Brain Awareness Week will highlight the wonders of nature’s most remarkable machine
Imagine a portable supercomputer that requires only the wattage of a dim lightbulb to run and yet can choreograph precise movements, create art, navigate unfamiliar territory, distinguish friend from foe, and invent fictional worlds. The Virginia Tech community will be celebrating that supercomputer – the human brain – during Brain Awareness Week, which begins March 11.
“Brains are profound enigmas of high performance and creativity,” said Michael Friedlander, PhD, executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. “All brains – including those of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals – are complex organs that represent pinnacles of the evolutionary process, capable of performing demanding tasks more efficiently and effectively than any machine. And each brain has evolved the exquisite adaptive capacity to extract, decipher, and act upon information in the world that is essential to survival.”
For the first time, the VTC Research Institute will serve as an official partner for Brain Awareness Week, an annual international campaign that unites the efforts of universities, hospitals, government agencies, schools, and associations to increase public awareness about the progress and benefits of brain research.
The principal highlight of the local weeklong commemoration will be Brain School, a public seminar series in which VTC Research Institute faculty members will offer an owner’s manual on the brain. During four consecutive evenings, the neuroscientists will explore the hardware and software of brains, how brains make sense of a noisy world, how brains misbehave, and how they develop and age. Attendance is free, yet limited by space restrictions, so preregistration is required.
“Brain School will highlight not just the profound functional capacity of the brain, but also its ability to adapt to challenges,” said Friedlander. “And those challenges occur more frequently than people might realize. Taken together, disorders such as stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, autism, depression, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder have a greater economic impact on the country and the world than any other type of disorder, and that includes cancers and heart disease.”
The Brain School teachers include nationally renowned scientists who have a passion and talent for communicating their enthusiasm about neuroscience to the public. The school's director, Friedlander, is a noted expert on how brains learn and how they develop and adapt their capacity to process visual information. Other faculty include:
Warren Bickel, PhD, a trailblazer in understanding how addiction to everything from cigarettes to gambling overtakes our decision-making functions and how to tackle those challenges;
Pearl Chiu, PhD, a leading human behavioral and brain imaging researcher on how brains respond to depression, trauma, and addiction;
Michael Fox, PhD, an expert on how brains develop and assemble their complex cellular connections;
Rosalyn Moran, PhD, a leading neuroengineer who studies how parts of the brain communicate and interact with each other when diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s overtake the brain during aging;
Sharon Ramey, PhD, an authority on human development and behavior who studies how brains of children develop, the environments that allow brains to thrive, and how brains can be repaired and rehabilitated after early insults;
Jamie Tyler, PhD, a well-known expert on how brains use the sense of smell to learn and how ultrasound can be used to help brains better function in the face of disorders; and
Gregorio Valdez, PhD, a leading neuroscientist who studies how brains, muscles, and their interactions at synapses age in health and disease.
Other local Brain Awareness Week events will include:
Brain Matters, a series of presentations on the brain at area schools;
Brain Power: The Role of Exercise and Diet in Maintaining Healthy Synapses, a seminar with Gregorio Valdez, PhD, sponsored by Jefferson College of Health Sciences;
Reading Your Mind: How to Decode the Brain Mid-Thought, a seminar with Stephen LaConte, PhD, sponsored by the Roanoke–Blacksburg Technology Council;
Food for Thought: Chefs Celebrate Brain Awareness Week, a challenge issued to restaurants and specialty stores to invent dishes with brain-healthy ingredients, such as blueberries, salmon, nuts, coffee, and pomegranates.
In addition, in advance of Brain Awareness Week, the VTC Research Institute will co-host a scientific symposium with Virginia Commonwealth University and the Central Virginia Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience on March 7 and 8. The Labile Brain: Neuroplasticity Throughout the Lifespan will feature leading brain researchers from across the commonwealth and the country.
“We’re looking forward to working with our partners throughout the area to celebrate Brain Awareness Week,” Friedlander said. “It’s a great opportunity to help to share some of the excitement and wonder of the brain with our friends, neighbors, and colleagues in the community.”
February 13, 2013