Video: “Zombie” Neurobiology Teen Science Café

In this video, UNM HSC Neurosciences Fellow, Dr. Russ Morton, uses Zombies to explore the brain and its functions. There are many ways to make a Teen Science Café fun and memorable, and this was an especially great one!

A zombie survival trivia challenge was offered while the audience was gathering. In Dr. Morton’s presentation he showed clips from old zombie movies and demonstrated, tongue-in-cheek, that certain brain pathologies could explain zombie behavior… including slow zombies and fast zombies, as if zombies are real and really out there with their bad brains.

The teens had a blast dressing up as zombies, with liberal applications of fake blood; the Teen Leaders awarded a door prize for the best zombie costume. Some Native American pueblos in the American Southwest forbid wearing makeup, so the costume contest part was skipped at the café in the town that most serves that population.

To all cafés Dr. Morton also brought along some actual human brains and allowed the teens to handle them with latex gloves. The teens found this to be fascinating, waiting four-deep at the table for their turn with the brains. He also brought along a wildly popular vision distortion game that the teens had a hilarious time playing. They had to throw balls at a target while wearing vision distorting glasses, then take the glasses off and try to hit the target. It demonstrates how some players’ brains learn to compensate more quickly than others for the visual distortion and how for some players, once the glasses are off, their brain is still trying to correct for the prior distortion.

 

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The zombie theme has since been recreated in various teen cafés across the country, with creative variations.  Some Teen Leader Teams went all out and served zombie themed food that included a giant red jello brain, and chocolate pudding cups covered with Oreo cookie “dirt” with Gummi worms crawling out.

In one café, a local neuroscientist framed the talk as an event where the students could get the information they needed to effectively fight the incoming zombie horde. She presented on real neuroscience, and then made it more fun by theorizing what the classic zombie symptoms would be caused by.  For the activity portion of the night the group played zombie tag, learning about how diseases spread. After the first round the speaker introduced a “vaccine” where if a healthy person was “infected” they would have to roll dice to see if their vaccine was effective or not.

In a zombie-themed café elsewhere, a physician talked about neurological assessment (and what he would notice during the assessment if the patient were a zombie), and an evolutionary biologist showed scientific video footage of a few parasitized, mind-controlled insects! Real zombies of the animal kingdom!

 

What kinds of hands-on or whole-body group activities can be paired with the topic of one of your upcoming cafés?

Does the presenter already have something in mind? If not, the café’s Adult Leader or Teen Leaders can work with the presenter to come up with something that will help to cement the learning happening in the room while also being interesting, memorable, and fun.