Students Gurdip Ahluwalia (Year 12) and Luke Leszczar (Year 13) share some of the highlights of this year’s highly anticipated Brain Day, led by visiting neuroscientist Dr Guy Sutton. As you will see, it lived up to all expectations:
Gurdip Ahluwalia reports on the morning’s lectures…
Dealing with a number of topical and interesting issues in the fields of psychology and psychopathology, the morning’s series of lectures for Year 12 was split into four parts. The morning kicked off with a lecture entitled From Brain to Neuron, which looked at the individuality of each of our brains and the functions of their component parts. This section also looked at how the use of cannabis, nowadays, has a more potent, negative effect on the functionality of the brains of teenagers than for our parents’ generation, due to the new strain of cannabis called ‘skunk’, causing stunted brain development among minors and hastened brain ageing among older teenagers and young adults.
This lecture also investigated how switching between tasks is easier for bilingual people, who use both languages regularly, than for monolinguists, and how primary and secondary languages are actually stored in completely separate parts of the brain.
Having whetted our appetites for psychological knowledge, Dr Sutton moved onto the second section of our morning: using computer software (‘Brainware’), showing the biological effects of illicit drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, on rats.
After a short break, we returned for the third, and for many the most highly anticipated, part of the morning – the dissection of a sheep’s brain and the chance to hold and examine the physical makeup of the brain. Dr Sutton preceded this with a brief talk on brain surgery and some of the physical deformities resulting from rare abnormalities in embryonic development.
The morning was rounded off with a talk on schizophrenia, which, despite continuous research, remains one of the least understood and most socially stigmatised mental illnesses in the world. The talk dealt with the possible causes (both genetic and environmental) and the physical differences between the brains of schizophrenia-sufferers and those without schizophrenia.
All in all, Brain Day was a valuable and incredibly interesting experience, offering the Psychology students the opportunity to further their understanding and knowledge of aspects relevant both in an exam context and to everyday society.
Luke Leszczar reports on the afternoon’s lectures…
On Tuesday March 22nd the A-level Psychology students had their annual ‘Brain day’. This consisted of a series of lectures conducted by Dr Guy Sutton, a lecturer and researcher in neuroscience at Nottingham University’s Medical School. The morning was tailored after the year 12s while the year 13s lecture took place in the afternoon.
Dr Sutton’s insights into neuroscience gave students an insight into the field’s latest developments, delving into topics such as the criminal brain and gender development. This is aimed at deepening students’ understanding of biopsychology which is a crucial part of the course at A Level. Moreover, the ground-breaking new technologies discussed were inspiring examples of how the subject can contribute to medical fields. For myself, I can say that these examples of scientific breakthrough have intensified my love for the subject and I am sure for many have spurred on ambitions to become psychologists.
Some of the concepts explained to us we would have previously assumed to be science fiction. One technique currently being researched uses light to monitor and activate specific brain cells, effectively controlling animal behaviour in a process called optogenetics. Such methods illustrate how rapidly psychology and neuroscience are evolving and show students they have the potential to become involved in such inspiring work.
Topics covered also in the Brain Day also made us contemplate the ethical issues raised by these advanced technologies. The ability to diagnose and treat neurological disorders within the womb will inevitably lead to questions about the boundaries of ethical conduct. Such evaluation is an important skill in the A Level syllabus and Dr Sutton’s interactive approach allowed us to develop this skill set further, adding complexity and insight to our understanding.
As always the feedback about the Brain Day from colleagues has been very positive. The Brain Day is a much anticipated opportunity to grow our understanding of the wider world of neuroscience.