Is there such a thing as a criminal brain? What is the difference between male and female brains, and why? How can we read the mind of someone who is in a coma and unable to communicate?
These, and many other questions, were enthusiastically explored by Dr Guy Sutton, a neuroscientist who works with pathologists, lawyers and medical students in cutting-edge areas of research. We were very privileged that Guy was able to speak to 30 of our Biology and Psychology A level students, with some select Y11 and Y10 students and a group of visiting Psychology students from Park House School.
The centrepiece of Guy’s presentation was a dissection of a sheep’s brain. This is remarkably similar to a human brain; quite surprising as sheep do have a ‘limited behavioural repertoire’ as Guy pointed out. Parts of the brain were passed round, and all the students had the opportunity to touch and hold a brain, to identify its structures and to marvel at the beauty of the ‘arbor vitae’ (or tree of life) in a dissected cerebellum.
Guy then went on to describe some astonishing research: a girl who had half her brain removed and was still able to learn Dutch and Turkish; a veteran of the Afghanistan war who lost both arms and learnt to control robotic arms using only his brain; the possibility of communicating with someone in a coma by asking them to visualise playing tennis for ‘yes’ or walking round their house for ‘no’, and to monitor their brain activity using fMRI to read their answers.
We were left eager to hear more, inspired and excited by the possibilities of neuroscience. How many students will add Guy’s book recommendations to their Christmas list? (‘Mutants’ by Armand Marie Leroi, or ‘Malformed – forgotten brains of the Texas state mental hospital’ £153 on Amazon, in case you’re interested!)
Mrs R Moody