What is the BioMath Connection (BMC) Project?
BMC was a pioneering project linking biology and mathematics in the high schools. It provided an opportunity for high school teachers, writers, researchers, and others to get in on the ground floor of developing innovative classroom materials. The materials consist of 20 modules that can be flexibly adapted for use in a variety of courses at a variety of grade levels in both biology and mathematics. The project was run by DIMACS at Rutgers University in collaboration with the Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications (COMAP) and Colorado State University (CSU).
The human nervous system is made up of 100 to 200 billion neurons, supported by 1 to 2 trillion glial cells. Each neuron has an average of about 5 thousand synapses. Each of these synapses may release multiple neurotransmitters across a range of concentrations. It's been estimated that the number of potential neural states that these synapses can produce in a single person is more than the number of molecules in the known universe!
Every conscious experience is built from the interaction of neural activity at multiple levels within the nervous system, and the perception of pain is no exception. This summary of pain is just the tip of the iceberg. Each year we learn more and more about the nervous system and current advances are progressing at an accelerating rate. This unit explains the basics in order to show how pain from the skin (somatosensory pain) is processed. Noted references allow you to go deeper than this brief overview.
Overall, it is important to remember that pain is not a stimulus. This parallels the fact that there is no Äòred' light. Red is a perceptual response to electromagnetic wavelengths within a narrow range. What we call pain is a collection of responses within the body, most often, to tissue damaging or potentially tissue damaging stimulation. Such stimuli are referred to as Äònoxious.' The receptors that have evolved to detect tissue damage are called Äònociceptors' and they send their information through Äònociceptive' pathways from the skin, through several neural relays, to the highest levels of the brain. Pain is a hierarchy of responses organized at multiple levels of the nervous system.
Pain is a sensation. It's a complex perceptual and motivational state. It's an interpretation of an event. Our first exercise in this unit will be to try to capture some of pain's complexity by analyzing words that humans use to describe the pain experience. Some of them relate to the sensory experience--how you would describe your pain. Some relate to how pain motivates--how much you want it to stop. Some relate to the interpretation of the pain--how it affects your life.
Biology: The nervous system, cellular biology, and neural networks.
Mathematics: Descriptive and inferential statistics, to include histograms, boxplots, t-tests, and analysis of variance.
Biology: Students need a basic understanding of the basic structure of the nervous system, gross neuroanatomy and neural function.
Mathematics: Students need a basic understanding of descriptive statistics, inferential hypothesis testing, t-tests, basic algebraic properties, operations and functions.
This unit consists of 4 lessons. It will take 9 to 11 class periods (45 minutes each) if the majority of work is done during class.