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Museum exhibit highlights the aging brain; naturalist records sounds of nature

By Aaron Leitko,

Neuroscience

Gray matter, changing as you go gray

Life Lab, Koshland Science Museum

Remember to cherish your youth. And if you need a reminder, there’s the Life Lab exhibit that opened at the Koshland Science Museum at Sixth and E streets NW on March 14. It uses interactive displays and computer simulations to demonstrate the changes that take place in the human brain as it matures from infancy to old age, and it offers ideas on how to maintain a healthy brain.

One lesson you can take away: It doesn’t get any easier, folks. There’s a gesture-sensitive video game that asks visitors to snatch on-screen butterflies by waving their arms through the air. It’s a snap the first time around for anybody, but on level two the game simulates a few decades of neural wear and tear by adding a time lag to your movements.

There’s also a driving simulator that shows the dangers of multi-tasking by asking visitors to dial numbers into a phone while they wheel through busy virtual streets. For a foreboding look into your future, you can then run the game in elderly-brain conditions, which bleaches some of the color out of your vision and slows your reaction time: It gets a lot harder to slam on the brakes before you clock that pedestrian. It’s not impossible, though. And it should be said: A high score doesn’t give you an excuse to text while driving.

Zoology

The soothing sounds of nature

The Great Animal Orchestra,” Little Brown

A musician turned naturalist, Bernie Krause has spent the past four decades traveling the globe with a tape recorder and a set of microphones, documenting the unblemished sounds of the natural world — including bird songs, squeaking ants and shrimp that snap their jaws at the volume of a gunshot. He documents his adventures in “The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places.” It’s part memoir and part meditation on the role of sound in the natural world: how animals hear, what they hear and how even subtle sonic intrusions can be life-changing, whether you’re trying to track prey or avoid becoming it. There’s plenty of nerd talk about frequency range and acoustics, but for a guy who spent much of his career hunkering down with a pair of headphones, Krause has had some close calls. During one trip to the Amazon, he recalls tuning into his recording gear only to hear a jaguar approaching him. On another trip, Krause tells how he was picked up by a gorilla and hurled 15 feet through the air because, at the time, he was so wrapped up in capturing the big-picture sounds of the forest that he neglected to notice the encroaching sound of an actual threat.

— Aaron Leitko

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