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Brain Basics: From Biology to Behavior

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Course DatesMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRNRegistration
June 22, 2020 - July 10, 20206/22 - 7/10M-F 8:30A-11:20AOpenJohn Stein

Course Description

The study of the brain as a biological structure is very different from the study of any other organ in the body. The cells that make up the brain, neurons, share many of the same fundamental characteristics with other cells of the body (exocytosis, manufacturing of proteins, metabolism, growth). However, the functions of these cells result in products that are quite unique such as coordinated movements, visual perception, learning and memory, emotion, appreciation for music, and intelligence. Many have described the brain as being greater than the sum of its parts. We will start by using basic biological concepts to study the parts - nerve cells. We will then build toward an understanding of how these neurons function together to produce complex and fascinating behaviors.

We will begin with the study of neurons and how they use biological electricity and chemical messengers to carry information. We will then cover selected topics in sensory systems, including vision and somatic sensation (touch and pain) as well as the motor system. From here we will move on to more complex behaviors addressing the topics of mental illness, drug addiction, learning and memory, and sleep. Laboratory experiments will include studies of sensory neurons in the cockroach leg; sciatic nerve and calf muscle in the frog; and touch and pain receptors in the frog skin. In some instances, corresponding experiments will be done using human subjects (ourselves). We will also dissect preserved human brains, highlighting the structures we will discuss in class. There will also be group discussion sections on special topics including vision, mental illness, and drug addiction.

The format of the course will be a combination of lectures, laboratory experiments and discussion groups.

Prerequisites: Completion of a high school biology course is required. No specific knowledge of the nervous system will be required.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEBN0900
  • Length: 3 weeks

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2020.

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