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Don your thinking cap: neuroscience is coming to a classroom near you

March 29, 2014
by Coleman Cornelius

Calling all brainiacs!

View larger >>>Neuroscience is top-of-mind at CSU, and volunteers will take the topic to Rocky Mountain High School in a special educational outreach effort Thursday and Friday as part of Brain Awareness Week.

The high-schoolers will get two full days of brain power in the form of interactive classroom sessions led by Leslie Stone-Roy, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, and about 100 volunteer students, faculty and staff.

“In addition to helping us control rudimentary functions like breathing, the brain also allows us to appreciate beauty in our environment, solve complex problems and communicate with each other,” Stone-Roy said of her own fascination with the brain. “It is 3 pounds of amazing tissue.”

The CSU crew will present brain specimens from humans and other species and will discuss topics including sensory systems, diseases of the nervous system, neuroanatomy, optical illusions and chemical senses.

New neurosciences program at CSU

This annual outreach effort during Brain Awareness Week is part of a larger movement at CSU: The Department of Biomedical Sciences has established a new neurosciences bachelor’s degree program, one of just two dozen similar undergraduate programs at public universities nationwide – and the only one at a public university in Colorado.

The four-year program builds on CSU expertise in cell and molecular neuroscience, said Michael Tamkun, CSU professor heading the new degree program. It will begin this fall.

“Because of our strength in cell and molecular neuroscience within the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and our strength in behavioral and cognitive neuroscience within the College of Natural Sciences, we can offer a very well-balanced and strong program,” said James Bamburg, former director of CSU’s neuroscience research.

Brain science a hot topic

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see the usefulness: The subject of brain science is everywhere these days, with sizeable spreads recently appearing in mass media outlets including National Geographic and the New York Times.

The focus results from deepening scientific understanding of brain anatomy, molecular function, human thought, behavior and health.

Among those riding the brain wave is Temple Grandin, CSU’s renowned professor of animal science and a noted champion for autism awareness and animal welfare. She recently published a new book, titled “The Autistic Brain,” and in public talks often compares the workings of her own autistic brain with those of non-autistic people.

Against this backdrop, CSU’s Brain Awareness Week outreach effort is meant to further increase public awareness about the progress and benefits of brain research.

“Our CSU volunteers are able to share their passion for neuroscience, and the high-school students get a more in-depth look at various aspects of neuroscience through fun, small-group activities,” Stone-Roy said.