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Brain Works

By Stephanie Nygard, Zachary Aidala, and Danielle Dubno-Hammer

Course Purpose

This course introduces students to major neuroscientific concepts, while simultaneously developing the critical thinking skills necessary to read and interpret scientific literature. By conducting original neuroscience research projects, students will experience the entire process of neuroscientific inquiry, from research question development to the communication of results, and will understand that the growth of neuroscientific knowledge is an ongoing and creative process.

Course Description

It is hard to open the paper or surf the web without being bombarded by headlines relating to the increasingly numerous advances in the field of neuroscience. But how are these developments made, and are the sources of this information truthful and reliable? This Authentic Research Module in neuroscience emphasizes understanding how the “brain works” through the incorporation of an inquiry based curriculum that introduces current "hot topics” in neuroscience such as brain plasticity, learning, and memory. Students will be guided through an analysis of advanced neuroscientific journal articles pertaining to how drugs of abuse effect the various memory processes of the brain and will use a variety of tools to decipher figures, interpret findings, and propose further experiments to test their own hypotheses in neuroscience. Students will use advanced neuroscientific methods and technology to design and complete an original research project and professional manuscript, all of which can be done without leaving the classroom.

This course is designed as a single semester course in which students complete an independent and/or group neuroscience experiment and write a full length manuscript. However, the course is broken down into units that can be easily adjusted to match the needs of any teacher. Student projects are based on two experiments done as a class at the start of the semester (one involving human participants and the other with invertebrate subjects). Student experiments can therefore use either human or invertebrate (insects/earthworms/hermit crabs) subjects and the teacher should determine which of these (or both) will be used for individual/group projects based on time limits/available resources.

Brain Works

Course Outline

Unit 1: Look what brains can do!

Whole class memory experiments:

The class participates in whole class memory experiments as an introduction to experimentation and design

Backyard Brains: cockroach behavior and neurophysiology:

Whole class laboratory exercise involving the observation of invertebrate behavior

Unit 2: This is your brain on drugs:

An introduction to reading advanced scientific journals

BRO (Background Research Organizing)

What else can I learn about the brain? Group Projects