Ever since learning French in high school, I have dreamed of visiting Paris. Over the years, I found myself collecting miniature Eiffel Towers with the hopes of visiting the real one one day. Finally, 7 years later, I was able to make that dream come true and not only admire the monument from afar but also climb upon it. My favorite view was at night when the lights illuminated the tower. An interesting fact that I learned from the tour guide was that from all the suggestions that Gustave Eiffel received when making the design, one of the only ones he decided to incorporate was the suggestion to add scientists’ names to the side of the structure. I was very surprised to learn that Marie François Xavier Bichat, who did research on neuroscience, made the exclusive list! Whenever I think of the Eiffel tower now, I will always connect it to neuroscience, both because of Marie François and because of the amazing experience I had in the city of love!
This past Saturday, Khushi, Jewel, Sharay, and I visited the Palace and Gardens of Versaille. I had been waiting to visit the well-known and highly trafficked gardens since we first arrived in Paris. After finding out that they have a special firework night show during the weekends of the month of June, we got our tickets for June 18th and prepared for our trip. As we arrived, I marveled at the immensity and grandeur of the gardens, which included various fountains that each had unique architecture. While walking around, I felt so happy to be there and could only imagine what factors led Louis the XIV to build these beautiful gardens. I was reminded of the Blue Mind Theory, which believes that water positively affects your brain and induces a mildly meditative state that people find themselves in when near water. Perhaps Louis XIV subscribed to this theory.
It is crazy to think that four weeks have already passed, only leaving us one more week in Paris. With still so many places to explore, I am not ready to say goodbye yet. However, yesterday, Wednesday, June 15th, I had the opportunity to check an item off of my bucket list when our class visited the Pantheon. As I was living very close to this monument during the first three weeks of the trip, I was very excited to finally be able to go inside. The Pantheon, originally built to be used as a church and modeled after the Roman Pantheon, features very tall ceilings with paintings that date back to the nineteenth century. In the center of the main floor is Foucault’s Pendulum, which was, unfortunately, being cleaned during our visit, so we weren’t able to see its full swing.
After exploring the ground floor, we delved into the basement to visit the Pantheon crypt. Prior to the visit, I had a few stops that I wanted to make, such as the tomb of Marie Curie as she was the first woman to be buried in the Pantheon. However, while looking around, I was surprised to find that Louis Braille had been buried there as well. He was publicly recognized by the French government due to his creation of the Braille alphabetic writing system, which greatly contributed to the blind and visually impaired communities around the world, and his remains were taken to the Pantheon in 1952.
There are around six million blind people around the world using Braille, stressing the importance of doing more research on it. Reich, Szwed, Cohen, & Amedi 2011 explored the areas of the brain that could potentially play the role of the visual word form area (VWFA) in people with visual impairment. They recruited eight congenitally blind individuals to partake in multiple different experimental conditions: braille words, braille nonsense words, verb generation, and verb generation control. Their participant results and associated functional magnetic resonance images (fMRI) were compared to data from Cohen et al., 2004 to highlight that visual word form area activation occurred almost identically in visually impaired individuals and sighted, suggesting a “specialization for reading regardless of visual experience”. It is fascinating to learn that the contributions of one man, Louis Braille, have allowed visually impaired individuals to read, even though reading is typically thought of as a unique visual experience.
Reich, L., Szwed, M., Cohen, L., & Amedi, A. (2011). A Ventral Visual Stream Reading Center Independent of Visual Experience. Current Biology, 21(5), 363–368. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2011.01.040
Cohen, L., Jobert, A., Le Bihan, D., & Dehaene, S. (2004). Distinct unimodal and multimodal regions for word processing in the left temporal cortex. NeuroImage, 23(4), 1256–1270. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2004.07.052
I have always loved taking photos. When preparing for any trip, the first things in my suitcase are always my cameras! My goal for Paris was to be able to document all the beautiful buildings, delicious food, and fun experiences through my camera lens. A few days ago when I first heard about our trip to the Musée des Arts et Métiers, or Museum of Arts and Crafts, on Wednesday, June 8th, I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find rows and rows of scientific instruments and inventions in front of me. The contraptions ranged from communication devices to modes of transportation and even architectural models. My favorite room as a whole was the one that housed the French replica of the Statue of Liberty, airplane models, and antique cars at the end of the museum (Figure 1). But if I had to choose one singular exhibit that called my attention the most, it was the showcase of all the different cameras throughout the years (Figure 2).
It is fascinating to think about the major technological improvements that have been made over the past 100 years and how the invention of one item can pave an avenue of inspiration for so many other products. The development of the camera not only served as a tool for leisure and documentation but also allowed improvements in the medical field. Today, cameras are used in many procedures including neuroendoscopies. A neuroendoscopy was not a technique I was very familiar with, but it is a minimally invasive surgery tool that allows for tissue sampling in the brain usually because of brain tumors. In a retrospective descriptive study conducted by Deopujari, Shroff, Karmarkar, & Mohanty in 2022, 27 previous procedures were analyzed that utilized either endoscopic tumor biopsy (ETB) or endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV) techniques to treat pediatric patients. Children were laid in an upright position with their heads turned to a 20-degree angle to the left such that the right side was exposed for these procedures. Researchers were able to insert the endoscope and perform the method with just a 4-6 cm coronal suture. The study showed that the accuracy of these procedures in children with pineal region tumors “has been above 75%”, which is a statistically significant value. Neuroendoscopic biopsy as a technique is becoming much more common in the medical field as it has proven itself as a safe and effective procedure with minimal invasiveness. I can expect this technology to expand even further in the next few years as it becomes more and more effective.
Deopujari, C., Shroff, K., Karmarkar, V., & Mohanty, C. (2022). Neuroendoscopy in the management of pineal region tumours in children. Child’s Nervous System. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00381-022-05561-0
During this trip, my roommate and I have been blessed to have the Luxembourg Garden only a five-minute walk away. After waking up early one morning and getting breakfast to go, I decided to explore the park a little more. It was nice to see people on their morning walks or runs. As I wandered, I came upon the miniature version of the Statue of Liberty in New York and the beautiful fountain next to it. In a study conducted by Ward Thompson et al. (2012), they found that parks help with stress reduction and mental health overall. With this in mind, I am very excited to enjoy all that the gardens have to offer while I am here.
Ward Thompson, C., Roe, J., Aspinall, P., Mitchell, R., Clow, A., & Miller, D. (2012). More green space is linked to less stress in deprived communities: Evidence from salivary cortisol patterns. Landscape and Urban Planning, 105(3), 221–229. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2011.12.015
This past Friday night, June 3rd, we all headed towards the Stade de France to watch what I thought would be my first Rugby match. Much to all our surprise, at the start of the game, we realized our mistake– we were watching a Nations League football match (France vs Denmark). The crowd was full of contagious excitement and I couldn’t believe our luck. I was very happy to be able to witness a football game in person, especially in the Stade de France. I saw the players pass the ball from person to person and even use their heads to block it from going to the other team’s goal. This reminded me of all the times we have learned of the risk of head trauma, concussions, and TBIs in sports. In a study by Rodrigues, Lasmar, & Caramelli (2016) they found that “heading the ball accounted for 30.5% of concussions”. When you think of how many people all around the world participate in this sport, that number becomes very scary.
Rodrigues, A. C., Lasmar, R. P., & Caramelli, P. (2016). Effects of Soccer Heading on Brain Structure and Function. Frontiers in Neurology, 7(38). https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2016.00038
I have been going to Disney since I was five years old. Only a few months after immigrating to the United States, I was taken by family friends for the very first time. I remember how fearful I was of all the characters and many of the rides. Living in Florida, only a few hours away from the Parks, my parents would do their best to bring my sister and me as often as they could. Over the years, I slowly outgrew my fears and began to enjoy myself. While doing some research on potential activities in Paris, something that caught my eye was Disneyland Paris. It had been three years since I had last been to Disney, so I knew that I had to go.
On Sunday, May 29th, Khushi, Sharay, and I boarded the RER A towards Marne-la-Vallée at around 9 A.M. After a few wrong turns, we arrived at the park just minutes after opening. Although the weather was much colder than in Florida, the smells, views, and excitement were all identical. Upon entering the park, the smell of freshly made popcorn surrounded us and tempted me, even though I don’t even like it. Everyone around us seemed to be happily munching on popcorn. This reminded me of an article I had read about the Disney company using smells to persuade visitors to make purchases during their trip. After doing more research, I found that Disney Parks use machines called smellitizers to release smells associated with tasty foods, such as popcorn or chocolate, to increase purchases of those items. Additionally, they also manufacture smells and scents during the rides for the purpose of making guests “forget about everything that may be going on in the world and just really enjoy themselves and their family time and make memories that will last forever” (MacDonald, 2020).
The concept of smell as a memory enhancer has been investigated by many scientists before. In a study conducted by Morrin, Krishna, and Lwin in 2011, memories that are associated with or enhanced by smells were tested to see if they can be affected by “retroactive interference”, or the act of diminishing memories after new memories are introduced. After testing one hundred and eight undergraduate students, they found that retroactive interference can have a negative impact on memory retrieval despite being enhanced by smell. However, as soon as the original smell cue is reintroduced, the original memory comes back. This means that, now, anytime I go to the movie theater, I will be reminded of the fun had at Disney!
MacDonald, B. (2020, April 15). How Disney Imagineers Unlock the Smells of Storytelling. Retrieved June 4, 2022, from MiceChat website: https://www.micechat.com/256924-how-disney-imagineers-unlock-the-smells-of-storytelling/
Morrin, M., Krishna, A., & Lwin, M. O. (2011). Is scent-enhanced memory immune to retroactive interference? Journal of Consumer Psychology, 21(3), 354–361. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcps.2011.02.008
I have always been able to relate to the Nick Jonas song that goes “I eat cheese, but only on pizza, please/ And sometimes on a homemade quesadilla/Otherwise, it smells like feet to me”. Not being a big cheese enthusiast, I hadn’t ever really considered visiting a fromagerie, in America nor in France. Surprisingly, this past Wednesday, May 25th, I found myself not only inside Fromagerie Monbleu but also partaking in cheese tasting. When we first arrived at the shop, I was quite surprised by the strong smell that engulfed me. As soon as I stepped foot inside, I knew it would be a new experience, but before I had time to process it all, we were led upstairs and divided into four different groups. As we began, our hostess explained to us the difference between taste and flavor by having us close our eyes and try a spice that she placed in our hands. Initially, we were instructed to eat while blocking the smell. The spice was flavorless, but as soon as we could smell it again, like magic, the flavor was intensely powerful and sharp. Before this experience, I had never considered the role that each sense plays in our perception of food, nor the role that the brain plays in determining what tastes good or bad. I recalled the article regarding the limited cheese intake paradigm for rats and how, for them, cheese is a “highly palatable food that is low in sugar and other carbohydrates” (Fourman et al., 2021). My dislike for cheese coupled with a curiosity about the palatability of food and my experience with taste vs flavor at the fromagerie led me to delve deeper into research on this subject.
I came upon an article about palpability-related taste responses involving the lateral hypothalamus, which piqued my interest. According to Li, Yoshida, Monk, & Katz (2013), there is still much to discover about the lateral hypothalamus and its role in processing taste. In their experiment, they provided mice with four different liquid taste solutions: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter as well as just water to see if any activation occurred in the lateral hypothalamus. They measured the firing of single neurons through electrodes that had been surgically implanted in the rats’ hypothalamus. Li and colleagues found that the lateral hypothalamus indeed does play a role in the palatability of food through two different sections of neurons which are activated by either palatable or adverse tastes.
These findings were very interesting to me and now I wonder where my aversion to cheese taste comes from. In a country where wine and cheese are engraved deeply in the culture, it was very enriching to participate in a cheese tasting, and hope one day I might find a flavor that agrees with my lateral hypothalamus!
Fourman, S., Buesing, D., Girvin, S., Nashawi, H., & Ulrich-Lai, Y. M. (2021). Limited cheese intake reduces HPA axis and behavioral stress responses in male rats. Physiology & Behavior, 242, 113614. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2021.113614
Li, J. X., Yoshida, T., Monk, K. J., & Katz, D. B. (2013). Lateral Hypothalamus Contains Two Types of Palatability-Related Taste Responses with Distinct Dynamics. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(22), 9462–9473. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3935-12.2013