Mar 202012
Authors: Elisabeth Willner

For one week of the year, brains think about themselves more than normal.

Brain Awareness Week, an event put on by CSU neurology professors and students, teaches high school students to better understand neuroscience and to think about how their brains work.

In a training session held in the Anatomy Zoology Building Tuesday night, student volunteers prepared for this year’s brain awareness event, which will take place April 5 and 6 at Rocky Mountain High School.

“Neuroscience is not taught in schools, and the 15-year-olds that we’re targeting are beginning to lose interest in science,” Smeraski said. “Students should know about it. Hopefully the event helps advance their skills and understand how their body works.”

The event began with a collection of brains: rat, sheep, cat, salamander, shark, human and others, that had been donated to the department of neuroscience.

In 2000, Dr. Cynthia Smeraski, then a post-graduate student and now a Biomedical Science professor, had the idea of taking the brains to Preston Middle School to teach the students about neuroscience.

Smeraski kept going back every year. Two years later the event became part of the national Brain Awareness Week put on by the Society of Neuroscience. Now about 100 students, faculty, staff and others volunteer for the event each year.

At the orientation Tuesday, volunteers learned core concepts of neuroscience, discussed how to interact with high school students and signed up for one of eight neuroscience stations.

Stations include activities, such as eating jellybeans to learn about taste and smell, jumping between carpet squares to learn about neurodegeneration, and wearing weights to simulate what it’s like to have a stroke.

“The goal is to begin to get students to be curious about how their bodies work, particularly the nervous system,” Smeraski said.

The event also helps the CSU volunteers prepare to work as scientists, according to Smeraski, since it teaches them how to communicate science concepts, and it looks good on a resume.

Jacob Meyers, a graduate student in biomedical science, volunteered at the 2011 event, and said the interaction with students was helpful for him.

“It was good practice talking about science in a way that someone not studying it directly could understand,” Meyers said.

For the high school students involved, participation in Brain Awareness Week can spark thoughts about college and possible careers in science.

Rocky Mountain High School science teacher Michelle Bartholomew said that a few of her students have participated in high school, graduated, applied to CSU and then returned as volunteers.

“It’s fun to watch it come full circle,” Bartholomew said. “Any connection with CSU that gets kids excited about going to college and learning about a science field is a positive thing.”

Even if the students aren’t going into science, they can still learn something about brains.

Leslie Stone-Roy, a biomedical science professor said that the “awareness” of Brain Awareness Week refers to students’ ability to appreciate the complexity of their brains and to understand how decisions, such as taking drugs, might impact them.

“A lot of people do just take it for granted,” Stone-Roy said. “Your brain is the computer for your whole body. It’s good to know about all it does.”

Collegian writer Elisabeth Willner can be reached at

Brain Awareness Day Stations
1. Preserved human brains: includes a brain with complete spinal cord and eyes
2. Brain specimens of other vertebrates: includes sheep, bird and salamander brains
3. Chemical senses: an exploration of taste and smell
4. Neurodegeneration: understanding Alzheimer’s disease
5. Neurobiology of Ecstasy: how the drug changes brain chemistry and behavior
6. Epilepsy: facts, myths and information about electrical impulses
7. Visual integration: understanding the anatomy and neuroscience behind vision
8. Neuromuscular Junction: protein transporters in the drosophila fly
9. Neurotransmission: Multiple sclerosis versus Parkinson’s disease*
10. Brain trauma: simulation of dysfunctions caused by a stroke*

*Stations run by students from Rocky Mountain High School. All other stations are run by volunteers, including CSU students.


Students who missed Tuesday’s training session but want to volunteer at Brain Awareness Week should email Cynthia Smeraski at

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