This Saturday, the Carney Institute for Brain Science is set to host the Brown Brain Fair in Barus and Holley as part of the week-long Brain Week Rhode Island event. Brain Week R.I. is part of a larger Brain Awareness Week campaign that seeks to “increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research,” according to their website.
The goal of the event is to “raise awareness of the different types of research regarding the brain … at Brown and in Rhode Island,” said Hannah Doyle GS, one of the co-coordinators of the event, in an interview with The Herald.
The fair has not been held since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, planning the event “has been a little tricky, because a lot of the institutional knowledge of planning has been lost,” Doyle said.
But the original founder of the Brain Fair is still part of the team: Victoria Heimer-McGinn, co-founder and co-chair of Brain Week R.I., originally founded Brain Week in 2016, with the Fair being one of its original events.
The idea “came from a family history of mental illness where there's three generations in my family that, in some respect or another, have been interested … in the brain,” she said.
Near the beginning of her career, Heimer-McGinn was “part of (an) advocacy group trying to raise funds for mental health funding at the level of Congress for basic research.”
“We got a lot of questions from people that made (it) glaringly obvious that people didn't really understand the science we were doing,” she added.
Partnering with community organizations and undergraduates at the Brown Brain Bee, Heimer-McGinn aimed to “educate, showcase and inspire” people about the human brain.
This year, the Brain Bee has continued its partnership with Doyle and her co-coordinator, Gabriela Molica GS, in planning the event.
“The Brown Brain Bee has historically been involved in the Brain Fair, so we thought we’d keep that up,” said Nova Chen ’23, co-coordinator of the Brain Bee.
With the last Brain Fair hosted four years ago, “we had no idea what to do in the beginning because we had never been a part of a Brain Fair, let alone had to plan it,” said Ayse Erdemir ’23, co-coordinator of the Brain Bee.
According to Doyle, this year’s Brain Fair will include interactive tables hosted by labs, hands-on learning opportunities for children and “lightning talks” from researchers at the forefront of their fields in AI, brain cancer technologies, multitasking, philosophy and more.
These activities and lectures will be aimed at a “general audience,” with the information being “distilled down” so those with little to no knowledge of neuroscience will be able to “benefit from the information,” she added.
In an email to The Herald, Molica wrote that the event’s accessibility to the broader community is vital, as it is the “duty of a scientist to keep in touch with your community — show them the great new discoveries being made, convey why research is important and inspire them to think critically.”
Brain Week R.I. has recruited Brown undergraduate and graduate students to partake in “brainy visits,” which Heimer-McGinn described as “free neuroscience lessons in K-12 schools (that aim to) inspire the next generation of neuroscientists in our state.”
“Some of those students who we've taught in the classroom are going to … host a table to show people what they learned in class,” she added. Heimer-McGinn noted that outreach initiatives such as these visits are crucial to including “more diverse voices in science.”
At the last fair in 2019, 75% of attendees were white and 33% held a degree in a neuroscience-related field, according to Heimer-McGinn. As for this year’s Brain Week, she hopes “the education that we're bringing is really reaching every little corner of our state, not just the East Side crowd.”
In pursuit of this goal, the organization held the first annual Pawtucket Brain Fair on Sunday to “increase accessibility” for those throughout the state.
They have also added further accessibility resources, such as “translators for English, Spanish, Portuguese and ASL,” to Brain Week R.I., Heimer-McGinn added.
Moving forward, Heimer-McGinn, Doyle and Molica all hope to increase the diversity of attendees and of the neuroscience field more broadly.
The Brown Brain Fair will take place in the Hazeltine Lobby in Barus and Holley at 10 a.m. on March 18.
Owen Dahlkamp is a first-year student from San Diego, CA studying Cognitive Neuroscience and Political Science. In his free time, he enjoys creating spreadsheets at Dave's Coffee.