Looking back at Brain Awareness Week 2017

Photo: Levin Sottru

„Showcase for Neuroscience in Freiburg“ at Freiburg’s University Library experiences great public interest ...

Nine school classes and more than 350 visitors in three days: this is the result of the Brain Awareness Week 2017 in Freiburg, which took place in the University Library last week. Thirteen research groups from four faculties at Freiburg University and the University Hospital participated in the event entitled “Showcase for Neuroscience in Freiburg,” to give visitors an insight into the world of neuroscience in Freiburg, which normally remains hidden to the public eye. For the organizers of the event, science communicators Michael Veit from the Bernstein Center Freiburg and Levin Sottru from the Cluster of Excellence BrainLinks-BrainTools, the effort has paid off:

In the conference room of the University Library, visitors were able to mould a brain out of modelling clay, demonstrate their coordination skills as motor neurons in a game or spell whole sentences merely with the power of their thoughts using EEG. The visitors could also explore regions of human and animal brain specimens in great detail through the microscope. In a simulated deep brain stimulation, they competed against the computer to experience the efficiency of modern therapy approaches for such diseases as Parkinson's disease or epilepsy.

Despite their playful design, the exhibits had a serious scientific background: „Based on our ‘Pong-game’, which is controlled by nerve signals, we were able to explain the principle behind the control of prostheses,” Sottru explains. In the so-called “third-hand-illusion,” visitors could experience “embodiment” – a visual trick to make the brain belief that a rubber hand in front of the participant was their own. This approach is also applied in basic research: Among other things, Freiburg researchers investigate the emergence of embodiment on the basis of visual perception. Their insights may find application in the development of novel therapeutic approaches.

“Not many people in Freiburg are aware how many different research groups are working on unravelling the function of the human brain with an equally vast variety of approaches,” says Veit. One of the main goals of the event was to enthuse the general public for the interdisciplinary and international work of neuroscientists in the region. “A critical engagement with scientific research requires a dialog between scientists and the public.”

This dialog was also at the focus of the closing event: The tenth edition of the “Café Scientifique“ series also took place at the University Library during Brain Awareness Week. Computer scientist Dr. Michael Tangermann shared the latest findings and potentials of machine learning in EEG research with regard to therapeutic approaches for speech and movement impairments after the stroke.

The "Brain Awareness Week" was launched by the American DANA Foundation in 1995 and has since grown into an international event with neuroscience institutes participating around the world. They all share one common goal: to present findings from neuroscience in an easily comprehensible manner to the public. In Freiburg, neuroscientific research groups have been participating in Brain Awareness Week for eight years, organizing events, talks, and school visits. But this was the first time the event was presented at the University Library.

More visual impressions can be found HERE ...