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It's all in your head

Have you ever wondered why you breathe or why your eyes blink without you ever thinking about it? How do you remember your way home from school or work? Where do dreams come from?

You can thank your brain for all this and more. Your brain is the big command centre of your body, even when you sleep. In an adult, the brain represents only 2% of total body weight, but consumes about 20% of the oxygen and glucose, even at rest. Your brain is protected by your skull.

Your brain consists of many parts that work together. The major parts are the cerebrum, diencephalon, cerebellum and brain stem.

The Cerebrum

This is the largest part of the brain. It provides us with the ability to:

  • read, write and speak
  • do our homework and compose music
  • remember what we ate for dinner yesterday and what we will do tomorrow
  • imagine things that have never existed before.

It has two halves, one on either side of the head. Scientists know that the right half controls the left side of your body, and the left half controls the right side.

The Diencephalon

This is found between the cerebrum and the brain stem and consists of the thalamus, hypothalamus and epithalamus.

The thalamus is often referred to as the "relay station" of the brain. This is because its primary function is to relay information from the brain to other parts of the body.

The hypothalamus is like your brain's inner thermostat (that little box on a wall in your house that controls the heat). The hypothalamus knows what temperature your body should be (about 98.6°F or 37°C). If you’re too hot, the hypothalamus tells you to sweat. If you're too cold, the hypothalamus gets you shivering.

The epithalamus contains the pineal gland that secretes melatonin. Melatonin is thought to promote sleep and to help set the body’s biological clock.

The Cerebellum

It is located at the back of the brain below the cerebrum. The word cerebellum means “little brain.” It's a lot smaller than the cerebrum but it's a very important part of the brain. Thanks to your cerebellum, you can stand upright, keep your balance and you will never forget how to ride your bicycle.

The Brain Stem

The brain stem is continuous with the spinal cord and consists of the medulla oblongata, pons, and midbrain. The medulla oblongata regulates life-sustaining functions such as breathing, swallowing and beating of the heart.  Its functions are done without you consciously thinking about them (involuntary). The pons serves as a communications and coordination centre between the two hemispheres of the brain. The midbrain controls many important functions such as seeing, hearing and eye movement.

The BodyWorks Gallery

Interested in learning more?

You can visit Science World’s BodyWorks Gallery, where we have a human brain on display. We also have several activities that you can take part in—just ask a staff member within the gallery.

Noteworthy for educators bringing school groups: Science World has a brand new school program for grades 5–8 called Neuro Adventure. Here, students discover how neurons communicate with each other. They will test balance and hand-eye coordination, challenge each other to memorization tasks and manipulate their own heartbeats. All activities are connected to the main structures of the lower brain.