Brain + ethanol experiment suggestions needed

Brain + ethanol experiment suggestions needed

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I need to demonstrate the effects of ethanol on a human brain (or other brain with developed telencephalon) in vitro; ideally the effects on vigilance and/or memory.

Could you please suggest such an experiment?

What method would you suggest to demonstrate the effects of ethanol on NMDA receptors or membrane penetration by ethanol?

Edit in respose to the first comment by @MadScientist:

The point is to empirically demonstrate how ethanol affects the cognitive performance of brain (specifically vigilance and memory) and explain the biochemical nature of such an effect on an observable real example (not using computer simulations). It is aimed at mature layman audience.

The experiment has to be in vitro due to ethical and environmental limitations (well, I am not permitted to intoxicate mature students nor animals).

Demonstrating the effect of ethanol in the role of an NMDAR antagonist would be satisfactory as the chain of implications would be illustrated on a theoretical basis.

I have access to standard laboratory equipment on a university level, but the simpler it is, the better. As to the material, the same is true while a fresh brain slice will hopefully be available as well.

The main problem with what you are asking is that you want to show effects on vigilance and memory in vitro. That is just not possible: if you want vigilance and memory you need a live animal, there is no way around it.

Next point: you have an audience of non scientists, so you can lose them very quickly if you start speaking about NMDA, LTP or similar things without a clear explanation, so start with that: get a nice review (Pubmed is a good start, as always), and give a simple theoretical explanation of one of the mechanisms involved. It is then important to clearly explain the experiment you will perform, and what you are expecting to see in case there is an effect.

Unfortunately the best way to see effects on NMDA receptors would be electrophysiology. This is not trivial and, if you have never done it, I would not suggest going that way. However, if you have access to an electrophysiology setup you will most likely have access to someone who uses it, and that could make the experiment for you.

I am not an expert on this topic, but a quick research on Pubmed seems to indicate that alcohol can, for instance, reduce LTP in hippocampal neuron. Maybe what you could do is having someone patch hippocampal neurons and show how an LTP protocol is used. You don't necessary have to show them the whole thing (I doubt anyone in a right state of mind would bare to stay until the whole experiment is performed in control condition first, and alcohol later… ).

Also, the results of these experiments are often non obvious to analyse, so you should have some data prepared and analysed earlier and quickly show how analysis is performed, before showing the final results.

Calcium imaging experiments could also be used and would probably give results that are easier to understand for a laymen audience.

See for instance Fig. 1 or Fig. 5 of this paper (just the first one I found, there surely are other): Ethanol alters calcium signaling in axonal growth cones.

Biology Science Fair Project Ideas

Science fair projects give you the opportunity to experience science and biology through hands-on activities. In order to ensure that you have a great biology project, it is important that you first understand biology and the scientific method. Simply put, biology is the study of life. Life is all around us which means that there are enormous possibilities when considering a biology science project. We use the scientific method as a means of studying science and biology. Scientific inquiry starts with an observation followed by the formulation of a question about what has been observed. Then comes designing a scientific experiment to answer the question posed.

The Brain: Understanding Neurobiology Through the Study of Addiction

NIDA. (2010, March 1). The Brain: Understanding Neurobiology Through the Study of Addiction. Retrieved from

NIDA. "The Brain: Understanding Neurobiology Through the Study of Addiction." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1 Mar. 2010,

NIDA. The Brain: Understanding Neurobiology Through the Study of Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. March 1, 2010.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Science Education, has developed interactive, science-based supplements for use by high school students and teachers (grades 9-12) in the science classroom.

FREE Interactive Curriculum for Teachers & Students, Grades 9 through 12

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Science Education, has developed interactive, science-based supplements for use by high school students and teachers (grades 9-12) in the science classroom. The Brain: Understanding Neurobiology Through the Study of Addiction includes a high school curriculum (in print plus an interactive CD-ROM - no longer available). These supplements provide current, research-based information on various aspects of drug abuse and addiction, including neurobiology, behavioral components, and treatment.

"Excellent information on drug actions and neurobiology presented in an inquiry format. Students handled difficult concepts because of the way they were presented." - Field Test Teacher

"It appears that students really did learn the material on neurotransmission and drug addiction. I actually heard one student kidding another about their dopamine levels! Another student was in my room after school explaining to an underclassman how information gets from one part of the body to the other - complete with diagrams on the board." - Field Test Teacher

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Breeding foxes for opposite behaviors produces similar brain changes

A fox from the Russian fox-farm experiment. Credit: Jennifer Johnson, Darya Shepeleva, and Anna Kukekova.

Farmed foxes selectively bred for tameness and aggressiveness exhibit similar changes to their brain anatomy, according to research recently published in JNeurosci. Both lineages also have larger brains than conventional farm-bred foxes, complicating leading theories on domestication.

Domesticated species provide insight into complex evolutionary processes on a condensed timeframe. When a species splits from its wild counterpart, its brain, body, and behavior undergo rapid changes. Studies with chickens, sheep, cats, dogs, and more indicate domestication shrinks the brain. But the same pattern does not extend to foxes in the expected way.

Hecht et al. used MRI to measure the brain size and structure of foxes from the classic Russian fox-farm experiment. The research team compared foxes selectively bred for tameness or aggression toward humans with conventional farm-bred wild foxes (the control). Contrary to previous studies, both tame and aggressive strains had larger brains than the conventional, "wild" foxes. The tame and aggressive foxes also displayed similar changes to regions in the prefrontal cortex, despite being bred for opposite behaviors.

These results illuminate a need to rethink how brain circuits relate to behavior evolution as well as how domestication shapes the brain.

The Biology of Bread

I’ve always been fascinated by bread rising. Too intimidated to try making my own bread, but fascinated just the same :) This post is about my first attempt at homemade bread and what The Babe and I learned. It really wasn’t that hard and I quickly figured out that yeast is the magic in the biology of bread. How does it all work? Let’s start baking and learning!

I picked this Amish White Bread from allrecipes for my first attempt. Not because I don’t love me some wheat bread or crusty sourdough or airy ciabatta, I just thought plain white bread would be the easiest. The Amish bread is easy to make, a bit sweet and The Babe could not get enough of it, so I highly recommend this recipe.

What is Yeast?

Yeasts are single cell microorganisms in the Fungi kingdom. Yeasts are important in the world of baking, alcohol production and even the pharmaceutical industry as they help scientists create new medicines. Yeasts survive by eating carbohydrates like fructose, glucose and use their enzymes to break the sugars down into usable components. This sugar breakdown is called fermentation and converts carbohydrates to carbon dioxide (CO2) and alcohols.

Here are some pictures of the fermentation process of baker’s yeast proofing. First you see the dry yeast, then the yeast mixed with water and sugar (carbohydrate food) and finally the yeast after about 5 minutes. You can see how the yeast has released carbon dioxide from the bubbles it created. And when you try it yourself, you can smell the alcohol in the brew!

What Makes Bread Dough Rise?

Now that you know what yeast is, how does yeast work in bread? You know all that carbon dioxide you saw in the bubbly yeast brew? Those CO2 bubbles create gas pockets in the dough that help the bread dough rise. When the bread goes into the oven, the yeast continues releasing CO2 and the gases keep expanding because of the heat. But it’s kind of like chewing gum. If the bread doesn’t have a strong, elastic network, the bubbles will pop. The flour in the bread creates just the right kind of elastic material to keep those bubbles from popping. Check out the difference in the dough volumes below after just half an hour of fermentation.

What is Gluten and Why is it in Bread?

Wheat flour’s elastic network is made up of two proteins from the grain’s endosperm. These proteins, glutenin and gliadin, are called gluten when they combine. Mixing gluten with water in bread dough forms a gum-like stretchy substance that can hold gas bubbles. We knead the dough to help the gluten network become more and more elastic. The elasticity increases because kneading causes more glutenin to bump into gliadin, creating more gluten. The more gluten, the stronger the gas bubbles will be and the more the dough will rise. As the bread bakes, the gluten hardens and the air pockets stay, creating that fluffy, airy, soft texture we love in bread.

Bakers are experimenting with new gluten free elastic networks for baked goods as gluten sensitivities and allergies are becoming more prevalent. It takes a mixture of these replacements to match the unique characteristics of wheat. Standard wheat flour can be replaced with mixtures of things like potato starch, garbanzo flour, tapioca flour and sorghum flour.

Learning While Cooking

I’m telling you, this was my family’s favorite Left Brain Craft Brain project so far. Don’t be intimidated by making bread like I was! Even the first loaf that wasn’t as pretty as some of these pictures still tasted pretty dang good :) If you or your kids like learning while cooking (or ummm, eating while learning) check out some of my other food education projects like Polymer Science 101: Homemade Fruit Gummies or The Science of Ice Cream.

Love cookbooks like me? Here are some highly rated bread cookbooks to check out.

Learn to focus on detail and make keen observations that could be overlooked in a picture in this lesson on scientific sketching.


This experiment will be broken into two phases. The first test will use one ruler, while the second test will use two.

Experiment 1: In this phase you and your partner will test visual, auditory, and tactile reaction times using one ruler.

  1. Have your friend sit at a table with their dominant hand over the edge.
  2. First we will test visual response. Hold the ruler at the 30 cm mark so that the 0 cm end is just at your friend's index finger.
  3. Tell your friend that when you release the ruler they are to grab it as fast as possible. Do not make any sounds or gestures that you are releasing the ruler. They have to react to the visual stimulus of seeing the ruler being released. Record the centimeter mark.
  4. Repeat the experiment three more times. Then switch places with your partner and redo it.
  5. Now you will record auditory reactions. Have your partner sit at the table as before, also be sure your partner puts on the eye shades.
  6. Again testing the dominant hand, tell your partner that you will say the word "Release" as you release the ruler. Once they grab it record the centimeter mark and repeat 3 times. Switch places with your partner again.
  7. For the last test, have your partner sit at the table wearing the eye shades again. This time you will test the tactile response. Tell your partner that you will touch the shoulder of their non dominant arm as you release the ruler.
  8. Give you partner no auditory cue that you are releasing, just a simple touch. Record the measurement and like before, repeat three times, then switch places and redo.
Here is the table for the first experiment:

Experiment 2: In this phase you and your partner will test visual and auditory reaction times using two rulers.

  1. For the Visual portion of this experiment have your partner sit as the table, like before, but have both of their hands over the edge.
  2. You will hold both rulers this time instead of just one.
  3. Tell your partner that you will release just one ruler and they must pick the correct one and grab it as fast as possible…Tell them they must not squeeze both hands, only one.
  4. When you are ready to begin, randomly decide one ruler to drop. It does not matter which one, you will perform this test 3 more times, but never tell your partner which ruler you will drop.
  5. Again as before switch roles and redo.
  6. Finally, we will test the auditory reaction again. This time using both rulers.
  7. Get in the same position as before with both rulers. Make sure your partner has the eye shades on.
  8. You will then proceed to say "left" or "right". As you say it you will drop the corresponding left or right ruler. Your partner must decide which ruler to grasp based on the auditory cue you give: "left" or "right". As before, your partner must only squeeze one hand.
  9. Record the measurement and repeat 3 more times, remember to randomly decide which ruler to drop. Switch roles and repeat.
Here is the table for the second experiment:

In your chart above you are going to take all the centimeter measurements you have collected and convert the measurement in centimeters to seconds. This will tell you how long it takes, in seconds, an object (the ruler) to fall a certain distance. The formula below is comprised of three variables.

Here is an example of the equation being used:

It may seem tedious to convert by hand each number you recorded so instead you will be provided with a quick chart to convert your centimeter measurement to seconds. However, there are several values missing in the table. You will need to fill them out to complete the table. Use the equation above to fill out the remainder of the chart. If you are savvy you can also design a computer program to do this.

After using the chart and converting your centimeter measurements into seconds you will have your ruler reaction time in seconds. Looking at your data you might be thinking how you compare to the human average reaction time. Here it is! The average reaction time for humans is 0.25 seconds to a visual stimulus, 0.17 for an audio stimulus, and 0.15 seconds for a touch stimulus.

3. Ferment your own food

Fermentation is one of the things bacteria and yeast make best. We’ve been using these microorganisms to make food since ancient times, and it’s quite easy to ferment your own food at home.

There are many options to choose from, ranging from drinks such as kombucha, kefir, or mead, to yogurt, cheese, kimchi and sauerkraut. In most cases, what you need is just a starter culture of the bacteria or fungi that make the food you will be fermenting. You can get it from someone that is already doing fermentation at home, or buy them online.

Each fermented food has different requirements, so make sure you have everything you need before getting started. There are plenty of online tutorials you can follow, and once you get comfortable with the techniques, you can start playing with different conditions and starter ingredients to modify the taste and texture of your food.

Alcohol and Its Impact on the Brain

Photo Credit:


To help students understand how alcohol affects different parts of the brain, which in turn affects behavior.


This lesson is part of a series created by Science NetLinks as part of The Science Inside Alcohol Project, funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). For a complete list of materials, visit The Science Inside Alcohol: Educational Materials. The project has developed an e-book for students and four accompanying lesson plans that teach middle-school students about how alcohol affects the human body.

This lesson was produced under Grant #1R25AA016107-01A1, NIAAA.

Alcohol is by far the most abused drug of the teenage years. In a 2009 study sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 14.9% of eighth graders, 30.4% of tenth graders, and 43.5% of twelfth graders admitted to drinking alcohol in the past 30 days.

Previous lessons have focused on the short- and long-term effects that alcohol has on the mind and body how risky behavior that can result from drinking can affect-and harm-other people and how alcohol affects the digestive system, the central nervous system, the circulatory system, and the endocrine system. This lesson hones in on the impact alcohol has on the brain and the central nervous system, what behaviors result from alcohol use and abuse, and what alcoholism is and the changes in the brain that occur to result in this condition.

In the Motivation, students answer seven questions designed to find out what they know about alcohol and its effect on the brain. Their responses serve as a pre-assessment to the lesson. After students complete the lesson, they will be asked to revisit these questions as a way to determine what they have learned.

During the Development, students are presented with a scenario about two peers who have started drinking heavily. The students' task is to develop an argument convincing their friends why it is in their best interest to stop drinking and to come up with a presentation explaining their ideas. Students may work individually or in pairs in developing their arguments, and they can use whatever media they would like to present them. The argument can be written up and presented orally, done as a PowerPoint presentation, or explained through illustrations. After discussing the arguments, students will consider which arguments were most convincing and why.

Ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in the following alcohol learning goals:

  • The brain is the body's control center, managing every move all of us make. Alcohol affects the way the brain functions, causing short-term and potentially long-term changes.
  • Different parts of the brain are affected by alcohol in different ways. Some of these impacts are life threatening.
  • A person becomes addicted to alcohol when his or her brain adjusts to the way alcohol alters the brain so that drinking becomes necessary in order to function.

Planning Ahead

To provide you with sufficient background to teach this lesson, you can visit The Science Inside Alcohol Project, which includes additional educational material. You can also read Delaying That First Drink: A Parents' Guide for the latest research on the impact of alcohol on the growing body and tips on how to talk to kids about drinking.


Begin the lesson by handing out the Questions to Think About student sheet. Give students about 10 minutes to answer the questions. Tell them not to worry if they do not know all the answers. Explain that they will learn about these topics during the lesson.

Once students have gone through the student sheet, hold a class discussion to go over the questions and answers.

    What are some of the first effects of drinking alcohol?
      (Often the first effects are that people become more relaxed and sociable, a byproduct of the fact that alcohol decreases inhibition.)
      Why do people who drink too much sometimes forget what happened?
        (Alcohol can interfere with the brain's recording of memories.)
        Why do people sometimes pass out from drinking too much alcohol?
          (A person may pass out from drinking too much alcohol when it reaches high levels in the Reticular Activating System, or RAS. The RAS is the part of the brainstem and midbrain that controls whether you are awake or asleep. Alcohol levels quickly reach equilibrium throughout the brain. Different brain regions have different levels of sensitivity to alcohol. Some are affected by very low levels of alcohol, while others require higher levels of exposure.)
          Why is it dangerous to drink too much alcohol too quickly?
            (Someone who drinks too much alcohol too quickly is at risk for passing out. This happens if the midbrain shuts down. A common misconception about passing out is that it is a protective mechanism against negative consequences. This is not necessarily the case. Even after passing out, blood alcohol levels can continue to rise, causing respiratory depression and possibly even death. Another danger is that sometimes people pass out and then end up vomiting&mdashand can choke on their vomit and suffocate if no one is around to help them. Therefore, it is critical that teenagers and young adults realize that passing out is serious. Anyone who passes out should be watched carefully until they wake up.)
            How does drinking too much alcohol affect behavior?
              (Alcohol can cause young people to make bad decisions take risks they would not usually take, such as drinking and driving or having unprotected sex and engage in heavy drinking as a result of increased tolerance and the need to drink more to get the same effects as before.)
              What are the signs that someone is developing a problem with alcohol?
                (Signs that indicate that individuals are developing a problem with alcohol include the need to drink more to get the same effects they had previously, a sign of the development of tolerance to alcohol. Also, these individuals tend to be less affected by alcohol than others&mdashthat is, they tend to be able to "hold their liquor." Finally, looking for opportunities to drink becomes an important part of their life and begins to take over other activities.)
                What does it mean to be addicted to alcohol?
                  (A person who is addicted to alcohol, referred to as an alcoholic, has become so dependent on alcohol that the brain starts to adjust to the way that alcohol slows it down. As a result, the brain gets too excited without alcohol and needs its slowing effects in order to function properly. Some alcoholics may have trouble starting the day without a drink.)
                  Are young people who begin drinking before the age of 21 more likely to become alcohol dependent?
                    (Research points to a relationship between early onset of drinking and later alcohol-related problems. Consider these facts: In 2003, the average age of first use of alcohol was about 14, compared to about 17½ in 1965. Those individuals who reported starting to drink before the age of 15 were four times more likely to also report meeting the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives. New research suggests that the serious drinking problems [including what is called alcoholism] typically associated with middle age actually begin to appear much earlier, during young adulthood and even adolescence. [Alcohol Alert: Underage Drinking, January 2006, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Available at:].)


                  In this part of the lesson, students will learn more about how alcohol affects the brain by studying a resource made especially for them and by developing an argument to convince two students to stop drinking.

                  To begin, students should use their Alcohol and Its Impact on the Brain student esheet to go to and read the Alcohol and Your Brain student resource. Tell students that this resource explains how alcohol affects the brain and the central nervous system, resulting in potentially dangerous behaviors.

                  Once students have finished reading the resource, discuss these questions with them:

                    Why is the CNS particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol?
                      (Alcohol can pass through the blood-brain barrier, reaching neurons directly. Once alcohol touches these cells, they are changed, resulting in changes in behavior.)
                      Name three indicators that point to the fact that the brain is slowing down as a result of alcohol use.
                        (Three indicators are: altered speech, hazy thinking, and foggy memory.)
                        What impact does alcohol have on the cerebellum? The medulla?
                          (The cerebellum is the part of the brain that helps control movement, balance, and complex motor functions. Alcohol can decrease motor function and slow reaction time so that a person has trouble standing up or walking in a straight line. The medulla is in the hindbrain and controls heartbeats, breathing, and other functions. During periods of heavy drinking, these functions may slow or stop working altogether, endangering a person's life.)
                          What behaviors do teens sometimes engage in while drinking?
                            (While drinking, teens' ability to reason and weigh choices may become impaired, and they may engage in risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex or drinking and driving. Alcohol also may interfere with prescription drugs that some teens take. For example, alcohol mixed with Ritalin may damage a teen's ability to perform tasks that require total concentration. Large amounts of alcohol mixed with lithium may result in poor judgment, impaired thinking, and difficulty performing motor functions, such as driving or even walking.)
                            What is new research saying about binge drinking and brain development?
                              (Dr. Susan Tapert of the University of California, San Diego, compared MRI brain images of binge drinkers and non-binge drinkers. She found a difference in the quality of the white matter. She then tested the teens to find out how this difference affected functioning. She found different results for girls and boys. For girls, their ability to complete spatial tasks, such as completing a complex puzzle, was affected. For boys, it was their ability to pay attention. Researchers are now investigating whether these effects are permanent or resolve themselves over time.)

                            Present the class with the scenario on the How Alcohol Abuse Begins teacher sheet. You can copy this sheet onto a transparency and use an overhead projector to show it to students or you can make copies and distribute the sheet to students. Tell students that their assignment is to develop an argument to convince Carlos and Claudia to stop drinking. Students should include information about the different parts of the brain and what each one does how alcohol affects the brain and changes behavior and the serious consequences of excessive drinking. Students can work by themselves or in pairs for this assignment.

                            After students develop their arguments, give them additional time to design a presentation explaining their ideas. The presentations can take the form of a PowerPoint slide show, a video, a poster display, or simply a written report. Students will probably need to finish their presentations as homework.

                            To learn more about the effect of alcohol on the brain, students can refer to the resources listed on the Alcohol and Its Impact on the Brain student esheet.

                            Over the next couple of classes, make sure that all students have a chance to present their findings. Then discuss similarities and differences among the different arguments. What tone do students think is most effective with their peers? Is a visual presentation more powerful than a verbal one? What information should be included in the argument?


                            As students present their arguments to the class, consider the following:

                            • Do students seem comfortable with the subject matter?
                            • Have they absorbed the information?
                            • Have students picked relevant information to include in their arguments? Are they able to focus on the most important pieces of information? Have they used this information to develop a strong argument?
                            • Have students considered the most effective way to make a strong argument? What strategies have they used?

                            Ask students if they have some questions about alcohol use that they would like to see addressed in future lessons. Write down their ideas on a sheet of newsprint and use it as a resource when planning additional lessons.

                            At the end of the lesson, pass out a blank copy of the Questions to Think About student sheet, which has the questions students answered at the beginning of the lesson. Ask them to answer them again. Students' second round of answers is also an indication of how much they have learned during this lesson.

                            Finally, to help students "stay with the program," have them involve their parents or caregivers. To inform parents/caregivers about students' work on this topic, consider using the Letter to Parents and Other Caregivers.


                            After learning about the effects of alcohol on the brain, suggest that students develop a "No Drinking" campaign at school. For information, they can use this lesson and any others in the series they have worked on. Students can write brochures, develop a public service announcement for the school, or sponsor an assembly on the topic.

                            In addition, you could lead students through these other Science NetLinks lessons related to alcohol:

                            Watch the video: Ethanol Rocket - Cool Science Experiment (August 2022).