It could have been a scene from Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, but it was indeed the Bradford Area Public Library where brain dissection was taking place Monday.
It was a family-friendly workshop, the first in a three-day series that will continue with dissection of the eye today and finish up with the heart on Wednesday. On Monday, 10 families filled the multi-purpose room in the library, with ages ranging from infant to teenager.
The workshop was from ORJames Lab, the brand of Orin James, a Smethport resident and professor of Biology at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.
From 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Monday, James made learning about the brain fun, providing information on everything from the various parts of the brain to the nerves and what they control, interspersed with videos to illustrate the process of a lumbar puncture or to inform the audience of what happens when the corpus callosum is severed and the two hemispheres of the brain can no longer communicate.
This program, along with other scheduled events throughout the summer that included yoga, art and next week’s scheduled self-defense, was intended to provide a variety of opportunities to families while the students are out of school.
“I try to bring in new things that have never been done before,” said Debbie Deane, youth services librarian.
James noted that he presented a workshop in the summer of 2018 at the Hamlin Memorial Library in Smethport. Lacey Love, director of the Bradford Area Public Library, mentioned the previous program as well.
“We got the recommendation from Hamlin Memorial Library. They did this program last summer, and they said it was amazing, so we decided to do it this summer,” said Love.
The workshop opened with a general discussion, with the attendees sharing what they already knew about the brain, including the brain’s weight (3 ½ pounds), the fact it controls movement, breathing and memory and also that it uses the senses to test the environment.
James covered the five senses and the parts of the brain related to the control of the senses, the methods used to test for infection of the brain and also the potential impact of injury to the brain, including damage to specific areas or the separation of the two hemispheres.
“Bats know a threat is coming using the timing of the echo,” James explained while discussing the temporal lobe and its connection to hearing. He noted that this means sound can be used as a measurement of time.
The workshop continued, with material that covered a lot of ground yet was easily understood by the various ages represented in the audience.
“Do fish smell underwater?” James asked later. He explained that, rather than smelling, fish taste odorants. Like fish, humans “taste” air by dissolving odorants in mucus and identifying them that way.
“(Humans) can’t detect certain oderants, and that is why we need dogs,” James explained.
The last segment of the workshop involved handing out gloves, trays and scalpels for the dissection of the sheep brain provided.
Families were encouraged to identify the different areas of the brain, given the fact that sheep brains, while small, are very similar to the human brain.
The main focus for the dissection was to find the corpus callosum. Meanwhile, the families got a closer look at the brain and the way each section looks in real life, compared to the diagrams and images seen in books or on the internet.
The three-day workshop was funded by a United Way Community Improvement grant, allowing the families who attended to do so free of charge.