By Austin Howard, NW Noggin volunteer (PSU)
We are in the midst of one of the great movements in science: beginning to learn the what, when, why, and how of the brain. Eventually, this may help us answer the who. That is, who we are. For our nerves from head to toe help make us who we are and what we know. Though our culture is saturated with neurobunk, from brain balancing drinks to atrocious films such as Lucy, children are rarely taught much of anything about the space between their ears. If they are taught anything, it is usually done in such a way that it goes in one ear and out the other.
As a student of the sciences and the humanities, this seems strange to me. I found in neuroscience one of many points of contact between the “two cultures” of the arts and sciences. From Hamlet to hemorrhaging, neuroscience is present and useful. Naturally, I was delighted to start volunteering with Northwest Noggin.
My first experience was at Cascade Middle School in Vancouver, Washington. I watched the others start to answer class questions. Soon, I was joining in smaller breakout groups, table by table. The sheer curiosity of kids is well known, but never ceases to bring a smile to my face. “We just don’t know yet” or “Well, we know this because” were two common phrases I had to use as the kids were coloring in their brain diagrams.
Since then, I have volunteered elsewhere, from theatres to universities. The whole experience has been great fun and so worthwhile. I have watched as young artists have displayed brainbased virtual and sketch art, kids made pipecleaner neurons, and graduates presented their findings. We the volunteers not only learn by teaching, but we attend regular lectures on new and local research carried out in the brain science fields. As we grow our neural connections, we also grow our social connections. The people are lovely and I have been so excited to see my peers and betters engage me with mentoring, friendship, and the prospect of even better times to come. This is why Northwest Noggin makes a difference to me and to everyone else involved.