Handkäse mit Musik
Pictured here is La Pequeña Flora, The Little Flower. It’s a church tucked away in a residential area that I happened upon. There are tons of old religious structures in San Antonio, I thought I would share my favorite one with you guys. Touring this was better than seeing the Alamo in my opinion. This week was quite eventful, with a human brain dissection and the chemicals for the ELISA kit I’m working on coming in. I also want to give a huge thank you to all of you sending me letters, the mailman here now knows me by my name due to the abnormal volume of mail I receive that isn’t just bills. As I finish off the final steps in the newest protocol (fingers-crossed) I wish the rest of you much luck with the projects and endeavors you’re tackling this summer. Let’s go Deutschland.
Mezes & Dakos
Happy Fourth! I hope you get to eat some good grilled food, dance among fireflies, and have your fair share of fireworks that aren’t your neighbors annoying second-rate cacophony of explosions tonight. Despite the first new curve analysis, which is promising (R2 = 0.998 for the lymphocyte protein curve, that is, what we think is in the samples, is in the samples), the THC project is currently on hold. There are high hopes of the new sample sets working with the ELISA enzyme assay kit, however due to unfortunate circumstances not all the necessary materials have arrived for round two (after all not every company can do -20°C overnight shipping like Sigma-Aldrich – it’s rather sketchy how that kind of transport it legal).
This week started out great, with the Spurs winning on Sunday beating the Heat. Just when I thought my coworkers couldn’t be any happier or nicer, I am pleasantly surprised. The lab looks cleaner, the glassware is shining, and the hallways smell like victory in place of the familiar urine, iron, and formaldehyde-blended scents. This week I’ve been back and forth between two lab benches on opposite sides of the building, working on the preliminary data that measures the activity of cannabinoid receptors, specifically CB1 and CB2, in the collected lymphocytes.
Despite having only a couple days to explore, this externship was productive and enjoyable. Sharon made sure to set up plenty of good things to make the best use of our time, so we bounced between people pretty quickly. We got to see a technique called transcranial direct current stimulation in action, with Ben as a participant. tDCS (see image) involves electrodes that pass a current intended to stimulate or impede neural firing through a certain section of a brain, therefore manipulating the behavioral outcome on an activity.
We also had the opportunity to talk individually with a number of Sharon’s graduate students and post-docs, hearing about their particular research projects in her lab as well as their career trajectories. This was incredibly useful, since we don't have access to people in those positions at Reed. Many of them encouraged us to take time off and see more of the world before entering grad school, because once on that path it will be a long time before we get another chance to do so. But having done their wandering they all seem quite happy to be where they are now, and I think their diversity of perspectives is one thing that makes her lab a good one.
Over winter break, I was an extern at the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience under Dr. Sharon Thompson-Schill at University of Pennsylvania. My co-extern and I spent our days at Sharon’s lab talking to her and other researchers about their research.
One of the topics that Sharon is interested in is cognitive control. This refers to the executive control of the prefrontal cortex on cognitive processes such as rational thought, task flexibility, and working memory. Interestingly, when the human brain is developing, the prefrontal cortex grows much slower than the rest of it—as a result children exhibit the traits of someone with a damaged prefrontal cortex for many years. This quality has inspired much research into ways to accelerate the prefrontal growth of children, to make them “mature” faster.
However, Sharon points out that there are some important tasks that children are better at than adults, like learning and creativity. Their prefrontal immaturity may actually aid in these tasks and the cognitive control that adults have inhibits them. I observed a tDCS experiment in the lab that either increased or decreased prefrontal activity in participants while they performed tasks that require learning and attention to see if their performance was affected by the changes in prefrontal activity. The idea was that participants with decreased prefrontal activity were more like children and would do better on the tasks without the control of the prefrontal cortex in action. Therefore, it may be inadvisable to hasten the prefrontal growth of children without fully understanding the benefits of slower growth. Perhaps it is most efficient for children to have underdeveloped prefrontal cortices to learn more fully and to develop flexible learning and rational thinking later as adults.