Brain Awareness Week comes to Nevada, K-12 students get to touch human brain

Students in rural Nevada regions and Discovery Museum to participate in Brain Awareness Week events

3/15/2013 - By: Mike Wolterbeek
brain awareness week Amy Altick of the biology department in the College of Science discusses the human brain in a hands-on demonstration to Clayton Middle School students in last year’s National Brain Awareness Week activities. Photo by Mike Wolterbeek, University of Nevada, Reno.

Northern Nevada students will be learning about and viewing the human brain as part of National Brain Awareness Week March 18-23. The annual effort in Nevada by the University of Nevada, Reno and the Sierra Nevada Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience will target schools in rural counties this year, as well as a week-long series of presentations at the Terry Lee Wells Discovery Museum.

Beginning Monday, two senior neuroscience majors will volunteer their time to travel more than 600 miles to eight schools in four days. The students, Emmanuelle Garcia and America Acevedo, will give informal, interactive presentations and audience-driven demonstrations to kindergarten through 12th grade students.

"We aren't giving lectures; we're making this fun with games and the chance to handle a real human brain, most kids love it," said Amy Altick a biology lecturer in the University's College of Science who coordinates the annual event. "Our goal is to provide basic information or even not-so-basic information about the brain, how it works, the focus of current research and what is going on at the University regarding neuroscience."

The neuroscience students will visit schools in Wadsworth, Austin, Eureka, Carlin, Fernley, Battle Mountain and Winnemucca.

At the same time, University faculty and students will present a week of neuroscience at the Wells Discovery Museum. The presentations will be at 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. each day with a new demonstration each day from five different University of Nevada, Reno neuroscientists.

The participating University laboratories are Ruben Dagda, University of Nevada School of Medicine; Gideon Caplovitz, cognitive psychology; and neurobiologists Alex Keene, Thomas Kidd, and Alexander van der Linden.

The presentations each day are:

  • Monday: "How to build a brain" From a neuron all the way to a brain: Discover how the human brain is organized and wired. Observe neurons under a microscope, hear neurons working, and see a real human brain."
  • Tuesday: "Optical Illusions" Interactive demonstrations of some popular optical illusions accompanied by an explanation of why we see them the way we do, and what this tells us about our perception in general.
  • Wednesday: "Sleepy Flies: when does a fly know when to take a nap?" We will teach you how to tell if a fly is sleeping and tell you why we care about sleeping flies- and it's not because we don't want them to be cranky!
  • Thursday: Wiring the brain - how does the right hand know what your left hand is doing? Come and see what the little fruit fly can tell us about how the brain gets wired. See how important these wires can be when "unwired" flies try to complete the same tasks that "wired" flies can do.
  • Friday: "What can worms smell? How does the sense of smell work? Come and see how scientists that use a little transparent worm can tell us about how we smell, and how our brain discriminates among smells.

"We will of course have human brains at each presentation- but also, some interesting demonstrations with live worms and flies, neuron recordings, and real dissections," Altick said.

This is the fifth year Altick, along with members of the Sierra Nevada Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience, has directed a neuroscience outreach program throughout the state as a part of National Brain Awareness Week.

Altick was internationally recognized for neuroscience education work in October with the Next Generation Award by the Society for Neuroscience. She received $2,000 as part of the award to continue her outreach efforts. The money is being used to fund this year's Brain Awareness Week trip.

As a continuation of Brain Awareness Week activities, Thomas Sudhof, winner of the Kavli Prize in Neuroscience and an endowed chair at Stanford University, will speak on Friday, March 29 in the Nell J. Redfield Auditorium in the Davidson Mathematics and Science Center from 5 to 6 p.m. Sudhof's lecture is titled, "Synaptic Membrane Traffic - from Molecules to Memory." The event is free and open to the public. This visit is sponsored by the Society for Neuroscience's "Distinguished Traveling Scientist Program," a fund the Sierra Nevada Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience received for this purpose.


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