Brain Basics: From Biology to Behavior

Course Description

Many have described the brain as being greater than the sum of its parts. We will start by using basic biological concepts to study the parts - nerve cells. We will then build toward an understanding of how these neurons function together to produce complex and fascinating behaviors.

We will begin with the study of neurons and how they use biological electricity and chemical messengers to carry information. We will then cover selected topics in sensory systems, including vision and somatic sensation (touch and pain) as well as the motor system. From here we will move on to more complex behaviors addressing the topics of mental illness, drug addiction, learning and memory, and sleep. Laboratory experiments will include studies of sensory neurons in the cockroach leg; sciatic nerve and calf muscle in the frog; and touch and pain receptors in the frog skin. In some instances, corresponding experiments will be done using human subjects (ourselves). We will also dissect preserved human brains, highlighting the structures we will discuss in class.

We will also participate in class discussions on special topics including visual perception, mental illness, and drug addiction. We will work with you on researching a novel topic and writing a summary of this topic for fellow classmates. The learning outcome addressed by in-class discussions and this research project is to become adept at finding good sources of information, analyzing this content, and presenting your findings to colleagues. This is a lifelong skill that is critically important in today's environment of overwhelming access to information and misinformation.

By the end of this course, you will:
• Have a fundamental understanding of the brain and how the brain's function contributes directly to our behaviors
• Participate in laboratory experiments to more fully understand the role of neurons and more
• Craft a research proposal on a novel topic and present this information to your classmates

I have been teaching pre-college, college, graduate, and medical students for many years at Brown University. I am excited to take this broad perspective and tailor it to your learning. In addition, we are fortunate to have a medical student with extensive teaching and research experience join us as a teaching associate for this class. We both place a high value on bringing diverse, young minds into the pursuit of scientific/medical understanding so they can appreciate this field and perhaps make it a bigger part of their future.


Completion of a high school biology course is required. No specific knowledge of the nervous system will be required.


One Section Available to Choose From:

Online sections of Pre-College courses are offered in one of the following modalities: Asynchronous, Mostly asynchronous, or Blended. Please review full information regarding the experience here.

Dates: June 27, 2022 - July 15, 2022
Duration: 3 Weeks
Meeting Times: M-F 8:30A-11:20A
Status: Closed
Format: On-Campus
Instructor(s): John Stein
Course Number: 10233