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How we Know What we Know about the Brain

by Julia Moore, Drake HS

On January 25, 2011, Dr. Raymond Swanson explained to the youth and community of Marin the modern devices and techniques used in neuroscience.

About the Seminar:
            Dr. Swanson is the professor and Vice-Chair in the Department of Neurology at UCSF.  He first became interested in neuroscience when he took at class in Physiological Psychology as an undergraduate.  His lab (Swanson Lab) does medical research to understand what will keep neurons alive, in hopes of improving the lives of patients suffering from strokes.    

            He discussed the past and current methods of neurological research.  Comparing normal brains and brains with differences is how we determine what certain parts of the brain do.  He gave the famous example of Phineas Gage who had his frontal lobe destroyed through an accident when building a railroad.  We saw major differences in Gage’s abitlity to have normal human controls (eg: sit still) and plan ahead, indicating that the frontal lobe had to do those human traits (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FrULrWRlGBA the story of Gage in song form).  Dr. Swanson referred to this method of brain research as “breaking the brain”.

            The current method of brain research that is superior to breaking the brain is using a  fMRI  (functional magnetic resonance imaging).  The fMRI began dominating neuroscience research in the early 1990's.  This machine gives us non-invasive magnetic resonance imagery into the inner workings of the brain.  While this has progressed neuroscience research greatly, it can only show major energy shifts in the brain, so we cannot yet understand all the neurons involved in every process. 

fMRI Machine

fMRI Brain Scan

Please check out the links below for more information about the seminar and Dr. Swanson.
Video of the Seminar: http://vimeo.com/35806730
Written By: Julia Moore
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