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MU College of Science Brain Expo exposes students to fun side of science

April 5, 2019

HUNTINGTON — When he was a student of Dr. Nadja Spitzer’s at Marshall University, Jason Gibbs volunteered at the College of Science Brain Expo, which Spitzer has organized for 11 years now.

Gibbs said he witnessed how great the event was as it teaches third- through sixth-grade students about the different functions of the brain. Now teaching the biomedicine program at Wayne High School, Gibbs wanted his high school students to experience that as well, so when the chance to have them volunteer opened up, he took the chance.

“My students, we’ve actually gone out to the elementary schools in our district to try and get kids hooked on STEM and science,” Gibbs said. “Then I saw the Brain Expo was on a day we could actually participate and we signed up and wanted to continue with that commitment to get kids hooked on science.”

Taking place in the Don Morris Room of the Memorial Student Center on Thursday, the 2019 Brain Expo brought more than 300 students from around the region to campus to learn about the brain and nervous system through activities and games. Each of the 26 stations was manned by student volunteers and taught children about the brain, all that it does and how to keep it healthy.

“Our activities, we’ve tried to make them fun,” Spitzer said. “They are games, but you also learn about what your brain does for you. A lot of people think of brains and they think about studying and learning things, but your brain does a lot more than that. Just standing up straight takes a lot of brain power. We make it accessible and fun.”

The college and high school student volunteers also get valuable experience from the expo, she said.

“It’s a really good opportunity for them to have some fun and share their enthusiasm for science but also learn how to talk science to non-scientists, which is a very important skill for scientists and not something we formally learn very often,” Spitzer said.

Gibbs said he thinks elementary student interaction with just slightly older students inspires the youngsters.

“I think they definitely look up to the high school kids and see them as like heroes or role models, at least,” he said. “To see them excited and just loving science, they see that maybe that’s something I can do and be excited about it. Get them hooked and to realize science is not just for one group of kids, but for everybody.”

Whitney Samson, a senior at Wayne High School, said she’s always been a science geek. She said working with kids can be a challenge, but it’s worth it.

“As soon as they see that big word, they are like, ‘Oh, man, I won’t remember this,’ but doing little activities lets us see how bright our future can be with kids like this,” Samson said.

She said she hopes the kids realize learning can be fun.

The event is part of Brain Awareness Week, an annual global effort founded in 1996 by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives. Marshall’s Brain Expo was founded by Spitzer and Dr. Brian Antonsen, both of whom are neuroscientists and faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences.

The Brain Expo is supported by the National Science Foundation, Marshall’s College of Science and the Department of Biological Sciences.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

Tips for a healthy brain

Here are tips for keeping your brain healthy, courtesy of the Marshall University Brain Expo:

Eat well. Your brain is the hungriest of all your organs. Avoid processed foods, choosing fresh food instead, especially fruits and vegetables. Drink lots of water. Milk also has calcium that is critical to a healthy brain.

Exercise. Your brain loves the extra oxygen and the “happy hormones” released when exercising.

Sleep. Important things happen when you sleep, like cleaning up, making memories and getting ready for work the next day.

Use it or lose it. Everyone’s brain is always learning, changing and growing new connections. You are never too old to learn. Stimulate your brain by reading, solving problems and having meaningful conversations with people. Social media is not the same thing.

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