A current of excitement hummed in the Skyview High School biology lab on April 16. Visitors from NW Noggin unloaded real sheep’s brains, about the size of an apple and the color of clay, into metal dissection trays as some 20 high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors looked on.
After a brief discussion of anatomical structure, Noggin’s Elias Shaw asked, “Who’s ready to cut into some brains?”
A solitary voice rang out: “Wow, I am!”
Noggin, a neuroscience-education organization comprised primarily of advanced college undergraduate and graduate students from the Portland and Vancouver metro areas, was at the school to lead the dissection—the culmination of a weeks-long crash course on brains.
Students had held a real human brain. They’d explored the brain through art projects—crafting a massive neuron from pipe cleaners and modeling brains out of clay. And they learned about drugs’ harmful effects on brains.
But the dissection provided an opportunity for an even more in-depth study. The initial, mid-sagittal cut from frontal lobe to spinal cord caused a few of the more squeamish high schoolers to leave the room. Other students took pictures, but would not touch the wrinkled lump. The enthusiastic ones gingerly guided their scalpels down the longitudinal fissure. Slowly, others also consented to slice through the soft, spongy tissue. I can’t believe I’m doing this, thought sophomore Colby Brown.
After the brains were butterflied, and then quartered, the volunteers discussed the network of ridges and crevices that houses complex circuitry ranging from memory to circadian rhythms.
The lesson was an insight into an obvious if sometimes overlooked organ.
“I knew the brain was important, but it’s already in your head so you don’t think it’s that important because you’re so used to it,” said Brown.
Added freshman Michael Lundgren, “