From classrooms to Congress!

“Nothing great is ever achieved without enthusiasm”
   -Ralph Waldo Emerson

For several years, we’ve gathered enthusiastic undergraduates and graduates to connect, collaborate and engage in their community, building networks and inspiring K-12 students and the public about research and discovery in neuroscience and art. Our students want to leave campus, classrooms and labs, and benefit tremendously from volunteering across disciplines and institutions, serving as “near peer” role models, gaining skill at explaining their work, and thinking creatively about their own options for research, education and careers…

“You ask the world, and the world says no,” writes John Gorka.

We’ve taught at multiple universities, and we’ve certainly heard “no,” typically from administrators with healthy public budgets dedicated to maintaining the bureaucratic status quo. One single football coach at Washington State University, for example, makes over $3 million/year, and like many in the college president’s office, can expect a fat refund if the latest GOP tax measure goes through, while struggling educators and graduate students will pay more. Yet it’s often no to even minimal resources for innovative teaching or outreach, no to support for students, travel, supplies  –  and definitely nothing for inspiring artists, or art..!

LEARN MORE: Administrators Ate My Tuition

LEARN MORE: Protecting Noggins @ the Newmark

LEARN MORE: BioGifting brains

“It’s the world’s refrain, mine says go.” But since we thrive on teaching, creative public engagement and arts integration in STEM (or STEAM), since our students crave collaboration and love to inspire and serve, and since we now have years of direct real world volunteer outreach experience in academic priority classrooms, urban and rural areas, art museums, homeless youth centers, Congress, even bike shop pubs  –  we said go.

“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”
      -Thomas Jefferson

Our enthusiastic Noggin volunteers, including 15 accomplished undergraduates from Portland State University and four from WSU Vancouver gathered at PSU, and at Portland’s Velo Cult, and started planning their own outreach during this fall’s Society for Neuroscience conference in Washington DC!

“Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” – Ms. Frizzle

We are indebted to the Society for Neuroscience, which quickly offered free conference admission for our participants, and waived abstract fees for multiple posters! Portland State University also stepped up, true to their motto “Let Knowledge Serve the City.” The NIH BUILD EXITO program at PSU funded three of our participants, and the popular PSU Neuroscience Club covered airfare for five more. Oregon Health & Science University, including the Portland Alcohol Research Center and Department of Behavioral Neuroscience also happily transported their graduate outreach volunteers to SfN…

And the rest drew on support they raised themselves through their own informed celebrations of public outreach, including the inaugural Noggin Fest at the Alberta Rose Theater! This wasn’t a dry, navel-gazing #scitalk conference, with tenured faculty lobbing memorized, jargon-laden elevator pitches at each other to polite applause…

Noggin Fest featured great bands (with EEG-generated lighting design!), striking #sciart, and talks by postdocs and research scientists, and thanks to ticket sales, art sales and beer from Astoria, Oregon’s incomparable Fort George  –  raised enough money to send EIGHT more students to DC for a week without further institutional support!


“If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”George McFly

Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel enjoyed meeting our volunteers, and learning about #sciart efforts through Noggin

And what a week it was! 

Phineas Gage..?

Two terrific participants from PSU, Jennifer Jensen and Travis Christian, were unable to join us at the last minute, but we welcomed the following volunteers to Washington: Andrea Anaya, Alex Kunz, Jesse Hamlin, Alison Mack, Rebecca Hough, Sulema Rodriguez, Kayla Townsley, Aliese Poole, Thomas Madison, Jobe Ritchie, Gaile Parker, Allie Clark and Heather Hamilton from PSU, Rebecca Hood, Reena Clements, Scott Jones, Jessica Patching-Bunch and Alfredo Zuñiga from OHSU, and Joey Seuferling, Christina Williams and Angela Hendrix, all graduates of WSU!


Our Noggin Art of Neuroscience booth was mobbed daily, by neuroscientists thrilled to craft their own brain cells. Thank you NIH BUILD EXITO for shipping emergency supplies, after we ran out of pipe cleaners the first day!


Our students presented multiple posters at multiple conference events, including the Teaching of Neuroscience (Theme J) session, and a special Dana Foundation sponsored gathering to celebrate “Brain Awareness…”

LEARN MORE: Noggin Poster, Theme J

LEARN MORE: Brain Awareness campaign poster event

LEARN MORE: Noggin Undergrad Poster presentation, Theme J

They also attended lectures, made connections, and explored cutting edge research at this extraordinary annual gathering of 30,000 neuroscientists from around the globe…

Mouse brain pyramidal cells from Hui Gong, Britton Chance Center for Biomedical Photonics


We visited two schools in Washington, including Sidwell Friends and Turner Elementary, along with Dr. Paul Aravich of Eastern Virginia Medical School and his compelling collection of human brains…

At Turner, Home of the Rockets, we were thrilled to collaborate (again!) with the Phillips Collection, which provided the art supplies  –  plus meals for hungry Noggin volunteers!

“I’m an artist!”

LEARN MORE: Serving 700 students at SfN

LEARN MORE: Brains, Beauty, & Brews: Noggin at the Phillips


Noggin spent several days last spring in Davenport, Washington, meeting every kindergartener through 9th grader in town! We were joined by Jessie Laughery, the Manager for Constituent & Community Relations for Representative Cathy McMorris-Rogers, the Republican co-Chair of the House Neuroscience caucus.  Both her office and that of Representative Earl Blumenauer, the Democratic co-Chair, invited our Noggin volunteers to present a briefing in Congress last spring, and a new Congressional briefing this week during SfN…

LEARN MORE: Dopamine in Davenport


We brought along several volunteers (and pipe cleaner neurons, and new 3D printed brains from the Portland 3D Printing Lab) to meet the Chief Legislative Assistants for both Neuroscience co-Chairs, and discussed our STEAM efforts to engage and excite the public about federal investment in brain research and the arts. We also expressed concern about current plans to tax graduate students on tuition waivers

With Kristen Donheffner, Chief Legislative Assistant for Rep. Earl Blumenauer

With Megan Perez, Chief Legislative Assistant for Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rogers


Thanks to four exceptional supporters of innovative outreach in the Pacific Northwest, Portland State University (Department of Psychology and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences), OHSU (Behavioral Neuroscience), p:ear and the Portland Art Museum, who co-sponsored our Noggin and American Brain Coalition Congressional event, our volunteers presented research, art and evidence of outreach effectiveness to the House Neuroscience and STEAM caucuses for Noggins in Congress: A Briefing with Brains, Art & Ice Cream  –  as we did in 2016..!

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Democratic co-Chair, House Neuroscience caucus

Paul brought his real human brains, and we made our own pipe cleaner brain cells with two caucus co-Chairs and over 80 Congressional staffers!

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, Democratic co-Chair, House STEAM caucus

“The Bipartisan Pseudo-Unipolar Neuron,” by Noggin volunteer Aliese Poole, PSU


The NIH is composed of 27 Institutes and Centers, each with its own research focus on particular diseases and/or body systems. Many of our graduate students work in labs funded by specific NIH agencies, including the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Many also benefit from NIH graduate training grants, and receive individual National Research Service Awards (NRSA’s) to pursue pre-doctoral research….

On our last day in DC, we visited the Cajal Exhibit, along with a compelling gallery of donated brain-related art on view at the John Edward Porter Neuroscience Research Center, curated by neuroscientists Chris Thomas and Jeff Diamond, and inspired by federal investment in understanding the structure and function of the human brain…

LEARN MORE: Cajal + Creativity @ the NIH

Stay tuned for more posts!

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” -Barack Obama

Our students are clearly energized and inspired by the places they’ve been, the connections they’ve made, and the skills they’ve demonstrated from classrooms to Congress. As educators it is an astonishing privilege to mentor such a terrific cohort of creative, community-minded young innovators who are out to make our world a better, more informed and more artful place.

“All outstanding work, in art as well as in science, results from immense zeal applied to a great idea.”
– Santiago Ramon y Cajal, Advice to a Young Investigator

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