Louisville Chapter Wins Award for Accomplishments in Science Outreach
For many neuroscientists, their work is purely about the lab and what happens in it. The Louisville Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience, winner of the 2017 Chapter-of-the-Year Award, is trying to change that by creating a more accessible relationship between scientists and the public.
“We need to be more relatable to the public and open about what we’re doing,” said Kristofer Rau, past president of the Louisville Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience and senior research associate at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. “By engaging with the public, they’ll have a better understanding of and appreciation for the basic and clinical research that we do. It might help convince the electorate that it’s important to fund science.”
Over the past year, the Louisville Chapter has expanded its influence through increased advocacy and diversified communication, educating more than 4,000 people about neuroscience and its importance to their lives. With more than 300 members representing over 15 departments and centers at the University of Louisville, Bellarmine University, Morehead State University, and Northern Kentucky University, the chapter hosted 31 events and dedicated more than 750 hours to outreach activities in 2017.
The chapter works to inspire young students, regardless of their gender, race, culture, or background, to see themselves as scientists and to realize opportunities in science that are available to them. Volunteers regularly visit schools and organize events to introduce basic neuroscience concepts to K-12 students. “We try to break it down into bite-sized pieces so a third-grader can take away something that they might remember for the rest of their life,” said Casey Steadman, senior outreach liaison for the chapter.
According to Rau, the Louisville Chapter has also put a lot of effort into providing opportunities for women and underrepresented groups in science. The chapter sponsored STEM-intensive events for middle and high school students at the Youth Science Summit, with additional support for STEM summer camps for girls. The chapter also facilitated laboratory visits for 25 high school students from medically underserved areas who were interested in the health professions and provided mentorship and awards to participants in two local science fairs, including those from historically unrepresented schools.
This past summer, the chapter began Louisville Science Pathways, a competitive research internship program that offered 13 students the chance to gain laboratory research experience working alongside faculty at the University of Louisville.
The chapter also organizes activities for the community, such as “Brain Days: An Interactive Neuroscience Experience,” a two-day event during Brain Awareness Week to which universities and organizations across Louisville brought human, sheep, mice, rat, fruit fly, and worm brains to teach attendees about neuroanatomy. Active kids bicycled outdoors as they learned the importance of wearing a helmet, while dexterous ones inserted electrodes into faux skulls to demonstrate deep brain stimulation.
Other public events in 2017 included Health Works, a three-day celebration of medicine, biology, and positive lifestyle choices that help to keep the brain healthy; “Eat, Drink, Do Science!”, a gastronomic affair that explained the how the brain processes sensations such as the transformation of sour tastes to sweet ones catalyzed by a fruit known as the “miracle berry”; and numerous seminars aimed at allowing the public to socialize with scientists, learn about their research, and discuss hot-button topics.
By improving neuroscience literacy, the Louisville Chapter hopes to show that sharing neuroscience with the public can help to bridge the gap in understanding between scientists and policymakers, according to William Guido, chair of the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. In a public forum on the federal budget and the importance of science advocacy, one of the chapter’s most well-attended events in 2017, attendees learned about the appropriations and legislative processes in Washington, D.C., and engaged in a Q&A session with Rep. John Yarmuth (KY-3), ranking member of the House Budget Committee.
“It’s important to know how Congress carves out money for the NIH every year,” said Naomi Charalambakis, a chapter member and past SfN Early Career Policy Ambassador. “We hear politics, we hear budget, and we kind of just turn our heads away, but that’s what guides our research every single day.”
Louisville chapter members are making science communication — from public outreach to advocacy — just another part of what it means to be a scientist. With a redesigned website, email newsletters, and accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the chapter not only has a presence within the Louisville community but continues to increase its grassroots impact.
“I really intrinsically enjoy seeing the students and young faculty so engaged in all of these events,” Guido said. “They really embrace that it’s become a part of their culture.”
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