Biomedical Breakthroughs: From Science Fiction to Science Fact (part of the Virginia Science Festival)

Mind-controlled robotic vehicles, nanomachines in the body, heart manipulations that would make Iron Man proud—what you might have dismissed as science fiction will come to life at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

Highlights include a one-hour Science Transformation Tour, in which you can:
witness a live demonstration of the human mind controlling a robotic vehicle using neuroimaging technology; activate the contraction mechanisms of a model heart;
learn about the circuitry of your brain; and
see the vibrant world of nanobiology through 3-D imaging technology.

Also available will be a hands-on workshop on buckyballs; electric-fish demonstrations; a Mad Scientist Laboratory for kids, with crafts and an Alien DNA Game; Science on the Screen; and Meet the Scientists, with cameos by Grayton the Wonder Dog, a pioneering pooch in cancer research.

This daylong celebration of science is part of the first annual Virginia Science Festival.


Science Transformation Tour

  • Robotic Mind Reading: Brain-Computer Interfaces and Neurofeedback
    Stephen LaConte, PhD; Alexander Leonessa, PhD; and Rosalyn Moran, PhD
    This station will include a brain-imaging demonstration in which institute staff members will remotely control a robotic vehicle using their own brain activity. In addition, neuroscientists will discuss state-of-the-art research in brain-computer interfaces, neurofeedback, and cause-and-effect modeling of the brain.

  • To Beat or Not to Beat? Matters of the Heart
    John Chappell, PhD; Robert Gourdie, PhD; Steven Poelzing, PhD; and Jamie Smyth, PhD
    At this station, visitors will be able to play with an interactive heart model. They will be able to activate the model heart’s contraction machinery, producing an audible heartbeat; watch different patterns of electrical communications and contractions spread throughout the heart; and impose disease conditions on the heart. Visitors will learn how electrical activity causes the heart to contract, how decreasing electrical communication weakens heart contractions, and how blocking the vasculature decreases communication within heart tissue. A quartet of cardiovascular researchers will be on hand to answer questions and offer insights.

  • The Invisible World Made Visible
    Deborah Kelly, PhD, and Sarah McDonald, PhD
    How do viruses count? How do human pathogens change their genetic material in response to their environment? And how do nanomachines operate within our bodies? Visitors will learn the answers to these questions in a display of state-of-the-art, 3-D imaging technology that reveals the vibrant nanobiological world surrounding us.

  • Untangling the Wires of the Brain
    Michael Fox, PhD, and Greg Valdez, PhD
    At this station, neuroscientists will demonstrate some of the fundamental components of the mammalian brain. Visitors will be able to observe different parts of the nervous system using a high-powered, state-of-the-art fluorescent microscope. They will also learn how neurons connect with each other to form neural circuits, how disruption of these microscopic structures can lead to devastating neurological disorders, and what the shapes of different neurons can teach us about their functions.


Soccer Balls in Space: Nanomedicine from the Bottom Up

Harry C. Dorn, PhD
Visitors will learn about new nanomaterials—including buckyballs, nanotubes, and gold nanoparticles—being developed for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Visitors will build models of these nanoscale building blocks to help them gain insights into nanomedicine. Why do buckyballs and viruses have a soccer-ball shape? Does consumption of buckyballs in olive oil extend life? And do buckyballs found in interstellar space form in the same manner as those in the laboratory?


Electric Fish: The Shocking Truth

Michael Friedlander, PhD, and Quentin Fischer, PhD


Mad Scientist Laboratory

In this laboratory, kids of all ages will use crafts to combine art and science. They’ll learn about genetics by playing an Alien DNA Game. How do alien genes code for green skin? And, more to the point, how do our genes code for how we look? The kids will also make thinking caps, using a wearable diagram to learn about the geography of the brain. And there will also be fun coloring sheets for the kids to design their very own mad scientist! Snacks will be available.


Meet the Scientists

Visitors will be able to meet Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute scientists as well as Grayton the Wonder Dog, a pioneering pooch in cancer research.

Grayton, an 11-year-old Labradoodle, was diagnosed with nasal adenocarcinoma three years ago. Dogs with nose cancer tend not to survive for long, but Grayton has had ongoing, innovative treatments. He recently became the first patient enrolled in a Virginia–Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine clinical trial that is testing the use of gold nanoparticles and a targeted laser treatment for solid tumors in dogs and cats. Grayton is the animal companion to Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, and his wife, Sandra.


Science on the Screen

A range of science-related films will be shown.