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At Brain Camp, Keith Schneider (seated) explains the imaging
resources available to researchers at UD, while research associate
Ibrahim Malik (far right) prepares a student volunteer for a
demonstration brain scan.
Macias, a psychology student at California State University, Monterey
Bay, has known since age 15 that she wanted to pursue a doctoral degree
and conduct research in neuroscience.
Diagnosed at the time with a sleep disorder, she learned techniques
to cope with the condition. But, she said, she also found something else
that was helpful: Learning more about how the brain works.
I got very interested in sleep and the brain, Macias said while
attending the University of Delawares Summer Workshop in Cognitive and
Brain Sciences this June. Ive been really fascinated by brain science
At the intensive two-week program, known more informally as Brain
Camp, Macias was one of 15 undergraduate students from eight states
across the country who joined two UD students to explore academic,
research and career options in the field of cognitive neuroscience.
Faculty members from a variety of colleges and departments at the
University led sessions that included lectures, hands-on activities and
visits to campus research labs. Brain Camp, offered for the first time
in the summer of 2017, is supported by a grant from the National Science
Foundations Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).
The program was led by Jared Medina, assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences,
which houses UDs neuroscience program. Medina was the principal
investigator on the EPSCoR grant, which allows students to attend free
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Brain Camp participants in UD's Center for Biomedical and Brain Imaging look at sample brain scans that can be taken by the MRI instrument that is visible through the protective glass.
Participants, selected from a large pool of applicants, were
identified as students with a broad range of backgrounds whose academic
curiosity and experiences made them top candidates for developing
research skills in cognitive and brain science.Not all were as clear about their eventual career path as Macias, but
most said they were planning to go on to graduate school, even if they
hadnt yet narrowed down a field of study. Many said their schools
didnt have specific neuroscience programs or research facilities as
extensive as UDs.
Four of the students are staying on at UD for the rest of the summer to conduct undergraduate research.
This has been an amazing experience, to have access to the breadth
of knowledge I got from this program and to see the resources available
for research here, said Laura Pazos, a biology major at the University
of Southern Mississippi, who is considering graduate studies in
neuroscience or cognitive science.
This helped me broaden my interests when I think about my future.
Reading about it [research in different areas of brain science] is one
thing, but once I saw some of the work firsthand and got to hear the
researchers talking about what they do, I was fascinated.
Topics covered during the program included language development,
infant cognition, brain plasticity and disorders, the neuroscience of
vision, spatial memory and the effects of concussion on cognitive
For the session on brain imaging, students spent a morning with the
functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) instrument in the
Universitys Center for Biomedical and Brain Imaging.
Several participants volunteered to have their brain scanned as a
demonstration of both structural MRI, which takes a static image of the
brain, and functional MRI, which shows brain activity.
Erika Schemmel from the University of Alabama points to the image from a functional MRI, and Keith Schneider describes what that specialized technology can show as the person being scanned performs different tasks, activating different areas of the brain, which light up on the screen.
Students gathered around monitors to look at the images being taken,
as Keith Schneider, associate professor of psychological and brain
sciences, pointed to parts of the brain.
Its pretty impressive to see your
brain for the first time, he said, explaining that its structure varies
among individuals. Its always been there, but youve never seen it.
And everything you learn changes your brain in some way.
One of the last days of Brain Camp took students to the College of
Health Sciences Human Performance Lab, where athletes are given a series
of baseline tests on various aspects of cognitive function. Those
results can then be used in the future to assess the effects of a
The session was taught by Tom Kaminski, professor of kinesiology and
applied physiology, who has been conducting research on head impacts in
soccer for 20 years.
Students tried out the various assessments, including tests to
evaluate their balance and gait. In one assessment, each walked
heel-to-toe along a line on the floor, turning and walking as quickly as
possible while their times were recorded. They then repeated the test
while spelling words backward or counting backward, measuring how those
mental efforts distracted them and slowed their walking.
In a person whos had a concussion, they were told, those distracting effects are generally much more pronounced.
These kinds of demonstrations of research in action were especially
interesting to Kayla Aikins, a neuroscience student at the University of
Nevada at Reno who has conducted undergraduate research on visual
Im pre-med, so I especially enjoyed the clinical sessions at Brain
Camp, Aikins said. The speakers have all been fantastic, and Ive seen
a lot of different aspects of research.
For Aaron Halvorsen of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, the UD
program helped him learn more about the field of neuroscience, as he
explores different possibilities for graduate school.
My school doesnt have a neuroscience major, so I feel like this has
really helped me learn more about my options, he said. It was also
great to learn whats new in the field.
Article by Ann Manser; photos by Evan Krape