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8 brainy facts about the Ontario Science Centre’s Brain exhibit

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8 brainy facts about the Ontario Science Centre’s Brain exhibit

Brain: The Inside Story Guest post by Katherine George Deep in the bowels of the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, I walked into a dark tunnel thick with tangled wires and blinking lights depicting the bundles of neurons that make up the human brain. These flashing lights represent the trillions of firing synapses that occur right inside our noggins. Arguably the most complex organ in the human body, the brain is the central hub for all of our thoughts, senses and feelings. Brain: The Inside Story, the newest attraction at the Ontario Science Centre, uses the latest neuroscience research and technology to depict the brain’s abilities in many artistically creative and innovative ways. I’ve long been fascinated with the brain, never fully understanding its abilities. I simply viewed it as the mysterious machine inside my head making the wheels turn. But, after walking through this exhibit, I realized, we should forget the romanticized theory of following the heart; the brain is the deciding force behind our actions and emotions. The exhibit welcomes visitors of all ages, offering an entertaining learning experience that features engaging illustrations, interactive demonstrations, brain-teasing games and vivid brain-scan images. Did you know? 1. The human brain weighs three pounds and is mostly made of water. One of the first things visitors see when entering the exhibit is a real preserved human brain! 2. Over the past two million years, the brains of primates have tripled in size. Today, our cortex—which is the outer layer that produces advanced thought—has numerous folds and wrinkles to fit inside our head. The interactive build-a-brain exhibit features a puzzle-building exercise that shows the evolutionary path of the brain, beginning with the brain stem and continuing to the enlarged frontal lobe unique to humans. 3. The brain runs on low levels of electricity, and the neurons in our brain are constantly sending signals. These signals zip from neuron to neuron at 402 kilometres per hour! The neuron gesture table shows how brain cells connect and communicate with each other. Participants place their hands on the screen and the “brain exhibit” turns their hands into neurons that can interact with other neurons (other people’s hands). 4. Children and adults process language differently. Children process a second language in the same area of their brain as their first language, whereas adults process it in an alternate area of the brain. The “brain lounge” displays brain-image scans to demonstrate how the brain is stimulated differently in various activities, including music, sports and foreign languages. 5. When the brain senses danger, it sends the neurotransmitter epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, to certain regions of the brain, allowing us to react faster. Visitors can determine the actions of a virtual character by pushing buttons to control decision-making. Each stage teaches about neurotransmitters, which cause different emotional states, such as conflict and distress. 6. A part of our brain known as the olfactory cortex is able to distinguish between 20,000 scents. The visual cortex of our brain uses such visual cues as shapes and colours, allowing us to recognize objects in one-fiftieth of a second! The “picture-sound illusion” exhibit tricks the brain with visual information into mishearing sounds, demonstrating how the brain integrates seeing and hearing. For instance, when a sound is heard while viewing a picture of a bird, the brain hears that sound as chirping. 7. We remember certain events because the amygdala region burns highly emotional moments into our memory. A multimedia video demonstrates how a dancer’s brain reacts as she auditions for Juilliard, illustrating the various functional areas of the brain. The dancer gives a flawless performance, finishing in a very happy mood, which means she’ll remember that moment for quite some time. 8. The functions of our brain peak in our 20s, but as we grow older, the amount of neural connections declines and our memory declines. The exhibit includes various brain-training exercises to exert the short and long-term memory. Ever wonder why it’s sometimes so hard to remember where you parked your car? Or where you left your keys? That’s because the brain accumulates and stores so many memories from things we do on a daily basis that it can be difficult to sift through them all and locate a single one. Brain: The Inside Story is on now and continues until March 29, 2015. For other cool Toronto-area museums, visit seetorontonow.com. Image courtesy of the Ontario Science Centre
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8 brainy facts about the Ontario Science Centre’s Brain exhibit

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