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UD's summer "Brain Camp" gave students an intensive introduction to neuroscience.
As the undergraduate students participating in the 2017 Summer Workshop in Cognitive and Brain Sciences
packed their bags in 12 different states in preparation for their trip
to the University of Delaware, they knew they were embarking on a unique
opportunity to explore the frontiers of brain research.
What they didnt expect was Play-Doh.
The brightly colored modeling clay, long a staple of summer camps
everywhere, was just another way for the UD faculty teaching the
workshop, affectionately referred to as brain camp, to demonstrate the
complexities of the human brain.
Associate professor Tania Roth
had the students create model molecules from the lumps of clay so that
they could grasp in a three-dimensional way how methyl molecules attach
themselves to DNA. This process, called methylation, alters how the
genetic code embedded in the DNA molecule is expressed. Such changes in
brain cells may result from stress or trauma and can alter the
production of key proteins that affect cognition and behavior.
That was just one fun afternoon in the two-week workshop designed to
introduce curious young minds to the basics of brain and cognitive
science and the various tools scientists use to study the mysterious
matter between our ears.
The workshop was the first summer brain camp that UD will host
under the auspices of a grant from the National Science Foundations
Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
UD graduate students Alyssa Lompado and Minwoo Kim from Prof. Jim Hoffman's lab demonstrate an EEG electrode cap to students.
Fifteen undergraduates from out of state were joined by six resident
University of Delaware students. Their majors ranged from biochemistry
and biological systems engineering to the more typical psychology and
neuroscience. Three of the students remained at UD after the workshop to
complete full 10-week summer research internships with a faculty
We received about 500 applications from all over the country for the workshop, said Jared Medina, assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and principal investigator on the grant supporting the workshop.
Selecting just 15 participants from such a large pool was hard,
but we were especially looking for students with a lot of curiosity. We
were interested in introducing bright and diverse students from a broad
range of backgrounds to cognitive neuroscience and convincing them that
they are capable of doing this type of research themselves.
The students were exposed to plenty of high-tech research tools as
well. On their first day, they were introduced to functional magnetic
resonance imaging (fMRI) at UDs Center for Biomedical and Brain Imaging.
Each student was offered the opportunity to have their brain scanned.
At a later session, they received the resulting digital images of their
brains and learned how to identify and map various regions of their own
brain. They quickly saw how each individuals brain follows a common
pattern but is uniquely folded and furrowed.
It was an apt metaphor for their joint explorations throughout the
workshop. As the students brought their individual experiences,
interests, goals and perspectives to bear on their shared activities,
both in and out of the classroom, they began to form a tight-knit group.
A number of students said the relationships they formed were highlights of the experience.
I felt like a sponge over the two weeks, just absorbing
everything, said Kathleen Becker, a senior cognitive science major at
UD who would like to become a speech therapist. I got to dip my toes in
so many different subjects that I wouldnt have had the chance to
otherwise. Something Ill definitely take away is the importance of
collaboration and teamwork in science and the way people from different
disciplines come together to try and find answers to these questions
that we all have. Being in a room full of people who are devoted to
learning about something is such a great catalyst to make you want to
learn even more.
Thats the power of an immersive experience like this, Medina said.
We want that experience of a community exploring and learning together
to stick with these students for a long time.
UD Assistant Prof. Tim Vickery holds a session on functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) brain imaging techniques.
UD faculty from the departments of Psychological and Brain Sciences,
Linguistics and Cognitive Science, Education, Kinesiology and Applied
Physiology, and Communication Sciences and Disorders presented a
different topic or research technique in brain and cognitive sciences at
each morning and afternoon session, covering such topics as infant
cognition, early learning and language, the social neuroscience of
stereotypes, spatial memory, body representation, and the link between
attention and vision.
The latter topic took the students to professor Jim Hoffmans EEG
lab, where research subjects donned netlike caps to record the brains
electrical activity. The students learned what various methods of
processing those electrical signals could reveal about how the brain
To get the students thinking about next steps in their education, a
panel of UD graduate students in brain and cognitive sciences discussed
their experiences and answered the students questions. The hosting
departments also held a poster session in which both UD and visiting
students were invited to participate.
At a celebratory dinner on the final day of the workshop, each
participant received a small 3-D printed model of their own brain,
created by assistant professor Tim Vickery from
their fMRI data. The students were clearly thrilled with this memento.
With all the enthusiasm in the room, it was impossible to deny that the
future of neuroscience is in good hands.
Article by Beth Chajes; photos by Kathy F. Atkinson; video by Jeff Chase