Once a year, Amy Altick takes a week and travels to libraries and schools around Nevada to give informal, interactive presentations and audience-driven demonstrations and games to make neuroscience interesting to students. When she travels, she brings along her three human brains and various animal brains.
Altick is a biology lecturer in the College of Science at the University of Nevada, Reno and a former postdoctoral scholar in the University of Nevada School of Medicine's Physiology and Cell Biology Department.
For the last four years, she has directed a neuroscience outreach program throughout the state as a part of National Brain Awareness Week. With help from members of the Sierra Nevada Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience, she gives the community a chance to learn about the brain and how it works, with hands-on experience that includes being able to see and touch a real human brain.
The Society for Neuroscience, with 140 chapters worldwide, has recognized Altick for her efforts in neuroscience education and public outreach by awarding her the Next Generation Award. The award honors outstanding individuals or teams with a $300 honorarium and a $750 travel award to attend the Society's annual meeting. Additionally, the recipients' chapter receives $2,000 to continue outreach efforts in the coming year.
"Winning the award brings great recognition to the state of Nevada as having an active, involved neuroscience community and it also brings recognition to all the volunteers who spent their precious time participating in outreach activities," Altick said. "The award gives us some seed money to fund and further develop next year's Brain Awareness Week events. We are looking forward to expanding and reaching out to more of Nevada during Brain Awareness Week 2013. We 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."
Altick was presented the award on Oct. 13 in New Orleans at Neuroscience 2012, the society's annual meeting, which offers the largest forum for neuroscientists to present research and network with colleagues from around the world with 35,000 attendees.
Christopher von Bartheld, professor in physiology and cell biology and course director of medical neuroscience for the University of Nevada School of Medicine wrote a nomination letter to the Society for Neuroscience on Altick's behalf, complimenting her many achievements. This includes more than tripling the audience for Brain Awareness Week in the last year and acting as treasurer and secretary to the Sierra Nevada Chapter, of which von Bartheld is president.
"Amy has made truly outstanding contributions to outreach and science education," von Bartheld said. "She is an inspiring role model for the next generation, obviously dedicated to neuroscience and to generating excitement for this topic. Amy's activities are also highly effective in conveying their message of the importance - and fun - in studying the brain."
Altick is genuinely enthused and energetic about getting as many students exposed to the wonders of the brain and the importance of knowing more about it.
"The brain is unlike any other biological structure," Altick said. "It seems to have properties that we cannot fully understand within the framework we've developed for other structures, such as a muscle, a heart, a kidney or a tomato plant. To me, the brain is one of the last three frontiers. We don't understand the far-distant, beyond-time, reaches of the universe, the deep, and dark, bottom of the ocean crevasses and how the brain works to provide us with thoughts, emotions and ideas."
Altick is currently planning and fundraising for a 2013 Nevada Brain Awareness Week bus tour to reach small towns in rural Nevada regions. Many libraries and schools already have asked to be put on her calendar for Brain Awareness Week in March 2013.