Biophysics: Light, the Eye, and the Brain
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|Course Dates||Weeks||Meeting Times||Status||Instructor(s)||CRN|
|July 14, 2014 - July 25, 2014||2||M-F 12:45-3:35P||Open||Philip Zucker, William Maulbetsch||10483|
Hellen Keller once famously stated, "the only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision." With the vision of our scientific predecessors in mind, this course will explore the sense of sight and our current understanding of its related natural systems: light, the eye, and the brain. We will embark on an interdisciplinary journey starting with the basic unit of light, the photon, following it from its creation through to its conversion into neural signals by the eye, and ending at how concepts and images are formed in the brain. We will emphasize the experimental nature of science by including many demos and opportunities to dissect a sheep's eyeball, as well as apply voltages to cockroaches' legs to watch them dance. You will leave this class viewing the world with a whole new perspective on perception.
Each experience or interaction you've ever had relied on your brain's response to signals sent to it from sensory receptors in your eyes, ears, tongue, and skin. Eyesight dominates the rest of the senses, with over a quarter of the brain's energy dedicated to visual perception alone. What is light, and how does it encode information about the world around us? How do our eyes read that code and send the information to the brain? How does our brain make sense of this information and turn it into images and concepts? These are the questions guiding our exploration.
We begin with a discussion of light and its sources, including the sun, light bulbs, and light reflected off of objects. We will look into how light uses frequency, energy, polarization, direction, and intensity to encode information about the objects surrounding us. We will even begin to introduce a sampling of quantum mechanics as we try to answer the question, Is light a particle or a wave?
We then move onto what the eye is made of, how it captures light, and the process through which it reads and sends the information stored in light to the brain. We will view the eye at both the macroscopic level, through the dissection of an actual sheep's eye, as well as the micro and nano scales, through cell membranes and the ion channels that serve as their gatekeepers. The random motion of molecules, a phenomenon known as diffusion, will be shown to be the fundamental driving force behind all cellular operations. At this point we will have everything we need to discuss how nerve cells talk to each other, which you will get to see firsthand in the signals sent along the leg of a cockroach.
Finally we will learn about how the brain synthesizes the vast quantities of visual data sent to it every second our eyes are open. Lines, faces, colors, movement, all of these are hugely complex challenges for the brain, but are nonetheless central to our interpretation of the world. Brain studies including optical illusions will give us insight into how our brains make quick sense of all of this visual information, which we will contrast with the state of the art in robot and computer technologies attempting to tackle these same challenges. Trade in your old eyes for a fancy new pair of scientist's eyes by taking Biophysics: Light, the Eye, and the Brain
*Please note: This course has a Material Fee of $125.00.