- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2016

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - The wonders of the brain are as immense as they are intricate.

They are also on full display at Bloomington’s WonderLab Museum through a special exhibition called “Your Amazing Brain!”

Split between the museum’s two levels, it’s designed for children of all ages to learn how electrical activity triggers action in the brain, how your brain processes things such as smells and how you can change your brain by training it with special games.

“We’ve been here four or five times this year,” Allison Collins said Friday afternoon, pushing her 1-year-old son, Dylan, in his stroller as 5-year-old Megan ran from display to display. “It definitely keeps them interested. (WonderLab) switches things up quite a bit, so it’s always fun for them.”

The exhibit, which has been open since January, is the museum’s most ambitious undertaking to date, associate executive director Karen Jepson-Innes said.

The idea sprang up in 2007, when a professor at Indiana University needed to share his research on the brain in a way that would educate the community to satisfy a federal grant. He approached WonderLab and a partnership was formed. After another successful grant and some trial and error, the museum started preparing a handful of entertaining exhibits that children would get excited about.

“That’s the really hard part,” Jepson-Innes said. “(The exhibits) had to meet our specific criteria of being engaging, intuitive, easy to use. You know, we’re not a book on the wall. Just a lot of open-ended kind of experience.

“It was really hard to find those experiences, but we kind of formed them around a few different areas.”

One solution came in a ready-made Mind Ball game, in which users strap on a headband with electrical sensors and through intense focus move a ball across a table, all before their opponent can do the same. Screens show in real-time how electrical impulses affect the ball’s movement.

Another exhibit is the Smell Station, meant to demonstrate how the brain identifies different smells through molecules in the air. Kids press down on a clear tube, expelling a distinct smell that they then try to guess. There’s no telling what you’ll smell.

There are lemons, fresh-baked rye bread and buttered popcorn, but also a vomit station that is all too real. The vomit is there for the shock factor, sure, but Jepson-Innes said it serves an important purpose.

“It’s important for humans evolutionarily to instantly identify things that could be harmful or that you don’t want to eat,” she said. “So it’s your brain that associates that smell with an action or something that you shouldn’t do.”

Head up the stairs and you’ll see a gallery of colorized brain scans, a pleasant but equally important artistic addition, marketing director Greg Meitus said.

“These photographs clearly show the relationship between the arts and the sciences, something we strive to do here,” Meitus said.

Upstairs, among the memory tile games and child-sized rat maze, an assortment of real brains are on display. The brains are on loan from IU’s department of psychological and brain sciences.

Under Plexiglas domes lie the brains of a dogfish shark, a fence lizard, a cat, a rat and a pigeon, and one of the first human brains donated to science in the mid-1800s, which researchers have named “Ron.” Each display comes with an information card with facts about the animals and the different areas of the brains.

“It’s really cool to see a real brain,” Jepson-Innes said. “You don’t often get that chance.”

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Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times, http://bit.ly/1TShRSZ

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Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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