Brain teasers that students can touch

Ruthann Richter

Kasey Tillett and Allison Monroe, seventh-graders at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School in Palo Alto, learned first-hand about the workings of the human brain from Stanford neuroscience graduate students.

It was yet another Brain Day, an annual event begun a decade ago by Bill Newsome, PhD, professor of neurobiology, when he brought some brain specimens to his son’s class.

The response was so great that the brains just kept coming to all Palo Alto seventh-grade science classes. On Friday, Stanford neuroscience graduate students brought specimens of preserved human, monkey, owl, dog and rat brains to Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School. The youngsters found the samples to be “squishy,” “slimy” and “smelly”—and some even got a bit queasy.

The Stanford neuroscientists explained the various structures of the brain and their functions and asked the young students to name some things that brains do (ethics and memory, youngsters volunteered) and some of the things that can go wrong (concussions, amnesia and stroke were among the responses).

The speakers encouraged the students to treat the donated brains with care and respect—and to protect their own brains by using bike helmets and avoiding drugs.