All About the Brain

At the American Museum of Natural History, in New York City, visitors discover how the brain works.

Dec 17, 2010 | By Suzanne Zimbler

Imagine that you are in a museum. You see people gathered around a small glass case, peering with wonder at something inside. As you approach them, perhaps you expect to find an ancient fossil or a shiny jewel. Instead, you see a wrinkly gray lump. It does not look like much. But it just may be the most complicated object in the universe: It is the human brain.

Of course, you are no stranger to the brain. You use yours constantly. You are using it right now to read. And though you may not be aware of it, your brain is making sure that you are breathing, too.

But how does your brain work? That is the focus of Brain: The Inside Story, a new exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, in New York City.

Learning by Doing

Museum visitors can learn about their own brains through more than 20 activities. In one, you look at an image of pouring rain while listening to a sound. Is it the pitter-patter of rain drops? Not even close. It's bacon frying. But if you're looking at the picture, your brain may be tricked into thinking it is the sound of rainfall.

At another display, you can test your brain's ability to pick up new languages. As you repeat foreign phrases into a microphone, a computer lets you know how well you are doing. With practice, you get better at producing the new sounds. The younger you are, the more flexible the language regions of your brain are. So, expect to outperform your big brother on this one!

Curator Rob DeSalle hopes the exhibit will leave a mark. "If you learn something, that's going to change your brain," DeSalle told TFK. The exhibit runs through August 14, 2011. If you are not in New York, visit

Inside the Brain

The brain has many different parts. Read on to learn about some of them.

- The pea-size pituitary (pih-too-ih-tair-ee) gland controls the body's growth.

-The cerebrum (seh-ree-brum) is the largest part of the brain. It is where your thoughts happen. It is also the place that sends out signals controlling body movements.

- The amygdala (uh-mig-duh-luh) is responsible for emotions.

- The hypothalamus (hy-po-thal-uh-mus) controls the body's temperature.

- The cerebellum (sair-uh-bell-um) helps to coordinate balance and movement.

- The brain stem controls automatic actions, such as breathing and heartbeat.

- The hippocampus (hip-uh-kam-pus) processes memories.

The cerebrum has two halves. The right half controls the left side of the body, and the left half controls the right side.