It’s All About the Brain: New Research Community Outreach Program Launches

March 8, 2016

When it comes to teaching students about the brain, there’s nothing like having a human brain on hand for the lesson.

That’s the philosophy behind McLean’s new educational outreach program spearheaded by Filomene G. Morrison, a PhD candidate at McLean and Emory University, and Stephanie A. Maddox, PhD, Research Fellow—both researchers in McLean’s Neurobiology of Fear Laboratory. Both noted that Chief Scientific Officer Kerry J. Ressler, MD, PhD, has been instrumental in launching the educational outreach program at McLean.

Before joining McLean in 2015, Morrison and Maddox worked at Emory University where they were actively involved in educational outreach events that benefitted schools, colleges, science fairs, and museums throughout the Atlanta area. Now they want to build upon McLean’s speaker bureau and ongoing community involvement to expand public outreach opportunities for researchers.

Human brain

To launch the research-focused educational outreach program, Morrison and Maddox have organized a group of McLean researchers to participate in a two-day event at the Museum of Science on March 18 and March 19. The special exhibit and series of lectures will focus on “Our Changing Brain” and is expected to draw more than 5,000 students and their families to the Museum. McLean will have a large presence at the event, with hospital participants including laboratory technicians, graduate students, and post-doctoral fellows hosting a teaching booth that encourages museum visitors to hold and touch a human brain, while comparing it to a horse brain and a sheep brain. They also have a number of other demonstrations and activities planned.

“When we go out into the community and allow students to see a real human brain and touch it, it’s the highlight of any outreach event because it’s rare for anyone to get to see that kind of specimen,” said Morrison. “It inspires a lot of kids to get excited and ask questions. We also show them brains from a horse, sheep, reptile, fish, or bird—which allows them to see the anatomy of each brain and compare them across species.”

In addition, Marisa M. Silveri, PhD, director of the Neurodevelopmental Laboratory on Addictions and Mental Health, who has given more than 100 community outreach presentations, and is a frequent speaker at the Museum of Science, will also be at the “Our Changing Brain” event. She will present her research on the teen brain to approximately 300 high school students and educators on Friday and will also host a demonstration table with her laboratory staff called “Teen Brain.”

Like many researchers across McLean, Morrison and Maddox believe that in order to give students a real sense of how science is conducted, there should be hands-on opportunities available outside of the classroom.

To assist in getting students excited about the brain and neuroscience, Morrison and Maddox want to build a centralized lending library for organizations throughout the Boston area to borrow from and use when teaching.

The centralized lending library, according to Maddox, would be set up so educators could borrow teaching specimens such as horse and sheep brains—in addition to mounted brain models and interactive plastic brain models. The human teaching brain specimen would be made available upon request through McLean’s Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center.

Other materials available include scientific posters that provide comprehensive information on neurological disorders, new research underway, and breakthroughs and findings of new studies. The library would also offer such resources as microscopic slides of neurons, plastic models of a neuronal synapse, or teaching tools such as prism goggles—which allow people to see how their visual system adapts when their orientation is changed.

The program will be for all ages—from students as young as first grade and up, added Maddox. “Many adult audiences welcome the opportunity to talk about neuroscience and other research that’s being conducted in renowned labs that are located right in their own backyard.”

“There’s so much untapped teaching potential at McLean,” she said. “The hospital has always had a history of community outreach and education, and we’re excited to help contribute to the program in ways that will help create opportunities for researchers who want to get more involved with schools and other organizations.”

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