Global NeuroDay is March 2​​​

The local event, held at the St. Louis Science Center, features many WUSTL student and faculty exhibitors

Partial view of the wiring in the brain with neurons color-coded according to the direction they run. (Credit: The NIH Human Connectome Project)

There could hardly be a more auspicious time for NeuroDay, part of a global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research. The local event will be held from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at the St. Louis Science Center.

Why auspicious? In his State of the Union address Feb. 12, President Obama cited brain research as the kind of science the government should be funding, remarking that the Human Genome Project returned $140 for every dollar invested.

Soon after, Francis Collins, the director of the National Institute of Sciences, tweeted: “Obama mentions #NIH Brain Activity Map in #SOTU.”

The media now are reporting that the Brain Activity Map Project will be outlined in the upcoming budget. A 10-year project to map the roughly 1,000 trillion connections between neurons in the brain, it will seek to understand not just the anatomy of the brain, but also how the brain works.

St. Louis families have a chance to see what the excitement is all about at NeuroDay, a free brain science expo featuring hands-on activities and demonstrations that provide a rare opportunity to learn about the human brain, the nervous system, neurological disorders and cutting-edge brain research.

This year, 25 Washington University graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and faculty members have volunteered to demonstrate, explain and answer questions about the brain, such as how it works and how it can malfunction.

Volunteers from the Knight Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and St. Louis Children’s Hospital, both part of Washington University Medical Center, and the University of Missouri-St. Louis STARS (Students and Teachers as Research Scientists) program also are staffing the event.

“We try to give the public a very diverse set of experiences,” said Erik Herzog, PhD, a neuroscientist in the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, who has worked with WUSTL students to create new neuroscience outreach activities.

“In the past, we’ve had everything from people working on fruit flies and single-celled organisms, all the way up to people doing human brain imaging and human brain recording or working with brain/computer interfaces,” he said.

Of course, a perennial favorite is the chance to hold a real human brain. “Visitors get a feel for how big the brain is, how heavy it is,” Herzog said. “We instruct them to turn the brain over to find parts of its structure, and we hold it up next to their heads to understand how it would be oriented in their skull.”

For more about NeuroDay and other neuroscience outreach activities, see “A+ in outreach: Neuroscience students share enthusiasm about brain science.”

NeuroDay is co-sponsored by Washington University in St. Louis and the St. Louis Science Center, with funding provided by the Dana Foundation and the Society for Neuroscience.