Class Reflections

Find out what happened in each class!


Soha started the teaching portion with three lectures on basic neuroscience principles

  • In her first class, we learned about the field of neuroscience, the study of the brain and spinal cord. We also learned about the electrochemical basis of how neurons communicate with each other.
  • We next learned about how neuroscientists study the brain. We learned about the use of molecular biology and imaging techniques that allow us to get a glimpse into our brains.
  • In her last class, we learned about how animal models, specifically invertebrate animals like flies and worms, have informed our understanding and study of neuroscience. We learned about one of the cutting-edge technologies, called optogenetics, that allows real time investigation of the neuronal basis of behavior.

A few things we learned in Soha’s classes

  • Using genetics, scientists can make different (types of) neurons in the brain express different fluorescent colors: The brainbow!
  • By shining light on the neurons of a mouse while he’s moving around, you can make them become aggressive (or not). Check out this video on optogenetics.

Download Soha’s slides from the Resources page.


Today, Suzanne talked about human cognitive neuroscience. What are some crucial differences between the tools scientists use to study human brains in action as opposed to animal brains? What kinds of questions are asked about how our brain governs behavior and about what our brain can tell us about how cognitive capacities, like language and memory, work? We further talked about the pros and cons to conduct neuroscience research in a laboratory environment vs. the real world.

A few things we learned in Suzanne’s class

  • There are a lot of fancy tools to study the brain, but we currently don’t have any non-invasive techniques (where neuroscientists don’t poke into your brain) that can measure exactly where AND exactly when our brains are reacting to our environment.
  • For a research project inside a classroom, EEG is probably the best tool available. It can record electrical activity emitted by your brain on the outside of your scalp at a millisecond resolution. And, most importantly, it doesn’t require a big, heavy magnet or a tank full of liquid helium.

Download Suzanne’s slides from the Resources page.


In Lisa’s class on social neuroscience, we discussed how human brains have evolved to afford us certain social superpowers to relate to other people and form social support systems. We also examined what negative consequences social groups may have, and what neuroscientists are doing to help tackle these issues.

A few things we learned in Lisa’s class

  • The volume of the human orbitofrontal cortex has been correlated with the size of a person’s social network (Powell et al., 2012). This led to a discussion on what this might tell us about this part of the brain, and also raised questions about what a social network is, anyway. Are there other explanations that may explain this correlation?
  • We learned that social and physical pain may be encoded in the brain by similar structures. This led to a discussion of what is similar between social pain and physical pain. Another, related finding: When you see an outgroup member (ie., a fan of your rival sports team) experience social pain, it has the same neural signature as when you see an ingroup member (ie., a fan of your same sports team) experience social pleasure (Cikara, Botvinick, & Fiske, 2011)! This led to a discussion of how some of the brain’s functions are not fixed but in fact dynamic and susceptible to broader social influence.

Download Lisa’s slides from the Resources page.


Today we talked about experimental design. Four groups of students had come up with different social neuroscience experiments and we began to talk about what we could do in the classroom. We also filled out a questionnaire about ourselves.

Check out the questionnaire on the Resources page and follow our student projects on the Student Projects page.


Today we worked with the EEG headsets. Suzanne and Lisa brought 5 other researchers to show us how to set up the headsets on our heads and where each electrode should be touching our scalp. We learned how to apply saline solution to each of the sponges to increase the connectivity between the electrodes and the scalp: the goal is to make all the electrodes turn green on the screen. If you have short hair, it’s pretty easy. If you have a lot of hair, braids, or if your head simply has a different form that doesn’t fit the headset very well, it can be kind of pain. Once set up, students could look at their own brainwaves on the screen and experiment with opening and closing their eyes and with movement (like talking, laughing, shaking your head, etc).

Some things we learned today

  • Moving around really affects the EEG signal. A lot.
  • When you close your eyes, you have more occipital alpha than when you open your eyes. Alpha waves are brainwaves that oscillate about 7 – 13 times per second (7-13 Hz) and the sensors in the back of your head pick up brainwaves associated with your visual (occipital) activity.

Check out the differences in occipital alpha when students close or open their eyes on the Data and Results page. This is a sanity check that the headsets we use actually record brain data.


In this session, we brainstormed about the design of the INSPIRE classroom project. Starting next week, we’ll all be wearing our own EEG sets while Mr. McClintock is teaching. So we talked about how the classes should be organized. What kinds of activities should be done and which might affect brainwave synchrony in the classroom? Should these actions be repeated every single time? How different can these activities be across sessions?

What we came up with

  • We will fill out a questionnaire both before and after each class, with questions about how tired and hungry we are, how etc.
  • Some activities will be repeated across classes (like sitting still for 2 minutes before and after class)
  • We will do different teaching styles each class: a 2-minute video, 3 minutes where the teacher is reading aloud, 5 minutes of lecture teaching, 5 minutes of group discussion.

For questionnaires and study protocols, see the Resources page.

Also see the Data and Results page for summaries of the questionnaire and brain data results.


Today, David taught a class discussing what “signals” are and how to record them, analyze them, and (begin to) interpret them. We covered the ideas of sampling rate, averaging, and signal-to-noise ratio, in non-technical ways.

Download David’s slides from the Resources page.


For our first actual EEG recording session with the entire group, Jamie lectured on Mendelian Genetics—the basis for understanding modern molecular biology. We discussed the responsibility scientists have for the impacts of their discoveries, and did not watch a video.


Jamie lectured on the major discoveries that opened the door to the modern understanding of DNA, and we discussed what individuals would want to know about their own DNA (and what they would not want to know). We also watched this video on the discovery of the structure of DNA.


Jamie lectured on the experiments that demonstrated DNA carries the genetic material. This was followed up with a discussion of the legal issues surrounding genetic testing- should insurance companies have the right to require genetic testing of their customers, for example? We also watched this short video about the Hershey-Chase experiment.


Jamie lectured on the “central dogma” of molecular biology- that the flow of information inside cells goes from DNA to RNA to protein. This was followed up with a discussion of a basic nature versus nurture question- how much do our genes control who we are? The whole group also watched this animation on the mechanics of how information goes from DNA to RNA to protein.


Jamie lectured on how DNA is replicated during cell division. The complex differences between leading and lagging strand synthesis were highlighted in particular. For the interactive portion of the class, the group reviewed a recent quiz on molecular biology. We watched a video introducing the topic of RNA splicing.


Jamie lectured on how the coded information in DNA is read to produce proteins. A challenging homework assignment was reviewed, then the whole group asked questions and shared their understanding of how we can predict the protein that is produced by a gene. We watched this short animation depicting transcription in real time.


Jamie lectured on the control of gene expression. The role of proteins called transcription factors was explained, followed by a group discussion on the experiments that led to understanding how bacteria switch genes on and off in response to their environment. We watched a video showing how transcription factors interact with DNA.


Jamie lectured on the topic of translation: how the cell uses coded information in RNA to produce a particular protein. We discussed the ways a protein could be modified after it’s made, and we watched this video depicting the details of protein translation.


Jamie lectured on structure of scientific experimentation: starting with an original question, doing background research, generating a hypothesis, designing experimental conditions and performing a study, collecting and analyzing data to draw conclusions, and communicating the results. The group watched this video on crow intelligence, then discussed the significance of the findings.


Jamie continued to lecture on experimental design, giving an overview of how the class would identify and develop original research proposals. Jamie talked about the key components of a scientific research proposal, followed by a whole-class discussion on the ideas the students submitted earlier in the year. To stimulate discussion, the class watched a video on the phenomenon of “change blindness.”


Jamie concluded his lecture on experimental design by getting into greater detail about the research proposal design process. Three possible ideas were singled out for further development, all related to neural synchrony as measured by EEG. The class discussed some pros and cons associated with each idea, and decided which proposal they would like to develop working in a small group. At the beginning of class, the group watched a short video highlighting social neuroscience studies on how people make and alter first impressions.


Suzanne first talked about some art/neuroscience projects she co-created with Matthias and other artists/scientists.


Then, we did a short neurofeedback experiment. We took turns sitting opposite each other in pairs for 2 minutes, trying to sync up our brains as often as possible. Behind each pair, two cartoon heads merged in and out of each other: the more they overlapped, the higher the brainwave synchrony. With each perfect overlap, the score would go up. Click on the image above for a demo.

Here are the results:

  • Johana & Annabel sang ABC’s and counted together while maintaining eye-contact. They got 1561 points.
  • Michael & Adam meditated together with closed eyes. The only thing they agreed on was to clear their thoughts. They got 1761 points.
  • Carolyn & Patrice did a joint tapping game on their iPhone and got 678 points.
  • Emily & Adam first sang a song together while maintaining eye-contact and got 782 points in 1 minute. So they may have gotten about the same score as Johana & Annabel doing the same activity if they’d continued for another minute.
  • Emily & Adam then just sat still and looked at each other for a minute while the rest of us made occasional sounds (knocking, clapping, vocalizing). They got 582 points (i.e., ~1164 points in 2 minutes).

Soo… Michael and Adam got the highest score, even though they weren’t doing anything collaborative. Carolyn and Patrice did something very collaborative and got the lowest score, though they didn’t focus on each other at all but rather on the iPhone screen. The two pairs that sang songs together got about the same score.

Afterward we all discussed possible explanations for these results. Obviously it’s important to remember the anecdotal nature of this experiment. We also emphasized that brain-to-brain synchrony doesn’t mean that brains are actually communicating with each other directly: There’s always some external “thing” (an object, each other) that the rhythms of our brains lock to. Perhaps together.

12/18/14 – 5/1/15 HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

(see Student Projects for the Spring)