Recently the girls of Sisters4Science at Ariel were visited by Tahra Eissa! Tahra is a PhD student at the University of Chicago studying computational neuroscience, and she came to teach the girls just how the neurons in our body help us function in every day life.
To start off the lesson, Tahra asked the girls if anyone knew what a neuron was. Kody mentioned that they were in the brain, which is true! But they’re not only in our brain, as Logan reminded us when she mentioned that they can also be in your spine. Tahra explained that those neurons are called spinal neurons, and they carry signals down the spinal cord and out to the rest of your body. With that brief introduction underway, the girls were ready to get started with their experiment!
So how quickly does a neuron pass its signal from one neuron to the next? Well, Tahra had an activity to show just how quickly the signals in our body are transmitted! The girls were asked to get in a circle and hold hands. When Tahra started her timer, she squeezed the hand of the girl she was holding and asked the squeeze to be passed around the circle. When Tahra’s hand was squeezed again, she stopped the timer. She then had the girls do it again, but this time they squeezed each other’s shoulders to pass the signal instead of squeezing each other’s hands. Before telling the girls the time, Tahra asked them which one they thought would be faster. Raven said that squeezing the shoulder would be faster because your head is closer to your shoulder than your hand. After recording the times for all of the trials, we saw that Raven was right! The shoulder squeeze took significantly less time than the hand squeeze to go through the entire circle. After that, the girls were able to get an idea of the speed of a neuron transmission. The girls all lined up and got the exact measurements of their arms so they could see what distance their signal passed through (Amara was happy that her arm was longest!). The girls then used their average arm lengths, and their recorded signal times, to get a number for how quick the signal went. Their signals went at a speed of over 150 miles/hour – neurons are quite the speed demons!