03/08/07

BRAIN AWARENESS WEEK: LEARNING ABOUT THE VERY ORGAN YOU USE TO LEARN ABOUT THINGS

 Everybody has one, even Grammy-winning pop stars. But most us understand very little about our brains, despite the fact that having one is the reason we’re able understand anything at all. And it’s a shame we don’t know more about the organ that’s so central to our identity, says Cecilia Fox, assistant professor of biology at Moravian College. “It’s like living in New York City and never going to the Empire State Building.”

Which is why the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, an organization of neuroscientists, created Brain Awareness Week, March 12-18. The annual event is observed by schools, hospitals, service organizations and other groups in order to raise public awareness of the brain and of advances in brain and spinal cord research. Events held on Moravian’s campus next week will mark the College’s fourth year of participation, says Cecilia, who organized the festivities with Sarah Johnson, assistant professor of psychology. The week’s itinerary includes lectures on mediation, neuroscience, amnesia, and the musical brain. On Tuesday evening (4:30-6:30), the HUB will host Brain Games, small activities and games that spotlight memory and other brain functions. (More details here.) On March 17, Cecilia and students from Moravian and other Lehigh Valley colleges will run a day of kid-friendly brain activities at Allentown’s DaVinci Discovery Center. (Last year’s day at the Discovery Center was highlighted with a photograph of the students in the Dana Institute’s report on Brain Awareness Week 2006.)

It’s a very exciting time to be interested in the brain, Cecilia says. “Research has just been exploding ever since the ’90s were named the Decade of the Brain.” Study of the brain and central nervous system is no longer a strictly biological field, she adds: “It’s very interdisciplinary these days, involving chemistry, psychology, even philosophy.” And that makes the subject a good fit for Moravian College, which not only encourages interdisciplinary study but offers a neuroscience major with three tracks (cellular biology, behavioral neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience) covering diverse topics. Brain Awareness Week is a chance for the Moravian Community to sample some of the basic science and cutting-edge discoveries that tell us what’s happening in our heads. “I’d love for everyone to learn more about the brain, about what it’s capable of,” says Cecilia. “You can’t help but wonder: how does this three-pound organ make me who I am?”