Diamond in the Rough World of Neuroscience

We have the ability to change our brains. Throughout life, even into old age, new neural connections can be formed. However, the idea the brain can change, called brain plasticity, is relatively new. Before 1963, scientists theorized that the brain remained static after birth and environment played no role in its potential.

The woman who changed the conversation around brain plasticity, Marian Diamond, professor emerita of integrative biology, University of California, Berkeley, was the subject of “My Love Affair with the Brain: The Life and Science of Dr. Marian Diamond,” a documentary that aired this week on PBS.

Diamond focused on proving that the brain is shaped by environment, not just genetics. She performed an experiment where one group of rats were kept in enriched cages, with toys and other rats to socialize with, while another group lived in impoverished cages, with no other rats or objects to interact with. Rats housed in enriched cages had brains that were six percent larger than the rats in impoverished cages. She reacted to this finding by running across the campus to tell her research partner the results. “This will change science,” he told her. And it did.

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Photo courtesy of Luna Productions

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The Suzuki Method: Exercise and the Brain

After I’ve spent the majority of the day sitting at my desk or running around for work, it can be hard to muster up the will to exercise afterwards. While this comes easier to some than others, the positive feelings that follow a challenging workout seem universal. Exploring these emotions, such as joy or exhilaration, is part of what drives Wendy Suzuki’s research as a scientist and professor of neural science and psychology at NYU.

Suzuki’s fascination with the effects of exercise on brain function led her to take her research outside of the lab: She has become a certified exercise instructor for intenSati, a combination of kickboxing, dance, yoga, and martial arts with spoken affirmations. As part of Brain Awareness Week in New York City, she combined her passions into a class titled “Exercise and the Brain:” one hour of intenSati followed by a 45-minute talk on brain function.

Photo credit: Jenna Robino

Photo credit: Jenna Robino

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