Children taught about brains

Brains are pretty cool; at least that’s the message students and faculty from Louisiana State and Tulane universities expressed to the curious minds that attended the “Your Sensational Brain” learning and activity session Saturday.

Held at the Children’s Resource Center in the public library branch at 913 Napoleon Ave. from 10 a.m. to noon, the session invited teachers, parents and children ages 5 to 10 to learn about brains and how they function.

Assistant professor Sonia Gasparini of the LSU Health Sciences Center Neuroscience Center of Excellence, organized the free learning session in honor of Brain Awareness Week which is observed globally Monday through Sunday.

Dr. Gasparini, also chairwoman of the Brain Awareness Week committee of the sponsoring Greater New Orleans Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience, said she truly enjoys sharing science with children.

“To see their little faces brighten up,” Gasparini said, “that’s the thing that I get the most of.”

Activities abounded, even taking up space in front of the library where kids young and old had the opportunity to learn about reflexes from Tulane University Neuroscience Association adviser Dr. Beth Wee and undergraduate neuroscience association volunteers.

“I like the idea that we’re inspiring kids to just be creative, to ask questions, to get excited about science,” Wee said. “I figure if you get them when they’re little they’ll, hopefully, remember it.”

Inside the library, student and faculty volunteers from Tulane and LSU manned tables full of microscopes, models, and specimens that included preserved human and monkey brains that attendees were invited to hold in their hands.

Lori Hutcherson, volunteer and LSU doctoral student, said she would have liked attending an event such as “Your Sensational Brain” when she was a youngster.

“If I go back to when I was that age, I think I’d be inspired because I was interested in that stuff. I think it would’ve definitely helped me,” Hutcherson said; “It would’ve inspired, put that fire in, me a little earlier.”

Children also had the chance to play at a brain-themed activity table stocked with Play-Doh, plastic brain molds, crayons, and activity sheets that allowed children to combine art and science by crafting their own mini-brain models and drawings.

One attendee, Nayyirah Foster, 8, said she really enjoyed being able to touch actual brains.

Her mom, Siddeeqah Abdul, offered that she, however, had touched enough brains as an undergraduate.

Dad Gilbert Sexton said he brought his son Alexander, 5, because just last week the boy declared he wanted to be “a brain doctor” when he grows up.

Alexander said he thought the most interesting thing about the day’s activities involved the disparity between the colors of living and preserved brains: “They’re really pink,” he explained of living brains.

Brain Awareness Week activities will continue during the coming week, with upcoming events including seminars led by Dr. Luigi Pulvirenti on Tuesday, March 12, and Thursday, March 14, that will focus on neuroscience as it pertains to chemical addiction.

Attendance is free and open to the public, but seats will be given on a first-come, first-served basis.

For more information phone the Children’s Resource Center at (504) 596-2628.