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Science at the Super Bowl

I teach a physiology class at the local university and always try to work in something interesting to get my students' attention. We were studying sense receptors, those things that send info to your brain from the outside world. Like its freezing cold outside and getting colder every year. Those would be your Krause end bulbs. Or I just burned my hand off picking up a ridiculously hot cast iron skillet which now resides on top of my foot. Those would be your Rufinni endings. Also, free nerve endings are now zipping pain messages to my brain.

I quizzed my students about how many senses they have beside the five elementary school ones we all know. They're pretty sharp cookies and we talked about the sense of balance, itch, pressure, pain, thirst, hunger, thermo-reception (temperature), proprioception (where your body is located in 3-D space), situational awareness (awareness of surroundings - used by soldiers, police, pilots), muscle tension (some/all/none), stretch receptors (found in the stomach, bladder, etc.) and a very accurate sense of time. Don't believe that last one? Tell yourself what time you want to wake up tomorrow!

So how does this fit into the Super Bowl? The announcer kept rhapsodizing about the 49ers quarterback Purdy and his incredible "spatial awareness." He kept mentioning that Purdy always know just where to throw the ball. What Purdy was exhibiting was more than just spatial awareness. He was using situational awareness: the ability to take in everything going on around him, analyze it and respond effectively. Because there's a lot more to football than throwing a football. Anybody can do that. Professional quarterbacks prefer not to get sacked on national TV before half the watching world.

Want to see a movie clip of how this works? Click here and scroll down to the one from "The Borne Identity."

By the way, I was rooting for the 49ers!



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