LEARN MORE: Synapsing for Science!
This is the third in a series of Brain Awareness Week (BAW) partner interviews, in which partners share their BAW experiences and tips for planning successful events. Bill Griesar, Ph.D., is a psychology and neuroscience professor at Portland State University (PSU), Washington State University (WSU) Vancouver, and Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), and is the neuroscience outreach coordinator for NW Noggin (Neuroscience Outreach Group Growing In Networks). Griesar works together with Jeff Leake, who also teaches at PSU and WSUV, and is NW Noggin’s art education coordinator.
NW Noggin was conceptualized in 2012 for a group of middle school students at a public school in Portland, Oregon. With support from organizations like the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) and the Association for Psychological Science, your group has now expanded to a nationwide focus. Can you talk about how you were able to expand so rapidly in such a short amount of time?
BG: Through the tireless enthusiasm of our graduate and undergraduate volunteers, who quickly discovered how much they enjoy sharing what they’re learning about the brain with young people and the public. It’s also the multi-disciplinary nature of the outreach, with young scientists and artists working together and discovering similarities in their process: the creative experimentation, the structure-function relationships, the fun, often the messiness, and certainly the need to communicate!
We also reached out. Jeff and I already taught at several universities and knew there was strength in partnerships and a multi-institutional approach. There’s a wealth of resources in the Pacific Northwest—and in many areas around the country—and our students were naturally interested in connecting with collaborators from other schools. Our undergraduates benefit from exposure to graduate students and learn about graduate school, as well as federally-funded research opportunities at their own university and elsewhere. Graduate students gain useful experience designing academic curricula, teaching and engaging students, and working directly with school professionals, undergraduates, and kids.
You also need to inspire people about how much fun, educational and rewarding community service can be! Jeff and I have small budgets, our visits are free for public schools and the community, and we’re both regularly volunteering in classrooms, museums, hospitals, homeless youth centers—even a Portland bike shop/pub—which makes these Noggin opportunities genuine and compelling.
“My old addiction, changed the wiring in my brain…”
– from “Chet Baker’s Unsung Swan Song,” by David Wilcox
NW Noggin outreach by artist Kindra Crick and neuroscience postdoc Dr. John Harkness was featured in an article by Kindra in the November issue of Interalia Magazine, an online publication dedicated to the interactions between the arts, sciences and consciousness…
During the fall of 2015, I was paired with Dr. John Harkness as part of a collaboration through the Portland-based non-profit NW Noggin due to our shared interest in the molecular mechanism of memory. NW Noggin is a neuroscience outreach group that seeks to spark a lifelong interest in science and art. Founded by neuroscience educator Dr. Bill Griesar and Portland-based artist Jeff Leake, NW Noggin regularly brings together students, scientists, educators, and artists to enthuse and inform the public about neuroscience and art. At the time, Dr. Harkness had just begun a postdoc fellowship in Dr. Barbara Sorg’s lab at Washington State University, investigating the role of perineuronal nets in cocaine-relapse behavior and memory.
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“Volunteers from NW Noggin (a regional collaborative neuroscience outreach group) worked with students to examine human brains and understand how a brain functions, including memory, anxiety and sleep patterns.”
By Christie Pizzimenti, OHSU
Recently, NW Noggin was invited to travel to DC to participate in “Briefing with Brains,” a week-long series of events aimed to inform members of Congress about the outstanding research and outreach efforts being made in the Pacific Northwest. While in DC we were fortunate to present our work to members of the Congressional STEAM Caucus, co-chaired by Oregon’s own Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, as well as members of the U.S. Senate HELP Committee…
Groups like NW Noggin, a neuroscience outreach program in the Pacific Northwest, bring brain science to the public through hands-on activities like art projects. Photo courtesy of NW Noggin. Pic above by Noggin volunteer Alex Voigt.
It’s an incredibly rewarding experience to answer questions about the neuroscience of sleep and trauma at a center for homeless youth or develop an art exhibit to explain the neurophysiology of visual perception, according to representatives from a neuroscience outreach group called NW Noggin. Members explain that outreach helps students by:
- Broadening skills — Getting involved in outreach opportunities gives graduate students teaching experience.
- Gaining exposure — Undergraduates are curious about graduate opportunities in neuroscience. Working with graduate students on outreach teaches them about graduate school and about currently funded research.
- Building enthusiasm — Helping middle and high school students engage in science builds excitement about the brain and can enhance their interest in exploring research.
“Although she now works explicitly with scientific concepts, Crick insists she isn’t making art that’s meant to teach audiences about science. During a recent partnership with NW Noggin, a group based in Portland, Ore., and founded by an artist and a neuroscientist who pair art with science outreach, Crick collaborated on a piece intended to inspire wonder.
Working with postdoc John Harkness of Washington State University, Vancouver, Crick created a sculpture that represents an aspect of Harkness’s research on perineuronal nets, which are believed to support the preservation of memory in neurons.
Titled “Your Joys, Sorrows, Memory and Ambition” — a phrase taken from a larger quote by her grandfather — Crick’s piece is a towering spectacle. More than eight feet tall, it features neuron cables interspersed with glowing LED lights encased by wire mesh nets. The wire nets cradle the neurons, visually depicting the supportive relationship perineuronal nets provide neurons within the human brain. Crick purposely exaggerated the net structures to draw attention to their important role.
In late April, 2016, as part of a weeklong outreach trip by NW Noggin, the piece was installed at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., for an event that showcased the brain and our perceptions of beauty. While there, the group also performed science outreach at local schools to bring its joint science and art curriculum from the Pacific Northwest to the East Coast.”
By Susan Parrish, Columbian Education Reporter
Published: April 17, 2016, 4:58 PM
A neuroscience outreach group that brings human brains and art into K-12 classrooms is taking its show to the nation’s capital later this month.
Neuroscientists, artists and students from Washington State University are part of a Neuroscience Outreach Group: Growing in Networks team that will lead several discussions about brains, brain research and brain-themed artwork April 25 to 30 at several Washington, D.C., venues — including the White House, Senate and House of Representatives.
“We take brains and art into classrooms and see people’s eyes light up. We’d be happy to bring brains to Congress,” said Bill Griesar, a Washington State University Vancouver neuroscientist, Portland State University instructor and NW NOGGIN co-founder.
In all, 28 people, including faculty and students from WSU Vancouver, Oregon Health & Science University and Portland State University will participate in the brain-related presentations and discussions.
At the House of Representatives, the group will give a “Brains + Art” briefing to the Neuroscience caucus and the Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics — or STEAM — caucus.
“That arts-integrated approach will be a part of all of these meetings,” Griesar explained.
In a presentation to the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee in the U.S. Senate, NW NOGGIN members will talk about their success in developing K-12 students’ enthusiasm about brain science. The group also will explain how their community outreach events in pubs, theaters and other venues helps adults not only become enthusiastic about brain science, but also to see the value in federal funding of brain research.
At the White House, some members of the group will present at the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
“We’ll get an opportunity to talk about the need for federal dollars to fund neuroscience,” Griesar said. “We’ll also talk about how our students have been involved in these arts-integrated outreach activities. They are very interested in learning how these arts-integrated research programs work.”
When the NW NOGGIN group visits two low-income elementary schools in Washington, D.C., students will have the opportunity to observe human brains close up. After learning about how the brain’s neurons work, students will build their own replica neurons from pipe cleaners. Then they will examine brain-inspired artwork and will make Petri dish art prints.
Later in the week, the students’ artwork will be displayed at the Phillips Collection, a museum of modern art for a special NW NOGGIN presentation called “Brains, Beauty and Brews Neuroscience Night.” The event will highlight the brain science underlying human perception of landscapes. Two weeks before the event, Neuroscience Night at the Phillips was already sold out.
Neuroscience Night will include the exhibit “Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks” from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection. It features 39 masterpieces spanning five centuries and explores the evolution of European and American landscape art.
Neuroscience Night asks the question: How does your brain react when you look at artwork? In a “brain makerspace,” participants can hold and examine human brains, try brain challenges in conjunction with the art exhibit and create a neural-network art piece.
“We’ll be talking about the neurophysiology of visual perception: How you see with your brain. What parts of the brain are involved in perceiving colors and depth and contrast and spatial relations. Your emotional response to the work. The memories it calls up,” Griesar said.
The “brews” part of the event will include Northwest beer and wine provided by Burnt Bridge Cellars in Vancouver and beer by Fort George Brewery in Astoria, Ore.
“Since we’re going to be highlighting Northwest neuroscience and art, we thought we’d also approach Northwest beer and winemakers,” Griesar said.
The human brains for all events will be provided by the American Brain Coalition, a nonprofit organization comprised of leading professional neurological, psychological and psychiatric associations and patient groups. They will bring several human brains with various characteristics, including a brain with Alzheimer’s.
The WSU Vancouver contingent will include Griesar; Jeff Leake, artist, instructor and neuroscience outreach coordinator; Barbara A. Sorg, Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience; Christine Portfors, Biological Sciences; Chancellor Mel Netzhammer; eight undergraduate students, three graduate students, one post doctoral student and one recent graduate.
The three universities provided money for the trip.
“The grad students are getting terrific opportunities to explain their work to the general public. To make some pretty extraordinary work more accessible. To let people know what they’re doing,” Griesar said.
So far through its outreach efforts, NW NOGGIN has reached about 9,000 K-12 students and about 1,000 community members. But with the exposure to lawmakers and other influential leaders in Washington, D.C., that number of brain enthusiasts will continue to grow.
“The brain is amazing. It grabs people’s attention,” Griesar said. “You want to know how your brain works. You want a user’s manual.”
Five Portland State students will travel with the neuroscience outreach group NW Noggin, led by Psychology Instructor Bill Griesar, to Washington, D.C. to give a “Brains + Art” briefing to the Neuroscience and the Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Mathematics (STEAM) caucuses in the US House of Representatives on April 27. They will also present to the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee in the U.S. Senate.
NW Noggin brings together undergraduate and graduate student volunteers from across PSU and other area institutions to inform and excite K-12 students, and the community, about neuroscience.
Bonny Slope welcomed five entertaining and creative neuroscience researchers and artists from NW Noggin (Northwest Neuroscience Outreach Group: Growing in Networks) to the Bonny Slope library last month for three days of exploring the brain-art connection. During the three hour-long presentations, one for grades K-1, 2-3, and 4-5, respectively, kids saw a skit about brain function, built neurons from pipe cleaners, mapped brainy pathways in crayon, and even held real human brains!
NW Noggin is a largely volunteer effort to bring scientists, artists, and students of all ages together to share their expertise and encourage young people to get excited about science and art.
Bonny Slope is currently featured on the NW Noggin website, where you can see some of the fun and interesting aspects of the presentations.
This opportunity was funded through BSCO’s Artist in Residence program.
APRIL 28, 2016, 5:30–8 PM
Have you ever wondered how your brain reacts when you look at an artwork? Join us for a brainy night with NW Noggin—the Pacific Northwest neuroscience education partnership—and discover the brain science underlying our perceptions of beauty. In a special “brain makerspace,” participants can hold and examine real human brains from the American Brain Coalition, try out brain challenges in Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks, play with a new brain app that allows you to interact with a brain superimposed on their own heads, and sample Pacific Northwest beer and wine from Fort George Brewery and Burnt Bridge Cellars. Let off some “STEAM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) by creating your own neural-network art piece. Explore artwork by Kindra Crick, granddaughter of Nobel Prize winning scientist Francis Crick and artist Odile Crick, which demonstrates how neural connections are essential for perceiving artistic landscapes.
When a non-scientist walks into a scientific talk, they often wonder if the science will make any sense to them. Will I learn something? Will it be interesting? As a scientist firmly entrenched in my left cerebral hemisphere (yes, I know it’s not that simple!), I often have the same reaction to visual art. Will I understand, or at least appreciate the art? Will it make sense? I know, art isn’t always supposed to make sense, at least not in a logical, science-minded way. Still, as a scientist, visual art often leaves me scratching my head.
That’s why I’m so excited about last Wednesday’s Velo Cult talk on neuroscience and memory, sponsored by NW Noggin. These regular talks pair a neuroscientist with an artist, merging the two seemingly disparate disciplines to better reach wide audiences. Wednesday night found neuroscientist Dr. John Harkness of Washington State University Vancouver matched with Ms. Kindra Crick, an internationally recognized artist…and the granddaughter of Nobel prize winner Francis Crick, who helped to discover the underlying structure of DNA. Ms. Crick is a scientist in her own right, with a background in molecular biology and a broad understanding of neuroscience. Kindra exemplifies the type of expert communication I preach in this blog – she explained her art to a mostly scientific crowd, and I got it! Granted, she also worked in a heavy dose of science, and her sculpture depicting perineuronal nets surrounding neural networks was both visually stunning and scientifically (mostly) accurate.
As scientists, we can learn from Kindra’s example. She straddled both worlds – art and science – and brought both to life. How can we, as scientists, bring art into our work, or at least into our public talks, in a way to bridge the divide? Post with your favorite examples!
The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) is the world’s largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 40,000 members in more than 90 countries and 130 chapters worldwide.
Neuronline is the SfN members-only home for learning and discussion. Neuronline content, created and curated by leaders in neuroscience and SfN partners, is regularly updated to reflect the most relevant issues in the evolving neuroscience field…
Jeff Leake and Bill Griesar recently collaborated on a Neuronline piece about NW Noggin’s extensive, ongoing STEAM outreach efforts in the Pacific Northwest.
For non-members, we have reprinted the article at this link…
Skyview, Fort Vancouver students observe brain surgery
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More details available here at nwnoggin.org: Brain Watch Wednesday
A few media links regarding the “Seeing Nature” exhibit at the Portland Art Museum (Details on our collaboration are found in this post, “The Nature of Seeing: Noggins and Art“)
From the Portland State University Vanguard (9/30/15)…
From the Coast Weekend, September 28, 2015
From the OHSU Behavioral Neuroscience newsletter (2015)…
From OHSU Behavioral Neuroscience (6/23/15)…
Man of many hats (2001 Ph.D. graduate; adjunct professor, OHSU, PSU, WSU Vancouver; neuroscience director, NW Noggin), Bill Griesar, was recently featured in the Oregonian and the New Statesman, the U.K. version of The Atlantic Magazine. Follow the links below to read the articles:
Joseph Rose: Why it’s perfectly normal to turn down the car radio when you’re lost (Oregonian June 11, 2015)
Familiarity breeds contempt: why do we get bored, and what is the point of boredom? (New Statesman, June 9, 2015)
From Vancouver Public Schools (5/13/15)…
From Vancouver Public Schools (5/8/15)…
From Vancouver Public Schools (4/21/15)…
From GEAR UP Washington State (4/21/15)…
A current of excitement hummed in the Skyview High School biology lab on April 16. Visitors from NW Noggin unloaded real sheep’s brains, about the size of an apple and the color of clay, into metal dissection trays as some 20 high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors looked on…
From The Columbian newspaper (4/16/15)…
The college volunteers work under the umbrella of NW NOGGIN, led by neuroscientists and WSU Vancouver instructors Bill Griesar and Jeff Leake. Since September, NW NOGGIN has taken lessons on the road to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, a series of brain lectures to the Newmark Theater in downtown Portland and to about 3,000 students in Clark County and Portland schools. Thursday was the fourth time the volunteers had visited Fojtik’s classroom.
From NW Crimson & Gray, Spring 2015…
From the VanCougar (January, 2015)…
From Patton Middle School in McMinnville, OR (10/2014)…
From OHSU Behavioral Neuroscience newsletter (2014)…
From the Association for Psychological Science Observer print and web editions (April, 2014)…
Graduates, Undergraduates, High School, and Middle School Students Get Together to Learn About the Brain
KGW – Channel 8 News did a story about our Madison High School outreach efforts in 2013:
From Portland State University…
From Portland Public Schools…
Parent-created program brings hands-on neuroscience to students
No bigger than a closed fist, the brain lies in the center of a shiny metal tray, a spongy slab the color of a cooked pork tenderloin. The cluster of rising Madison High School freshman peering down at the tray don’t quite know what to make of the brain.
Oregon Health & Science University graduate student John Harkness, a doctoral candidate in behavioral neuroscience, tells the teens it’s time to begin the dissection.
And so it goes inside an innovative effort that brings hands-on science learning to at-risk students and exposes college students to teaching. The summer neuroscience program, developed by a Portland Public Schools parent, has expanded this year. It now takes place at three PPS schools, including Madison High, where the program joins another project that helps academically challenged students prepare for the important transition from middle school to high school.
Created by Portland State University Adjunct Professor Bill Griesar, father of students at Sabin School and Benson High, the neuroscience program also is taking place this summer at Sabin and Jason Lee schools.
Gear Up, a federal grant that promotes college awareness and preparation for low-income students at several PPS schools, is funding the Madison partnership through a grant.Madison 9th-grade teacher Erin Tillery likes that the neuroscience program teaches students about perception, optical illusions and other ways all brains work — but also educates students about how their brains function individually.
“They’re learning about themselves as learners,” she said. “And they’ll be able to capitalize on that as freshmen.”
After just a few days in the program, Trevaughn Williams, 14, said he’s learned fascinating things about the brain and he’s made new friends and become confident about starting high school.
Williams is one of 80 participating Madison students. They spend mornings studying neuroscience and art. Griesar, who has taught at four colleges, pulled together a team of partners, including PSU, Washington State University and Pacific Northwest College of Art. College students lead experiments but also gain exposure to teaching.
Afternoons at Madison are devoted to preparing for high school, learning expectations, building community, and becoming familiar with Madison. The partnership includes SUN Community Schools, and eight Madison rising seniors and recent graduates work as mentors.
The collaboration’s curriculum — from fun stuff such as making art project brains to playing games wearing headsets that measure brain activity — also features writing assignments and reading strategies. The goal is to help students process what they learn, as well as prepare them for the reading and writing challenges they’ll face in high school, said Santha Cassell, instructional specialist at Madison.
“What I hear from kids all the time is that they want hands-on learning,” Cassell said. “This is all hands-on learning and hands-on neuroscience.”
At Portland Public Schools, this is our goal: By the end of elementary, middle, and high school, every student by name will meet or exceed academic standards and will be fully prepared to make productive life decisions. For more information on Portland Public Schools, call 503-916-3304, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visitwww.pps.k12.or.us. Portland Public Schools is an equal opportunity educator and employer.