7th graders ask brainy questions about neuroscience

This year, I’ve had the awesome experience of helping to organize Stanford’s Brain Day program. Brain Day, for those of you who haven’t heard of it, brings Stanford neuroscientists into all of the 7th grade science classrooms in Palo Alto and East Palo Alto to introduce young students to neuroscience and show them real human and animal brain specimens. The students are always overflowing with questions, and I’ve been surprised to discover how uncannily these 7th graders cut straight to the heart of the biggest mysteries in neuroscience. Leading a Brain Day session is always a refreshing reminder that curiosity about how our minds work is universal.

As a Ph.D. student studying neuroscience, I’ve devoted years of my life to honing in on a very tiny question, and spending the majority of my time and energy trying to answer it. On dark days when it seems that none of my experiments will ever work, I begin to wonder whether the specific protein on the specific cell type that I am trying to study is even important or interesting. Those are the days when I have to find inspiration by recalling why I became interested in studying the brain in the first place. It turns out that the questions that got me excited about neuroscience when I was much younger are very similar to the questions the 7th graders ask me at Brain Day.

Often, the questions students ask during a Brain Day session don’t have a quick or simple answer, and the majority of the questions are too fun not to share! That’s why this spring, I have been collecting 7th graders’ burning questions about the brain, and have been working with Ask a Neuroscientist to call upon neuroscience students and researchers at Stanford to try to come up with the best answers they can.  Some of these answers will be posted here as blog posts. Neuwrite podcasters will also be quizzing various Stanford neuroscientists for their responses, and will post their answers as a podcast on the website.

Thank you to the Palo Alto and East Palo Alto 7th grade students for asking such fun and insightful questions! Keep an eye on the NeuWrite West webpage (or our twitter feed #BrainDay for answers to your questions to appear over the next several weeks!