The International Brain Bee World Championship took place in Berlin, at Europe’s largest brain research conference: the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) Forum. Twenty-five finalists, aged between 13 and 18, represented their countries after placing first in their respective regional and national Brain Bee competitions earlier this year. More comprehensive than the local- and national-level contests, the championship features five sections that explore the student’s knowledge of theory and practice in research neuroscience and medical neurology. After three days of exams on neurohistology (the branch of histology that deals with the nervous system), neuroanatomy, patient diagnosis, and a question and answer session with a live judging panel, the five judges—who are all neuroscientists themselves—declared 18-year-old Piotr Olesky from Crakow, Poland, the grand prize winner. Continue reading
Today, Roland Pochet, Laura López-Mascaraque, and Université Côte d’Azur were awarded prestigious prizes for their contribution to advancing public education and awareness about the progress and promise of brain research. The awards are sponsored by the Dana Foundation and the European Dana Alliance for the Brain (EDAB), in partnership with the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS), and were presented at the 11th FENS Forum in Berlin.
“Reaching out to the public and sharing their passion for neuroscience research is one of the mandates that every neuroscientist should include in her or his activities,” said Pierre Magistretti, vice chairman of EDAB and past-president of FENS. “The recipients of the Dana/EDAB Neuroscience Outreach Awards exemplify such commitment. They have excelled in organizing public events at all levels of society, from primary and high school students to the general public to members of parliament. The commitment and achievements of the awardees reflect the mission of the Dana Foundation and EDAB and the engagement they have provided for more than two decades to support public understanding of neuroscience at the international level.”
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.
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?”
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
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.
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.