NW Noggin, the brain-child of Bill Griesar and Jeff Leake, is an arts-and-science integrated outreach program that targets underserved communities in the Portland-metropolitan area.
Teams of artists and scientists from universities all over the Portland/Vancouver area collaborate to create art-based science projects that illustrate complex concepts in ways that non-experts can understand.
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.
The Phillips Collection, a contemporary art gallery in Washingon, DC, also partnered with NW Noggin to host “Neuroscience Night” where interactive science stations were interspersed with artwork.
Chief among these was the work of Portland based artist Kindra Crick, granddaughter of Nobel prize winning scientist Francis Crick.
Perhaps the most important, and certainly most exciting meeting we had was with a bunch of elementary school kids who couldn’t have been more excited to learn about the brain.
Honestly, I’ll never get tired of being asked, “Is that a REAL BRAIN!?” because when you say yes, you wouldn’t believe how blown away a third grader is.
Graduate school can be a long and arduous journey, and even the most resilient among us can, over time, become a little cynical.
But when kids look at you like you’re a veritable superhero for being a scientist that cynicism is replaced with a really gratifying sense of pride, and you realize that outreach really is a two-way street.
If you don’t know that neuroscience exists, you can’t decide to study it when you grow up.
Making sure that kids, regardless of their socioeconomic status, believe that a career in science is accessible to them is not only a critical endeavor, but is also the true responsibility of members of the scientific community.
By engaging kids at a young age we ensure that their awareness of their brain and brain health begins early; we plant seeds of curiosity that are nurtured over time.
NW Noggin also gives young scientists the opportunity to practice discussing their research in a way that is readily understandable to the general public.
Our research does not exist in a vacuum, and it’s really only when our findings reach the communities we hope to help that they do anyone any good. It’s for this reason that I believe that in addition to cultivating the next generation of scientists, it is our responsibility to disseminate our research in a meaningful way.
Through the effort of NW Noggin and outreach groups like it, I hope that we can continue to promote policies that support STEM education through federally funded programs.
We need to keep kids excited about science, because, like Bill always says, nothing great is ever achieved without enthusiasm.