger generations, like how… Read More

Artists, Scientists, and Both: Creative Thinking on BOTH Sides of the Brain

By E. Rosser “The greatest scientists are artists as well.”  –Albert Einstein, 1923 Science is often thought of as a purely left-brain venture…but who says the creative thinking that leads to great discoveries can’t also produce some great art?  The Cambridge Science Festival aims to show off the “A” part of “STEAM” by urging Festival-goers let their inner DaVinci out at our various art events–from crafting kinetic sculptures to learning about baby birds through drawing.  It turns out that innovation and passion are important ingredients for art as well as science, technology, math, and engineering.   Some of the greatest minds that science has seen have also been known to stretch their artistic muscles.  Here are some famous scientists who have put down the lab notebook and picked up the sketchpad over the years–and artists who have taken up science! Drawing and Illustrating: Leonardo Da Vinci – Inventor and Illustrator… Read More

More on the Brain: How Do Our Brains Control Our Bodies?

By Paola Salazar   [“El Jaleo” by John Singer Sargent, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, MA.] 12-year-old Amanda Kelly asks how it is that one organ (the brain) can control an entire body’s functions and motions. Again, the MIT student group Communicating Science provided an answer for us. The brain is made up of a vast number of special communication cells called neurons that carry signals around the body. The brain has a sort of special highway of neurons that carry instructions directly to your spine. This is the spinal cord, where motor (for motion) and sensory (for feeling) nerves branch out. [http://www.headbacktohealth.com/dictionary.html] From the spinal cord, the motor signals are sent out to your muscles, where they release tiny signal molecules called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters cause your muscles to contract, leading to motion.  We don’t really understand how the spinal cord knows which signals to send to which muscles,… Read More

How Does the Brain Work?

By Paola Salazar  The Curiosity Challenge Why is the sun yellow? Why do grass and dirt have a stronger scent after it rains? How and why do my nails keep growing? What is a black hole? A while back, we offered children and teens an opportunity to submit questions related to any topic in science, tech, engineering and mathematics that they may have, and here we’ve done it again.     The Curiosity Challenge for ages 5-14 encourages curiosity.  We ask the students to enter their question about the world in whatever form – essay, poem, drawing, photograph.  All good science starts with our curiosity and questions of the world around us.  This series of blog posts will highlight some of the questions we have received through the Curiosity Challenge and some answers to them. We’ve reached out to graduate students and researchers in each field, and have begun getting some… Read More

Dissecting the dead and alive—virtually!—at MGH

  by Judith Lavelle At the Paul S. Russell Museum of Medical History and Innovation, you can see demonstrations of a state-of-the-art virtual dissection table at 11AM and 4PM every weekday during the Cambridge Science Festival. A high-tech alternative to traditional cadaver dissections, the Anatomageis finding its way into medical schools as a teaching device. But its capabilities don’t end there. At Massachusetts General Hospital, doctors use the technology to view three-dimensional images of their patients’ bodies—whether these patients have been recently admitted to MGH or showed up a century earlier. I learned about the latter case from Russell Museum docent Jodie Grossman, who led a group of festival-attendees on a tour through the Ether Dome—the national historical landmark where the first public anesthetized surgery took place in 1846. There, she introduced us to MGH’s spokesmummy, Padihershef. We don’t know much about Padihershef’s life and afterlife before he was gifted… Read More

Science is no game … or is it?

  Science is no game… or is it? Kellian Adams from Green Door Labs shares three games that contribute to scientific research. I admit it: I was not a science nerd when I was a kid. I was an artsy nerd and in fact, I was a little scared of Math and Science. But we live in a different world now where science is accessible to artsy kids in ways that I never imagined. Now, as a game designer, art and science collide in my world every day and I’m amazed by how scientific research actually makes for GREAT (and beautiful) games. The exciting thing about science games is that they can be used to gather and interpret real data for scientific research so there’s this sense of playing with a purpose. There have been new supernovas named, new proteins discovered and new epidemiological patterns uncovered all thanks to people’s… Read More

Thinking about Thoughts

The human mind does an incredible number of even more incredible things. Take, for example, the age old act of bartering. Whether trading ears of corn for livestock, or complex corporate negotiations, a large part of human enterprise has relied on our ability to think about others’ specific desires and intentions. We want what is best for us and our family or community, but realize that we need to compromise because the other party wants the same. Additionally, the other party may hold a grudge, or be ignorant towards current market values, and so on. All of this amazingly complex analysis happens at lightning speeds within the mind, while we haggle prices or make offers. We use this complex ability every day, and it has drawn the attention of many scientists. According to MIT Professor Rebecca Saxe: “Thinking about other minds is the foundation for both personal relationships and societal… Read More