Wednesday, November 7, 2007


Just to give a little background, here is a neuron ...

I love neuropsych. The brain is really fascinating.

"There are perhaps about one hundred billion neurons, or nerve cells, in the brain, and in a single human brain the number of possible inter-connections between these cells is greater than the number of atoms in the universe."

I remember the first time I was teaching Biological Psychology and had to draw a neuron. It looked like a pre-schooler's version of a nerve cell. My sister Mel said to draw it biiiiiggg, so I started at one end of the white board and drew it larger than life. That was fun. And she made me say "terminal bouton" not "terminal button", so I would sound more like a medical student and less like a psychologist.

I like this image, too.

Pretty, no?

Multiple Sclerosis is an auto-immune disease wherein the myelin sheath (the little red thingies) ... um ... demyelinates. That means that communication is disrupted, because the job of a neuron is to talk to other cells.

Myelin speeds the nerve impulse along. It does not conduct electricity (which is what a nerve impulse is made of) and the message jumps along the axon of the neuron, from little spaces between the myelin, thereby saving time and going faster.

When I was teaching Intro Psych when I would teach about this, I would make the whole class act it out. I made the nerve impulse (the action potential) dress up in a cape and mask (because Action Potential sounds like a super-hero name to me) and had them run up and down a row of other students, acting as other neurons. When acting the part of a myelinated neuron, I made the Action Potential run real fast and leap has they ran down the aisle. It was pretty fun -- getting a bunch of University students outside, acting silly. But to this day, I will meet students who remember how a neuron works.

Myelin is made of up mostly fat and I CANNOT BELIEVE that my brain is losing fat, when the rest of my body is intent on packing it on. If I even have MS, which has not yet been confirmed....

Just sayin'...


Rowan said...

Wowzers! Thank you for that much-needed refresher course on neurons, Dr Bob. The pictures are beautiful...there is something a mite Wagnerian about the first one...a sort of brewing lightening storm.

The Intro Psych neuron lesson sounds really fun. It would definitely be an unforgettable mnemonic. My Psych tutors were never anything like as inventive. They just wore cowboy boots, little ponytails, or affected other quirks they hoped we students would notice which would mark them apart from their colleagues. None of their lessons have really stayed with me, as the super-hero one would have!

I made my English classes dress up as an elderly person and discuss the problems the elderly face in society, when I was teaching a modern play on that subject. I took pictures, and still have them. Fourteen year-old boys with big itchy wool coats and squashed felt hats with wax cherries, bemoaning the inadequacy of the old-age pension and heating costs.

Acting means something for processing meaning. I have no Psych knowledge, but it seems somehow like aquiring a sort of muscle memory for the essence of an issue. You can explain it to me sometime. It is most fascinating. Wish I had stayed with Psychology...

Dr. Bob said...

The neurons are great, aren't they? They make a nifty crackling/static sound, too.

Gak to the pony-tailed psych teachers. It is a tough look to pull off well.

I like your dressing up the kids like little old ladies.

Rowan said...

Yay to role-play as a learning strategy! I found those pictures the other day. Will send you one.

Am still kind of pondering over the opening quote of this post. It is difficult to comprehend in a very wonderful sort of way: infinite unique connections, no possibility of incredible blueprint for Creation. Our individual mind-maps are self-contained star-charts, which is air-punchingly amazing.

How do you hear the neurons make their crackly noise?

Dr. Bob said...

Yeah -- inner space is just as fascinating as outer space.

"I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well."

When I look at just one neuron, the truth of that passage is clear.

(and you listen in on neurons with a leeeetle microphone on a stick)

Rowan said...

That is absolutely it. Exactly. Such a wonderful passage of Scripture.

I attended an introductory Bible class last year, where a biochemistry student gave her testimony. She said she had come to Faith through studying the perfection of cell formations revealed by an electron microscope.