Difficulty of Project
Cost (Approximate Cost of completing the project)
Less than $15
Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project
Approximately 2 hours to create diagram and additional time necessary for presentation preparation.
To understand the architecture and function of neurons and their key components.
- Blank white paper
- Markers, colored pencils, or crayons
- Assorted candy (Tip: Pull-n-peel licorice makes great dendrites and thicker licorice works well for myelin sheaths.)
- Frosting (Tip: Gingerbread frosting makes great ‘glue’.)
- Toothpicks, thumb tacks, push pins, or tape
- Wax paper or brownie/cake mix (See Experimental Procedure for more detail)
- Cardboard or poster board
- Example diagram – such as this one from the National Institutes of Health http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/ninds_neuron.htm
Credit: National Institutes of Health
Credit: National Institute on Drug Abuse
Our central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord, controls movement in our body. Specialized cells, called neurons, communicate between the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. Neurons contain three key components: cell body, axon, and dendrites. They also contain many specialized components such as the nucleus and myelin sheath. The nucleus is the control center of the cell and houses all genetic information. The myelin sheath is an insulating system for the axon. Neurons communicate with each other by sending special chemicals, neurotransmitters, between the axons of one cell and the dendrites of another.
- Describe your central nervous system.
- What is the primary role of a neuron? What are its key components?
- What are the primary responsibilities for each key neuron component?
- How do neurons communicate with one another?
- What type of activities would interfere with this communication?
- How many neurons do we have in our body? Do we create more during our life?
Terms, Concepts and Questions to Start Background Research
Neuron – A specialized cell that sends chemical messages between the brain, spinal cord, and nerves.
Axon – A thread-like fiber that conducts information from one neuron to the next.
Dendrite – Branch-like extensions of the neuron’s cell body that receive information from other neurons.
Nucleus – The control center and storage facility for genetic information.
Myelin sheath – An insulating layer on the axon.
Neurotransmitter – A chemical substance that transfers information between neurons.
- Compile several neuron diagrams with varying degrees of detail.
- Select the level of detail that you would like to present and sketch this version on a blank sheet of paper.
- Take this paper to your kitchen or a grocery store to select assorted candies to build the neuron.
- Cut an appropriate sized piece of wax paper.
- Arrange candy on wax paper and attach using frosting. Allow frosting to dry and then attach wax paper to cardboard or poster board for presentation.
- ALTERNATIVE: Instead of ‘gluing’ the candy to the wax paper you can attach it to a prepared pan of brownies or one-layer cake. Presentation depends on personal preference and desire to eat final product.
- Cut labels and attach to diagram using thumb tacks or tape for wax paper and toothpicks or push pins for the cake/brownie.
- Gather extra neuron components (candy pieces) in several bowls. Label each bowl with the name and primary responsibility of each component. Display these bowls with your diagram during your presentation and allow visitors to taste!
National Institutes of Health
Children’s Hospital of Boston Interactive Neuron http://www.childrenshospital.org/research/Site2029/mainpageS2029P23sublevel51.html
University of Washington
Brains Rule – Brain Games