By RON HAYES
Palms West Monthly
Posted April 11, 2019
WEST PALM BEACH — You may know your own mind, but do you know your own brain?
Three years ago, the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium decided to help you get acquainted. Now, $2.5 million later, a new, 2,500-square-foot wing is open and eager to lead you on a “Journey Through The Human Brain.”
“You’ll explore the function of the human brain and how it controls our thoughts and emotions,” Science Center president Lew Crampton promises. “A lot of information is going to be presented to you in ways both engaging and memorable. This is the most advanced exhibit on the human brain at any museum in the world.”
Developing the new exhibit was entrusted to the best brains around. To get it right, the museum partnered with Dr. Randy Blakely, a professor of biomedical science and executive director of the Florida Atlantic University Brain Institute, with help from the Max Planck and Scripps Research institutes of Florida.
“This exhibit will pull back the curtain on the brain,” Dr. Blakely told a large crowd waiting to explore the exhibit on opening day, Wednesday, March 13. “And I hope you will come away awed and hopefully wanting to be a nerve scientist of the future. We’ve made tremendous progress in cancer research, but brain disorders are tough and complicated.”
Now let’s step inside and discover why “the most complex structure in the universe” has been riding between your ears all this time.
At the entrance, you’ll pass through a curtain of fine mist on which a high resolution image of the human brain has been projected. The effect is amazing, amusing and almost as startling as what comes next.
Just to your left is a human brain and spinal cord, which together make up the central nervous system – the true software of your life.
This is not one of those plastic, Visible Man body parts you put together with airplane glue in eighth grade. This is a real human brain and spinal cord, preserved through a months-long process called plastination.
And yes, it’s probably smaller than you would have guessed. The human brain takes up only about 2.1 percent of our bodies.
Venture further and you’ll find 30 interactive exhibits, with something to entertain and inform both children and adults.
“This is a bit of a risk for us,” Crampton concedes. “We’re known as a children’s museum. Now our goal is to broaden our audience.
And so you’ll find Deep Dive, a sophisticated exhibit that lets visitors use a joystick and touch-screen control panel to navigate the brain at multiple levels.
In other words, you venture ever deeper into a brain, from the macroscopic to microscopic levels.
And you’re looking at real brain imaging here, projected onto a large video wall.
Or drop by the Brain Sciences Gallery and interact with a robotic hand whose movements are controlled by electricity from your own central nervous system.
For children, there’s the Concussive Impacts Sports Helmet Interactive. That’s a wordy way to describe an exhibit that drops a weight on two skulls, one protected and one unprotected by a bicycle helmet, then measures the difference in impact on the brain.
Your kids will never climb on their bikes without a helmet again.
The Lie To Me exhibit shows how the brain must work harder to lie than to tell the truth. Two visitors sit on opposite sides of a monitor screen and make recorded statements. But one of them has been prompted to lie, with the other replaying the video to determine from body language and visual clues which statement was not true.
At the heart of the exhibit is a Brain Regions Model, a large plastic brain big enough to let you explore your own brain’s parts and functions.
As visitors wandered all around, Glenn Phipps, of The Acreage, remained transfixed by the giant brain.
“I’m retired from FPL, and me and the wife were just out and about and we wandered in here,” he said, leaning in for a closer look. “It explains things you don’t know it does, and tells you what part does what.”
If he could learn just one thing about his brain today, Phipps was asked, what would it be?
He laughed. “I’d like to know how to keep it from growing old.”
Dr. Blakely, the expert, had an answer.
“Exercise,” he said. “We used to think you’re born with all the neurons you’ll ever have, but now we know there are places where new neurons are born. And they wire together, which is important in our learning and memory.
“We always knew exercise is important, now we know it at the molecular level.”
Guess one could say it’s a no-brainer.
WHAT: “Journey Through the Human Brain” is The South Florida Science Center and Aquarium’s new permanent exhibit, billed as the most advanced exhibit on the human brain at any museum in the world.
HIGHLIGHTS: The Senses Gallery, designed for youngsters; Reaction Time, an interactive exhibit that explains the concept of reaction and allows visitors to measure their own reaction time; Lie To Me, which shows how brains works harder to lie, and lets visitors see if they are able to detect when a lie is being told.
WHERE: The Science Center is located at 4801 Dreher Trail North in West Palm Beach.
HOURS: Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
COST: Included with admission, which is $17.95 for adults; $15.95 for seniors; $13.95 for children ages 3-12 and free for kids under 3.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Go online to sfsciencecenter.org or call (561) 832-1988.
Pictured above: Tia Duhaney, 15, of Royal Palm Beach, controls a prosthetic hand using electrical signals traveling from her brain at the Brain-Machine Interface at South Florida Science Center’s new permanent exhibit, “Journey Through the Human Brain.” Photo courtesy of South Florida Science Center