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In April, two BrainReach North volunteers, Megan and Sébastien travelled to Waskaganish to teach neuroscience to indigenous youth in their community. For Sébastien, this was his second trip north with BRN, whereas it was a first for Megan. Similarly to his trip to Kuujjuarapik last year, this trip was a product of circumstance; Shaun McMahon, the principal with whom he was generously provided accommodation last year, had since transferred to the Cree community of Waskaganish. Fortuitously, this also happened to be the same community in which Sébastien had spent two months helping prepare high school students for ministerial science exams three years prior!
In October of 2018, BrainReach North sent volunteers up to a Cree community in the Eeyou Istchee on James Bay called Chisasibi, home to 4500 people. BrainReach North, an organization run by Neuroscience graduate students at McGill University, focuses on science outreach aimed at northern Indigenous communities in Quebec. Volunteers work to get kids excited about science and to inspire them to pursue their passion for problem solving and learning about the natural world. Over three days, volunteers taught ~200 students at Waapinichikush Elementary School. These lessons were given to students in grades 3 to 6, and focused on topics such as why animal brains have different shapes and sizes, how our brains can trick us into seeing things that are not there, and how our attention works.
Now that the weather is finally warming up, here is a cool science experiment that you can try outside! What do you think would happen if you poke pencils through a bag full of water? Will the water leak through the holes or spill out? The answer might surprise you!
Our genes, which are sequences of DNA or RNA, make us human. Our genes encode molecules that have specific purposes. For example, some genes encode things such as the color of our eyes or our height. Genes produce proteins that direct all the pathways in our bodies. Certain proteins, like those in our hair and skin, can be seen. However, other proteins control functions inside of our body. Throughout most of the body, every cell has the same genes. Yet, within each of the different cells, some genes are active while others are not. When active, genes can produce proteins; this process is known as gene expression.
David Hubel was a distinguished Canadian scientist. He is well-known for his studies on the primary visual cortex which helped pave the way for the field of systems neuroscience.
Dr. David Hubel (nationaleyeinstitute on Flickr, 2017)
Moving to a new place can be tough for a variety of reasons. One reason is that we usually don’t know how to get around in our new environment. At first, the surroundings are unfamiliar, but we gradually learn things about our new neighbourhood, such as the route to school or to a friend’s house.
Music is of interest to cognitive neuroscientists as there is no known evolutionary value. Despite this, it continues to exist across cultures and generations. Like food or sex, music activates the dopaminergic pathway, a reward circuit in the brain responsible for sending the neurotransmitter dopamine throughout the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in reward-motivated behaviour. When we receive a reward, the levels of dopamine increase in our brain and encourage us to take action to receive greater reward. Similar to how one’s enjoyment of food and taste can vary across individuals, many find that their music preferences can differ significantly from that of their peers. Many of us, when listening to highly enjoyable music, can experience chills, an increased heart rate, or feelings of being “moved”. Dopamine response has been linked to chills felt when listening to a moving piece of music, but what we don’t know is why certain people get chills, while others do not.
With the crisp October air comes haunted houses and scary movies. Some of us enjoy feeling scared, while others do not. But what if we didn't feel afraid at all when watching a scary movie? It might be hard to imagine, but this is the case for a woman called S.M.
S.M. has Urbach-Wiethe disease, a rare genetic disorder that caused damage to her amygdala. The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure located in the temporal lobe that plays a role in functions such as emotion and memory. Despite damage to her amygdala, and her resulting fear impairment, S.M. scores within the normal range on intelligence, memory, and language tests.
Scientists at Indiana University have succeeded in making a third eye grow on the forehead of a beetle, and it wasn’t just for their entertainment! In fact, scientists have been trying to study evolution by growing extra eyes on fruit flies for many years, but in places they don’t usually belong, like on wings or legs. The development of a functional third eye on a beetle’s forehead is the first recorded success.
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