The Human Brain

In the known universe, there may be nothing as mysterious and complex as the human brain. Learn about some of the latest research into how we're wired to make decisions, appreciate art and movies, recover from injury, and more. In this series, you can also hear from professors and students who are spreading their love of neuroscience to the next generation of scientists.

Image: Zach Wise / The New York Times, Daniel Schwen / Wikimedia Commons.

May 4, 2016

Brain Discovery: Bringing Scientists Into the Classroom

The Human Brain: Episode #10

Most elementary school students have never met a scientist. Claire Weichselbaum and Brian Lananna, graduate students in neuroscience at Washington University in St. Louis, want to change that. Last year, the team cofounded Brain Discovery, an outreach program that brings neuroscience into classrooms. Over the course of the 6-week program, kids get to know a "scientist buddy" and learn about the brain through fun experiments and activities. So far, volunteers with Brain Discovery have already reached some 250 students and spent over 1,500 hours in classrooms around St. Louis.

A special thanks to 4th-6th graders Jack, Isak, Anne, Riley, David, Natalie, and Ethan, who participated in Brain Discovery and talked about the class for this episode. Want to get involved? Check out Brain Discovery online or email 

April 27, 2016

The Amazing Brain Carnival

The Human Brain: Episode #9

Twice a year, the St. Louis Science Center hosts a carnival - but you won't find a carousel or a performer doing magic tricks. Instead, at the Amazing Brain Carnival, kids of all ages get to learn about the real-life magic happening inside their own bodies. Graduate students Dov Lerman-Sinkoff and Tyler Schlichenmeyer walk us through the carnival and share why, as neuroscience researchers, they want to reach out and inspire more people to get excited about the brain.

April 21, 2016

How to Create a Neuroscience Pipeline

The Human Brain: Episode #8

Back when his kids were in elementary school, biology professor Erik Herzog remembers taking a human brain into their classroom and watching the kids' faces light up with curiosity. Yet somewhere along the way, he knew, many kids get discouraged from pursuing careers in science - and this can be especially true for students from underrepresented backgrounds. Herzog, a neuroscientist who studies circadian rhythms, now manages many efforts across Washington University to support and encourage younger neuroscience researchers, from elementary school all the way through doctoral programs. Here he shares some of the outreach efforts across campus and the inspiration behind them, including the recently launched St. Louis Neuroscience Pipeline

March 23, 2016

Recovering from Stroke

The Human Brain: Episode #7

According to the American Stroke Association, on average, someone in the United States experiences a stroke every 40 seconds. It's the leading cause of adult disability in the United States. Catherine Lang, director of the Neurorehabilitation Research Laboratory and professor of physical therapy, neurology, and occupational therapy at the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, wants to improve the ways that doctors and physical therapists help people recover from stroke. In this week's podcast, she shares some dramatic findings from one ongoing experiment.


March 15, 2016

Claude Monet and the Science of Style

The Human Brain: Episode #6

When you look at a painting by Claude Monet or Pablo Picasso, what do you really see? Mark Rollins, a professor of philosophy and the director of the performing arts department at Washington University in St. Louis, shares his fascination with both cognitive science and visual art. As Rollins explains, art can be viewed as a game between two brains. Here, he gives us a glimpse of one of Monet's hidden strategies.

White matter fiber architecture from the Connectome Scanner dataset. The fibers are color-coded by direction: red = left-right, green = anterior-posterior, blue = ascending-descending (RGB=XYZ).
March 2, 2016

Mapping the Brain

The Human Brain: Episode #4

Through the groundbreaking Human Connectome Project, researchers like Deanna Barch have spent years mapping the complex wiring of the human brain. Barch, who chairs the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, provides a behind-the-scenes look into the project and helps us understand the links between brain connectivity and human behavior.


February 24, 2016

Your Brain on Movies, Pt. 2

The Human Brain: Episode #3

Imagine a scene in a movie in which two people are having a conversation. First you see one person talking, and then the other. You see a close-up of some detail, and then a far-away view of the whole room. These rapid shifts in perspective don't happen in real life, yet our eyes and brains seem to have no problem keeping up. How can this be true? Jeff Zacks, author of Flicker: Your Brain on Movies, again joins Hold That Thought to discuss how our brains react to film.

February 17, 2016

Understanding Alzheimer's

The Human Brain: Episode #2

According to the National Institute on Aging, experts estimate that more than five million people in the United States have Alzheimer's disease, a condition that damages memory and cognitive function. Dr. David Holtzman - Professor and Chairman of the neurology department at the Washington University School of Medicine, and associate director of the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Alzheimer's Disease Research Center - explains what is happening in the brain of someone with Alzheimer's. He also describes his own laboratory's research into the disease and shares why he believes that it should be treatable.

A version of this podcast was first released in 2012 in our series on Memory.

February 3, 2016

Your Brain on Movies, Pt. 1

The Human Brain: Episode #1

Ever find yourself crying at a cheesy movie that you don't even like very much? Or catch yourself ducking and flinching during an action flick, even though you're perfectly safe in a movie theater, munching popcorn? Jeffrey Zacks, professor of psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, shares some of the reasons why. Zacks is author of Flicker: Your Brain on Movies.