Outreach Program Instructional for Its Leaders Too

August 1, 2012

On Saturday, July 28, Wellesley College student volunteers and young students between the ages of eight and 12 came together for the first Young Neuroscientist workshop. The three-hour event was the brainchild of neuroscience club president Kia Salehi, a rising senior whose vision is to make neuroscience a more accessible subject to younger age groups.

Salehi explained that the main aim of this particular project is early exposure. “There’s so much we know and there’s so much more we still need to find out,” she said, wondering, “What would have happened to me if I had known things about neuroscience 10 years earlier?” It is Kia’s hope that giving kids the opportunity to become young neuroscientists for a brief period of time will have a lasting effect that may influence their academic futures.

The event began with a basic introduction to neuroscience. Eager to begin the fun-filled day, the 10 children jumped into their lab coats, snapped on their gloves, and “buddied up” with Wellesley volunteers. Their first task was learning how to use electron microscopes to view brain tissue. With help from their partners and 3D models, these young people not only became familiar with the structure of the brain, but also gained a bit of knowledge on the functions of its different constituents.

Also during this portion of the workshop, kids watched some relevant video clips illustrating a few neurological diseases. One video portrayed a woman who suffered from post-stroke aphasia, a condition, rising senior Sima Lotfi explained, “that impairs people’s ability to verbally express their thoughts.” When the woman in the video was asked her age, she was unable to verbalize her answer. “It’s not that she’s not smart, it’s just that she can’t say her age like you can,” Lotfi explained to the young students.

The next set of activities involved experiments with “miracle fruit” (tricking their tongues so that lemons tasted sweet), learning the workings of optical illusions, creating a candy model of the neuron, and a final game of trivia to wrap up the workshop. With its success, event organizer Salehi hopes to hold another similar workshop in the fall. “I think maybe next time we need to slow the pace down,” she laughed, “but this is as much a learning experience for us as it is for them.”

Neuroscience major and workshop volunteer Hande Piriştine '14 also reflected on the experience of the young students: “When I was growing up I had a toy microscope that I loved to play with.” It is her belief that “early exposure to scientific equipment and the scientific method will help prevent kids from being intimidated by science when they grow older.” As valuable as they believe the workshops can be for their young students, the volunteers did not fail to mention how they benefited from them as well. As Piriştine explained, “In order to be able to teach neuroscience to kids, we need to have a very solid understanding of the material ourselves.”

--Nour Azzouz '15