2015 Brain Awareness Reception at SfN

This year’s annual Brain Awareness Reception took place in Chicago’s massive McCormick Place on Saturday, as part of an eventful program created by the Society for Neuroscience (SfN). The main floor was filled with rows of more than 600 exhibitors, showcasing new tools, technologies, and publishing opportunities for communicating science. Meanwhile, the upstairs space was dedicated entirely to celebrating the work done by students, postdocs, scientists (several Dana Alliance members included), educators, and general brain enthusiasts who devote their time to public outreach efforts.

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Kathleen Roina, director of BAW (right), and Amanda Bastone (left) handing out free educational resources at the reception.

The event began by congratulating the winners of the 2015 Brain Awareness video contest. First place was awarded to Matthew Sugrim, a recent graduate from the UK, for his video titled, “Do We See The Same Red?” The animated short discusses our perception of color and breaks down the mechanisms within our brains that facilitate visual processing. Sugrim originally enrolled in college with the intent of studying architecture but soon found himself drawn to the psychological sciences.

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Matthew Sugrim

“I was interested in why everyone disagrees with each other,” he said. “Why does everyone think they’re right?” This fascination led him to pursue a career in neuroscience; his young cousin inspired the topic of his award-winning video through his curiosity about how we see color. It was only until Sugrim was halfway through the script that he learned about the SfN video contest. Six weeks later, the project was completed.

The reception continued with remarks from SfN President and Dana Alliance member Steven Hyman, who highlighted the significance of Brain Awareness Week (BAW) and its impact on the community. “BAW is one of the special and unique things we do in this world,” he said, “[It’s] remarkable for its reach and power to motivate, especially at a time when governments all around the world have become stingy with science.”

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Bobby Heagerty was recently honored with a Science Education Award from the Society for Neuroscience.

Following Hyman’s acknowledgements,  Bobby Heagerty gave a keynote address calling attention to the importance of effectively communicating science to the general public. As the community affairs and education director at Oregon Health & Science University’s Brain Institute, she presented the audience with images that symbolized various aspects of outreach (such as supporting scientists, promoting events, and updating the public on the latest research). “Words are not enough,” Heagerty stressed while encouraging everyone in the audience to take action to spread awareness. “It’s the individuals…and building relationships that make all the difference in the world.”

The remarks concluded with warm thanks to the Dana Foundation and the individuals and institutions that helped make the events possible. Immediately afterward, the annual BAW poster presentation opened.  A large portion of the room was taken up by four lengthy rows displaying posters on both sides, with their creators standing by to explain their study.

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Ido Davidesco presented an impressive poster that explained his study aimed at understanding the brain-to-brain synchrony between teachers and students.

Ido Davidesco, a postdoc at New York University’s Department of Psychology, created a poster showcasing an education program he designed specifically for high school students. Using EEG headsets, he was able to record the brain activity between teachers and students at New York City’s Trevor Day School and watched as it synced with one another through various teaching methods.

The students then become the researchers, he explained, using their own EEG data and presenting their findings at the end of the school year. Davidesco’s objective was to create a new model of teaching neuroscience that not only displayed the effectiveness of progress, but also engaged high school students through interactive research.

Dana Alliance member Ed Bilsky was also among those presenting work with public outreach in neuroscience.

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In addition to directing the Center for Excellence in Neuroscience, Ed Bilsky, Ph.D., is Vice President for Research and Scholarship at the University of New England.

Bilsky founded the University of New England (UNE) Center for Excellence in the Neurosciences, where he works with students to “better understand the pathophysiology of neurological diseases” and then apply that knowledge to clinical practice. Among the various areas of research, the Center has a “long-standing interest in understanding the biological basis of acute and chronic pain.” With this, UNE’s researchers have been making great headways in providing educational material and promoting patient advocacy.

While explaining different components of his poster, Bilsky pointed out that their outreach efforts have seen “dramatic growth” from last year’s first ever Maine Brain Bee to the Maine Science Festival, where over 10,000 students and families attended, to international work in Morocco and Spain.

All of the poster presentations highlighted different aspects of neuroscience and impressive feats in brain awareness, making the event a colorful and engaging one. As the BAW community continues to expand, be sure to stay tuned for news and updates on what’s happening near you. Brain Awareness Week officially begins March 14-20, 2016, so there’s plenty of time to get involved!

– Seimi Rurup

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