March 12 through 16 marked Brain Awareness Week (BAW), a global initiative to raise awareness of the benefits of brain research. In honor of the worldwide celebration, Purdue University Northwest’s Westville campus recently hosted “An Artful Tour of the Brain,” a multidisciplinary event geared toward engaging and educating people of all ages through science and art. More than 200 students and community members attended.
The event featured 16 neuroscience-related demos, where visitors were able to experience the sensation of “phantom limb,” view and hold a real human brain, and play with therapy dogs for stress relief and anxiety reduction.
At the center of the room stood the main attraction, the “Brainatarium.” Constructed by PNW assistant professor Dr. Christina Ragan in collaboration with neuroscientist Apryl Pooley and Ph.D. candidates Daniel Pfau and Zachary Grieb of Michigan State University, the Brainatarium is an eight-person tent painted to resemble a human brain, complete with interior lights illuminating different sections of the brain and their respective functions.
“I don’t think that neuroscience should just be communicated to neuroscientists,” said Ragan, who strives to make neuroscience accessible for everyone. “Now more than ever, it’s important to publicize science to the public so that they have an appreciation for it, an understanding of the cool things scientists are doing, and in some cases, where their taxes are going.”
In addition to informing the public on the types of research their tax dollars are supporting, Ragan and other scientists celebrating BAW emphasize the importance of bringing awareness to mental illness.
“A lot of us know or are affected by some kind of mental illness, whether it’s a grandparent with Alzheimer’s or a parent with depression. We all are affected in some way, directly or indirectly, so it’s important to understand what people could be going through,” said Ragan.
Accompanying the highly interactive exhibits was an art show curated by Judi Jacobi and Liz Bernel, assistant vice chancellor and coordinator of University Art Collections & Special Programs at PNW, respectively. The walls of the room were framed by pieces depicting the five senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch), as well as works donated by notable artists Laura Jacobsen and Lee Tracy.
To learn more about the artists and their contributions to event, tune into Ragan and Bernal’s interview on Lakeshore Public Radio.
Renaissance Academy students Simara Jenkins, 12 years old, and Sophia McGrew, 13, especially enjoyed their day on the Westville campus. Jenkins’s favorite part was sampling different foods after eating a “miracle berry” tablet, which causes sour or bitter foods to taste sweet, while McGrew was fascinated by the brain specimen.
“I’ve always been interested in different parts of the body,” said McGrew. “It was interesting seeing an actual brain in person because it’s different than learning about it in school. You think it’s pink, but it’s actually brown and there’s a cord attached!”
Jenkins agreed, adding, “I hope they do this event next year!”
The event was sponsored by PNW’s Department of Psychology, Honors College, Psi Chi, Psychology Club, University Art Collections and Special Programs, ASL Club and the Dana Foundation. Proceeds from the event raffle were donated to the Alzheimer’s Association.