Fumiko Hoeft Receives SfN Science Educator Award

Fumiko Hoeft  (photo by Peter Morenus/UConn)

Each year, the Society for Neuroscience recognizes outstanding neuroscientists who have strongly added to public education and awareness about the field. The Dana Foundation sponsors these awards. This year’s award was presented to Fumiko Hoeft, M.D., Ph.D., professor of psychology and director of the Brain Imaging Research Center (BIRC) at the University of Connecticut and director of the Laboratory for Learning Engineering and Neural Systems (brainLENS.org) located at UConn/UCSF , during the society’s annual meeting, in San Diego, on Tuesday.

Q: Was it a conscious decision for you to do a lot of education and outreach, as well as research?

Dr. Hoeft: Yes. The experience of education and outreach is not so different than what we do as physicians. I always wanted to be a physician: In my elementary school graduation album I wrote, “I want to be a physician and help the underserved.” When I started research at Harvard, three years after graduating from medical school in Japan, I missed clinical work and interacting with people terribly. Continue reading

Advice for Scientists on Engaging the Public: From the Archives

Researchers Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen L. Macknik and journalist Devin Powell recently ran an informal survey of scientists who had made an effort to popularize their research. You can guess the tenor of their results by the headline they ran under in Scientific American: “Scientists Should Speak Out More.” That story is behind a paywall, but an anecdotal list that goes with it, “How Scientists Can Engage the Public without Risking Their Careers,” is free to read.

We interviewed Martinez-Conde in 2014 on her outreach, including her talks featuring magicians and illusions and starting the annual “Best Illusion of the Year” contest. On the question of why do outreach now, she said:

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Families Welcome at AAAS Meeting in San Jose

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The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in San Jose’s convention center this weekend, includes one of my favorite events of the year—Family Science Days. Saturday and Sunday from 11 to 5, everyone is invited to come and learn more about science, all for free.

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Susana Martinez-Conde receives SfN 2014 Science Educator Award

SfN President Carol Mason presented Susana Martinez-Conde with the award on Saturday.

SfN President Carol Mason presented Susana Martinez-Conde with the award on Saturday.

The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) awarded its Science Educator Award to Susana Martinez-Conde, PhD, of the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center. SfN President Carol Mason presented her the award on Saturday during the group’s annual meeting, in Washington, DC. This is the first year the Dana Foundation has sponsored this award.

I met Dr. Martinez-Conde last month, when she was a panelist at an eye-opening event on the science behind illusions. Visual experience and other illusions are the subject of her research and a popular-science book, Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deceptions, written with her co-investigator and husband Stephen L. Macknik. They also write the popular Illusions column for Scientific American. Their close collaboration with top professional illusionists like James (The Amazing) Randi, Mac King, and Teller started at a conference they organized in 2007, but we spoke about an earlier conference, where her ideas for outreach started to grow.

Q: Was it a conscious decision of yours to do a lot of education and outreach, as well as research?

Susana Martinez-Conde: I would say that it kind of started as an accident. But it has been so rewarding at all levels, personally and professionally.

In 2004, I was organizing the annual European Conference on Visual Perception, which was to be held in my home city of A Coruña, in Spain. Growing up there, I think, had to do with why I’m interested in science education today. Even now, it’s a relatively small city, less than 300,000 people, but it has a very large concentration of science museums. And it has one of the first interactive museums, the Casa de las Ciencias, the Home of Sciences. The director, RamónNúñez Centella at the time, was a major influence in science education and outreach in Spain. For me, it was a five minute walk from where I lived.

So as I was organizing this conference in my home town, I thought it would be nice to extend it, and include some public outreach. So I contacted Mr. Núñez and we established a collaboration with, at the time, the three science museums of the city. We held events that were open for the public at some of these museums.

We also had the idea to hold a contest for “The Best Illusion of the Year.” It was supposed to have been a one‑time event, but the public reception and the academic community reception were just so huge that we decided to make this an annual event. Continue reading

Lessons from a Serial Science Communicator

Two key ingredients to successful science communication: Keep it simple, and Make it replicable. “Repeat performance is promoted by simplicity,” said science communicator Frank Burnet in a presentation at CUNY Graduate Center on Friday about his work over the past several decades.

Burnet, who started out an as actor and later earned degrees in biochemistry and neuroendocrinology, founded the science communication unit at the University of the West of England in Bristol, UK. Calling himself a “serial science communicator,” he has worked on projects as large and complex as the professional symphony performance of an original piece (“Peter and the Flu”) as well as informal science tables set up at local supermarkets (“check-out science”).

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