Pre-College Programs
SPARK - Science for Middle School

« Return to Course Catalog

From Brain to Sensation: Neurobiology of Perception - Junior SPARK

One Section Available to Choose From:

Course DatesWeeksMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRN
July 20, 2015 - July 24, 20151M-F 8:30A-11:20A and T,TH 12:15-3:05POpenKristin Scaplen10123

Course Description

Taste! Smell! Sound! Sight! Touch! Our world is alive with stimuli and these are just some of the many senses we use to explore it. But how are all of these senses transformed into our everyday perceptions?? I’ll give you a hint: it involves your brain! The brain is a fascinating organ- it only weighs about three pounds, but has billions of specialized cells that make trillions of connections!! This 3-pound mass of tissue allows you to ride a bike, read a book, remember your birthday, and it’s the star of our show! In this class, you’ll learn how our brains make sense of the world around us and learn a little brain anatomy along the way.

Using a combination of individual and small group experiments, students will learn how we detect and understand various stimuli using our sensory systems. We will cover the neurobiology of the gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell), auditory (sound), visual (sight) and somatosensory (touch) systems. Class activities include: a jelly bean lab that explores the cooperative nature of our sense of taste and smell, building a model of individual neurons (those specialized brain cells), a model to explain our sense of balance, sound localization experiments and a human brain lab where students will have a chance to hold a real human brain. A field trip to Roger Williams Zoo is also planned where students will discover what elephants can teach us about our sense of touch and will learn about the specialized sensory systems of other animal friends and competitors.

Students will attend classes daily that will be supplemented by discussion, group work, and short films. This class is based on the popular “Introduction to Neuroscience” course that is part of the core curriculum for undergraduate Neuroscience concentrators at Brown. We encourage students to ask questions during lectures! Your questions help me keep lectures interesting! Students will exit the course with a basic understanding of the brain processes involved in perception, but I hope you will also leave with more questions than answers and the desire to learn more about the brain and science in general.

At course end, students will understand the basic neuroanatomy of the major sensory systems. They will understand sensory transduction, the process by which stimuli from the external world are transformed into signals the brain can understand within each sensory modality. Finally, by the end of the course they will be able to put together their own brief lecture (5 min.) or lab demonstration for family and friends.

*This Junior SPARK course is designed for students, 12 years and older, who are currently in the 6th and 7th grades (entering 7th and 8th grades Fall 2015). Older students are encouraged to register for our Senior SPARK courses.