2018 Brain Awareness Video Contest

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Thanks to a growing Brain Awareness Week partnership, we know there are many people out there who are passionate about educating the public about the brain. The Brain Awareness Video Contest, sponsored by the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), provides a wonderful opportunity to reach even more people, and to develop something unique and creative.

Due June 14, these videos must describe a neuroscience concept in less than five minutes, in a fun and captivating way. Anyone can enter! And on top of the sense of accomplishment, the top three winners and the People’s Choice winner receive cash prizes. The first-place winner will also receive a free trip to this year’s SfN annual meeting in sunny San Diego, where the video will be screened at the Brain Awareness Reception.

For contest details, visit the BrainFacts.org website, run by SfN.

Good luck!

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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Mindfulness for the Developing Brain

meriah dejosephOn Thursday, March 15th, Know Science, an organization that advocates the knowledge of new science and scientific research to the public, hosted the talk “Regulating the Brain: The Science of Mindfulness” at the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute in New York City. This was an event presented as part of Brain Awareness Week.

Meriah DeJoseph, the presenter for the evening, is a lab manager for the Neuroscience and Education Lab at New York University (NYU). She will be starting a PhD program in developmental psychology this fall to further investigate self-regulation and how mindfulness can affect the developing brain. Prior to NYU, she worked on a project at Teachers College, Columbia University studying brain activity of children from Girls Prep Bronx Elementary, who have a mindfulness class integrated in their curriculum.

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What Art Can Tell Us About the Brain

Dana Alliance member and Professor of Neurobiology Margaret S. Livingstone, Ph.D., spoke about art and the brain on Tuesday night at this year’s annual Irving H. Jurow Lecture at New York University’s College of Art and Science. Her lecture demonstrated to the audience how looking at art reveals how we see and what mechanisms are at work in the brain to create visual perception.

All artists use lines in their works to create shapes that are interpreted by the brain as specific contours or forms. Center-surround antagonism enables edge detection and contrast enhancement within the visual cortex. Livingstone explained center-surround antagonism as a process by which light creates signals, also known as action potentials, in retinal cells. Certain cells in our visual field are excited while other cells fail to fire. Neurons in our visual cortex are either activated or inhibited to create an accurate depiction or mental map of what we see.

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An illustration in Livingstone’s presentation that demonstrates how color and luminescence affect what we see in markedly different ways.

Painting and art rarely represent realistic accuracy even though they are photorealistic. Shadows, reflections, and perspectives defy the laws of physics and, very often, artists emphasize and play with how our vision works and how we see. Our visual system involves two processing streams that originate from the retina— the higher visual cortex ventral stream (the “what” system) and the older and more ancient dorsal stream (the “where” system). The ventral stream recognizes a specific object such as a bike or an animal and the dorsal system allows us to sense where objects are in space, including depth and position.  The dorsal stream is colorblind—the “what” system can see colors but the “where” system can’t.

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Neuroscience and Society: Buildings and the Brain

Panelists Justin Hollander, Eve Edelstein, and Margaret Calkins listen to a question from the audience. About 1/3 of the people in the audience were architects.

“Design saves lives,” Eve Edelstein says. She and her two fellow panelists at a recent neuroseries event at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, DC, described research and real-world examples of how changing aspects of our built environment can improve people’s mood, performance, and way-finding skills.

When Edelstein was at school studying clinical neuroscience, “neuroarchitecture” was defined as architecture of the brain; now the definition has changed, “and we’re asking how people—how brains—interact with buildings,” the influence of buildings on the brain, the mind, and the body. Now research director for the Human Experience Lab and Gadget Lab at Perkin+Will, she focused her talk on aspects of sound and hearing.

“We need to start changing acoustics for not just building performance but human performance,” Edelstein said. She described emergency rooms in which the sound level averages 80 decibels (equivalent to a jet flying overhead). Normal speech is 55 db and you need a 20 db difference to distinguish speech from noise, so “imagine trying to hear the difference between adrenaline and aspirin with the sound of an airplane engine going on around us,” she said. Citing the number of people suffering “preventable adverse events” in hospitals as around 8 million, she said if designers could alter just 1 percent, by making the areas quiet enough to hear better, “that would be in this country, each year, 80,000 people.” Continue reading

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