Breathing in the Neuroscience

This week I had the opportunity of visiting the Museé de Fumeur. While the front of the shop was unassuming, behind the quaint smoke shop lay a hallway and rooms filled with the historical documentation of smoking. In Paris, it had shocked me how socially pervasive smoking culture was. It often felt as though I couldn’t go five steps without breathing in second-hand smoke. The difference in the acceptability and prevalence of smoking in the US and France had intrigued me.  The museum was fascinating as it helped me see how different cultures throughout time saw smoking and how smoking culture evolved. The coolest part of the museum, for me, was the collection of old smoking pipes. Each was ornately crafted and decorated, turning the pipe into a beautiful and artful piece instead of just a smoking device. I thought the intricate craftsmanship of each pipe was a measure of smoking’s high social value. In fact, the museum’s collection of portraits of famous people illustrated smoking as a form of expression, an accessory that could impact one’s identity and how they are viewed in society.

Image 1: Genevieve and Divi @ Musee de Fumeur

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Photo Post: The Ghost of Da Vinci

These two flags at the château exhibit the union of France and Brittany through marriage

Our visit to Château d’Amboise was breathtakingly beautiful. Known to be a place where Leonardo Da Vinci spent a lot of his time during his final years, our guided tour of this château was amazing in terms of both art and history, but also in terms of seeing the place that served as one of the muses of Da Vinci, who made important contributions to neuroanatomy and neurophysiology. To escape Paris to see the French countryside was phenomenal, and I left hoping to someday return.

Photo Post: These Ain’t Ezekiel’s Dry Bones

Dr. Easterling coming face to face with a preserved human body

Our visit to the Musee Fragonard at the Ecole Nationale Veterinaire d’Alfort was nothing short of incredible. Our guided tour took us through a huge collection of animal specimens, both healthy and diseased. Some of the specimens were whole skeletons and others were preserved body parts or models that exhibited various forms of birth defects, diseases, and injuries. To our surprise, at the end of the exhibit were some preserved humans that were hundreds of years old! Visiting this museum was certainly an experience I won’t soon forget.

The Eiffel Tower and More

This is my last blog post, as the trip has come to an end. I want to write about my visit to the popular tourist destinations, including the Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, the basilica, the Louvre, and the Eiffel tower.

I was amazed by Paris because it was so different from any other cities that I have lived in. I tend to make decisions that will take me to a novel environment, such as the decision of studying abroad in the U.S. for college and studying abroad in Paris during the summer. This kind of decision-making (novelty seeking) is suggested to be supported by the neurotransmitter dopamine in my brain (Costa, Tran, Turchi, & Averbeck, 2014). After review literature about dopamine’s functions, I now feel more comfortable about the topic. To everyone in the program, I am thankful for the dopamine in your brain: it helped you make the decision of going on this trip; Otherwise, we would not have met.

I remember that while I was riding a cab to my apartment, I looked out the window, and the Notre Dame was right there. It made me realize how close I will get to some of the most iconic sites in the world.

The Arc of Triomphe, the Basilica, and the Louvre were full of tourists. Building a major traffic circle at the Arc of Triomphe is probably not the best idea, and the traffic there is bad. I was scammed at the Basilica, but I only gave the scammers 20 cents when they asked for 20 euros. The view of the city at the top was fantastic and almost made me forget about the scam. I am not an art person, so I just took selfies with famous artworks in the Louvre and left.

The Arc of Triomphe

Finally, I love the Eiffel tower. I can see it every day when I walk to class and when I shop for grocery. It serves as a constant reminder that I am in Paris. After a while, I kind of get used to it, but every time I look up and see the tower afar, I take a deep breath and tell myself: You are in Paris, the most beautiful city in the world. Classes can be stressful and overwhelming, but I appreciate the opportunity of spending five weeks living and studying in Paris. For many people, this may be their dream. Enjoy your life, because we are living the dream.

The Eiffel Tower


Costa, V. D., Tran, V. L., Turchi, J., & Averbeck, B. B. (2014). Dopamine Modulates Novelty Seeking Behavior During Decision Making. Behavioral Neuroscience, 128(5), 556–566.

Photo Post: Hopefully This History Doesn’t Repeat Itself

Medical instruments used in the time period of 1685-1770

Our visit to the Musee d’Histoire de la Medicine was very impactful due to the excellent guided tour. We learned a lot about the evolution of medical instruments and techniques as well as about some of the major innovators. Concerning the latter, our tour guide particularly focused on some of the incredible women who made great contributions to the evolution of medicine despite great barriers to their participation. This visit was extremely comprehensive and was very interesting because even the scariest of instruments and procedures made sense when they were historically contextualized.

The Loire Valley

We spent a day in the Loire Valley and visited two castles: Château d’Amboise and Château de Chenonceau. Dr. Easterling was wrong: Versailles is not the most beautiful place in the world, the Loire Valley is (Keith Easterling, personal communication, June 1, 2018).

The Château d’Amboise is a grand castle and an example of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. I would not expect to find a similar castle in the U.S. because the U.S. has never had a king to build a royal château. We had a very cool tour guide inside the royal mansion. She explained to us the history of France in an approachable manner.

Then I went to see Leonardo de Vinci, who is allegedly resting in the chapel of the château. I thought he was a pure Italian printer, but in reality he spent his final years in Amboise with his best friend, the king, François I. François I was not by Leonardo de Vinci’s side when he died, even though there is a painting of François I holding de Vinci’s hand at his last moment. It was only propaganda to make the royal family more likable (the people like Leonard de Vinci). As the tour guide instructed us, we have to be able to identify the “fake news.”

Later we went to Château de Chenonceau, which was built on a river. The château is not as big as the Château d’Amboise, but the fact that it spans the Cher river (a tributary of the Loire river) makes it magnificent in its own way.

At Château de Chenonceau, we met a children choir group that performed in the château. Their voice is just as beautiful as the rest of the château. There are a considerable amount of beautiful tapestries in the display. I am going to get a tapestry. I will probably never live in château, but at least I can make my wall looks like a wall in the château.

One other perk of living in the Château de Chenonceau is that you can enjoy the soothing sound of the flowing Cher river. Soothing sounds, such as natural white noise including the sound of raining and water flowing, have benefits. For example, Farokhnezhad Afshar, Bahramnezhad, Asgari, and Shiri (2016) found that white noise is useful in “masking environmental noises, improving sleep, and maintaining sleep in the coronary care unit.” Rausch, Bauch, and Bunzeck (2013) found that white noise has a beneficial effect on learning that depends on dopaminergic neuromodulation.


Farokhnezhad Afshar, P., Bahramnezhad, F., Asgari, P., & Shiri, M. (2016). Effect of White Noise on Sleep in Patients Admitted to a Coronary Care. Journal of Caring Sciences, 5(2), 103–109.

Rausch, V. H., Bauch, E. M., & Bunzeck, N. (2013). White Noise Improves Learning by Modulating Activity in Dopaminergic Midbrain Regions and Right Superior Temporal Sulcus. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 26(7), 1469–1480.

Photo Post: To Parisians, Smoke Is No Joke

A collection of pipes used throughout history

This photo is from our class visit to Le Musee de Fumeur (The Museum of Smoking). We visited this museum because Paris, and France in general, is big on smoking and in class we learned about the effects of nicotine on the brain. Since the article we analyzed was a rat study, it was very interesting to learn about the various ways that humans have ingested nicotine over the years. This truly unique museum illustrated smoking’s impact on human society over the centuries and was quite eye-opening.

Hut 2 3 4…Medicine?

Our visit to the Musée du service de santé des armées (Army Health Service Museum) was a very impactful experience. It was incredible to see the influence that the military has had on the development of medicine. During our visit to Château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley, I found that the makeshift military hospital set up there had one of the first X-ray machines in clinical usage. This tied in beautifully to my experience at the Army Health Service Museum because I learned even more about how the French military was at the forefront of innovation in healthcare in this country.

Me posing with one of the uniforms certain French military medical personnel used to wear.

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Smoking as a Cognitive Enhancer

Me with all of the pipes in the front of the shop!

In our 402 class our fifth blog post was on nicotine and how different behavior can potentially be a predictor to who becomes addicted to smoking. When people think of the French culture cigarettes come into mind, and there is the paradox of the French diet – how they seem to smoke so many cigarettes but do not have as many adverse health effects. An Ipsos survey in 2013 showed as well that around one million French people regularly use e-cigarettes (The local, 2017). And, although there are laws against smoking in public they are not heavily enforced, and many people smoke on the streets. Due to this prevalence of smoking ingrained in the culture we took a class trip to Le Musee de Fumeur.

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Religious Experiences and Neuroscience

In Paris, I have noticed that many of the older buildings have been repurposed to house museum collections. The Louvre, for example, was originally built in the twelfth century as a fortress and was later converted into one of the main royal palaces for the royal family and their court before becoming the art museum we know it to be. For our last excursion, we took a trip to the Musée de Santé des Armées, a museum devoted to medical military technology. This museum, like the Musée Arts et Métiers, was once a convent. The first exhibition in the museum explains the history of the building, and there is also a chapel in the center that is still actively used. In fact, while we were there an altar boy was in training.

Reaching into the medicine cabinet

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