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Brain Awareness Week: Joining Forces to Solve the Puzzle

By Vidya Saravanapandian

Brain Awareness Week (BAW) is an annual event celebrated across the world to increase public awareness of brain research and to inspire the younger generation to pursue careers in neuroscience. Universities, research centers, and hospitals organize lectures, workshops, and conferences to promote brain health and encourage scientific discovery. K-12 students are encouraged to get involved in science fairs and brain-themed competitions, where they can explore the latest advancements in neuroscience and showcase their own ideas and inventions. By promoting neuroscience education at an early age, we can help to inspire the younger generation, who will play a critical role in advancing our understanding of the brain and developing new treatments for brain disorders. During BAW events, students learn about the brain and get introduced to the many career opportunities in neuroscience through fun and engaging activities, including interacting with neuroscientists at various levels of training and listening to expert lecturers. Perhaps most excitingly, students attend laboratory tours where they see the inside of a neuroscience research lab and learn about neuroscience techniques, hands-on.

As we are getting ready to celebrate BAW, it is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the wonders of the brain and the crucial role it plays in our overall health and well-being. The human brain is a remarkable organ that has captivated scientists and the general public for centuries. Its complexity and intricacy are unmatched. With billions of neurons and trillions of connections, the brain is capable of incredible things, from complex thought and emotion to advanced problem-solving and creativity, that we are only beginning to understand. Whether you are a student, a healthcare professional, or simply someone interested in learning more about the brain, there’s no denying that the brain is a fascinating topic that continues to pique our curiosity.

The field of neuroscience is constantly evolving. New technologies and techniques enable scientists to study the brain in ways that were previously impossible. For example, the use of brain imaging techniques like fMRI and EEG have given us a much better understanding of how different parts of the brain work together, while advances in genetics and genomics are helping us to understand the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to brain disorders. While these advances are helping us better understand the brain and its role in behavior and disease, the importance of neuroscience research goes beyond just understanding the brain. It is also about shaping the future and improving human lives. By educating and inspiring the next generation of scientists, we can continue to make progress in treating and preventing brain disorders.

By educating and inspiring the next generation of scientists, we can continue to make progress in treating and preventing brain disorders.

As a neuroscientist, I feel a deep sense of responsibility to disseminate science to the wider community. It is critical that we share our knowledge and discoveries with the public, especially the next generation, to ignite curiosity and imagination, increase understanding, promote scientific literacy, and empower them to make a positive impact on the world. By educating the community, we can help people make informed decisions about their health, challenge misconceptions, and inspire the next generation of brain scientists. As an educator, I have also had the opportunity to participate in and organize several BAW events. I have seen firsthand how events such as this can spark a deep interest in neuroscience in schoolchildren who never would have considered neuroscience before.

During one BAW event, I was speaking to a group of K-12 students and, as I was explaining the different parts of the brain and their functions, one middle schooler raised their hand and asked a simple but poignant question: “How can we make our brains stronger?” Of all the questions I have ever been asked during these events, that question stayed with me the most. That moment reminded me of the tremendous impact that science education can have on young minds. The way that student asked about making their brain stronger showed a genuine interest and concern for the health of their own mind. It was inspiring to see that spark of curiosity, and it was clear that the student was eager to learn more about the brain and how it works. The question was not just touching, but thought provoking — and it gave me the opportunity to share my own passion and knowledge of neuroscience in a way that was accessible and engaging. I explained that, just like our bodies, our brains need exercise and stimulation to stay healthy and strong. We talked about the importance of challenging ourselves, learning new things, and staying physically active to keep our brains in top shape. In that moment, I felt a renewed sense of purpose and dedication to my work as a neuroscientist and educator. I thought by answering their question and encouraging their interest in neuroscience, I may have planted a seed that could one day grow into a lifelong love of science and a career in neuroscience. This was a reminder that the future of science and innovation lies in the hands of the next generation, and by inspiring them to think critically about science, we can help create a world that is more curious, more innovative, and more compassionate. BAW has the power to inspire and educate children in a way that can truly change the trajectory of their lives.

That moment reminded me of the tremendous impact that science education can have on young minds.

While we strive to increase educational opportunities in general, it is also important to actively encourage and provide opportunities for students from low-opportunity backgrounds to pursue higher education and careers in neuroscience. Historically, students from low-opportunity groups have limited access to resources in neuroscience. By providing them with resources and support, we can reduce the achievement gap between students from these communities and their more privileged peers. This can lead to better academic outcomes for students from low-opportunity schools, which can improve their chances of success in the future. Further, by providing neuroscience educational opportunities to these students, we can promote diversity and bring new perspectives and ideas to the field of neuroscience.

The brain is a complex puzzle that requires collaboration and diverse perspectives to solve. Like a jigsaw puzzle, it is the unique combination of all the pieces that creates a full picture. It requires input from a variety of fields, including biology, psychology, mathematics, and engineering. It also requires contributions from people of all ages, backgrounds, and experiences, as everyone brings their unique perspectives and knowledge to the table. As we continue to solve the puzzle of the brain and discover new ways to treat and prevent brain disorders, let us find ways to bring these discoveries to the community. Imagine a world where mental illness is understood and treated with the same urgency as physical illness — a world where we can unlock the full potential of the human mind and improve the quality of life for all. By bringing people together to understand the brain, we can achieve this and so much more.

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Written and Illustrated by Vidya Saravanapandian
Edited by Carolyn Amir

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References & Further Reading

Harrington M. A. (2022). Diversity in neuroscience education: A perspective from a Historically Black institution. Journal of neuroscience research, 100(8), 1538–1544. https://doi.org/10.1002/jnr.24911
Saravanapandian, V., Sparck, E. M., Cheng, K. Y., Yu, F., Yaeger, C., Hu, T., Suthana, N., Romero-Calderón, R., Ghiani, C. A., Evans, C. J., Carpenter, E. M., & Ge, W. (2019). Quantitative assessments reveal improved neuroscience engagement and learning through outreach. Journal of neuroscience research, 97(9), 1153–1162. https://doi.org/10.1002/jnr.24429

Author

  • Vidya Saravanapandian

    Vidya Saravanapandian graduated with a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from UCLA and an M.S in Biotechnology from Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, India. She is currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Peyman Golshani at UCLA. Vidya is passionate about studying brain development and exploring ways to understand and treat neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs). Her research investigates changes in sleep physiology in NDDs and how these changes may contribute to poor cognitive and developmental outcomes, and bridges clinical research and research in animal models to understand NDDs. Outside of research, Vidya serves as a neuroscience outreach coordinator and has been closely working with the LAUSD schools to bring neuroscience education and awareness to K-12 children in low-income/low-opportunity communities around the Los Angeles neighborhoods. In her free time, Vidya loves baking and exploring new hiking trails.

Vidya Saravanapandian

Vidya Saravanapandian graduated with a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from UCLA and an M.S in Biotechnology from Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, India. She is currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Peyman Golshani at UCLA. Vidya is passionate about studying brain development and exploring ways to understand and treat neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs). Her research investigates changes in sleep physiology in NDDs and how these changes may contribute to poor cognitive and developmental outcomes, and bridges clinical research and research in animal models to understand NDDs. Outside of research, Vidya serves as a neuroscience outreach coordinator and has been closely working with the LAUSD schools to bring neuroscience education and awareness to K-12 children in low-income/low-opportunity communities around the Los Angeles neighborhoods. In her free time, Vidya loves baking and exploring new hiking trails.

One thought on “Brain Awareness Week: Joining Forces to Solve the Puzzle

  • Thank you so much for writing this article Dr Saravanapandian. Us humans are so special in this world (relative to all the other creatures and organisms of the world) because of how our brain works…but at the same time the brain’s operating mechanisms are so opaque to the average person (and probably to many neuroscientists too). Thank you for your outreach – if more people can do what you do in researching the brain, the world will certainly be a better place:

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