British Science Week 2016 (Day 4)

Hi! I’m Margarida and I study Neuroscience at The University of Manchester. Like most 2nd year students in 2nd semester, I am doing a Research Skills Module.

As part of the Neuroscience RSM, we get to do a practical with Nitrous Oxide! Nitrous Oxide is also known as ‘Laughing Gas’, and is used as an analgesic and anaesthetic. It is one of the safest anaesthetics known, with rapid and completely reversible effects. In high concentrations it is used in dentistry and in lower concentrations during childbirth. In this practical we all got to be subjects and also observers. As subjects, we had to breathe either oxygen or one of two low concentration mixtures of nitrous oxide and oxygen. From this, we hoped to increase the subjects’ pain threshold and lower results in cognitive tests. To test this, we measured pain threshold by amount of time that the subject could hold their hand in cold water. There were some interesting effects! However like in all experiments, some of the results we obtained were not exactly what we expected. For example, one subject had a particularly unusual response to the Nitrous Oxide – he didn’t want to keep his hands in the cold water, but wanted to draw butterflies instead.

Another practical that sticks in my mind was also during the Neuroscience RSM, where we got to stain mice brain slices to detect different sensory pathways (where neurons that do certain things are placed in the brain). We stained a number of different neurons in the mouse brains, including ones which sense glucose levels in the blood, one that releases a hormone when the animal is dehydrated, and a photoreceptive neuron.  These neurons connect areas of the brain involved in circadian rhythms (internal clocks that control when to sleep, eat, reproduce). All of the types of staining we used were different; one stained the nuclei of the neurons, other the synapses and the third stain turned blue! It was amazing to be able to get a look at some real brains and actually see the neurons that we have learnt so much about in lectures.

I have realised that the more time I spend in the lab, the more interested I become in research procedure and results. It’s nice to be able to apply what we’re learning in lectures to things we can then go and look at in the lab. I am sad to say that I’ve completed all my labs for this academic year, but I can’t wait to do further lab work next year!

Margarida Trigo

(2nd year MNeuroscience student)

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