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May 2009 Issue

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Neuroscience Marks Brain Awareness Week at Zoo

Published May 2009

When it comes to learning environments, a picnic table at the zoo beats a classroom just about any day.


That was certainly the case during Brain Awareness Week, when a contingent of UC graduate students and faculty members volunteered their time for three days in mid-April at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden to help children learn more about the body’s most complicated organ.

The event was coordinated by the graduate program in neuroscience.


Gary Gudelsky, PhD, a professor and pharmacologist in the James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy, was one of the organizers and helped spread the word about the event, a worldwide effort by the Society for Neuroscience.


“It’s a chance to get people of all ages interested in science and have an appreciation of the brain,” he said.


Despite temperatures in the mid-40s on the event’s first day, children swarmed around the table set up at the entrance to the zoo’s Safari Camp to check out the displays, which included interactive demonstrations, examples of animal brains and a human brain.


The human brain was plastinated and divided into three segments that some of the braver participants—clad in rubber gloves—could touch it.


Caryl Sortwell, PhD, an associate professor of neurology, pre-sided over the Odor Identification Test, which invited children to identify 10 odors, and the Jelly Bean Test, which had children giggling as they tried to identify tastes while holding their noses closed.


As they quickly learned, taste and smell go hand in hand. Or, as Sortwell put it to one child, “Isn’t it amazing how much our nose can tell us?”


“I think it’s important for kids to get exposed to what brains are about and how exciting that one organ in our body is and how much it controls,” said Kim Krawczewski, a graduate student in neuroscience who volunteered on the first day.


“There’s a lot about the brain that kids don’t get to know about, so it’s good for them to experience some things that the brain controls and get excited about it.


“Then,” she added with a smile, “we can have a bunch of little neuroscientists out there.”

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