Brain Awareness Week
2021OutreachGrantsAwardees

The Dana Foundation’s 2021 Brain Awareness Week Outreach Grants Program supported the outreach activities of thirty-five partners in 20 states. Grantees’ programming included a panel discussion and workshop on the neuroscience of ballet; an eight-week neuroscience course for high school students; an interactive program for at-risk youth on the effects of alcohol on the developing brain; brain science comedy and trivia nights; a workshop on improv and the brain; virtual brain fairs; and more.

Below are detailed program summaries from this year’s grantees. We hope they provide ideas and inspiration for your future Brain Awareness Week outreach efforts.

The Department of Neuroscience at Albert Einstein College of Medicine planned to host students from Pelham Lab High School for a full day of hands-on activities, demonstrations, lab tours, and small group interactions with researchers. Their program has been postponed due to the continued impact of COVID-19 on the feasibility of in-person gatherings.

Alzheimer’s Mississippi sponsored a “Brain Health Disparities Symposium” to bring brain health to the forefront of the public health conversation in Mississippi and communities of color. The program brought together physicians, researchers, policymakers, healthcare providers, and other industry leaders to address the growing impact of Alzheimer’s disease on communities of color through the development of brain health promotion, patient-focused research, strategic storytelling, clinical trials, and advocacy.  Awaiting report from organizer on results.

Brain Bunch, a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring interest in science among students through discovery of the brain at an early age, organized 27 virtual brain fairs between February and June, reaching a total of 837 students in grades 2-12. Each session was taught by high school student ambassadors, who are trained by the Brain Bunch team to present curricula on various neuroscience topics to students in grades 2-8. The ambassadors form partnerships with local schools and libraries to present their programming.

During each virtual session, two to four different modules were presented to students, covering such topics as brain anatomy, the neuron, neurotransmission, optical illusions, and microscopy. Each module was approximately 15 minutes in length and consisted of short lectures interspersed with demonstrations and fun, hands-on activities for students to participate in.

Brain Bunch was able to reach a much larger number of students by holding their brain fairs online this year. They succeeded in achieving their goal to provide young students with an introductory understanding of the brain and the applications of neuroscience to the real world.

The Child Health Investment Partnership of Roanoke Valley (CHIP) is an early childhood, home visiting program that works with socioeconomically disadvantaged and under-served populations in the region, helping them access much-needed medical services and providing developmental education, kindergarten preparation, and regular child assessment and monitoring. This grant supported Brain Awareness activities from January-June 2021 for families in the program, focusing on the senses of hearing, balance, sight, touch, smell, and taste.

Lesson plans and materials for at-home experiments were sent to families, accompanied by step-by-step instructions and online links to informational videos. Families were also provided free copies of relevant books, including My Senses and Llama Llama Yum Yum Yum. Since many of their families use English as a second language, the lesson plans were translated and included links to videos in Spanish. Each lesson included a brief description of anatomy to help educate the adults and children, followed by interactive activities that they could do together. Pre- and post-activity questionnaires accessible via phone were sent to the adults to assess their comfort with teaching the neuroscience activities, their use of the terminology in the home, and how involved they were with their child while doing the activity. This data is currently being analyzed.

CHIP’s project aimed to 1) improve neuroscience literacy for under-privileged children and their families; and 2) improve understanding of sensory development milestones and measures to improve brain health for parents and their children. Based on the feedback received, the project was very effective and enjoyed by families.

This was the first time Brain Awareness activities were included as part of CHIP’s STEAM education program. In the past, the STEAM activities have been very simple, with minimal cost by necessity. Thanks to the Dana Foundation grant, the Brain Awareness lesson plans and activities were much more sophisticated, including neuroscience-related books for young kids and activities that were scaled up (e.g., providing a magnifying glass for the Neuroscience of the Eye activity).

The project reached a total of 350 people, including children under the age of three and their parents. In addition, since the grant funded multiple activities that were distributed each month, those reached were exposed to neuroscience on multiple occasions throughout the first half of the year.

The EndBrainCancer Initiative celebrated Brain Awareness Week with a digital and social media campaign to educate their community of followers about how research and knowledge of brain tumors is translating to better and more effective therapies for brain cancer. The campaign focused on emerging therapies as well as their potential impact on extended survivorship and improved quality of life for this patient population.

Two examples of topics featured were:

  • How genetic mapping of GBM tumors has furthered the understanding of cancer biology and will accelerate the development of precision oncology for patients.
  • How the identification by University of Virginia scientists of an oncogene (a cancer-causing gene) responsible for glioblastoma, the deadliest brain tumor, offers a promising new treatment target for a cancer that is often fatal.

Through their own efforts, and those of their media partners, EndBrainCancer Initiative was able to reach an audience of more than 1.2 million consisting of the brain tumor community (patients, caregivers, and medical professionals) as well as the general public during Brain Awareness Week.

The Dana Foundation grant helped EndBrainCancer better define their Brain Awareness Week programming, resulting in a more intense organizational focus on brain science as a critical first step in the development of new and more effective treatments for brain cancer. As a result, the organization is doing a much better job of connecting the science to advances in therapies.

In celebration of Brain Awareness Week, Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute partnered with the Dance Theatre of Harlem to present two virtual events entitled, “The Brain at the Barre: The Neuroscience of Ballet.” The events were hosted and advertised through the Dance Theatre of Harlem to attract an audience that would not normally seek out neuroscience content.

The first event was a panel discussion and dance demonstration featuring choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie, Dance Theatre of Harlem company dancer Daphne Lee, and neuroscientist Leslie Sibener, a graduate student who studies how the brain produces expert movements. The conversation was moderated by Dr. Neeli Mishra, a neuroscientist and dancer, and included a live audience Q&A. The event was publicly broadcast on YouTube.

The second event was a workshop led by choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie and neuroscientist and rehabilitation expert Dr. Marijeanne Liederbach. Attendees were invited to participate in a choreographed dance throughout the event in addition to listening to the conversation, which included an audience Q&A. The workshop required pre-registration and was held on Zoom to create a more intimate environment in which people felt comfortable moving.

The panel discussion had 308 concurrent viewers and 2,991 YouTube views as of May 2021. The workshop had 108 participants. Both figures were nearly double the number of participants Columbia expected. The online nature of the events broadened the geographic reach beyond Harlem, New York, with attendees tuning in from across the US, Canada, and in the UK.

The Dana Foundation grant allowed Columbia to hold this programming in a way that was supportive of the arts community. Columbia was able to provide honoraria for external speakers, the professional choreographer, and contribute to costs incurred by the Dance Theatre of Harlem, including the live dance performances. The partnership was a success, with the Dance Theatre of Harlem bringing their experience in producing high-quality virtual events to the table.

Columbia University’s Saturday Science: Home Edition took place throughout the month of March and included a host of outreach initiatives that brought neuroscience directly to the classrooms and homes of students in the Upper Manhattan communities of New York City.

Their program mainly focused on the creation and distribution of neuroscience activity kits to local elementary- and middle-school-aged students via partnerships with public libraries and individual schools. Each kit, packed in a reusable drawstring bag, contained supplies for three different neuroscience activities, with an activity guide in both English and Spanish. Two hundred fifty bags were assembled, and families were able to pick them up from several library branches in West Harlem, Morningside Heights, and Washington Heights. Columbia advertised these locations via their website and mailing lists. Columbia also worked with local schools to deliver kits to students via their classrooms, and schools were free to teach the kits in class or to send the materials home. Some kits were even mailed to families who found it unsafe to collect them at any public location.

Following distribution of the kits, Columbia held a live event on Zoom where volunteer graduate students led remote instruction of the activities. The 35 participating students rotated through different breakout rooms and completed all three activities using the kit materials. To increase accessibility, there were English- and Spanish-language virtual rooms, and students were given extra time to chat with instructors about what it’s like to be a scientist.

To broaden the reach of their program, Columbia also posted instructional videos for each activity on their YouTube page, specifically adapted to use household goods in place of kit supplies, if needed. The videos include lessons on relevant neuroscience topics and will remain posted to encourage usage outside of Brain Awareness Week.

In total, Columbia’s Saturday Science: Home Edition successfully reached at least 300 local students.

Ecole Claire Fontaine, an Art, Language, and Nature school for young children, celebrated Brain Awareness Week with a series of hands-on activities on the developing brain for students and their families. Two activities per day were conducted online and in-person on the following topics:

  • Neuroanatomy – Students learned about the different parts of the brain and their functions while labeling and coloring a brain hemisphere hat. In a separate activity, students had the opportunity to build a brain out of clay.
  • Nutrition – Students learned about the importance of proper nutrition on brain health and development by preparing and consuming a brain-healthy meal with their families.
  • Meditation, Mindfulness, & Yoga – A teacher guided children and their families through the practices of mindfulness, meditation, and yoga and discussed how neurotransmitters play a key role in modulating and regulating mood and behavior.
  • Music and the Brain – Students and their families learned about the positive effects of music-making on brain development including language development, reading skills, sound processing, and speech perception. A music teacher led students through a fun activity with shakers and drums to illustrate the effect of rhythm on mood.
  • Movement – Students executed a movement and learned about the pathway the message traveled from brain to body to immediately turn intention into action. Students learned about the role of the frontal lobe in the planning and coordination of complex movements.
  • Sleep – Students engaged in a squid ink activity and learned about the neurotransmitters involved in sleep and wakefulness and the importance of sleep for brain development.

Ecole Claire Fontaine’s numbers were high in enthusiasm, but lower than anticipated due to the severe limitations of COVID. Both the student and adult participants reported that they gained a deeper understanding of the brain and brain development and expressed an interest in incorporating more brain science in the school’s curriculum.

The Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Brain Institute organized their fifth annual “Brainy Days” program, a month-long series of events for community members, scientists, and university students and staff. This year’s celebration was held online and featured lectures by leading experts in brain science and medicine as well as an interactive brain fair.

Six lectures were held in March on the following topics: 1) “How Dogs Love Us: Insights From Brain Imaging;” 2) “Brain, Minds, and Aliens: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence and its Relevance to Brain Science;” 3) New Insights into Mechanisms and Treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease;” 4) “Brains on Trial: What Brain Science Tells Us About the Origins and Limits of Responsibility;” 5) “The Mighty Worm: Nobel Prize Powerhouse for the Study of Neurodegenerative Disease;” and 6) “Brain Gains for Mental Illness: Progress for Neuroscience and Society.”

“Brain Blitz,” a hands-on, interactive brain fair featuring demonstrations of fun, neuroscience activities by volunteer FAU scientists, was held virtually from the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium (SFSCA). The event also included a guided, virtual tour of the SFSCA “Journey Through the Human Brain” exhibit. To supplement the online activities, supplies were purchased using the Dana Foundation grant and packaged into “Brain Boxes.” The boxes were delivered to SFSCA in FAU’s new MobileMinds van and picked up by participants prior to the event. Topics and activities included 1) comparative brain anatomy and sheep brain dissection; 2) the senses and demonstrations of touch (DIY calipers), taste (Miracle Berries), sight (optical illusions), and hearing; 3) “Brain Deep Dive” into neurons using microscopes (paper microscope and rope neuron activities); and 4) virtual reality in brain science research (VEER VR Mini-goggles) with a Drosophila VR application programmed by their team of neuroscientists.

Brainy Days received recognition in local and regional television and print media. Attendance for the online programs exceeded 1,000 registrants, and the MobileMinds van visit to SFSCA for Brain Blitz reached an additional 500 museum visitors. The online nature of this year’s programming allowed FAU to reach audiences beyond their local community—they even received requests from Canadian residents to sign up for future programming! Based on their success, FAU is exploring a hybrid approach (both in-person and online) for next year to engage a broad local and national audience.

The Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) hosted a virtual Brain Awareness Week event entitled, “Your Brain as Your Body’s Computer.” The goal was to enhance neuroscience learning in both undergraduate and middle school students. The event featured undergraduate student-designed interactive demonstrations that made neuroscience accessible to the middle schoolers in attendance.  In addition, Dr. Temple Grandin gave a keynote lecture to all participants during their second virtual session.

The demonstrations allowed undergraduate students to practice communicating science effectively to a non-scientific audience. The undergraduates received continuous feedback on their projects and presented the information in creative ways. The middle school attendees were able to apply what they learned in the neuroscience activities to other concepts while connecting computer science with neuroscience.

Approximately 50 middle school students were reached as well as several undergraduate presenters. In a brief survey distributed to participants, the middle schoolers showed increased learning about robots and neuroscience, while the undergraduate presenters indicated increased self-efficacy and enhanced communication and collaboration skills.

The Dana Foundation grant enabled Georgia Tech to purchase several sustainable and consumable products for their demonstrations. Several of these items will be used for future Brain Awareness Week activities.

Hope College’s fifth annual celebration of Brain Awareness Week focused on mental health and the effects of stress on the brain. With COVID-19 continuing to impact their local community, events also explored our neurological reactions to the pandemic. Specific activities included 14 virtual school visits, two asynchronous activity sessions with Children’s After School Achievement (CASA) and Step Up students, a keynote lecture, and a “Brain Day” open house featuring 21 concurrent sessions.

In advance of the school visits, supplies for several age-appropriate activities were purchased using the Dana Foundation grant and delivered to participating classrooms. Teachers and students were able to log in to the virtual sessions which were led by Hope student volunteers. Activities included sheep brain dissections, miracle berry tasting, reflex challenges, and brain hats.

Their keynote speaker was Dr. B Grace Bullock, a professional consultant, psychologist, research scientist, mindfulness educator, speaker, science journalist, and author. She spoke about her research on the use of physiological and psycho-educational interventions to build stress resilience across the lifespan.

Hope’s programming reached a total of 506 people (461 K-12 students plus 45 community members who attended the keynote lecture). A total of 34 Hope College students volunteered for these outreach opportunities, and five faculty members/staff served on the project planning committee. They expected to reach 1,000 people, however, due to the pandemic, all activities were delivered online, including the Brain Day open house event. This limited the number of participants who attended, most likely due to the nature of Brain Day (which is very hands-on) and Zoom fatigue.

The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai used their Dana Foundation grant to produce two episodes of their new podcast series, “Journey through the MiND: Exploring the Life of a Neuroscientist.” The goal was to expose their community to the lives of neuroscientists using stories of scientific experiments. Two Mount Sinai scientists, Dr. Daniela Schiller and Dr. Uraina Clark, were interviewed about profound experiences in their careers. These narratives portrayed the very human and emotional aspect of being a scientist and explored why each professor chose a life in STEM.

Dr. Daniela Schiller spoke about her experience breaking into a new field of research. Fueled by her unwavering curiosity, she expanded from studying emotional learning early in her career to exploring the inner workings of the social brain when she founded her laboratory. She also highlighted the variety of individuals that excel in academia and the unique intersection between art and science.

Dr. Uraina Clark discussed her work on early life stress and how it impacts HIV-patients. She spoke about the link between discrimination, stress, and amygdala function in adults, providing insights on how we might move forward. She also gave her perspective to students who are wondering if a career in science is right for them.

The podcasts were produced on Acast (https://shows.acast.com/journey-through-the-mind) and uploaded to the Mentoring in Neuroscience Discovery at Sinai (MiNDS) YouTube channel, (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZp8B3iPw_Ip2ApZqRdFCWg). In total, the podcasts had 227 views on YouTube and 22 downloads from Acast.

Mt. Sinai’s BAW programming greatly enhanced traffic to their website and new YouTube channel. Their YouTube channel was launched just before BAW and now has 102 subscribers with 1,146 views on their videos (excluding views of the podcast episodes). Though the virtual format was new to Mt. Sinai, it allowed them to expand their reach and engage with schools in different cities.

The Marlene Meyerson Jewish Community Center Manhattan (the JCC) held three virtual webinars during Brain Awareness Week (BAW) under the theme, “Healthy Aging and Your Brain.” The webinars were moderated by the JCC’s Senior Director of Health and Wellness and reached 788 people in total, which exceeded their expectations. The individual topics were:

  • Keep Your Brain Healthy in the Digital Age with neuropsychologist Dr. Sherry Kelly, who discussed the effect of digital technology on the brain (218 attendees).
  • Harness the Power of Exercise on Your Brain with neuroscientist Dr. Wendy Suzuki, who discussed the impact of exercise on the brain (229 attendees).
  • Sense and Perception: The Brain and Art with visual artist Naomi Andrée Campbell and Maria Felice Ghilardi, M.D., on the impact of art on the brain. Dr. Ghilardi brought over 30 years of expertise in the field of neuroscience that blended perfectly with Naomi Andree Campbell’s background as a working artist in multiple mediums (341 attendees).

The goal of this series was to spark people’s curiosity about the brain and brain health so they could apply what they learned to their own lives. Funding from the Dana Foundation helped the JCC enhance the scope, quality, and quantity of their BAW programming. The grant enabled them to create multimedia presentations that were professional, seamless, well-run, and specifically geared towards their community and their needs at this specific time.

In the future, the JCC would like to host more lectures that bring together scientists and artists. Based on their audience’s enthusiastic response to this year’s “The Brain and Art” lecture, they believe the combination of a creative artist and a medical professional/researcher/scientist could provide more dynamic and exciting experiences for all.

In addition, the JCC would like to try a hybrid format to their programming, providing both an in-person and virtual option for participants. During COVID, their staff has found that virtual platforms have been important to increase access for people unable to come to the JCC due to age, disability, or location. They are committed to lowering barriers to participation and providing opportunities for their entire community to connect, grow, and learn, and anticipate that virtual programs will continue to be critical pathways for engagement.

KnowScience partnered with the West Mifflin High School chapter of Stand Together, an afterschool program that destigmatizes and educates students about mental health, to create and distribute mental health help kits to participating students. These sensory stimulation kits are used in behavioral therapy to help prevent cyclical thinking and can help ground a person. Each student received a box with a coloring book, colored pencils, clay or slime, an aromatherapy candle of their choice, a curated Spotify playlist, and a food item. Additionally, students received pamphlets and brochure-style supplementary materials describing the science behind mental health and the senses.

The goal of this project was to educate students in a public high school about mental health and the neuroscience behind it. KnowScience strove to destigmatize mental health by creating a safe, scientific, and engaging way for students to learn and talk about mental health. Students verbally reported that they felt they learned something and felt more empowered to talk about mental health.

The program reached 24 students, and while KnowScience was pleased with its quality and outcome, they faced obstacles in its delivery due to COVID-19. Know Science initially planned to hold supplemental, live Zoom events for afterschool learning. The RSVP rates for the live Zoom sessions were extraordinarily low due to varying levels of internet access and “Zoom fatigue,” so KnowScience created pamphlets and infographics with the information that would have been covered during those sessions and included them in the kits. In the future, KnowScience would like to experiment with innovative and engaging ways for students to interact with science without relying on an internet connection, particularly in the pandemic setting.

Loras College organized a week-long series of in-person and virtual events that reached more than 850 students and community members with information about the brain and the research being done on campus. Activities included:

  • a Brain Games competition where participants learned about the brain and competed for prizes;
  • a Neuroscience Movie Night featuring Pixar’s Inside Out;
  • a virtual Legacy Symposium with research presentations by students in the Neuroscience major at Loras College;
  • a virtual talk by Dr. Jake Kurczek on “Belief and Unbelief: God on Your Brain;” and
  • a Trivia Night held in-person at the campus pub and virtually via Zoom.

New York University’s Neuroscience Institute sponsored “Boroughs Together, Boroughs Apart,” a neuroscience enrichment program for middle school students from across New York City. The students participated in five virtual sessions with NYU neuroscientists, completing lessons and interactive activities on brain perception, learning differences (i.e., dyslexia), electrophysiology, and the scientific method. “Neuroscience Starter Kits” were distributed to schools in advance of the program, with the supplies needed for the lessons and activities.

With guidance and support from NYU neuroscientists, participating students also had to complete independent projects on a neuroscience topic of interest. Students presented their projects during the final virtual session. The projects were impressive—one student produced a 10-minute video about the brain and neural communication and created a detailed neuron model.

Approximately 115 students participated in the program, which was somewhat lower than they anticipated but allowed for a much more interactive and engaging event.

In the future, NYU plans to continue virtual programming along with in-person outreach events. Virtual events allowed them to expand their reach to schools in areas that are logistically too far away to manage ongoing lessons with in addition to lowering an obstacle to volunteer involvement. In short, their Dana Foundation grant allowed them to pilot a new type of outreach program that will be their model going forward.

Northwest Noggin (NW Noggin) organized their first-ever virtual “NogginFest,” an annual celebration featuring research presentations, musical performances, and an art auction. More than 130 people tuned in to the live event, but a recording was also posted on the NW Noggin website and continues to receive views (https://nwnoggin.org/2021/03/26/nogginfest-2021-threshold-potential/).

There were four presentations by neuroscientists that were followed by audience Q&As via chat. Gail Stonebarger, a behavioral neuroscience graduate student at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), discussed her research using monkey brains to study aging and Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Heather Zwickey, an expert on neuroinflammation at the National University of Natural Medicine, shared information on the gut-brain axis and how to keep a healthy microbiome. Dr. Theanne Griffith, an esteemed neuroscientist (University of California, Davis) and children’s book author, read from her books and conducted a fun experiment on sound waves. Finally, viewers learned about the fascinating potential of psychedelic-assisted therapies from Dr. Chris Stauffer, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at OHSU.

These presentations were interspersed with musical performances and an art auction that showcased the #sciart work of local Portland artists. Twenty-two pieces of art by 11 different artists were showcased and ten were sold during the event.

NW Noggin volunteers created goody bags called “Glial Gifts” that were available for optional purchase. The bags contained t-shirts, mini 3D printed brains, brain cookies, brain-themed face masks, pipe cleaners, and stickers, all in a reusable tote bag. The Glial Gifts were a hit—NW Noggin sold out of their entire supply! A raffle was also held with an assortment of prizes. The funds raised by the Glial Gift bags, art auction, and raffle will be used to sponsor students to present at Neuroscience 2021, the Society for Neuroscience’s Annual Meeting.

NW Noggin believes strongly in the value of promoting applied neuroscience and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) within their communities. Their participation in Brain Awareness Week enabled them to achieve their goals of inspiring the community, providing public access to current research, opening a discussion on relevant topics within neuroscience, and creating an opportunity for local musicians and artists to share their work.

Oak Grove Classical Academy’s Brain Awareness Week celebration aimed to generate interest and excitement about the brain among high school and elementary school students.

Prior to the week, high school students taking Anatomy & Physiology completed a unit on the nervous system consisting of four weeks of lectures and labs. These students were then assigned a project that required them to choose an illusion that they would present and explain to elementary students. Their projects had to include a PowerPoint/Google Slides presentation, a hands-on activity for students to complete, and a handout to engage and continue the learning at home for the whole family. High school students also had to familiarize themselves with the brain models, preserved brains, and comparative brain plastomounts that were purchased using their Dana Foundation grant so they could share these resources with the younger students during their presentations.

During Brain Awareness Week, the high school students visited all 13 elementary classes at Oak Grove, presenting their projects to 140 students and their teachers. The high school students presented the optical illusions in pairs and explained to the younger students how their brain was tricking them into seeing something that was not quite reality. Based on the feedback received from participants, the event was a wonderful teaching experience for the high school students and a fun learning experience for the elementary school students.

To reach even more members of the Oak Grove community, the high school students also made a short video highlighting each group’s illusion and providing a short explanation of the science behind it. The video was distributed to students and parents who were unable to attend in-person.

Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences (PNWU) partnered with Educational Services District 105 in the Yakima School District to present a month-long series of virtual lessons, activities, and field trips for students enrolled in their 21st Century Afterschool Program. PNWU used their Dana Foundation grant to create instructional videos and to purchase and distribute “CREATE Crates” on the brain with all the supplies needed for students to participate in the activities.

Each week, PNWU student volunteers led elementary and middle school students through lessons and hands-on activities on neuroanatomy, the senses, memory, vision/optical illusions, emotions, and brain safety. At these sessions, students had the opportunity to learn and practice mindfulness techniques. There was also a reading of the book, We All Have Something, and family movie nights featuring Finding Dory and Inside Out. Middle school student even had the chance to learn about the brain through a virtual field trip and dissection hosted by PNWU faculty.

PNWU reached 320 students throughout the afterschool program and served another 80 students by distributing extra materials to another local school. The teachers used the material during their class time.

In the future, PNWU would like to incorporate more bilingual programming in their outreach, as many of the students’ parents spoke Spanish. In addition, students were very interested in mental health topics, so PNWU plans to incorporate more about stress and how mindfulness affects the brain in their youth programs.

In celebration of Brain Awareness Week, Scientists Inc. produced two digital, interactive trivia shows, “Brain Tricks and Brain Trips.” Using the educational tool Kahoot!, the shows were structured as hour-long, interactive competitions that included sketches, comedic lectures, and live audience engagement. The shows were held on Zoom but also streamed with comedy partners on Facebook Watch and Twitch, giving audience members the option to either play along on the Kahoot! app or just watch and enjoy the event passively. Two guest comedians competed against the audience.

The goal of the programs was to use laughter to educate audience members about the brain and the history, bioethics, and impact of brain research. Scientists Inc. also sought to spark conversation and raise awareness about social-justice issues in brain science and why a diverse research body and engaging marginalized communities in scientific work are important. One question round per show even challenged the performers and audience to think like a scientist, applying logical thinking and the scientific process to figure out answers to the brain-inspired trivia.

Both events were a success, reaching a total of 541 viewers from the US and UK. This included 92 total players who competed against the guest comedians on the Kahoot! app and 449 passive viewers on Facebook Watch and Twitch. Feedback from audience members and guest comedians was overwhelmingly positive, with many expressing how much they learned about the brain as well as how much more they understood and appreciated brain research.

The Dana Foundation grant allowed Scientists Inc. to use digital engagement tools like Kahoot!, Zoom, and StreamYard to deliver their program. It also enabled them to provide a more accessible show for different groups of people, regardless of their abilities or domestic situation. Audience members could use live captioning in Zoom and Facebook Watch and were able to play along from the comfort and safety of their homes.

In the future, Scientists Inc. would like to produce a digital-only version after their live event that would allow audiences to play the trivia game on-demand while watching a recorded version of the live show on YouTube. They’d also like to turn the show into an in-person event as soon as it’s safe to bring people together again.

Simply Neuroscience reached 2,000 students through a series of virtual events that spanned from January through August of this year. Highlights included:

  • Workshops focused on the olfactory system, sleep, the neuroscience of emotions, the visual system, Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors, and the effects of music on the brain.
  • Panels discussing educational and research routes in psychology and the intersection of neurology, global health, neuroethics, and epidemiology.
  • Presentations on pursuing a Ph.D. in neuroscience, neuron segmentation and neuron tissue clarification, and diagnosing brain diseases.
  • A Virtual Fireside Chat where a third-year psychiatry resident shared advice on navigating imposter syndrome, incorporating public health and mental health advocacy work into psychiatry, and synthesizing multiple STEM interests into a career.
  • A weekend-long “Battle of the Brains” competition dedicated to expanding knowledge of interdisciplinary neuroscience concepts in neuroethics, cognitive neuroscience, neurodegenerative diseases, neuroeconomics, cultural neuroscience, criminal and forensic psychology, neurosurgery, and beyond. Students collaborated to unlock interdisciplinary trivia modules and showcase their learning to win prizes.
  • An online conference, Simply Neurocon, featuring interdisciplinary guest speaker presentations, career exploration, roundtable discussions, neuroscience socials, and more. Topics included applying neuroscience to innovations outside of neuroscience; why aspiring neuroscientists should study history; neuroengineering; understanding the brain from cells to behavior in neurodegenerative diseases and anxiety disorders; and gut feelings.
  • Synaptic Hacks, a three-day online hackathon engaging youth innovators in thinking critically about the role of brain-related fields. Topics explored include neuroscience, psychology, social justice, and sustainability. Students participated in collaborative project ideation, professional development workshops, speaker sessions, networking socials, and more.
  • The Cerebral Cortex Camp, an online one-week program that introduced middle school and high school students to the wonders of the brain through workshops, project brainstorming, and team bonding activities.

Stomping Ground Comedy Theater and Training Center organized two virtual workshops on “Improv and the Brain.” The workshops were created and taught by psychotherapist, Andrea Baum, M.Ed., LPC; neurologist, Mary Quiceno, M.D.; and professional comedian and co-founder, Lindsay Goldapp.

Workshop participants engaged in interactive, improvisational comedy activities as instructors connected and discussed the psycho-educational and therapeutic benefits of improv for the brain. Mindfulness techniques and the effects of mindfulness on the brain were taught, and each participant had the opportunity to experience and practice skills in the moment.

The objective was to show participants through experiential learning, lecture, and comedy activities that they can self-regulate emotional responses from their amygdala and increase their feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters in their brain. Through real time polling at the start and end of the workshops, participants reported improved mood and left feeling energized, grateful, and supported. Participants also unanimously agreed that they were likely to use the skills learned in the workshop in their daily lives.

Through participation in Brain Awareness Week, Stomping Ground Comedy Theater and Training Center was able to branch out of their typical networks and reach people who were new to their organization.

Tulane University organized “Books & Brains – NOLA Free Little Library Initiative” which provided neuroscience-related children’s and popular culture books to underserved communities in New Orleans by leveraging the existing structure of the Free Little Library system. The Free Little Library system is a series of small boxes placed in various locations around the city where community members can borrow books and replace them with books of their own, on the honor system, free-of-charge. The goal was to reach approximately 500 community members by populating 40 of the Free Little Library boxes with two neuroscience books (one for elementary school-age children and one for adults) per location. Awaiting report from organizer on results.

The University of Arizona organized “NEURON: Neuroscience Education in Undergraduate Research, Outreach, and Networking: Linking high school and undergraduate students through low-cost approaches to teaching neuroscience.” The goal was to bring neuroscience education and research to underrepresented and underserved high school students through a three-week workshop facilitated by peer-mentors from the university’s Undergraduate Neuroscience & Cognitive Sciences program. The mentors are also from underrepresented and “at-risk” populations and served as role models for the participating high school students.

With support from the Grass Foundation and Dana Foundation, university organizers created a low-cost equipment library with amplifiers from Backyard Brains to record nerve (neural), heart (BPM), brain (EEG), and muscle (EMG) activity. This equipment was then assembled into 120 kits and distributed to the students participating in the NEURON program. The three-week workshop was held on Zoom, with undergraduate mentors teaching various lessons and conducting experiments with the high school students using the Backyard Brains equipment. More than 140 students from underrepresented communities were reached through hands-on, accessible, and active learning pedagogies.

The equipment library will be used for future outreach programming in the Tucson community.

The Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (CNLM) at the University of California, Irvine hosted four Brain Awareness Week events and reached a total of 500 people:

  • Brain Bee – The 2021 Irvine Brain Bee was a day-long virtual event attended by 45 local high school students.
  • Virtual Symposium – Organized in partnership with the Southern California Youth Neuroscience Association, the symposium featured presentations from high schoolers on neuroscience topics. The event was attended by nearly 200 scientists, community members, and family members.
  • NeuroArt Competition – The competition was organized to encourage K-12 children to combine art and neuroscience. CNLM received 30 submissions and gave out 12 prizes to the top three pieces in each category.
  • Read Aloud/Meet the Author – With their funding from the Dana Foundation, CNLM was able to organize a virtual meet the author and read-aloud with Dr. Theanne Griffith. The objective of this event was to teach elementary school children about the ear and the sense of hearing and to give them the opportunity to engage with and ask questions of a neuroscientist. Dr. Griffith conducted a live demonstration of the ear drum in her kitchen with a bowl, plastic wrap, and rice. The kids loved “seeing sound.” The attendees were engaged, asking great questions, and didn’t want the hour to end.

CNLM’s BAW programming impacted a broad audience this year given the virtual environment. They had meaningful engagement from children as young as five and as old as 18. The winning pieces from their NeuroArt competition had even more impact than expected on social media.

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) celebrated their 12th annual Brain Awareness Week through a series of virtual events for students, teachers, and parents from Los Angeles Unified School District schools. Activities included interactive demonstrations and presentations about the brain, virtual lab tours, and sheep brain dissections. Among the topics covered were neurodiversity, autism, neurotechnology, taste perception, and sleep and dreams. All participants were from under-resourced, low-opportunity schools, and throughout the event, students had the opportunity to interact with undergraduate and graduate neuroscience students at UCLA and get inspired and motivated to pursue a college education.

Each day, between 60-120 students attended the events, reaching a total of 450 students, teachers, and parents. These numbers were higher than UCLA anticipated, with the ability to attend from home making it possible for more students to participate. The events were a success, with surveys showing improvement in neuroscience learning among participants as well as increased motivation for pursuing science and higher education in the future.

UCLA used their funding from the Dana Foundation to purchase materials (specifically the Miracle Berries that were used to teach about taste perception) that the students used during the event to learn about doing science experiments. The students were thrilled to receive the materials, which were distributed through their schools following social distancing requirements in place due to COVID.

The University of California, San Diego (UCSD) reached 150 people through a series of events for K-12 students and their families as well as community college students.

Neuroscience PhD students organized three virtual visits to local middle school classrooms, teaching students about neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, neuro-prosthetics, and translational science through demonstrations using Backyard Brains equipment and modules. A presentation about microscopy and neuroimaging methods followed which included a virtual tour of the microscopy core at UCSD. The presentation taught students about technology in science as well as neuroscience from all different scales (zoomed in on a microscope to whole brain scans).

A presentation on Mindfulness in Neuroscience was held for local community college students. The goal was to engage students in an open conversation about mental health and the importance of general health on the brain. The presentation was followed by a panel discussion with Neuroscience PhD students and an associate professor. Attendees were able to ask the panel questions about their research, their academic and/or career paths, and anything they wanted to know about the brain.

A family night for elementary school students and their parents featured a presentation on neuron anatomy and physiology, followed by a neuron building activity. UCSD mailed the activity supplies to participants in advance and then demonstrated how to build the neuron live. The evening ended with a trivia contest about the concepts and facts learned during the presentation.

Their final event, a virtual half-day symposium for high school students, was held in partnership with the Scripps Research Institute. The symposium featured presentations on brain anatomy, evolution, and physiology; sensory perception; and brain imaging methods. There was also a talk by a survivor of a very serious traumatic brain injury (TBI) about TBIs, the importance of protecting your brain, and what the recovery process is like. Lastly, a panel of scientists (mostly PhD students) answered questions from participants about their research, what it’s like to be a scientist, how to prepare in high school, and career opportunities after graduate school.

The University of New England (UNE) organized a Virtual Brain Fair that consisted of two separate events – the release of an e-Library to the public as well as the distribution of neuroscience activity kits to local elementary school students.

For their e-Library Brain Fair, UNE released a series of eBooks for grades K-8 during each day of Brain Awareness Week. Links to the eBooks were shared on social media and were accessible through an online library. The eBooks, created by UNE Neuroscience Club members and the Center for Excellence in the Neurosciences (CEN), covered such topics as the senses, brain anatomy, cells of the brain, and the brain and exercise. The eBooks were supplemented with STEM activities to do at home, as well as embedded neuroscience videos. A total of seven eBooks were created.

In addition, the CEN assembled and distributed 500 neuroscience activity kits to elementary school students in grades 1-3. Each kit included the supplies, directions, and informational packets for five to six hands-on neuroscience activities. The kits were delivered to two local schools in Biddeford, ME.

The University of South Carolina used their Dana Foundation funding to organize “neuroSC,” a weekly neuroscience course for high school students, and the first-ever South Carolina Brain Bee competition.

NeuroSC was a neuroscience workshop/course for high school students from across South Carolina that introduced participants to neuroscience fundamentals, research areas, and career opportunities. It was hosted by the South Carolina Undergraduate Neuroscience Club. The course consisted of 8 weeks (two lessons each week) of neuroscience lessons and activities taught by volunteers from the University of South Carolina (UofSC). Topics included Brain Basics, Neuroanatomy, Neurotransmission, Neuroplasticity, Senses and Perception, Sleep and Wakefulness, Computational Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence, and Neuroscience and Society. The high school students also had the opportunity to research a topic of their choice and present their findings to their fellow participants.

Thanks to the Dana Foundation grant, UofSC was able to mail participating students packets that included interesting articles, sensory demonstration experiment materials, worksheets, and brochures. Students were also provided with access to virtual lab software/virtual dissection tutorials (Carolina Biological’s online mammalian brain dissection kit, for example).

The First Annual South Carolina Brain Bee, open to high school students from across the state, was held virtually during Brain Awareness Week. The competition consisted of a written quiz; sections on neuroanatomy, brain imaging, and patient diagnosis; and the final Live Q and A round. At the conclusion of the competition, a virtual awards banquet was held where the winners received neuroscience-themed awards and gifts to continue to inspire them to pursue careers in neuroscience.

UofSC reached approximately 60 students in total through their Brain Awareness Week events. These students were from nine different high schools in seven school districts across three out of the four regions of South Carolina. This number was lower than UofSC anticipated, but teachers from the high schools reported that students were experiencing “Zoom fatigue,” which most likely contributed to lower participation levels.

The University of Texas at El Paso’s (UTEP) first-ever Brain Awareness Week was centered on the theme, “Used and Abused: Substance Use Disorders.” Events included a social media campaign, lectures, and mini-challenges for the UTEP community that focused on the science behind substance use disorders and drugs of abuse. On social media, each day of Brain Awareness Week was devoted to providing facts and fostering discussion on a different topic, including depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, opiates, and other addictions.

A series of lectures were held featuring the following speakers and topics:

  • Kyung-An Han presented background on her research model, the fruit fly, and her work involving alcohol use.
  • The Collegiate Recovery Program, which helps students recover from drug use, provided information on how and where to seek help on campus. A speaker provided the inspiring story of their journey to recovery and how they continue to help the community.
  • Ian Mendez spoke about his research on e-cigarette-use during adolescence and offered advice to students interested in pursuing academic positions.
  • Angelina Dukes, founder of Black in Neuro, discussed research models used to study anxiety and drug intake and provided insightful words on what it takes to be a scientist.
  • Tanya Sue Maestas, DDS, dedicated to helping underserved communities with dental care, shared anonymous cases on the effects of drugs on oral care.
  • Katherine Serafine, whose research focuses on drug sensitivity and diet, spoke about drug abuse and animal advocacy for research.

UTEP also organized an art exhibition featuring the work of individuals recovering from substance use disorders. Other events that students could participate in included TikTok challenges, an online Loteria game, and a trivia night.

UTEP’s first-annual Brain Awareness Week celebration was a success, reaching more than 6,500 students. Their social media interactions skyrocketed during the week, and they received coverage of one of the lectures in the university newspaper. UTEP’s events were spearheaded by the Sun City Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience which, in addition to gaining new members, won the award for best student organization of the year following their programming.

The Psychology Department at the University of Virginia (UVA) used their Dana Foundation grant to create, present, and share a repository of brain science resources for K-12 teachers. Called “Make-Your-Own-Module,” the repository includes activities, videos, worksheets, and lesson plans organized by topic and grade level. The department also developed starter PowerPoint slide decks and a step-by-step presentation creation guide for teachers that outlined the essential elements of a successful Brain Awareness Week classroom presentation. The guide included instructions for teachers on how to use the repository and slide decks to create more personalized presentations for their classrooms.

During the month of May, 11 psychology department volunteers gave 21 in-person and virtual Brain Awareness Week presentations to elementary schools, Girl Scout troops, middle schools, and high schools across the East Coast. Each presentation used materials directly from the Make-Your-Own-Module repository. Activity kits were assembled and distributed to half of the participating classrooms that contained the supplies needed for students to participate in the accompanying hands-on activities.

At the close of the Brain Awareness Week season, the psychology department had created approximately five complete presentations for each age group/grade level. They are now in the process of building a database to house these educational resource materials that will be shared with K-12 teachers. To date, UVA has reached a total of 240 students and teachers through the Make-Your-Own-Module program.

The University of Washington’s (UW) Brain Awareness Week consisted of a variety of activities to engage young students in the field of neuroscience. Specific activities included:

1. Brain Awareness Week Open House: The open house was held virtually on March 9, 2021. Dr. Eric Chudler presented an interactive webinar about the brain to approximately 400 students. His presentation was followed by a panel of six neuroscientists who answered questions sent in by students prior to the event. Books and other educational materials were sent to registered classroom teachers before the Open House.

2. Videos with Neuroscientists: Neuroscientists at different stages of their careers were interviewed, and the videos were posted to the UW Brain Awareness Week Open House website. New videos will be added to the collection over time.

3. Completion of the Neuroscience for Kids Drawing Contest. Winners of the drawing contest were announced on March 1, 2021. The contest received approximately 200 entries.

The UW BAW website (http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/baw.html) received 1,337 views during the BAW season.

The goal of the Dana Foundation grant to connect the UW neuroscience community with students and teachers and to introduce students to neuroscientific research and educational resources was achieved.

The Brain Awareness Program at the University of Wyoming included two virtual classroom visits as well as a summer camp for high school students. University of Wyoming scientists worked closely with teachers from the participating schools to ensure that the activities planned aligned well with their current class curriculum. This allowed students to better understand and apply what they had learned in class to new or expanded concepts in neuroscience.

For Laramie High School, the program focused on enhancing students’ knowledge of the senses. University scientists led students through several hands-on activities for which supplies were mailed in advance. Students had their sense of taste “tricked” with miracle berries, and their sense of vision tested with optical illusions. Students also performed the two-point discrimination task in small groups with digital calipers, and their results were graphed in real-time on screen and discussed. The program closed with a virtual tour of a neuroscience laboratory where students had the opportunity to see and learn about different instruments used to record from neurons and some ongoing behavioral experiments. Students were also able to ask questions of the graduate students who led the tour.

For Cheyenne Central High School, the program focused on neuroanatomy and neurotransmission. University scientists used the Dana Foundation’s Zombie Autopsies lesson to supplement the students’ understanding of the brain regions they were discussing in class. Students learned about the different neurotransmitters involved in the lesson and expanded their knowledge of how neurons communicate in the brain. The students then broke into small groups to develop their novel drugs, and each group had the opportunity to present their drugs to the entire class. The program also ended with a virtual laboratory tour where students asked many questions of the scientists.

The brain awareness celebration continued in June when the university hosted an in-person summer camp for 20 high school students from 12 different towns in Wyoming. During this week-long intensive course, students engaged in an immersive, hands-on learning experience that taught them about the basics of the brain, the five senses, memory and disease, and the neuroscience of creativity. The Dana Foundation grant enabled the university to include more experiment-driven activities for the students to fully engage with the material and apply their knowledge to real world investigations surrounding the brain.

The University of Wyoming reached a total of 170 high school students and teachers through these programs.

Wheaton College organized two virtual events during Brain Awareness Week, reaching 125 middle and high school students. A virtual neuroscience fair was held on Zoom for seventh graders at Orchard Gardens Middle School. The fair introduced students to neuroscience and engaged them in various lessons and activities about the brain and its functions. The program had three main sections:

  • “Meet the Experts” Panel—The objective was to share real-world experiences of various fields of study that can be pursued within neuroscience. Faculty discussed their research in cognitive neuroscience, perceptual neuroscience, and animal behavior.
  • Brain Activity Stations—Students rotated through nine activity stations including building Play-Doh brains to teach neuroanatomy; creating a homunculus to teach brain structure-function relationships; making pipe cleaner neurons to teach neuron structure; dissecting sheep brains to teach about comparative neuroanatomy; meditating to teach about brain health; visual illusion activities to teach about sensation-perception; an action potentials activity to teach about neuronal communication; a workshop on auditory pathways to explain how we hear; and tracking cerebrospinal fluid pathways to learn the importance of CSF in protecting the brain.
  • NeuroBee Kahoot!—A fun competition to assess what students learned throughout the day. Winners received brain models.

Their second event was a virtual “Sleep Smarts” workshop for 10th graders in the Mass General Hospital Youth Scholars Program. The workshop discussed the neuroscience of sleep and the effects of sleep health on brain health. There were three sections:

  • Reaction Time Experiment—Students explored the relationship between hours of sleep and how quickly we respond to a stimulus as a measure of brain activity.
  • Guest Talk from Dr. Ed Pace-Schott on Sleep Neuroscience—Students learned about the neurobiology of sleep and how EEG can be used to measure brain activity patterns during sleep.
  • Sleep hygiene discussions and brain activity stations focusing on caffeine and the impact of mindful meditation on the brain.

During both events, participating students had many opportunities to engage with the presenters, most of whom were neuroscience students at Wheaton College, and ask lots of questions. After the event, the organizers shared a feedback form with participants. Judging by how many students completed the form and wrote in questions about college and careers in neuroscience, Wheaton’s program not only educated but also inspired curiosity in the young people they reached.

Wyoming Families First (WFF) serves vulnerable youth referred from local juvenile courts and social service agencies residing at the Meadowlark Academy, a Residential Treatment Center. During Brain Awareness Week, WFF organized three educational activities to teach Meadowlark students about brain development and the effects of alcohol on the brain. WFF brought their own unique perspective about brain development with a focus on supporting positive socioemotional development and promoting successful transitions to young adulthood. The goal was to empower teen participants to make informed, healthy choices while developing needed skills that support personal responsibility, self-regulation, goal setting, healthy decision-making, a focus on future goals, and prevention of risk behaviors, including drug and alcohol use.

Meadowlark students watched two online videos from the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility’s Ask, Listen, Learn program about how alcohol affects the developing brain. The videos were followed by a classroom discussion on the short- and long-term consequences of underage drinking. The students discussed how alcohol impairs judgment, decision-making, and motor coordination; how underage drinking could interfere with normal brain development by negatively affecting information processing and learning; and how it could increase the risk of developing alcohol use disorder later in life.

Students then engaged in a hands-on activity using Fatal Vision Alcohol Impairment Simulation Goggles, which allowed them to experience what it’s like to navigate basic tasks after drinking. Wearing the googles, students tried to walk a straight line, stand on one leg, tie their shoes, and toss a ball. Each task was difficult for students to perform, teaching them the important lesson that alcohol greatly impairs a person’s balance, vision, reaction time, and judgment.

Finally, WFF, in partnership with Recover Wyoming, invited a Certified Peer Specialist with lived experience of alcohol addiction and recovery to speak to the students. Her presentation was especially impactful on the students, who are advocating for staff with similar experiences to work at Meadowlark.

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