Brains: Our Organic Computer

Brains: Our Organic Computer

In our workshop, students learned about one of the important tools that computer programmers use: the conditional statement. This is used to make decisions about actions a program should take (outputs), depending on what signals (inputs) the computer receives. In a computer program, the conditional statement is similar to decision-making processes that people use every day: “IF it is raining, THEN I will take an umbrella when I go outside; or ELSE (if it isn’t raining) I’ll leave my umbrella at home.” This basic coding format is present in every programming language, and computers all around us (from vending machines to self-driving cars) are using conditional statements every day!

We also learned about another type of ‘computer’… our own brains! Similar to computers, the brain receives inputs (from our senses), uses decision-making processes, and then executes an output behavior (with our muscles). Our brains are extremely sophisticated computers, but they can still be tricked! Students were tasked with a challenge that affected their visual (input) and motor (output) processing in the brain: hitting a target with beanbags while wearing prism goggles. With the goggles, the target appears shifted relative to its real position. Humans are able to adapt quickly to this new information, however, and students were able to adjust to hitting the target even while wearing the goggles after a bit of practice! Once the goggles are removed, students’ brains quickly readjusted to normal.

Students can create their own Self-Driving Car Maze at home by following our attached DIY guide below! Self-Driving Car Maze Activity

Author

Lauren Koppel

Lauren earned a Bachelor’s degree with a double major of Biology and Psychology from Clark University, and a Master of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. During her undergraduate years, she worked in a evolutionary neurobiology lab that studied the neural development of annelids (marine worms), with a focus on the sox family of genes. Lauren loves learning about how the world works (including everything from biology to chemistry to engineering), and is passionate about sharing that knowledge and enthusiasm with others. In the past, she has interned at the Museum of Science, where she educated learners of all ages through hands-on activities, games, and experiments. Other science education organizations with which Lauren has worked include The People’s Science, EurekaFest, and Eureka! of Girls Inc. of Worcester. Currently she lives in Boston, where devotes her free time to playing Quidditch, reading sci-fi novels, playing her ukulele, and enjoying all the culinary delights the city has to offer.

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