Graduate Students Seek Art Submissions for Brain Awareness Week

Sarah Cassella, a PhD candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at UC, is coordinating local Brain Awareness Week activities. Photo by Cindy Starr.

Brain Awareness Week in Cincinnati will have a new spin this year, thanks to doctoral candidates in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. In addition to providing hands-on educational demonstrations at the Cincinnati Museum Center, they will for the first time host a lecture in TED talk format and an art exhibit that features works “inspired by the brain.” They are seeking artwork from children, adults and professional artists.

Brain Awareness Week, a national campaign held March 10-16, was started by the Dana Foundation to bring awareness to brain education and research. For several years volunteers from UC’s Neuroscience Graduate Program have joined in, sharing the biological wonder of the brain with elementary and middle school students.

UC’s Brain Awareness Week activities will feature two events:

•    March 9-11: Demonstrations at the Cincinnati Museum Center, inside the Museum of Natural History and Science. Visit various stations in the LITE (Learning, Innovation, Technology and Education) Lab and finish by looking at a real human brain (free with the price of museum admission).

•    March 13, 5-8 p.m.: Art Show and Brain Talk at the Interact for Health ChoiceCare and Cincinnati Rooms at Rookwood Commons; Brain Talk begins at 6:30 p.m. (attendance and parking are free).

The March 13 event features a talk about epilepsy by graduate students Rylon Hofacer, MS, and Isaiah Rolle, who work in the Danzer Lab at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. The lab, headed by Steve Danzer, PhD, explores the ways in which nerve cell development in the brain affects, and is affected by, epileptic seizures and autism.

“Rylon and Isaiah are known to give fantastic talks while using good analogies to explain complex topics,” says UC’s Brain Awareness Week coordinator, Sarah Cassella, who works under Kim Seroogy, PhD, in the Selma Schottenstein Harris Lab for Research in Parkinson’s at the James J. and Joan A. Gardner Family Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders.

“This week is going to be totally different from years past,” Ms. Cassella says. “We have more activities and have organized them better for participants.”

The art exhibit will run simultaneously. Artistic contributions are being actively sought from the general public and are expected to include works by children, adults and professionals. “Anyone is welcome to submit artwork,” Ms. Cassella says. “Any medium is welcome, and any interpretation.”

Ms. Cassella hopes the addition of an art show will broaden the event’s appeal. “It’s about brain awareness, not about being a scientist or knowing science,” she says. “There are a lot of people who dedicate their lives to brain research.”

Although the events are aimed at children, materials will be available for adults on topics ranging from aging to disease prevention.

Ms. Cassella’s interest in the brain was piqued by what she saw as vast differences in personality between her sister and herself.

“I have a sister who is 17 months younger, and although people often confuse us for twins, she and I are day and night,” Ms. Cassella says. “I’m the scientist and athlete, and she is the artist and much more emotional. I was curious about why. It started off with psychology: why are we so different?”

As a student at Oberlin College, Ms. Cassella had planned to study psychology. But she found herself riveted by brain biology and pursued a major in neuroscience. Now a fourth-year neuroscience graduate student, she expects to earn her doctorate in 2015.

— Cindy Starr

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