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The Secret Life of the Brain: From Shrimps to Humans

This course is expected to run but has not yet been scheduled.

Course Description

The human brain contains about 100 billion cells known as neurons, yet it remains a mystery how the activity of these neurons makes us think, feel and move. In this course we will try to answer this question.

Standard neuroscience courses usually begin with a description of brain's nuts-and-bolts (neurons, ion channels, synapses), while all the fun topics (behavior, cognition, memory) are clumped at the end of a course. This happens because most neuroscience courses pretend to discuss only the human brain, yet the majority of research in neuroscience is done in model organisms, such as rats, mice, or, in times past, squids and sea slugs. But the human brain is too complex for us to be able to learn its function by just considering its parts. So we will follow a different approach!

We will study individual neurons in simple animals that rely on these neurons for their behavior. Then we will switch to small circuits in animals that rely on small circuits. This way we will gradually climb up the ladder of complexity, and at each level you will learn about a new animal, a new type of behavior, the underlying neural workings, and the scientific methods used to study it. In 3 weeks, we will ascend from shrimps to humans, and, at the same time, from individual neurons to the full brain level.

The course includes hands-on labs (recording from sensory and motor systems in insects and humans; histology lab; brain dissection); several micro-labs; individual presentations; supplementary videos; as well as a visit to a working research lab. You will also learn to read and interpret scientific papers, write research proposals, and provide critiques.

On completion of this course, you will understand the central tenets of neuroscience; its key concepts, language, and internal logic. You will become familiar with several subfields of neuroscience (neuroethology, neurophysiology, sensory, motor, and cognitive neuroscience), their flavor (questions asked, approaches used), and relation to each other. Prospective pre-medical students will enjoy being acquainted with experimental methods (electrophysiology, neuroanatomy, brain stimulation, several types of imaging), and animal models (invertebrates, fish, amphibians, birds, bats, rodents) used in fundamental research. Future engineering students will be amazed to see how creative the Nature is, while those interested in humanities can use this course as a practical introduction to the methodology of science and neurophilosophy.

The course has no prerequisites, except for a genuine curiosity for the subject.

*Please note: This course has a Material Fee of $150.00.