Brain science at Wellington Middle School

PHOTO BY R. GARY RAHAM Dr. Allen (top right), Wellington students, and teacher Katie Zenisck clustered around visiting brains.

By R. Gary Raham

Ever held a human brain in your hands? The students at Wellington Middle School did on May 3rd of this year. Dr. Timothy J. Allen with Neurology Specialists of the Rockies made the trip to Wellington with the hope of inspiring a new generation of doctors or scientists. “When kids see a real brain and can speak with a doctor in a down-to-earth manner, then the idea of a profession in medicine becomes a reality,” Allen said.

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PHOTO BY R. GARY RAHAM Wellington student, Anthony Gonzales Jr., with brain in hand.

Dr. Allen made a dramatic reveal as he lifted two human brains from a bucket of preservative fluid. The brain’s previous owners had donated this amazing organ the size of two human fists—the seat of who they were and their accumulated life experiences—for just such a purpose. Dr. Allen pointed out tiny dark specks in one brain, the physical traces of a long smoking habit. He showed the folds and turns of the cortex, the cauliflower-like form of the cerebellum, the dense brain stem and other features of the tangled mass of some 86 billion neurons that make up the human brain.

PHOTO BY R. GARY RAHAM Dr. Allen pointing out brainstem.

Students donned plastic gloves and passed around the tofu-like segments of human brain. They asked lots of questions. They received many answers. But they also learned that the studies of the brain always produce surprises. We now know, for example, that human brains can replace some cells as we age and make new connections—something once thought impossible.

His teenage audience learned that their young brains were actually bigger than those of adults, but their forebrains were still in the process of learning what behaviors bring positive results and which don’t. Their brains possess greater neuroplasticity: the capacity for neurons to take on more or different jobs as the brain learns or in case of traumatic injury.

When asked what he liked best about his job, Dr. Allen said it was being able to help people overcome neurological problems and lead better lives because of his skills. He provides compassionate care for adult and pediatric patients from Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and beyond. Neurology Specialists of the Rockies is located at 2121 Harmony Road in Fort Collins and 2003 Bluegrass Circle in Cheyenne.

The comedian George Jessel once quipped, “The human brain starts to work as soon as you are born and doesn’t stop until you get up to deliver a speech.” While that may seem like the case, the human brain does amazing things with its three pounds of “wetware.” One of those things is to wonder about its own inner workings, as many Wellington students did, courtesy of Dr. Allen and his unknown science benefactors.