A Wild and Brainy Night at the Museum

Last Thursday, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City hosted “Neuroscience Night: Wild, Wild Brains” during Brain Awareness Week in the Spitzer Hall of Human Origins. The night was filled with interactive games and flash lectures (i.e., a series of talks no more than 30 minutes long) that showcased how our human brains compare to those of our animal counterparts, both present day and extinct.

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A packed lecture room: in the back of the Hall were lectures from three experts each focused on the study of animal brain evolution and behavior. The talks spanned topics such as bird brains, olfactory evolution in primates, and elephant behavior and cognition.

Amy Balanoff, Ph.D., who was one of the night’s guest speakers, presented her own research on the evolutionary history of the avian (or, bird) brain. She and her colleagues use endocasts to study the brains of non-avian dinosaurs and Archaeopteryx (the first known transition between dinosaurs and flying birds) and then compare those casts to the brains of modern-day birds. An endocast is a casting of a hollow space—in this case, a fossilized cranial bone, which Balanoff created using CT imaging. Continue reading

#Brainweek: Our Sensational Brain

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Brain props at the AMNH for a fun photo opportunity and to get in the spirit of celebrating the brain during Neuroscience Night: Our Sensational Brain.

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City presented “Neuroscience Night: Our Sensational Brain” last Thursday night in celebration of Brain Awareness Week. Using interactive activities, the event showcased the astounding capabilities of the human brain and the how it works in concert with our senses to interpret the world around us.

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Questioning Perception with Illusions

Can you spot the difference between the two pictures in the video above? Most of the packed audience at the “The Neuroscience of Illusion” event at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan couldn’t. What if we told you to look for something the men couldn’t leave without? Even with that clue, many attendees were still stumped. One women continued to struggle even when told to look for the man without a hat. If you’re like her and still confused, the engine of the plane is only present in one picture!

What makes it so hard to see what’s right in front of us? The audience’s response to the video illustrates that our field of vision, called the “attention spotlight,” is very narrow, said Apollo Robbins, speaker at the event. Called “The Gentleman Thief,” Robbins is a master pickpocket and illusionist who is said to have picked the pockets of more than 250,000 men and women. When we are focused on something intently, we may miss other important details. Pickpockets manipulate this shortcoming to divert attention and steal, he said.

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Is Gender Hard-Wired in Our Brains?

Men and women are obviously born physically different, but are our brains hard-wired to display masculine and feminine traits? Wednesday’s SciCafé event, “How the Brain Shows its Feminine Side,” at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, explored this question.

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braiNY at the Museum of Natural History

I included a pen for scale. Always thinking of you, dear reader.

I included a pen for scale. Always thinking of you, dear reader.

Take a look at one of the smaller slices of a mouse brain pictured above—one of the two on the left side of the Petri dish that’s about the size of the dot on a lower-case “i.” How many neurons do you think it contains?

Need a hint? It’s approximately the same as the number of grains of rice that could fit inside two pasta sauce jars.

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