Questions for ‘Spying on brains in action’


This image shows part of the brain of a living mouse, imaged with the SCAPE microscope system. Green areas show neurons as they fire; red areas show the blood-supply system. 

Elizabeth Hillman and Clay Lacefield

To accompany feature “Spying on brains in action”


Before Reading:

1. Have you ever had an MRI, a PET scan, or an x-ray so that a doctor could see what might be wrong inside your body? What was that like?    

2. You had to hold still for that scan. Why might you want to study the brain while a person or animal is moving around?

During Reading:

1.     Based on what you learned in the story, why is it hard to see what’s going on inside the brain?

2.     What is a model organism? Give an example of a model organism used to study the brain.

3.     What was Elizabeth Hillman’s idea to make a better brain imaging microscope?

4.     What is Hillman studying with the new microscope?

5.     What is optogenetics?

6.     Why didn’t Sarah Stanley want to use an optical cable to switch on proteins that serve as ion gates for cells?

7.     What is ferritin? How do researchers trick cells into making ferritin?

8.     What is a PET scanner? What is a tracer chemical?

9.     Why did Julie Brefczynski-Lewis want to make a portable PET scanner? What was the most challenging part of building it?

10.   What is the BRAIN Initiative?

After Reading:

1.  Why do scientists use model organisms to study the brain? What are the features that make these model organisms useful? How are model organisms similar to humans? How are they different? What problems might come up if we only studied the brains of model organisms?

2.  Would it be ethical to use SCAPE microscopes or optogenetics on living humans? Why or why not? Use what you learned in the story to inform your opinion.

3. Would you be interested in wearing a portable PET scanner? What would you like to use it for in terms of better understanding some function of the brain or human behavior?