Mouse Makeovers and Helium Voices

The words “Mouse House” kind of freak me out. Every time I hear it mentioned in lab, I can’t help but imagine walking between rows of cages piled ceiling-high, hundreds of beady eyes glowing in the darkness and watching my every move. I’m sure the Mouse House is not the house of horrors that I imagine it to be; nevertheless, I have so much admiration for everyone in BSURF who is working with mice for the first time this summer.

This week, I loved hearing Evelyn give a chalk talk on her experience in the Mooney Lab, researching the ultrasonic vocalizations of mice under the influence of helium. During our first week of BSURF, Evelyn and I sat on the bus together one morning on the way to our labs, and I was so intrigued as she described her project. She mentioned dyeing the backs of some female mice with platinum blonde hair dye to distinguish them from males, and placing mice in chambers with helium to observe changes in their voices during mating. It all sounded worlds away from my own project and was at once fascinating and a little amusing. I mean, can you imagine being a mouse and getting your hair dyed platinum blonde?

I’ve loved reading Evelyn’s blog posts and was excited to hear her give a chalk talk about her project. Two things in particular stood out to me. First, since Evelyn is studying whether or not mice are aware of the change in their voices when exposed to helium, she looks for changes that could indicate this awareness. This includes changes in the pitch, frequency, and amplitude of the mice’s ultrasonic vocalizations, and changes in mating behaviors. I think it’s really cool that Evelyn is studying something as abstract as awareness by observing concrete changes in vocalizations and physical behaviors. I suppose that this is a cornerstone of science as a whole–studying abstract or complicated concepts by observing tangible changes–but this whole science thing is all still new to me, and I’m constantly amazed by the ways in which scientists approach science. 

Second, Evelyn talked about how her lab’s research could have applications to mental disorders like schizophrenia, in which people are unable to distinguish between self-produced and external voices. It’s mind-boggling to me that Evelyn’s project draws a connection between things as seemingly disparate as mice in helium and schizophrenia. I suppose that’s yet another cornerstone of science–drawing connections between vastly different things because those connections help us understand the world a little better. I’m excited to hear about how Evelyn’s project progresses and about her adventures with her new mouse friends!

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