Brain Awarenesss Week at University of Florida features lecture, student events

The human brain has 100 billion neurons and about 100,000 miles of blood vessels, all packed into a 3-pound space.

The magnificence, complexities and medical challenges of that remarkable organ will be in the spotlight during Brain Awareness Week at the University of Florida. Held March 16-20, Brain Awareness Week will feature a series of events, including activities for Alachua County school students, lectures, panel discussions and a local neuroscience conference.

Brain Awareness Week is a worldwide event that aims to increase public awareness about the progress and benefits of brain research. The University of Florida events are sponsored by UF’s Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute and organized by the North Central Florida chapter of the Society of Neuroscience.

The events are an ideal way for scientists to interact with the public, said Lucia Notterpek, Ph.D., chair of the department of neuroscience at the UF College of Medicine. The public benefits by learning about new discoveries and hearing from experts, while UF students get experience explaining science to the public, she said.

For Notterpek, it’s especially inspiring to see schoolchildren learn about the brain.

“Young minds are very impressionable. If we can spark curiosity even in just a few kids to go on in school with the goal of being a ‘brain doctor,’ we are making a difference,” she said.

A group that includes UF undergraduates and graduate students as well as research assistants and postdoctoral fellows from UF’s College of Medicine will bring brain-related events to 19 elementary, middle and high schools in Alachua County from March 16-19. Students in seventh grade and above will get lessons in neuroscience and brain anatomy. Younger students will learn about sensory functions and do “brain art” exercises.

A group of home-schooled students from Alachua County will visit the McKnight Brain Institute on March 18. Some of them will learn about the brain’s sensory processing ability through hands-on activities such as taste strips and by using special goggles that demonstrate how the brain interprets vision. Other students will make “brain art” that simulates neurons as well as see a presentation that introduces them to brain functions.  

In the classroom, Brain Awareness Week gives students the opportunity to dissect a sheep brain, which has similar features to the human brain. They also learn the science of how drugs affect receptors and synapses in the brain.

“Every one of the programs offers students the chance to learn about things that I don’t necessarily teach in my class. It opens up their minds to different areas of science that they may not have been aware of before,” said Cindy Tompkins, a physical science teacher at High Springs Community School.

Brain Awareness Week also will feature a conference sponsored by the North Central Florida Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience. On March 20, the conference’s keynote speech will be given by David Sweatt, Ph.D., a neurobiology professor and director of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Alabama – Birmingham. Sweatt will speak about “Epigenetic Mechanisms in Memory Formation.” His research focuses on the molecular mechanisms related to learning and memory.

The public is invited to attend the speech, which begins at 2:45 p.m. March 20 in the DeWeese Auditorium on the ground floor of the McKnight Brain Institute, 1149 Newell Drive.

At 6 p.m. March 12, the Cade Museum will sponsor an interactive public lecture, “Brain Myths: Fact or Fiction,” which will reveal the truth about some commonly held ideas about brain functions.

Brain Awareness Week’s events should help foster an appreciation and understanding of the human body’s most complex organ, especially among students, said Kimberly Hawkins, president of the Society of Neuroscience’s local chapter and a Ph.D. candidate in the UF College of Medicine’s department of neuroscience.

“We’re really hoping that the students get a better understanding of the brain, and that it also sparks an interest in neuroscience,” she said.

Brain Awareness Week

Schedule of Events

March 12: Interactive lecture, “Brain Myths: Fact or Fiction,” will reveal the truth about some commonly held ideas about the brain. 6-7:30 p.m.  The Cade Museum, 904 S. Main St., Gainesville) Open to the public, but seating is limited. Register at www.cademuseum.org or call 352-371-8001.

March 16-20: Brain Awareness Week activities in Alachua County schools. Research assistants and postdoctoral fellows from the University of Florida College of Medicine visit elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the county. They will help students learn about brain physiology and functions. Middle- and high school students will dissect sheep brains, which are similar to human brains.

March 18: Home-schooled students in kindergarten through eighth grade visit UF’s Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute. 9 a.m. - noon, McKnight Brain Institute, Room LG-110A/B, 1149 Newell Drive, Gainesville.

March 20: Keynote speech by David Sweatt, Ph.D., director of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Research Institute at the University of Alabama – Birmingham. Title: “Epigenetic Mechanisms in Memory Formation.” 2:45 p.m., DeWeese Auditorium at UF’s Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute, 100 S. Newell Drive, Gainesville. Open to the public.

About the Author

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Doug Bennett

Science Writer, Editor

Doug Bennett joined the UF Health staff in January 2015 as a science writer and editor. His topic areas include anatomy; biochemistry and molecular biology; molecular genetics and microbiology; pathology,...Read More