Interacting with pint-sized scientists

Over social media a number of us have been discussing our Skype-based interactions with schoolchildren either via the mainly USA-based ‘Skype a Scientist’ program [ & see @SkypeScientist on Twitter] or via a new program in Finland [#ScientistsInSchool & see tweets by @aivoAALTO @AnnikaHulten & @eglerean at Aalto University]. Spending an hour with a bunch of schoolchildren [for me it has been 5th graders] is really a tremendous amount of fun. They ask lots of penetrating questions about your career & motivation, as well as doing science.

Last year when I Skyped for the first time with a science class, here were some of questions that I got:

  1. How long have you been a neuroscientist?
  2. What made you want to study neuroscience?
  3. What types of degrees/educational programs did you have to earn to become a neuroscientist?
  4. Do you think it was more difficult to become a scientist as a female than it would have been if you were a male? Were there many other females in your classes?
  5. I read that you are a photographer. Can you tell me more about your photography?
  6. Who is your favorite famous Scientist? why?
  7. What was your favorite book as a child? Why?
  8. Which emoji is your favorite? Why?
  9. Did you see the movie “Inside Out”? If yes, do you feel it was an accurate representation of emotions/expressions/micro expressions?

Pretty cool huh? A lot of questions were centered around my scientific background & education. This year there were similar questions in addition to those asking about specific aspects of science. This year I did not get the questions ahead of time & had to do it ‘cold turkey’ & it was a lot of fun!

Given that a lot of people are trying to do this & are doing this by themselves, I thought that it might be nice to share some resources [e.g. you tube videos, popular science articles in magazines & newspapers etc. that have been written in language that those who are not trained in science can understand]. So, I thought that I would start the ball rolling by sharing some things that I have shared that have worked well. Here are some resources I have found that have been useful to share:

A. Here is a great teaching tool from on brain anatomy. It has pull down menus that allow you to select different anatomical features in the brain – you can start at the lobes & go more detailed… have a play & see what you think. This is a new tool – have not seen this one previously.

You can spin the brain around to the view you want. Start by looking at the pull down button in the top left corner of the website ‘Choose a Structure’….

B. Materials on brain injuries:
B1. Patient HM – the man who cannot learn or remember new information, things or people. Here is a video & a New York Times article on him. After HM died in 2008  & his brain was taken out of his body & flown to San Diego, it was sliced in frozen sections as this article & video cam footage shows.[Finally the paper of the work was published in 2014 in Nature Communications by Annese et al…]

At the time of writing, one of the scientists who was the first to test his memory function in the late 1950s, Brenda Milner  [from the Montreal Neurological Institute] is still alive & just celebrated her 100th birthday. Incredibly, she still works at the Institute & teaches(!) & there was just recently a huge celebration for her birthday! See this video with her being interviewed.

B2. Patient SM – the lady who cannot recognize or feel fear [first described by Adolphs et al in a paper in Nature in 2005]. Here is a Discover magazine article on her.

B3. Phineas Gage – the railway foreman working in Vermont in the 19th century with a workplace accident with gunpowder with an iron rod passing through his brain… here is a video on his case. [There is also the 2012 paper by Van Horn et al in PLoS One where they looked at his skull & attempted to reconstruct the likely brain damage to grey & white matter pathways that Gage sustained.]

B4. Language & the brain. Patient ‘Tan’ of French neurologist called Paul Broca in 19th century. This patient could only utter one syllable ‘tan’ after a stroke. See this article.

In the mid-20th century language lateralization was studied in patients – people with epilepsy etc. These people were tested ahead of their seizure surgery [to ensure that they did not create another patient HM…]. So here is a classic video of Dr Wada, the neurosurgeon who pioneered the test that still bears his name.

Additionally, if people want to leave comments with link to other resources that would be great – it would be convenient to access… I will continue to add other resources to this blogpost as I find them.