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Dr. Amanda Duley of the spectrUM Discovery Area's BrainLab joins the show to share some of the activities that visitors of the lab get to experience and Jessi from Animal Wonders brings on Joy the blue-and-gold macaw.


Hosted by: Hank Green
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Hello and welcome to the SciShow Talk Show, that day on SciShow when we talk to interesting folks about interesting stuff. Today, we have Dr. Amanda Duley, who is the head of brains at the spectrUM museum, which is a children's museum? 

Duley: Yes, it's a children's science center. 

Green: And I assume that head of brains is your actual title.
Duley: Yeah... no, it's actually brain lab manager. 

Green: You're he brain lab manager. 

Duley: Mmhm 

Green: My ears. So I'm currently wearing, if you're curious, I assume by now that you are, a pair of ear... what are a... know what, you tell me. What's going on on my head?

Duley: So these headsets pick up your brain waves so the cells in your brain called your neurons will tend to fire together and they create electrical waves, and these headsets can pick it up based on whether you're alert or you're relaxed or calibrating a little bit sometimes, too. So we have the kids at the museum wear them and they just go around the museum wearing the ears and they perk up when they learn something new, so... 

Green: (laughs)

Duley: I thought you would like them.

Green: I do, so far. I tend to be in sort of a pattern, like, a regular pattern, and then actually when something happens, like when I change my state of mind, it-- like, it will do a new thing.

Duley: Yeah. It's pretty cool.

Green: I don't really know-- I was trying to make myself angry, earlier, by reading comments on my Tumblr, but everyone was being very nice, unfortunately, so...

Duley: (laughs) Yeah.

Green: So I'm just gonna wear these so everyone knows how I'm feeling. 

Duley: Yeah, these headsets pick up your emotions; we have other headsets that are connected through Bluetooth to the iPad and you can play games based on whether you're relaxed or focused or zen.

Green: Oh.

Duley: And that's pretty cool, 'cause it actually... If you can get the kids to relax... 

Green: (laughs)

Duley: That's a pretty good technique.

Green: I was trying to relax, but then my ear twitched.

Duley: (laughs) Yeah. So that one's connected to the iPad, but these you can just wear wherever and do whatever.

Green: Right, no, yeah. And I will. And I am. 

Duley: Yeah (laughs).

Green: So there's a thing touching my forehead here and also on my ear.

Duley: Yes. To ground it, yes. So, the sensor does have to touch your forehead. So, it's pretty dry in Montana, so sometimes...

Green: You gotta lick it.

Duley: You-- yeah.

(Both laugh)

Duley: We try not to lick it, we have a little cream out there, but yeah.

Green: Okay. Alright. So, what do you, what do you do?

Duley: So, I guess, basically I am the translator -- I have a PhD in microbiology, and so I translate complex neuroscience for the public of all ages, so my audience is -- I get two-year-olds all the way up to grandparents that come in the Science Museum. So, I lead, we-- I do exhibit development, we also have a traveling exhibit, brain exhibit that travels all throughout the state of Montana, so I develop exhibits for traveling, I also have a high school explainer program; so, I have high school students come in, they sit at the brain lab, and we have different activities every day that change -- we have about twenty activities we rotate through, and they engage with the public. And we do things like zombie brains, electricity and reflexes, making neurons, plastic brains, all kinds of fun activities. And then we also have a field trip program--

Green: What's a zombie-- what-- you're just saying all sorts of things, "so we got zombie brains..." Don't have zombie brains! No! Incinerate those, it's dangerous.

Duley: Yeah. Yeah, it is.

Green: What is a zombie brain?

Duley: So, we just-- it's more playful to learn about the brain if you consider what a zombie brain would be like. So we talk about, like, behaviors of zombies and what parts of the brains would be affected if they were zombies. I actually had a zombie brain camp this summer. That was pretty fun.

Green: A whole two weeks of talking about zombie brains?

Duley: It was just three days, but (laughs). We did dress up as zombies, so I don't know if you saw us walking around acting like zombies, so.

Green: I didn't, I don't think I did. 

Duley: Yeah. (laughs) That was pretty fun.

Green: So, you brought a lot of things, so I kind of wanna just get straight to it, I mean obviously we've already started, but I wanna learn more about what you've brought us.

Duley: Yes.

Green: So show me things, teach me things...

Duley: Teach you things?

Green: About brains and my brain.

Duley: Okay. So, we're a hands-on science museum so I can't go anywhere without my box of brains...

Green: Oh, good.

Duley: So, I do have...

Green: So you actually were just gonna show off some brains.  

Duley: Yes. So, we have, you know, we go through a brain guessing activity, where... that's a farm animal.

Green: It's a big farm animal.

Duley: Yup. And some kids still guess chicken.

Green: That's not a chicken.

Duley: And I say, "chickens eat meat! That would be a BIG chicken, I'd run away from that chicken." 

Green: (laughs)

Duley: So that is a cow brain, and I know you already knew it, so I didn't ask you.

Green: Yeah, you told me that before so I didn't pretend like I knew, I would have gone "this is a cow brain, I can tell!" when, you know, everyone here had already seen me ask that question. 

Duley: Right. And it's upside down right now...

Green: Yeah. Brain stem.

Duley: Yup, brain stem. And these are the olfactory bulbs right here sticking out, and they're quite large in the cow. 

Green: Oh, so cows do a lot of sniffing?

Duley: Yes. Much larger than ours.

Green: Why...? They just eat grass.

Duley: They have to smell predators.

Green: I guess.

Duley: I guess, yeah.

Green: And maybe you gotta pick good grass.

Duley: Yeah.

Green: From other-- from bad grass, if you're a cow. 

Duley: True. 

Green: You don't wanna eat poisonous grass.

Duley: Mmhm. And their wrinkles -- and that's my technical term for that -- for, you know. The wrinkles are a little bit different shaped than ours, if you ever really examine a human brain, it's a little bit different. Their cerebellum here which is involved in balance, fine motor skills that require precise timing like speech. So, when you're drunk, the cerebellum is affected, that's why you slur and you...

Green: Fall over?

Duley: Fall over, yeah. But yeah, theirs is a little bit different looking than ours, or...

Green: Doesn't control their speech so much?

Duley: No. 

(Both laugh)

Green: Are there any--

Duley: But they have to stand upright when they're sleeping, right, you know, so (laughs).

Green: I think you do have some brains that I didn't get informed on beforehand, so--

Duley: Yup. Okay, this is another farm animal, so you can guess that one.

Green: Okay. Oh, weird. That's a-- I have no idea. What do I know?

Duley: You have to sing Old McDonald and think about your farm animals.

Green: Is it a pig?

Duley: That's very good, but it's not. It's close-- a pig brain looks like that.

Green: Okay (laughs). 

Duley: They're very similar.

Green: You wouldn't have been able to tell the difference. 

Duley: Yeah. The only way I can tell...

Green: Is it a sheep?

Duley: This is a sheep brain. Is the brain stem in the sheep is smaller than the pig, the pig is much wider, and that could be because they're just, pigs are huge. 

Green: My ears were very interested in that. 

Duley: (laughs) Yes, they were. 

Green: Apparently I found that interesting. I--

Duley: Let's see. This is a pet. 

Green: It's a cat. 

Duley: Yes. Good guess. 

Green: (laughs) I've seen cat brains before, apparently.

Duley: Alright. This is a pet or a wild animal that we have in Montana. 

Green: Uh... (Laughs) It's distracting for there to be a noise every time you think... I don't know.

Duley: They're cute and they're fuzzy. I have some in my yard. 

Green: Oh, it's a rabbit. 

Duley: Yes! Sometimes I have to hop around to get the kids to guess it right. 

Green: They do not have any wrinkles. 

Duley: No. So, wrinkles are characteristics of larger mammals, and the thought is that the wrinkles allow for more information to be fit in your head. 

Green: Mmhm. You have more surface area. 

Duley: But again that idea might change as we're figuring out more and more about the brain. 

Green: Look at all these BRAINS! Do you have a human brain?

Duley: At SpectrUM we do...

Green: Okay, but you didn't bring it?

Duley: I didn't, yeah I didn't want it to splash all over the place because I just walked over here, so (laughs). But we did find out, because we're right next to the Flathead Indian Reservation that Native Americans cannot be around human body parts.

Green: Mmm.

Duley: So we had to... we had it out on the museum floor and then we had to put it in the back so we invite people, and we say, "we have a human brain if you wanna come back and see it." It has to be in a separate room. So, that was something we learned when we opened. And this is a wild animal. So this-- a neuroscientist at the University of Montana knew I was collecting brains, and this animal got hit by a car, and so he took it and he got the brain out for me.

Green: Is it... what animals get hit by cars, small mammals?

Duley: It's not a mammal.

Green: Oh! Then I have no idea.

Green: Is it a bird?

Duley: It's a bird. That's a northern flicker.

Green: Oh, flicker brain.

Duley: So, the brown spots that peck on your house.

Green: Yeah, yeah. I know flickers.

Duley: Yeah.

Green: Huh. I would have thought that a flicker brain would be smaller than that, honestly. They're not very big.

Duley: You don't think so?

Green: I don't know. I feel like bird brains are small, like, little brains.

Duley: (laughs) Yeah, they're definitely organized different than our brains. There's some pretty cool research going on; there's a guy at UC San Diego that talks a lot about the brain and how-- we talk about how birds don't have that cortex-- for humans we have that neocortex, or mammals have that neocortex where your visual processing, your senses, your smell, all occurs, and they're like, well, obviously birds still do that but they don't have this traditional neocortex, so this guy was studying it, and he's found that the same neurons are there, they function the same way, they're just slightly organized differently, so. It's pretty cool what they're finding out.  

Green: Brains. 

Duley: Brains. But birds have a big optic lobe for eyesight, they have a small olfactory bulb, so they used to think that birds couldn't smell.

Green: Huh. 

Duley: I don't know why they would have thought that. 

Green: What are those nose holes for?

Duley: (laughs) Alright, and then this is my s-- this is one of my smallest brains.

Green: That's just a vial of water. 

Duley: Yeah, it looks like it. So, what is small on our planet?

Green: It's bugs? Is it a bug brain?

Duley: Bug brains. That's a cockroach brain, yeah. It's a hissing cockroach. 

Green: So, a big bug. 

Duley: Yeah. Like, this big. 

Green: That way you can actually see it. 

Duley: Yeah. 

Green: Huh. I honestly thought it was just a vial of water. 

Duley: Yeah (laughs).

Green: I'm glad I didn't drink it. I guess it's alcohol. 

Duley: Yeah, most kids, yeah, will say, "I don't see it, I don't see it!" So, the University of Montana, they study fruit fly brains, and so I just-- I said, oh, the biology department would have some hissing cockroaches, and I was like, oh, can I get the brains out? So I took it to the fly lab and they were able to get the brain out. 

Green: Get the brain out. That's crazy!

Duley: So. It was fun.

Green: I wanna see that happen. 

Duley: I know (laughs).

Green: The person whose job it is to remove a brain from a cockroach.

Duley: They can do that, yeah. Yeah.

Green: Well, I feel like I did pretty well, honestly.

Duley: Yeah. Along with the third graders, too, yeah.

(Both laugh)

Duley: But yeah. We have many more brains at the brain lab, and so that's one of the first things I ask when they come, "have you been to our brain lab before?" And we get out all the brains, and talk about them, and. But then we also have, like I said, we have fruit flies. And we have C. elegans, the nematodes, and the kids actually do experiments--

Green: Do nematodes have brains?

Duley: They do!

Green: They have like an enlarged nerve ending...

Duley: Well, yeah, it's... we call it a "brain."

(Both laugh)

Duley: 303 neurons...

Green: 303?

Duley: Or 302, I can't remember (laughs).

Green: I mean, is it the same for every individual?

Duley: For every C. elegans, yeah. 

Green: They have the exact same number of neurons.

Duley: Yes, yes.

Green: That is interesting. I would not imagine that is the case for people. 

Duley: Yeah, I guess it would be a little bit different, yeah, based on your experiences. But pretty much all the worms-- maybe if you deprive a worm, but (laughs) I don't know...

Green: Get it real drunk?

Duley: Yeah. They do do that, yeah, yup. They do do that. Alcohol experiments with C. elegans, yeah. 

Green: Ugh, I love science. It's like, "Man, we're studying nematode brains, what do you wanna do?" "I don't know, get it drunk! Just give it some vodka."

Duley: Yeah, I know. Yeah, I'm sure there's... because of the legalization of marijuana I'm sure there's gonna be lots of...

Green: People smokin' up nematodes?

Duley: Yeah, I'm sure. Because right now you're not able to study it because there's so many regulations on how marijuana affects the nervous system, but--

Green: Come on. How are we gonna learn?

Duley: Exactly. I also have some other fun things. 

Green: Okay. Yeah, let's just keep goin'.

Duley: Keep goin'?

Green: Oh, Operation, I know this game. 

Duley: This game, yes. It's not as hard as when I was little.

Green: No, they made it way easier. 

Duley: It's so easy. The rubber band was really hard. 

Green: I was really frustrated when we got this. I don't remember why we got it. But first, I don't like the art as much. And I don't like any, like, all these new, fancy, like, video game controller and headphones, I'm like, pshh. Does it have batteries?

Duley: Yes.

Green: It also made a much worse noise when I was a kid. 

Duley: Yeah, it was scarier. So we have these-- we call them our altered reality goggles, and this is all about how your brain can change and adapt...

Green: You're gonna make me puke, aren't you?

Duley: And people will wear these... there are scientists that wear 'em for months at a time, and they have taught themselves to ride a bike with the world upside down.

Green: The thing that I've heard is that if you wear them long enough your vision just switches.

Duley: There's only one guy that ever said that happened to him. Nobody else has been able to repeat it. 

Green: Ahh. That's interesting. 

Duley: And that's why we repeat things in science, right?

Green: Yeah. Okay. So, I'll stop telling that anecdote. For now, anyway.

Duley: You got a double whammy up there. 

Green: Alright.

Duley: So, first thing, let's see if you can give me a high five. 

Green: Just let me-- let me--

Duley: Yaaay! You did it!

Green: I feel very accomplished. Hey everybody!

Duley: You probably just made a new connection right there, with your brain learning. 

Green: Whoah. Whoah. Whooaaaahhh! Don't tilt! Don't tilt. This is what I've just learned, is do not tilt. Alright. So, here's operation--

Duley: Let's see if you can play it. 

Green: Just all about that brute force. 

Duley: See, you're learning! There you go. 

Green: Alright, I gotta get my hands on here. Uhh ooooh oh oh... aaaahh! Okay. The brute force was better, I feel like. It was less embarrassing, at least. Oh, my gosh. I feel... very slightly nauseous. AHHHH! THIS IS ANNOYING! Can I borrow these? I wanna make a video. I wanna take them to LA and, like, do the Drunk Upside Down Operation Challenge with Grace Helbig. AHH hahahahahaha!

Duley: You got it.

Green: I don't know where it went. 

Duley: Yaaay!

Green: Have you tried this drunk?

Duley: Drunk, no. 

Green: Oh, come on. Where's your sense of adventure?

Duley: It already makes me feel like I'm drunk when I wear this. 

Green: It does, it does. 

Duley: And the kids will come in, and we do have other goggles that aren't quite as upside down, we call them altered reality, but they are drunk goggles. And the kids are like "are these drunk goggles?" And I'm like, "they're altered reality goggles!" so. It's all about making new connections in your brain. Your brain adapting.

Green: Hey, everybody. I-- yeah.

Duley: (laughs) This should be your Christmas card.

Green: (laughs) Oh, yeah. Tilting makes me feel sick. I don't wanna take them off, though, because I'm fascinated.

Duley: Yeah. So, this part around the prism is actually-- we 3D printed that on our 3D printer at SpectrUM to make it more robust because the kids would just drop 'em on the ground and crack 'em. 

Green: Freaking kids.

Duley: They've taught me a lot about making things robust.

Green: What do-- what-- do you wanna meet an animal?

Duley: Yes!

Green: Okay. Let's meet an animal. It has a brain.

Duley: Yes, it does.

Green: Okay.

Green: Now we have been joined by Joy and Jessi. Jessi is the human, Joy is the bird. Tell us about Joy.

Knudsen Castañeda: Joy is a macaw. She's a blue and gold macaw, and we don't know how old she is. These guys can live up to 80 years, and so we're guessing she's around 20, maybe, just because she's had about five homes that we know of, and the last home that had her had her for about four years, and so we're just kinda guesstimating. Macaws are one of the bigger in the psittacine family, so psittacines are parrot type birds. So there's macaws and cockatoos-- hi. And then there's Amazon parrots, and there's parakeets, as well. 

So, macaws are... they-- let's give her a treat, she's being so good. Here. Hold this. Yeah. 

Green: Oh, that's-- Oh, I didn't-- nope. That wasn't good enough. There was too much work for that treat. 

Knudsen Castañeda: You're fine, you'll come back down here. There we go. So, macaws are characterized by this really neat, like, naked face. They don't have much feathers on their face there except for those lines, and those lines are actually as unique-- I know, you want up on my shoulder, don't you? You want on this hand?

Green: No, I want up on your shoulder. 

Knudsen Castañeda: She's like, "I want up there. I want up there." Come here. There we go. 

Green: Awww.

Duley: Awww.

Green: This is rough. 

Duley: She snuggles. 

Green: Just snuggle. 

Knudsen Castañeda: Little girl. Yeah. So, she's an individual, if we lined up a whole bunch of these, a hundred in a line, not a single one of their feathers on their face would be the same, it's as individual as our fingerprints. 

So, she's snuggling in like this because she's nervous, you can also see she's shaking a little bit. These guys are monogamous, and so she's bonded to me, so bringing her close like this and kind of snuggling her and grooming her, this is gonna release some endorphins in her and get her feeling calm again. Good girl, Joy. 

Green: It's rough. Well, I'm glad that she found a place where she can feel comfortable. 

Knudsen Castañeda: It wasn't always that way. It took years, it took about two years for her to trust me enough to not put her in a dangerous situation, huh, what do you think? Yeah, you're getting more comfortable. Scooching down my arm again.

Green: If she feels like she's in danger, it's probably dangerous for you, too.

Knudsen Castañeda: It is, it is. She has-- let's see if she'll eat a treat. She might not. What do you think, banana? She's like, "No. Ugh." So, this beak is specialized not only to eat fruit, like this, but to eat huge nuts, and let's go for her biggest, her favorite-est and see if she goes for it.

Duley: Wow.

Green: You're really gonna eat that nut? That is a big nut. Can you make that happen? You can crack that nut with your thing?

Knudsen Castañeda: She can make it happen in, like, a second if she really wants to. Right now she's looking at all these things around here  and so she's only partially focused on that. But if you look at-- what's she holding it with?

Green: Her-- paw. Is the word that I just-- that came to me first.

Duley: Her claw.

Green: Her hand.

Knudsen Castañeda: Her foot. Her foot, yeah. And she actually, she's using that left foot; she's left-footed.

Duley: Oh. 

Knudsen Castañeda: Yeah. And so do you know what that indicates in the brain? 

Duley: You can tell me.

Knudsen Castañeda: Just, higher intelligence. So, an animal that is-- we call it handedness, I guess it's footedness. 

Green: Oh has handedness-- not that she's specifically left-footed but that she has handedness at all. 

Knudsen Castañeda: She has-- or footedness, I don't know if it translates to that. 

Duley: I was gonna say, all my left-handed friends out there are like "Yeah, I knew I was more intelligent."

Knudsen Castañeda: Oh, okay, sorry. Well, because she has handedness, it indicates higher intelligence. And-- hi. Because they have two hemispheres, they're actually just using one to focus on the task at hand, and they can use the other hemisphere to focus on other tasks. I know, you're just, you're not into it. Do you want something easier now that you're actually into food? What do you think? Here. Or you can poop on me. Here. That's not your favorite. 

Duley: Does she talk? 

Knudsen Castañeda: She -- there we go -- she is not that great at vocalizing, but they use vocalization in the wild to communicate, but her-- individually she screams "MOOOM!" and every once in a while she'll go "hello!" and it's kind of creepy because she'll never say it when you're in the room, you'll just hear this echoing "hello!"

Green: (laughs) Is there a child trapped in here?

Knudsen Castañeda: Was that exciting? What do you think?

Green: Good job. Good job.

Duley: They say parrots have large cerebellums to help with their fine movement of their tongue and beak.

Knudsen Castañeda: Are you okay? Shh shh shh shhh. Alright. I think she's telling me she's done, so we're gonna go and take off. Or she'll take off. 

Green: Yeah, I'm gonna go.

Knudsen Castañeda: Come here, you. 

Green: So, thank you for bringing Joy, and you can find more of Jessi and see what she does all day and all the animals that she takes care of at If you're ever in Missoula, Montana, you can go to the SpectrUM BrainLab and learn about your own brain and the brains of other people. And if you wanna learn about everything, you can go to and subscribe. Thanks to all of our Patreon supporters, thank you to all of the people who helped us shoot this, and it's been a lovely time. Thanks.