DAYTON — A pioneering new program designed to give advanced high school students an interactive experience into the workings of the nervous system will begin at Wright State University. Students will conduct experiments involving prosthetics, reflexes and muscle fatigue.
The Department of Neuroscience, Cell Biology and Physiology will launch the “Neuro Lab” spring semester at the Wright State Boonshoft School of Medicine and College of Science and Mathematics. The 90-minute sessions will feature six stations in three modules focusing on different aspects of neuromuscular control.
“It’s very captivating. It’s very interactive. And it’s something they will definitely remember doing,” said Thomas L. Brown, neuroscience professor and associate chair for research at the Boonshoft School of Medicine.
Patrick Sonner, instructor and director of the undergraduate neuroscience program, said one of the lab’s goals is to excite students about the scientific process.
“The students will actually become scientists in the Neuro Lab,” he said. “They will take measurements, they will make observations, they will collect data. Then, we will discuss what it might mean.”
The Neuro Lab team of Brown, Sonner, Kathy Engisch, associate chair of education, and Chris Wyatt, associate dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, spent a year developing the lab.
In one of the modules, the students will see how artificial limbs can be activated by electrical signaling from the movement of muscles, even something as subtle as a smile or raising one’s eyebrows. The students will also get a sense of how difficult it can be to grab and move objects with a prosthetic hand since there is no sense of touch.
Another module will have students use exercise hand grippers to fatigue the muscles in their arms. Then, through electrodes hooked up to a computer, they will monitor wavelengths of the electrical signals that degrade as the muscles fatigue.
“What’s exciting is that they will see the actual neurological recording and associate it with the physical process of fatigue in their arm,” said Brown. “So they make the real correlation between physical weakness and scientific ways to measure that weakness, and it just clicks.”
A third module features colored lights and sounds that prompt students to move their hands to learn how quickly they respond to various visual and auditory stimuli — red versus green light or a high-pitched sound versus a low-pitched sound. The students discuss reflexes and reaction times, take measurements and make predictions.
“Eleven percent of the world’s disease burden is neurological in nature, not including mental disorders or addictions,” said Sonner. “It is highly likely that at some point in the lives of the students, they or a friend, family member or colleague will be affected by a neurological disease or condition”.
“It is really important for us as a global society to understand how the nervous system works under normal conditions and what changes are occurring under disease and injury states so that we can work to try to fix those with various cures and treatments,” he added.
Brown said a major goal of the Neuro Lab is to give the general public a greater understanding of neuroscience by way of the students relating their experience to family and friends.
Sonner expects most students will be high school juniors or seniors with a background in biology and anatomy and a strong interest in attending university. Wright State began offering a new undergraduate degree in neuroscience in the fall of 2017.
“It’s very exciting for us, for the department and for the university,” said Brown.
Neuro Lab sessions will be offered once a week, on Fridays, from 10:30 a.m. to noon. The first of the sessions begins on Jan. 19, 2018. Lab spaces are filled on a first-come-first-served basis.
Reservation requests should be made by completing the Neuro Lab Visit Request Form — which can be found at https://science-math.wright.edu/neuroscience-cell-biology-and-physiology/neuroscience-interactive-lab-for-high-school-students — and emailing the form to Sonner at email@example.com.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.