AP Statistics Students Visit UC Berkeley's Brain Imaging Center

Last week Mr. Boehm's AP Statistics students and Mr. Scheff's Statistics students had the opportunity to visit UC Berkeley's Brain Imaging Center. They were hosted by Dr. Mark D'Esposito, a leading neuroscientist. Dr. D'Esposito arranged for students to learn about functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and the statistics and methods behind these areas of research. 
Students learned about how fMRI relies on the polarization of hydrogen molecules in the blood--and how blood flow is correlated to neural activity in the brain. In the process of teaching about fMRI, Dr. D'Esposito and his colleague Dr. Ben Inglis scanned Mr. Boehm's brain; students were able to see Mr. Boehm's motor cortex "light up" on screen as he tapped his fingers!
Students also learned about the process of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). In this process, parts of the brain that are known to control a certain function (say moving one's hand) can be stimulated electromagnetically. Students were able to observe a graduate student's motor cortex being stimulated, causing her hand to twitch. Currently, there is a lot of research to learn more about this process.
Finally, Dr. D'Esposito facilitated a discussion about how neuroscience utilizes both experimental design and statistical inference. These two topics are foundational of our statistics classes. Most the the imaging software relies on a statistical test (typically a t-test) to compare difference between two images of the brain to isolate the part that is currently performing a task. He also fielded questions from students ranging from the effect of sleep deprivation on the brain's functioning to how to best rehabilitate stroke survivors.
In the world today statistics is becoming more and more relevant as almost every field is now conducting research and relying on analytics to make decisions. Students were able to see firsthand one of the many applications of the statistical concepts they are currently learning in class. It's our hope that students will be inspired to continue making connections between statistics and the world around them--and to one day conduct their own groundbreaking research.