Puget Sound Aims to Create a Culture of Neuroscience for Students and the Public

January 23, 2014

 W.M. Keck Foundation award sets the stage for TED-style talks, high school workshops, college classes, new research

TACOMA, Wash. – It took an imaginative neuroscientist, an ambitious group of University of Puget Sound scientists and ethicists, and a $250,000 award from the W.M. Keck Foundation: The result—the South Sound region is set to become a laboratory for an emerging “culture of neuroscience.”

Thanks to the three-year grant, support from the university, and a dedicated effort by faculty members in Puget Sound’s fledgling neuroscience program, work is beginning on a project that will introduce college undergraduates, high school students, and the community to the fascinations and the practical applications of the world of neuroscience.

“While neuroscience is becoming a ubiquitous part of our lives, with regular media coverage about the brain and brain disorders, unfortunately there is widespread misinformation,” said Siddharth Ramakrishnan, Puget Sound’s newly appointed Jennie M. Caruthers Chair in Neuroscience and the principal investigator on the project. “A solid education on such issues is currently restricted to those working in research labs and institutions. Our vision is to cultivate an accessible environment of neuroscience education, alongside ongoing public dialog and engagement.”

The Keck Initiative for NeuroCulture will bring TED-style public talks; community partnerships; summer NeuroArt workshops for K-12 school students; and public seminars, exhibitions, and blogs about neuroethics, neural disorders, and consciousness. Puget Sound faculty members will be offered training in neuroscience techniques and curricula, and students will gain new hands-on research and interdisciplinary study opportunities.

Efforts to make neuroscience more accessible were already underway on campus. These have included academic courses, student research opportunities, and public outreach through the Art+Science Salons at Tacoma Art Museum that have attracted hundreds of academics and community members over the past year.

The Keck Initiative for NeuroCulture’s ultimate goal is to create an environment where current research and different aspects of the nervous system and its disorders are critically discussed, while young people are offered new opportunities to engage in neuroscience research. Through continued dialog with the community and hands-on research experiences for local students, the organizers aim to break down some of the myths and remove any sense of intimidation surrounding this evolving science.

Professors from a range of disciplines are involved in the project. These include David Andresen, associate professor of psychology;  Susannah Hannaford, professor of biology;  Suzanne Holland, professor of religion and John B. Magee Professor of Science and Values; Jung Kim, assistant professor of exercise science; Gary McCall, associate professor and chair of exercise science; and Heidi Orloff, professor of exercise science.

Puget Sound will set up a core neuroscience laboratory that will enable college and K-12 school students to experience research methodologies. Weyerhaeuser Hall, the university’s new health sciences building, with its state-of-the-art spaces and modern equipment, will provide the ideal home for the neuroscience expansion.

Support for the new Keck Initiative for NeuroCulture has been offered by Tacoma Art Museum, and by Tacoma Public Schools and its Science and Math Institute. Puget Sound’s own School of Education and its Access Programs, which serve middle and high school students underrepresented in higher education, will provide paths for outreach to K-12 students and the community.

Press photos of Puget Sound students in science laboratories are available upon request.
Photos on page: Top right: Neurons and Microglia, by Gerry Shaw (public domain photo); Above left: Biology class; Above right: Neuroscience research image.

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