Neuroscience: Science of the Brain - An Introduction for Young Students
Publisher:The British Neuroscience Association
Inside our heads, weighing about 1.5 kg, is an astonishing living organ consisting of
billions of tiny cells. It enables us to sense the world around us, to think and to talk.
The human brain is the most complex organ of the body, and arguably the most
complex thing on earth. This booklet is an introduction for young students.
In this booklet, we describe what we know about how the brain works and how much
there still is to learn. Its study involves scientists and medical doctors from many
disciplines, ranging from molecular biology through to experimental psychology, as
well as the disciplines of anatomy, physiology and pharmacology. Their shared
interest has led to a new discipline called neuroscience - the science of the brain.
The brain described in our booklet can do a lot but not everything. It has nerve cells
- its building blocks - and these are connected together in networks. These
networks are in a constant state of electrical and chemical activity. The brain we
describe can see and feel. It can sense pain and its chemical tricks help control the
uncomfortable effects of pain. It has several areas devoted to co-ordinating our
movements to carry out sophisticated actions. A brain that can do these and many
other things doesnít come fully formed: it develops gradually and we describe some
of the key genes involved. When one or more of these genes goes wrong, various
conditions develop, such as dyslexia. There are similarities between how the brain
develops and the mechanisms responsible for altering the connections between
nerve cells later on - a process called neuronal plasticity. Plasticity is thought to
underlie learning and remembering. Our bookletís brain can remember telephone
numbers and what you did last Christmas. Regrettably, particularly for a brain
that remembers family holidays, it doesnít eat or drink. So itís all a bit limited.
But it does get stressed, as we all do, and we touch on some of the hormonal and
molecular mechanisms that can lead to extreme anxiety - such as many of us feel in
the run-up to examinations. Thatís a time when sleep is important, so we let it have
the rest it needs. Sadly, it can also become diseased and injured.
New techniques, such as special electrodes that can touch the surface of cells,
optical imaging, human brain scanning machines, and silicon chips containing
artificial brain circuits are all changing the face of modern neuroscience.
We introduce these to you and touch on some of the ethical issues and social
implications emerging from brain research.