The fascination of the brain – summer holiday course in the Rhein-Sieg district

Online Summer Vacation Course Neurobiology: Who Behaves How and Why?

What do humans have in common with zebrafish neural circuits? And how can we use the regenerative abilities of the zebrafish to develop a sensor for people with hereditary hearing loss? The online summer holiday course “Neurobiology, behavioral research & genetics meet: who behaves how and why?” dealt with these and many other fascinating insights into the functioning of human and animal brains.

The lecturer Julia Fischer starts the seminar on Zoom

Together with the Neuroscience Research Institute caesar the zdi network : MINT in the Rhein-Sieg district offered an exciting journey into the endless expanses of the brain for pupils in grades 10 and 11. Lecturer Julia Fischer, Public Outreach Officer at caesar, begins the four-day course with a brainstorming session. She wants to find out something about the prior knowledge of her listeners. She shows them full-size 3D prints of animal brains. The task now is to guess the animal. For example, there is the brain of a crocodile. It is very small compared to other animal species because it is particularly oriented towards sensory perception and is not very specialized. It's a different story in wild cats: their brains are larger and have more indentations. The area responsible for smelling is particularly well developed and easily recognizable.
Julia Fischer quickly realizes that her participants already have a lot of prior knowledge.

Get to know research on the brain with the zebrafish

The course focuses in particular on the behavior of the zebrafish. The tropical freshwater fish is a popular model organism for neuroscience. Because the zebrafish has some neural circuits that are very similar to humans. And its regenerative abilities can be used, among other things, to develop medicines. In order for the course participants to be able to research the zebrafish, they need important basic knowledge. Therefore, the first day is used to convey basic knowledge about nerve cells and the brain. For this purpose, the students use a digital learning unit specially designed for the course. This knowledge should also support them in the experimental part of the course. In the experiment, the course participants use videos to observe the developmental stages of the fish larvae and examine the escape behavior of certain zebrafish mutants. As is absolutely necessary in any research work, they must document their observations as precisely as possible. They then present the research results on the last day of the course.

Notes on Animal Welfare

Many different species of animals are used in neurology and behavioral research. In the caesar research laboratory, they are mostly fish, frogs or rats. The Animal Welfare Commission monitors animal welfare and stress-free animal husbandry. Before any animal experiment, an application must be submitted to the Animal Welfare Commission. It must be explained exactly what is being done with the animal in detail. In addition, a justification is required as to why such an animal experiment is necessary. In addition, every single death must be documented in detail.

Neurobiology has gained new specialists!

Another important component of the course is the topic of choosing a career: During the course, the students have the opportunity to talk to the lecturer about their path to neuroscience, whether it is about an apprenticeship or a degree. In addition, the animal keeper Sandra Raatz presented her work with the zebrafish and gave an impression of the work in the caesar research laboratory.

Animal keeper Sandra Raatz demonstrates her work with the zebrafish

In the end, the students are enthusiastic. Shana, 16 years old, finds the course very well structured, also because you can read all the information again. But she was particularly impressed by the insights into the research work: "My ideas about research have been corrected".
Olivia, 16, is also fascinated by neurobiology: "I just want to understand how we think and act."

You can find more exciting offers from the zdi community during the summer holidays here .

It is planned to offer the online courses permanently even after the end of the contact restrictions. The program is even to be expanded, and a “Neuro Escape Room” is being planned. You can find out more about the caesar research center’s outreach offerings here. 

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