Lessons Over Lunch With Visiting Scientist

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The P.J. Gelinas Junior High School science department once again offered students the opportunity to listen to and learn from authentic scientists as part of the school’s Lunch with a Scientist program. The most recent event, which was attended by more than 60 seventh grade students, featured guest speaker and Stony Brook University professor Dr. Arianna Maffei.
A neuroscientist at Stony Brook, Dr. Maffei’s research examines how the brain reacts when we learn something new. The goal of her lab is to unveil how different experiences modify the connectivity and excitability of neuronal circuits and how these changes subsequently affect behavior.

At Gelinas, Dr. Maffei focused her discussion on taste and the brain, which fit nicely with the Lunch with a Scientist theme. She reviewed how the taste receptors within the human mouth transmit information to the brain. This led to a review of the taste map on the tongue and within the mouth. She expanded this to how the brain associates these tastes with certain emotions to build long-term memories. Students were able to make connections with foods they have eaten which led to different experiences and preferences. Dr. Maffei also brought models of a human head with removable brain and other prepared samples to look at in hand and under magnification. Some of these microscope slides were created by a Ward Melville High School student who prepared them for a research project.