Written by Sophia Stueven
Mind control seems like a fad from a cheesy scientific novel. Many skeptics cringe at the mention of mind control, even hypnosis. Yet, students in Pierre, South Dakota quickly learned how possible mind control might be. The STEM Savvy Teen Science Café brought in University of South Dakota neuroscience graduate students Eric Graack and Sam Critzer to talk about brains, demonstrate a live action brain mapping, and answer eager questions as they shared their research.
The café began with optical illusion icebreakers, which awed the students and even the presenters. The teens quickly learned how easily the brain can be tricked, which can be scary considering how reliant our bodies are on the brain.
After the icebreakers, the students chowed down on a brain themed feast, including “syna-peas,” a nacho bar, and cupcakes decorated like brains. The brain juice seemed to be the biggest hit, although it took the least amount of effort: a head of cauliflower floating in Hawaiian Punch.
Our presenters did a great job of explaining how the brain worked, using easy to follow videos and diagrams all the while keeping the students engaged by answering their questions throughout the presentation. The presenters also shared information on their current research. The students received factual evidence on why they should stay hydrated as Sam Critzer shared his experiments on dehydrated brains. Eric Graack demonstrated an electroencephalogram (EEG) which consisted of electrodes that tracked and recorded brain activity. Many students had fun telling Graack to do hard math problems and then watch as his brain workload increase and, oftentimes, his distraction levels.
The presenters even speculated conspiracy theories with the students covering topics from the “brain in a vat” theory to split brains. The presenters prepared video for the teens about the split brain that sparked much curiosity. The University of South Dakota prepared these presenters to answer questions well. The result was a smooth and engaging café that left the teens leaving wanting more.
Hands on Activity
The presenters brought a smaller, more adorable version of the EEG in the form of car ears. The ears had one electrode and one calibration piece, to decipher each teen’s brain activity. The students were able to try on the ears and learn as their brain activity increased, the ears wiggled more. Considering many brain technologies seem out of reach for teens, this was a hit.
The café leaders also gave door prizes away at the end of the presentation to ensure participation through to the end. It also helped that the presenters had brain shaped stress balls to give out as an incentive to ask questions.