ScienceGrrl at Bluedot: The Brain

From 20-22 July 2018 the Science Grrl team will be descending onto Jodrell Bank in Cheshire to de-bunk gender myths in science at Bluedot Festival. Ahead of the much-anticipated event, we’ll be posting some blogs to introduce the topics our team will be exploring at the festival. To begin our series, we’re starting by exploring the organ that named itself – the brain.  

It is the organ that unlocks the joy of the world around us, allows us to see and hear, makes us feel joy and happiness, and enables us to dance, converse and reason with our friends. It is the organ that can make us feel sadness and hurt, makes us forget and instils delirium. Arguably the most complex piece of matter in the universe, the brain is the organ that dictates everything we do. It integrates, processes and coordinates information sensed by our bodies, to make decisions and send instructions to the rest of the body to control how we act.

The brain consists of hundreds of billions of brain cells – neurons and glia – arranged in a huge neural network that transmits and receives messages. Neurons sense changes in the environment, communicating via electrical and chemical impulses to command responses in the body, and glia take more of a supporting role, by insulating and nourishing neurons to function at their optimum. Neurons and glia are found throughout the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord and the many nerves running through our bodies – from the top of our head to the tip of our toes.

The brain is the master control centre of the nervous system and is split three main sections: the cerebrum, cerebellum and the brain stem. The largest area of the brain is situated at the top of your head and is called the cerebrum. It is split into a left and a right side, known as the left and right hemisphere, which are separated by the sagittal fissure – a separation that runs straight in line with the nose. Interestingly, each hemisphere controls the opposite side of the body, with the left hemisphere of the brain controlling the right side of the body, and the right hemisphere controlling the left side of the body. The cerebrum performs more complex functions such as vision, hearing, and interpreting touch, as well as the ability to speak, learn and control movement and emotions.  

Lying behind the cerebrum, at the back of your head, is the cerebellum. An area of the brain densely packed with neurons, the cerebellum is primarily a movement control centre, helping to maintain posture and balance. Sitting in front of the brainstem towards the middle of the head is the brainstem. Located at the top of the spinal cord, the brainstem acts as a relay centre that connects the spinal cord to the rest of the brain. It is essential in controlling subconscious functions such as your heart rate, breathing and body temperature.

The brain is then separated into four lobes on each hemisphere: the frontal lobe, situated behind the forehead; the parietal lobe, located underneath the top of the head; the occipital lobe, at the back of the head; and the temporal lobe, located underneath the temples on the side of the head. The frontal lobe is largely associated with the functions that separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom – the qualities that make us human such as personality, behaviour and intelligence. The parietal lobe interprets many signals, including language, hearing and pain, as well as providing memory and spatial perception. The occipital lobe’s main role is to to process vision, and is responsible for how we perceive colour and light, and the temporal lobe enables us to process memories and language through the integration of sound, sights, taste and touch. Each of these lobes is then separated into further brain regions, each controlling more specific functions.

The brain is an incredibly complex organ – it is thought that we know more about space than we do the brain – so there is certainly a long way to go until we decipher the entire story of how we think and act. If your brain has enjoyed learning about itself (inception, right!), make sure to check out the Science Grrl stand at Bluedot Festival from 20-22 July 2018 where you can meet a bunch of fun Neuroscientists (scientists that are researching the brain and nervous system) who can’t wait to tell you more!

Guest post by Tori Blakeman, PR Manager/Science Writer for NotchCom