The Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives Celebrates its 25th Anniversary

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President George Bush designated the 1990s as the “Decade of the Brain” to “enhance public awareness of the benefits to be derived from brain research.” Yet, in the early 90s, even with this presidential proclamation, there was not much information about the brain available to the general public. Outreach was still uncommon and neuroscience funding had even decreased.

In response, thirty of the United States’ preeminent neuroscientists met at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) to discuss the progress and promise of brain research. Led by James D. Watson, Ph.D., co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, and David Mahoney, Dana Foundation chairman at the time, attendees of the meeting vowed to change the landscape of public support for neuroscience. Shortly after, those scientists became founding members of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives (DABI), an organization comprised of neuroscientists dedicated to advancing public awareness about the progress and promise of brain research. On this day in 1993, the creation of DABI was announced at a press conference in Washington, DC.

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From left: W. Maxwell Cowan, James Watson, Guy McKhann, and David Mahoney announce the creation of DABI at a press conference in Washington, D.C.

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Sapolsky on the Biology of Good and Evil

Guest post by Carl Sherman

“We’re a miserably violent species,” said Dana Alliance member Robert M. Sapolsky. “But we’re also a profoundly empathic, compassionate species.”

“How do we make sense of this… how do we understand the biology of it?”

sapolsky 10-2006, Stanford News Services

Robert M. Sapolsky, Ph.D.

In his keynote lecture that launched the “Learning & the Brain” conference in New York City last week, Sapolsky, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences, neurology, and neurological sciences at Stanford University, led his audience on a whirlwind tour of the many-layered terrain from which human acts that include “the horrific, the wonderful, and everything in between” arise.

“We’ll get nowhere if we look for one part of the brain, or one gene, or one childhood experience” responsible for brutal murder and sublime self-sacrifice, he said. “Instead, we have to do something more complicated: to ask what went on in a person’s brain in the second before; also in the minutes, hours, days before; what hormones did to make that brain sensitive. We have to go back to adolescence, to childhood, to the cultures our ancestors invented, to ecosystems, all the way to evolution.”

In his talk, Sapolsky enlivened systematic explanations with intriguing details and quirky research findings.

Among its diverse role in regulating emotion, he pointed out, the insula cortex generates gustatory disgust; it activates if you taste spoiled food. “But it mediates moral disgust as well. When we hear of someone doing something appalling, we’re ‘sick to our stomach.’ It leaves ‘a bad taste in the mouth.’ The insula cortex can’t tell the difference between rotten food and unsavory behavior.” Continue reading

Interview with Science Cheerleader Hilary Nicholson

Science Cheerleaders is an organization that works to confront stereotypes around cheerleaders and academics in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Members travel around the country to speak at schools, festivals, sports games, on TV, and more, to help connect groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields. We spoke with member and national coordinator, Hilary Nicholson, Ph.D., who is currently a medical oncology research fellow at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School. Nicholson completed her Ph.D. at Brown University, where she also coached cheerleaders for the Brown Bears football team.

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Nicholson in her Ph.D. lab at Brown University.

1. Can you explain the idea behind Science Cheerleaders and how you got involved?

HN: The Science Cheerleaders are a group of over 300 current and former professional and collegiate cheerleaders who also have advanced degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. We aim to playfully challenge stereotypes surrounding what a scientist looks like and who can be an engineer, programmer, mathematician, etc., while also encouraging young girls to become engaged in STEM through citizen science projects and serving as role models ourselves.

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New York City’s 2018 Regional Brain Bee

Guest post by Brandon Barrera

The battle of the best and brightest of brainiacs from New York City’s greater metropolitan area high schools came to its conclusion this Saturday at the 2018 Regional Brain Bee, held in the Great Hall at the City College of New York.

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Photo credit: Jacqueline Silberbush

The annual neuroscience competition offers curious young minds the opportunity to flex their gray matter know-how, learn about the latest in brain research, and lets them jump at the chance to get “hands-on” with humanity’s most precious organ—a human brain, in the flesh.

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New K-5 Lesson Plans Now Available

New lesson plans about the brain are now available for teachers and students!  Each lesson plan has an accompanying PowerPoint presentation for students and an interactive activity that allows them to get hands-on with how the brain works. The lesson plans also include student objectives and background information, and are paired with relevant Dana Alliance fact sheets (for 3rd to 5th grade students).

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