Thursday, August 13, 2015

How Does the Brain Work?

By Paola Salazar

 The Curiosity Challenge

Why is the sun yellow? Why do grass and dirt have a stronger scent after it rains? How and why do my nails keep growing? What is a black hole?

A while back, we offered children and teens an opportunity to submit questions related to any topic in science, tech, engineering and mathematics that they may have, and here we've done it again. 
The Curiosity Challenge for ages 5-14 encourages curiosity.  We ask the students to enter their question about the world in whatever form - essay, poem, drawing, photograph.  All good science starts with our curiosity and questions of the world around us.  This series of blog posts will highlight some of the questions we have received through the Curiosity Challenge and some answers to them.

We’ve reached out to graduate students and researchers in each field, and have begun getting some great feedback on some the questions we all wonder at some point in time.

So without further ado, here’s round one of the Curiosity Challenge Q&A!

How Does the Brain Work?

Alex Lee, Age 11


A long time ago, long before there were dogs or monkeys or people, the planet was mostly covered in very simple organisms like worms. As the worms got bigger, they realized they had a problem - the head of the worm might want to go in one direction, but it had no way to communicate with the tail of the worm to get the tail to go in the same direction.

The worms figured out that they would be much more successful if they had a special kind of cell that communicated between the head and the tail to coordinate movement. We now call these kinds of communication cells "neurons." As animals became more and more complicated, they got more and more neurons and the neurons had to be connected in more complicated ways in order to successfully control the body.

The brain is the end product of that process of evolution - a highly sophisticated organ that coordinates your movement and your thoughts. Our brains now do many other things, like keeping memory and emotion. We still don’t fully understand how these things work in the brain though. If you become a neuroscientist, one day you could figure out how the brain works and add to what we know!

Responder: Communicating Science @ MIT (, a student group at MIT

Paola is a Boston-based science journalist with a background in social and life sciences.