The 2017 Brown Brain Fair saw people of many different ages and interests come together with a single purpose — to learn about the brain. More specifically, they came to Sayles Hall March 19 to hear about different aspects of the brain’s anatomy, applications and recent research advancements.
The Brain Fair — organized by Brown Brain Bee, an undergraduate student group — was the “keystone event” of Brain Week Rhode Island, said Oliver Tang ’19, Brown Brain Bee’s undergraduate volunteers coordinator. It was free and open to anyone who was interested in attending.
The booths were hosted by a variety of laboratories, student groups and advocacy organizations. Groups that attended included VENlab, which offered people the chance to experience virtual reality; the Rhode Island Consortium for Autism Research and Treatment; students from Cranston High School East, who brought an electroencephalogram, allowing people to see their brain waves; BrainGate, which demonstrated the applications of a brain-computer interface and the NeuroMotion lab, which displayed the brain’s function in muscle activity and action coordination. Other topics covered included cognition and optical illusions.
Tang said one of the goals of the event was to bring in new voices to the field of neuroscience. Teaching neuroscience is one of the easiest ways to get kids interested in science education, due to the vast amount of untapped potential in brain research, he added.
The Brown Brain Bee looked to improve upon the first Brown Brain Fair, which took place last year. A number of student groups from different grade levels attended, ranging from those who have just started elementary school to those who are close to graduating from college, said Carin Papendorp ’17, a co-head coordinator.
“Nearly 800 people attended this year, about 200 more than last year,” said Mackenzie Woodburn ’17, a co-head coordinator. “This brought a wide variety of ages, but we really increased the number of families and children who attended this year.”
While gaining exposure for the Brain Bee last year was difficult, news of this year’s fair was largely spread by word-of-mouth from those who attended last year, Papendorp said. The Brain Fair won “Best Student Event” at the Student Activities Center in 2016, and the organization was hoping to build on that momentum, Tang said. He added that a number of other institutions, such as the University of Rhode Island, are beginning to hold their own brain fairs this year.
Tang said the Brain Week organizers are always trying to brainstorm new ideas for events at the Brain Fair. “Our pinnacle lecture for this week came from Elyn Saks, a MacArthur Fellow,” he said. “The fact that we were able to get a MacArthur fellow at this year’s event to talk about her experience with schizophrenia was really momentous to us and the evolution of the Brain Fair.”
Papendorp said she hopes younger people leave the event with a newfound interest in neuroscience and excited about problems that still need to be solved in the field. She added she believes everyone can learn to appreciate how complex the brain is and how to protect it.
Tang hopes people will leave with an understanding that neuroscience is a very human discipline with human applications. “One thing that I am always personally excited about for the Brain Fair is spurring undergraduate involvement in neuroscience research.”
In addition to the Brain Fair, the Brown Brain Bee hosts a number of events relating to the brain, such as the Brown Brain Bee Competition, a quiz bowl-style competition for high school students designed to test their knowledge of neuroscience. The Bee saw its fifth competition this February. The organization also holds weekly neuroscience classes in order to prepare these students for the competition, as well as a number of activities to further promote interest in neuroscience.
Correction: A previous version of this article listed the keynote speaker as Ella Sacks, but her name is Elyn Saks. The Herald regrets this error.