“There is no scientific study more vital to man than the study of his own brain. Our entire view of the universe depends on it.”

– Francis H.C. Crick

VICTOR – Students in the Victor School District had an opportunity this week to explore and learn about the most powerful, unpredictable and important computer in the world – the human brain.

The University of Montana’s SpectrUM Discovery Area brought its popular touring exhibit on brain science to the school for a week of interactive, hands-on lessons. Called “The Brain: A World Inside Your Head,” the exhibit features many activities, including an EEG measurement station that records electrical activity in the brain, a colossal model brain and a machine that allows students to move a ball with the power of their own brain waves.

On Monday, a group of Victor High School students started off their morning by watching as UM neuroscience graduate student Katie Hoffman and SpectrUM outreach coordinator Hannah Motl brought out several jars and tubes containing animal brains preserved in formaldehyde.

“I know you all want to say ‘ewww gross,’ but instead just say ‘cool’ every time you think ‘ewww,’ ” Motl told the students, many of whom recoiled with concerned looks in their eyes, as she smiled and held a dripping gray brain out in her gloved hand.

Hoffman detailed for the students the various regions of the brain, explaining the different roles and functions of each. The students were also given a lesson in brain signals and reflexes where they had to stand in a line and tickle each other as fast as they could. Therein lies the beauty of SpectrUM’s classes – the kids have so much fun they don’t realize they’re learning.

Victor junior Josh Kubiak drew a crowd when he tried out the “Mind Reading Machine,” which allows the user to move a floating ball through hoops using machinery that measures electrical signals from the earlobes. Concentrating as hard as he could, he finally just barely inched the ball through to the wild applause of his classmates.

The SpectrUM program enlists the help of many teachers like Hoffman when they go to different schools. When the exhibit heads to Hamilton School District next week, researchers from Rocky Mountain Labs will be on hand to expound on their areas of expertise on human and animal brains.

The SpectrUM program’s Bitterroot K-12 Health Science Tour is funded by grants from the Jane S. Heman Foundation, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, the Western Montana Area Health Education Center and the UM Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience. Neuroscientists and staff from the UM center collaborated with spectrUM on the design and development of “The Brain” exhibit.

Motl said the goal of the outreach program is to provide rural schools with more access to state-of-the-art science instruction and help kids prepare for careers in science. The program also will host a free family science night on Wednesday at the school, where young students get to show their parents how to dissect eyeballs and brains.

Wednesday’s event is from 5-7 p.m. in the Victor School lunchroom.

“We travel hands-on science around the state, transforming gymnasiums and cafeterias into powerful science learning centers that help inspire Montana’s next generation of scientists, health care providers, engineers and visionaries,” said SpectrUM director Holly Truitt.

Teachers who would like to arrange class field trips to SpectrUM, which cost $3.50 per student, can call (406) 243-4828. To arrange for spectrUM to visit a school or organization, go to http://www.spectrum.umt.edu or call (406) 243-4828.

Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or david.erickson@ravallirepublic.com.