Brain Day with Girl Scouts

Each year we celebrate International Brain Day by hosting Girl Scouts from around New York for a day of hands-on neuroscience experiments!

2022

WiSE’s 2022 Brain Day event aimed to introduce basic neuroscience concepts to the Girl Scouts of Nassau County. This event was the first WiSE Outreach program to occur in person since COVID-19 restrictions began in early 2020. In total, we had four Girl Scouts and thirteen WiSE volunteers participate.

This year, we used neuroscience experiment kits to provide the girls with an interactive experience in conjunction with learning new concepts. During the event, we followed three Backyard Brain activities that introduced different facets of electrophysiology to the girls. The Human-Human interface and the Electrical Blink & Flex activities utilized electrodes to record EMG signals from the arm, wrist, and eye to introduce concepts like voluntary control and demonstrate how these concepts relate to our own bodies. We also introduced a new activity, Venus Flytrap Electrophysiology, that demonstrated to the girls how electrophysiology can be applied to plants by recording electrical impulses from Venus flytrap plants - and yes, plants spike as well! 

The success of the 2022 Brain Day benefited tremendously from the help of multiple parties. The DNA Learning Center of CSHL provided light microscopes which we used to observe mouse brain sections. This permitted the girls to learn the basics of microscopy, histology, and anatomy. The event was organized by WiSE Outreach Co-Chair, Jessica Khang, and thirteen WiSE volunteers assisted with event set-up, lecturing, leading activities, and photography. 

Let’s hear what they say about the highlights of the 2022 Brain Day!

It was all great but I especially enjoyed hearing the students say that they hoped to use our workshop packet as practice for their school exams.

 

I was very impressed by the enthusiasm and drive of the students that came to brain day! It was especially nice to watch them figure out how to use the microscope to see brain slides and identify the parts of the brain we had defined earlier!

I enjoyed working and interacting with the girls - I think a bigger turn out would have been great, however because there were so few kids, we really got to interact one-on-one with them.

 

Any time the students were surprised or amazed by what they saw.

 

Full list of our volunteers:

Name Position Laboratory  Role in this event
Emmanuella Nnuji-John 1st year SBS PhD student Cancer/Amor Lab Booth volunteer
Nikolas Holland 1st year SBS PhD student Neuro/Borniger Lab Booth volunteer
Andre Xavier Postdoc Neuro/Cheadle Lab Booth volunteer
Uma Vrudhula Tech Neuro/Cheadle Lab Booth volunteer
Leonardo Jared 3rd year SBS PhD Student Neuro/Li Lab Booth volunteer
Erica Bulzomi Lab tech Neuro/ Zador Lab Booth volunteer
Patrick Cuniff 3rd year SBS PhD Student Cancer Booth volunteer
Blom Kraakman / / Booth volunteer
Alexa Pagliaro 4th year SBS PhD student Neuro/Shea lab presenter 
Salomé Carcy 2nd year SBS PhD student QB/Meyer Lab set up and admin 
Mike Zheng 2nd year SBS PhD student Neuro/Banerjee Lab set up and admin 
Zhenzhen Yu Stony brook PhD student QB/Cancer  set up and admin 

Let's get to know some of their faces from the image panel below 😀

2020

Our annual “Brain Day”, in collaboration with the Nassau County Girl Scouts, was transformed into a special Science Cafe given by our Chair of Outreach, Alexa Pagliaro (seen here). It featured an interactive workshop to explore the 5 senses- focusing on how the brain interprets and processes information coming from its environment. For each of the primary senses, simple DIY experiments were used to illustrate the principles of sensory neuroscience. For example, for vision, students learn how to find their blind spot and engage in an experiment with after-image optical illusions. For taste, students trick their tongue with miraculin berries and perform a PTC taste test and learn how the genetic background of the experiment affects their taste outcomes.

2019

On Saturday March 16, WiSE Outreach held our 3rd Annual Brain Day event for the Girl Scouts of Nassau County in celebration of Brain Awareness Week.  The Dana Foundation declared March 10-24 Brain Awareness Week to bring public attention to the progress and importance of brain research. Girl Scouts were invited to come to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to learn from our WiSE neuroscientists about the brain.

After an introduction to neuroscience, the girls were split into groups to rotate through 5 fun neuroscience activities.  For three stations, we utilized Backyard Brains equipment to demonstrate the electrical signals sent by neurons that allow for muscle contraction and movement.  The girl’s were fascinated by their ability to control a claw with their own muscle contractions; better yet they could control each other at the mind-control station!  They even became DJs at a station that converts muscle contraction into sound.

We had the girls get crafty to learn about the structure of a neuron. They learned about dendrites, the axon, and the myelin sheath as they shaped pipe-cleaners and incorporated “protective” beads. The day wouldn’t have been complete without a station with REAL BRAINS! The girls were excited to touch and hold preserved cow, sheep, rat and mouse brains, as they observed the similarities across the species. We were able to send the girls home with some brain activity books and goodie-bags provided by the Dana Foundation.  There were even some books for their parents at home. Once again, WiSE Brain Day was a success thanks to our WiSE volunteers, the Dana Foundation, and the Girl Scouts of Nassau County.

2018

In celebration of Brain Awareness Week, on May 5, 2018,  a group of Girl Scouts visited the lab to participate in WiSE Brain Day: Backyard Brains.  The day started with an introduction to neuroscience and the basics of the nervous system, with an emphasis on the neuromuscular junction. The girls were then split into groups to rotate through five stations that focused on a different concept of neuroscience.  At one station, the girls got the chance to examine and hold preserved sheep, rat, and mice brains as they learned about the anatomy and functions of different areas of the brain. The other stations utilized Backyard Brains equipment to demonstrate some of the concepts they learned about.  The girls placed electrodes on their muscles to examine the electrical signals that take place at rest and during contractions on endomyograms (EMG). At another station, they attached electrodes to their muscles and used their contractions to control a robotic claw.  At the “mind control” station, everyone’s favorite, electrodes detecting the electrical activity of contraction on one person were used to control another person’s movement.  The girls were sent home with reading material and workbooks from the Dana Foundation.

2017

On Saturday April 29, 2017, WiSE hosted a Brain Day event for Girl Scouts, an opportunity to spend a morning learning about neuroscience through interactive experiments led by CSHL faculty members Steve Shea and Jessica Tollkhun. The 24 girls who attended, ranging in age from 11 to 14, had diverse reasons for coming; while some already expressed a strong interest in science (one told us she wants to be a neuroscientist or an engineer), others were motivated by a love of making things (including messes). Many of the girls were currently taking Earth Science in school, so Brain Day was an exciting way to fit a biology lesson into their studies.

After an introductory neuroscience lesson in which Steve Shea explained how neurons communicate, the girls split into groups to see this signaling in action using Backyards Brains kits (affordable, Arduino-controlled electrophysiology kits). At one of the stations, after a brief primer on cockroach leg anatomy, the girls measured changes in the frequency of neuronal spikes in cockroach legs in response to various stimuli – this taught them about how neurons use rate coding to transmit information. At another station, they used electric signals from music to cause cockroach legs to dance.

While the girls definitely enjoyed the insect lab, the human experiments were the highlights of the day for many. At one station, the girls converted electromyography (EMG) signals coming from their own muscles into sound and lights. They then used EMG signals to control a robotic claw and Jessica Tollkhun explained how similar technology is being used to allow amputees and people with paralysis to control prosthetic limbs. At another station, they transmitted electrical information from the muscles of one girl to the nerve of another, allowing them to control that girl’s finger movements.

In between experiments, the girls got the chance to talk with and ask questions of WiSE group. Conversations overheard included research technician Alex Ambrico discussing career pathways with Katrina, who’s interested in becoming a nurse, and Steve Shea discussing neuroanatomy with Bronwen, whose experiences with friends battling brain cancer have motivated her to become a neurologist.

With twelve troops from Nassau County and one from Queens represented, the event was not only an opportunity to learn, but also a chance to make new friends. And smiles could be found all around – especially at the station where girls were using their facial movements to control machines!

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