Neuroscience Trivia Night

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On Saturday, July 12, the Neuroscience GSA held a trivia game at The Chocolate Bar on Chippewa Street in Downtown Buffalo.  Questions ranged from general topics such as, “What was the weight of Einstein’s brain?” (1230g or 2.71lbs) to “Describe two different ways that acetylcholine can function as a neurotransmitter” (open nicotinic receptors and activate muscarinic receptors).  Claire Modica organized the trivia presentation and Courtney Benson won the competition.  A special thanks goes out to Dr. Susan Udan, Dr. Anil Neelakantan, and Dr. Yannick Poitelon for contributing trivia questions and answers for the event.

Neuroscience Picnic

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The Neuroscience GSA held our annual NeuroGSA picnic on Wednesday, June 18th this year. As in previous years, the picnic was once again held at the beautiful Ellicot Creek Park, which runs along Tonawanda Creek. Members of the UB Neuroscience community fired up the grill and gathered together to partake in some great summer food and drinks on a warm summer day. This is the 5th consecutive year of the “end-of-the-year” picnic, which serves as an unofficial marker of another successful year of Neuroscience and events by NeuroGSA members. The event is planned, funded, and organized by the Neuroscience GSA and sponsored by the Neuroscience Program.

Girl Scouts of WNY “Go to Neuro School”

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The Girl Scouts coming to UB was a new event held by the Neuroscience GSA this year. There were approximately 40 Girl Scouts and parents that attended this event. The girls varied in ages and included a mix from elementary to high school. The stations that the students from the Neuro GSA had set up were similar to the Brain Awareness week activities. The girls got a tour of the brain museum. Then we had various stations set up that the girls rotated through, which included anatomy (in which they got to see and touch a real human brain), microscopy of various slides, touch and reflex, and scent/hearing/taste. The last section included interactive presentations on vision, cognition, and graduate school and careers in science.

The girls’ parents and neuroscience students also had a great chance to communicate about the experience of getting into and attending graduate school as well as what they study and what the various job opportunities are in academia and outside of it. It was a great opportunity to interact with the girls and find out about their interests.

At the end the students from the Neuroscience GSA had lunch with the Girl Scouts and their parents. They discussed more direct ways of how to get into graduate school and the parents raised lots of questions. They were already discussing setting a date to come back next year. These events are really great opportunities for the neuroscience graduate students to get to interact and teach students about what we do and to get them excited about science.

Brain Awareness Week Events 2014

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This year, as in years past, Neuroscience GSA members were extremely enthusiastic about Brain Awareness Week, which was held throughout the months of March and May. Elementary, middle, and high school aged students spanning three different schools participated the Brain Awareness Week, including students from Hutch-Tech High School, Buffalo, NY; Heim Middle School, Williamsville, NY; and PS 89 Dr. Lydia T. Wright School of Excellence, Buffalo, NY. This was a great event for the students to experience and for many it was their first exposure with neuroscience-related topics. Various hands-on stations were set up to familiarize students with basic concepts in neuroscience, which included introduction to anatomy with specimens in the brain museum, microscopy looking at various sections from multiple species, olfaction demonstrations using scents of assorted items, touch and reflex, attention, and visual exercises.

Students were able to visit the brain museum, which houses numerous brain specimens that depict different sections and various disease states. The microscopy section showed the students how to use a basic microscope and visualize different slides that included mouse spinal cord sections, slices from monkey cerebellum, giant polar neurons, and taste bud slides. Paper bags of assorted scents were used to explain how different scents are transduced through signaling. Various items were placed in bags for the students to touch to see if they could figure out what that item was without seeing it. Students had their basic reflexes tested. Attention and visual exercises were also performed to show the students how our brains process information to enable perception and focused behavior.

Brain Awareness week is a great opportunity for students to learn about neuroscience that wouldn’t necessarily get this exposure in the classroom at such a young age. The best part about this event was getting to see all of the cards the students drew and colored for us as a thank you for teaching them and letting us know how much fun they had.

Neuroscience GSA Annual Invited Speaker: Dr. R. Douglas Fields

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The Neuroscience Graduate Student Association held its 4th Annual Invited Speaker Lecture on Thursday, May 8, 2014 at 4pm in Butler Auditorium, 150 Farber Hall. The Association invited Dr. R. Douglas Fields, Chief of Nervous System Development and Plasticity Section, National Institute of Child Health and Development, National Institutes of Health. Dr. Fields met with graduate students for an informal lunch before giving his talk about activity-dependent plasticity and development, and he later joined the graduate students for dinner at Black Rock Restaurant. Dr. Fields has made a career of being an interdisciplinary neuroscientist with the National Institutes of Health, yet writes science books and articles for the general audience in his spare time. With the graduate students, he contrasted his experiences working in university and government and discussed how he made his way to success in work and in life.

Western New York Brain Bee 2014

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Members of the UB Neuroscience Graduate Student Association and the Buffalo Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience helped organize the local Brain Bee competition for the fifth consecutive year. The Brain Bee is a competition for high school students in which they are tested on their knowledge about the brain.   The event was led by Dr. Elizabeth Hogan, PhD, Associate Professor of Biology at Canisius College, with the help of several Neuroscience graduate students.

Prior to the Brain Bee competition, NeuroGSA members Sarah Hayes, Tom Covey, Nived Nair, Courtney Benson, and Claire Modica conducted a review class for the competitors based on the material from the Brain Facts handbook. Brain Facts is a free access primer published by the Society for Neuroscience covering information about the brain and nervous system, and the reading material serves as the basis on which the Brain Bee students are tested. The UB graduate students prepared presentations from each chapter in the Brain Facts book which enveloped a wide range of neuroscience topics including development of the nervous system, the neural basis of learning and memory, neurodegenerative diseases, and research techniques used to study the nervous system.

The Brain Bee competition was held on February 15rd, 2014 at Canisius College’s new Science Hall. Three UB graduate students, Lara Duffney, Jay Garaycochea, and Jia Cheng, assisted in the event as judges.   During the competition, students answered multiple choice and short answer questions about the brain and nervous system, and they were also required to identify different parts of the brain. Each year the winner of the Western New York Brain Bee goes on to compete in the National Brain Bee.

The continued effort of Dr. Hogan and the UB Neuroscience graduate students has led to another successful Brain Bee. The NeuroGSA’s involvement in the community provides enduring motivation for high school students to learn about the brain and pursue careers in neuroscience.

Interdepartmental Social at the Chocolate Bar

On Friday, December 13, the Neuroscience GSA joined with the Biological Sciences GSA and the Pharmacology and Toxicology GSA for a social gathering at The Chocolate Bar in downtown Buffalo to celebrate the end of 2013.  This interdepartmental activity was supported, in part, by the central Graduate Student Association, which began funding collective events in 2012, to foster relationships between students from different disciplines.  The event was quite successful!  Graduate students mingled by the flowing chocolate fountain to get acquainted and enjoy themselves, while sipping on imaginative cocktails and snacking on an array of sweets.

“Careers in Industry” Field Trip

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Life Technologies’ facility in Grand Island, NY

Life Technologies, now a ThermoFisher Scientific company, hosted the NeuroGSA last autumn for a discussion about careers in industry. On November 20, 2013, the NeuroGSA was treated to a presentation given by their Human Resources, Manufacturing, and Research and Development departments, and then took a tour of the GIBCO facility on Grand Island.

Neuroscience Research Day Social

On Friday, September 27, the UB Neuroscience Program and the Buffalo chapter of the Society for Neuroscience held the annual Buffalo Neuroscience Research Day. The NeuroGSA got together for an after-party at Anchor Bar, one of Buffalo’s restaurant institutions and inventors of the famed Buffalo Wing. Members of the club were joined by visiting students and post docs, as well as members of other UB Graduate Student Associations who attended and/or presented at the Neuroscience Research Day.

Brain Awareness Week 2013

This past Spring, members of the NeuroGSA joined forces with the UB Brain Museum to breathe new life into Brain Awareness Week 2013.  Traditionally, the NeuroGSA has traveled to local schools, materials in-hand, to deliver interactive learning demonstrations to students within their own classrooms.  This year, with the collaboration of Brain Museum curator Dr. Christopher Cohan and the Center for Urban Studies coordinator Gavin Luter, the NeuroGSA was able to invite schools to take field trips to UB’s South Campus.  This change in venue allowed for the NeuroGSA to connect students to the Brain Museum and the anatomy laboratories of the Biomedical Education Building, while expanding their resources for scientific investigation.

Fourteen UB graduate students demonstrated various topics of neuroscience including anatomy, cellular biology, attention and perception, reflexes and nerves, and sensory systems.  Anatomy was explored using fixed human brains and cow eyes; cells were visualized by microscopy of brain and tongue sections from mouse and monkey; attention and perception were explained with video and props; nerves were investigated with reflex hammers and an electrical stimulator; auditory sensation was examined with tuning forks; olfactory and tactile sensation were tested by identification of mysterious scents and textured items.  Finally, visiting students also spent time in the Brain Museum where Dr. Cohan led a discussion about brain disease and the specimen on display.

The schools which participated in Brain Awareness Week were Futures Academy High School from downtown Buffalo and Heim Middle School from Williamsville.  The NeuroGSA members who volunteered were: Tom Covey, Lara Duffney, John Fleites, Jay Garaycochea, Sushmitha Gururaj, Mateen Haroon, Tad Kaczynski, Nived Nair, Naomi McKay, Claire Modica, Tenzin Ngodup, Kim Plyler, Tony Sacca, and Philip Whalen.  The fixed brain and eyes, brain and tongue sections, microscopes, reflex hammers, and tuning forks were provided by Dr. Cohan and the Brain Museum.  The electrical stimulator was provided by the Biological Sciences Department.  The video and visual props for attention and perception, as well as the collection of items to identify by touch and smell, were gathered and prepared by members of the NeuroGSA.  Name tags for the NeuroGSA and visiting students were provided by Dr. Ray Dannenhoffer.  Uniform t-shirts, designed by the NeuroGSA, were provided by Dr. Malcolm Slaughter and the Neuroscience Program.

In the months since March, Brain Awareness Week has elongated into a year-round relationship between the NeuroGSA and the Brain Museum.  Neuroscience graduate students have continued to participate in field trips other schools have scheduled to the Brain Museum, thereby expanding NeuroGSA’s ongoing community service and investment in local educational enrichment.

If you would like to volunteer with the NeuroGSA, or you know of a class which would like to learn about neuroscience, please email buffalo.ngsa@gmail.com with your inquiry.