Week 11: The last blog & Laboratory exercise

On the eleventh week we didn’t have a lecture or a quiz anymore, only one exercise session that was little bit different. The exercise session was an EEG measurement. The contact learning sessions are now over and it’s time to start studying for the upcoming exam. 

 

The Exercise session: Aalto Behavioral Laboratory

This week we conducted a small EEG measurement in Aalto Behavioral Laboratory. The measurement was about the reaction times (similar experiment as in exercise 4). We performed the measurement with a group of students and assistance of an assistant teacher. It was nice to perform the experiment with the group, so we could see were the data for the exercise actually came from. We also saw how to perform a simple EEG measurement. How to prepare the electrodes, set the cap, and clean it.  Our last assignment is to write a report about the laboratory measurement.

 

What did we learn?

This autumn we have had several courses which have had exercises about processing data measured in an experiment. Only in one other exercise we were measuring the data we had to process and analyse, so it was refreshing to visit the lab and see that the data was actually measured and wasn’t just artificially created for us, or found from the internet.

 

Thoughts about the course

Overall, this course has been as interesting as we hoped it would be. During the course, there was no topic which we didn’t like.  Especially the flexibility was good on this course (doing quizzes at home if needed, no mandatory attendance but gaining points if attending). The excursions and the last exercise session (EEG measurement) were a nice bonus, which really gave some hands-on perspective on why the topics in this course are essential. Also, this course had so many learning methods (some python, building the brain, writing essays, naming parts of the brain..) which helped us to keep our interest in this course. Also compared to our other courses (which basically have only MATLAB exercises), it was nice to have something completely different for a change.

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Week 10: Motor system

The tenth week started differently than the previous ones, because instead of a lecture we had an excursion to Aalto Neuroimaging infrastructure. On tuesday we had our last quiz, which topic was motor system. Also this week’s exercises were about motor system. 

 

The Excursion: Aalto Neuroimaging Infrastructure

The was to Aalto Neuroimaging Infrastructure. The research infrastructure has four functional neuroimaging modalities, navigated transcranial magnetic stimulation (nTMS), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), magnetoencephalography (MEG), and Aalto Behavioral Laboratory.

 

The Exercises

The topic for this week’s exercises was motor system (chapters 13-14). I was expecting some basic essay questions, but instead the questions were much more interesting than that. There weren’t any easy fast answers to any of them, but all of them needed good research as well as connecting different information on your own. Especially BCI was an interesting topic to read about, because it’s difficult to understand how it can actually work and how many different possibilities the methods behind it will open.

 

At home

At home we studied for the quiz and read the book. The book chapters were about spinal control of movement and brain control of movement. We learned a lot about movement control.

 

What did we learn?

During this week we learned more about movement control. We had already studied little bit about movement control at the beginning of the course, other courses, and our studies in high school. Obviously the book chapters gave us lots of new information and more precise explanations. The exercises made us really think through the topics we had learned and find more information.

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Week 9:  Mental Illness 

The eighth week started with a quiz and a lecture. The topic for this week’s quiz was The Resting Brain, Attention, and Consciousness (chapter 21), but on the lecture we went through the chapter 22 (Mental Illness). This week there is no exercise session or an excursion. Also we had our last lecture this week.

 

On the lecture

The topic of the lecture was Mental Illness (chapter 22), instead of Attention (chapter 21) which was told in the timetable. Mental Illnesses are though a very interesting topic to learn about because of their complexity, so the change of the topic didn’t do any harm. What amazed me, was how much money goes to treating mental illnesses in Finland (over half of the total costs for treating brain diseases goes to treating mental illnesses). I already knew that out of mental illnesses, depression is particularly common, but still I didn’t know that it’s the leading cause of disability worldwide, and that suicide is second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. It was nice to have the youtube videos linked to lecture. The give a personal touch  to the topic, without making the too personal.

 

At home

At home we studied the chapter 21 about attention and consciousness. The chapter was very interesting because the topics are quite relatable for us. We can observe how our attention is moving to one place to another or how we recognise things.

 

What did we learn?

Both the topic of the quiz and the topic of the lecture were interesting. Both of these are topics that interests many people and are studied and written about a lot. Because there is lots of information available, it might sometimes be difficult to find the information you are looking for. At least for me, the biological and physiological perspective for the topics was relatively unfamiliar so it was nice that we accidentally had possibility to study about both of the topics.

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Week 8: Wiring the brain

The eighth week started with a quiz with a quiz and a lecture. The new topic for this week is wiring the brain. This week is no exercise session, but instead we have our second excursion (Cognitive Brain Research Unit).

 

On the lecture

The lecture was about the wiring of the brain. This week we had a video about the lecture, but the lecture slides are not posted to the traditional location. It would be nice to have the slides also for a quick refresh about the topics of the lecture. The lecture was interesting. Main topics were the the development of cells and the brain. We also discussed about the life cycle of a cell and especially neuron. There was also couple of interesting questions.

 

The excursion: Cognitive Brain Research Unit

Unfortunately both of us were busy this week, and therefore we couldn’t attend this week’s excursion. The excursion would have taken place at Cognitive Brain Research Unit at University of Helsinki. In this research unit, they address human auditory and crossmodal cognition, and also their impairment and plasticity.  The main areas of research are human language and music processes. This excursion would have been so interesting, too bad we couldn’t be there. But we’re already looking forward the next one, hopefully all the excursions keep having as interesting topics as previous ones!

 

At home

The book chapter 23 Wiring of the brain gave us a good base for studying the topics of the week. The development and life cycle of cells was already familiar for us from our previous studies, but the book gave us more precise information especially about the synapses and their development and life cycle. 

 

What did we learn?

This week’s topic really made us realise how complex the brain is. One of the most interesting details we learnt was the plasticity of the brain and the critical ages for language development. It’s interesting how children learn languages so fast due to critical periods (sensory system development), while adults have to work hard even to learn the basics. But also, if a child doesn’t learn any language when being young, it’s difficult to learn to communicate by language at all during their entire lives.

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Week 7: Auditory System and visit to Nexstim

The seventh week started similarly as the previous ones. On monday we had a quiz and a lecture. This week’s topic is auditory system. This week is also a bit different, because instead of an exercise session we had our first excursion (Nexstim).

 

On the lecture

The lecture was about the auditory system. Sadly the recording was not uploaded to MyCources. Luckily there was lots of images, and couple of youtube videos that demonstrated nicely the key point.

 

The excursion: Nexstim

This week we had our first excursion, when we visited Nexstim at their office in Helsinki. Nexstim offers technological solutions for TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation). The excursion really exceeded all the expectations. The structure of their presentation was very good, because it started with showing how the TMS is done in the practise. After this, they had already proven that to work among very interesting topics, so it made the rest of the presentation a lot more interesting too. I also enjoyed how people asked a lot of good questions, and how the people at Nexstim were able to answer well to all of them. It really seemed they were passionate about their work and their appearance was so energetic, that it gave a really good impression of the whole company. Normally it’s not easy to sit and listen for 2 hours, but now I didn’t mind at all that it went overtime. I learned a lot about TMS in practise, especially the use of TMS in a therapeutic way to treat depression and paralysis was new to me. It was also a good demonstration of which type of topics I could be working with in the future.

 

At home

At home we started reading chapter 23 for next week’s quiz. The topic of the chapter 23 is wiring the brain, which explains how the brain develops, and especially how the connections are formed and modified. This is mostly new information, because basics are already known, but in this chapter we take a look at this subject in a much greater detail. Too bad, this week there aren’t brainscape cards for studying the key concepts, but luckily the review questions seem to cover most of the important topics.

 

What did we learn?

During this week we learned about auditory system. Sound and waves are already familiar for us from the physics’ courses. Also the anatomy of the ear, at leas with some level, was familiar for us from courses of physiology and  high school biology, but it is nice to have everything explained as a one system, and how all the pieces fit together. I personally found the part about implants used treating deafness very interesting. I had never really thought how the implants functioned, and why they were used, but I were immediately intrigued when I saw the title of the info box. Something I would probably not have learned from physics of physiology books. 

The excursion was from different topic, but offered a nice possibility to see where things that we are learning can be used and what we could be doing in ten years.

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Week 6: Chemical Control of the Brain and Behaviour

The sixth week started with a lecture and a quiz about Chemical Control of the Brain and Behaviour. There were no new exercises but the deadline for exercises for week 2 was during this week. During next week there is no teaching, but after that we will have the first excursion. 

On the lecture 

On the lecture videos were used for teaching again. This was good, since even if the recording for the lecture was not successful, these videos can be viewed when studying for the exam or reviewing the topics of the lecture. During the lecture we had lots of interesting discussion about memory, memories and studies about them. It is always nice to hear about the studies. 

The exercises

There was no exercises for this week. This gave time for solving the exercises from previous weeks. There is quite long time until next exercise session, because after exam week during next three weeks there will be excursions instead of exercises.

At home

The main topics of the book were already discussed in previous blog post, and because of the upcoming examination week, we won’t study too much for the next quiz yet. 

Lecture slides were again available already before the lecture, which made preparing for the lecture easier. Next quiz and the lecture will be about auditory system. 

What did we learn?

The lecture was a good recap about the subjects we had already studied for the quiz. The videos shown in the lecture (links that were in the slides) really showed the importance of this week’s topic in reality. For example by watching the video of Parkinson’s disease, I learnt the symptoms of that disease and then the actual reasons behind it in the brain. Video also explained well what could be done to treat the disease. This kind of visualisations really give a big help in the learning process.

 

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Week 5: Neurotransmitter systems

The fifth week started with a lecture and a quiz about neurotransmitter systems. The exercises were about central nervous system disorders and reaction time.

On the lecture

The lecture started with a quiz. It was nice to notice that five minutes with a pen and paper in the classroom felt much longer than five minutes between other task when taking the quiz online. During the lecture we had couple of videos that demonstrate how the neurotransmitters bind to receptors at cellular membrane and affect to the behaviour of the cell. It is always nice to have different teaching methods, so one might find a new one that suits well for her. At least for us, understanding a  phenomenon from the video felt easier compared to learning from pictures or text. Because we were already familiar with the slides it was easier to follow the lecture.

The exercises

The exercises had this week a python program, which was yet again a new type of assignment on this course. Because all the exercises are very different compared to each other, it keeps things interesting.

At home

The lecture slides were available already before the lecture, which made it easier to get ready for this week’s lecture. At home we studied for a quiz, and learned about the topics from the book. There was also a deck of Brainscape cards for studying key concepts. The subject for next week’s quiz is the chemical control of the brain and behavior (chapter 15). Reading this chapter was particularly interesting, because it tights up some of the subjects we have learnt in the previous chapters. It also describes the actions in a larger scale, and not only the small details that the previous chapters mostly had. The book included some really interesting examples (eg. Addisons disease when too much cortisol vs. Cushing’s disease when low cortisol levels), which were really helpful in the learning process.

What did we learn?

This week’s topic was quite strongly related to the topic of week 3. At week 3 we learned the basic functioning of the chemical synapses and this week was more specifically about the different type of neurotransmitters used in the chemical  synapses, and how they will bind to receptors.

By reading the book for next week’s quiz, we learnt a lot of new things, and  especially the enteric division of ANS, “small brain” raised some thoughts. Enteric division is a neural system among the lining of the esophagus, stomach, intestines, pancreas, and gallbladder. It was something that we had heard about, but didn’t really know how wide network it is. It also raised some questions; calling it a “brain” is probably somewhat exaggerating, but can it still be (until some extend) compared to it? For example, a brain damage is a really serious matter and it’s usually difficult to recover from it completely (if at all), but the enteric division area is subject to a lot of changing conditions and surgical operations. How does it affect our enteric division’s nervous system, if person gets a sleeve gastrectomy surgery? Or suffers from bowel cancer and some of intestines have to be cut off? Or a person can survive with one kidney or without uterus – but how much does their absence affect the neuronal network? It would be very interesting the learn about the flexibility and the effects the enteric division of ANS actually has.

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Week 4:From Signal Transfer to Sensing

Fourth week started with a quiz and a lecture, like the previous weeks. This week the lecture was filmed agan. The topic of the week is chemical senses, eye, and central visual system. The exercise session was about the topics of the lecture. 

On the lecture

The lecture consisted of things we had already read from the book for this week’s quiz: chemical senses, eye and central visual system. So it was a good recap and made it easier to memorize the most important things. Also some of the more complicated topics (eg. how taste cells work) were explained well, so it was easier to actually learn them compared to  just reading the book. On the lecture, it was recommended to search some information about the nobel prize received for olfactory system research at 2004. After reading the nobel prize website, it was so amazing how one would assume that all of these kind of things would have already been solved a long time ago, but yet there is still so much more to find out.

The exercises

This week’s exercise session also covered the chemical senses, eye and central visual system. All the assignments had an interesting viewpoint to the subject, which made it possible to really give a good thought for the answers and also learn a lot of new things while searching for the solutions. Especially the task about the foul taste in Runeberg’s tart was fun, and the recommended article “Genetics of Taste and Smell: Poisons and Pleasures by Danielle Renee Reed and Antti Knaapila” was really fascinating and presented the ideas in an easy and interesting way. It was interesting to learn, that for example coffee is a learnt flavor; it’s actually bitter and therefore causes a rejective response, but the good feeling the caffeine overcomes that taste. Also the information of how people exhibit differences in perceiving bitter chemicals was interesting to read about. So all in all, by doing this week’s exercises it was possible to learn a lot of new interesting things and fun facts about how the brain works. 

At home

There was no ready made flash cards for this week, and the quiz was about several chapters. Luckily the topics were interesting and there is a bit more time before the exercise deadline.

What did we learn?

This week gave a good recap for how the senses function but also gave a lot of new more detailed information. For example the function of the eye and the formation of an image was somewhat familiar to us already, but this week we learnt it even in greater detail. Also the first assignment at the exercise session – the comparison of human and octopus eye – really gave some new perspective and deepened our knowledge. For example the fact about blind spot in the human eyes was already familiar to us, but the exact reasons behind it were new, as well as the fact that octopus eye has a different structure and therefore doesn’t have blind spots. 

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Week 3: From one neuron to another.

Third week started with a quiz about action potential and synaptic transmission, and after that also the lecture went through the main points about synaptic transmission and action potential. The exercise session was dedicated into learning the brain structure in a DIY style.

On the lecture

The  lecture continued where the last one ended. We started with, how the message travels through the neuron, and continued with how the signal will be  transferred to next neuron, synaptic transmission. The topic was already familiar to us from our previous studies, so the basics of it were easy to grasp, but the lecture had also new and more precise information.

The exercises

On this week’s exercise session we had a lecture about the brain structure, and at the same time we got to build a 3D brain model by ourselves. This was such an interesting,  refreshing and efficient way of learning, because building something yourself really helps in memorizing the locations of the different parts of the brain. And above all, it was fun! 

At home

The book was about same topics as the lecture. Now we have learned how a signal can travel through our body from one neuron to another, and within a neuron. The book gives us all the basics explained clearly. It also has lots of descriptive examples and fun facts that makes learning and remembering easier.

What did we learn?

This week we learnt the main parts of the brain and also some more detailed structures. It’s so interesting to learn which part of the brain is responsible for which task and how it all comes together as one complex, diverse organ which is able to control everything that happens in a human body.

During couple of last weeks we have been able to learn and revise how the nervous system functions on a cellular level, and how the signals travel within a neuron and from a neuron to another one. Even if this process was already relatively familiar for us, it was good to also revise the basics before new and less familiar topics. Naturally there was also lots of new information and fun facts that deepen our knowledge about the topic.

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Week 2: How does a message travel through neutron? Why is this possible?

The second week started with a lecture and a quiz about the topics of this and previous week. Exercises started with a teaching session, and they will be returned after next week. 

On the lecture

The lecture was videoed, which makes it easy to revise the topics later, or learn about the topics if you were not able to attend. The lecture was mainly about neuron membrane, and action potential. The physics of the neuronal membrane, how it functions in rest and what will happen when a message is travelling through a neutron. Why is it possible that a message from the end of a dendrite will travel quickly to the end of the axon?

The exercises

In this weeks exercises, the search for the answers needed some deeper thinking of the subject and also gave us a good recap of what we had already read from the book. The exercise session was a good opportunity to ask help especially with the last task, which was slightly more challenging. We enjoyed that the exercises were really different: they included drawing, writing and calculating which gave a really versatile learning experience. Looking forward to building the brain next week!

At home

Practicing for the quiz was one motivation to study the topics of the lecture already at home. This will make following the topics of lecture easier and give good base for exercises. Studying for a quiz instead of an exam may emphasizes the importance of the terms and more precise questions, but it also makes learning the terms easier. This most likely makes studying and revising these topics later easier. It also made us actually think about the review questions instead of just reading through them.

What did we learn?

The action potential and neuronal membrane are subjects which have been taught earlier on other courses, but now they were gone through in slightly greater detail. The book had many good examples of different situations, one of the most interesting being the fact about the puffer fish, which toxin could selectively block the sodium channels and therefore be fatal if the fish is being eaten. It’s interesting to understand even the smallest details of these kind of examples and then learn the exact reasons why something like this happens. 

Understanding how the action potential happens and how neuronal membrane behaves, really helps to understand reasons behind the similar situations and to prevent them in the future. Action potential is absolutely one of the most important processes in the human body, since it really does affect everything.

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