Imagine a portable supercomputer that requires only the wattage of a dim light bulb to run and yet can decode ancient languages, invent fictional worlds, and distinguish friend from foe. The Virginia Tech community will be celebrating that supercomputer – the human brain – during Brain Awareness Week, which begins March 11.
“Brains are profound enigmas of high performance and creativity,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. “All brains – including those of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals – are complex organs that represent pinnacles of the evolutionary process, capable of performing demanding tasks more efficiently and effectively than any machine. And each brain has evolved the exquisite adaptive capacity to extract, decipher, and act upon information in the world that is essential to survival.”
For the first time, the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute will serve as an official partner for Brain Awareness Week, an annual international campaign that unites the efforts of universities, hospitals, government agencies, schools, and associations to increase public awareness about the progress and benefits of brain research.
The principal highlight of the local week long commemoration will be Brain School, a public seminar series in which Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute faculty members will offer an owner’s manual on the brain. During four consecutive evenings, the neuroscientists will explore the hardware and software of brains, how brains make sense of a noisy world, how brains misbehave, and how they develop and age. Attendance is free, yet limited by space restrictions, so pre-registration is required.
“Brain School will highlight not just the profound functional capacity of the brain, but also its ability to adapt to challenges,” said Friedlander. “And those challenges occur more frequently than people might realize. Taken together, disorders such as stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, autism, depression, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder have a greater economic impact on the country and the world than any other type of disorder, and that includes cancers and heart disease.”
Other local Brain Awareness Week events will include Mythbusters: The Truth about Your Brain, an after-school event sponsored by the Science Museum of Western Virginia; Brain Matters, a series of presentations at area schools; Reading Your Mind: How to Decode the Brain Mid-Thought, a seminar sponsored by the Roanoke–Blacksburg Technology Council; and Food for Thought: Chefs Celebrate Brain Awareness Week, a challenge issued to restaurants to invent dishes with brain-healthy ingredients, such as blueberries, salmon, nuts, coffee, and chocolate.
In addition, in advance of Brain Awareness Week, the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute will co-host a scientific symposium with Virginia Commonwealth University and the Central Virginia Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience on March 7 and 8. The Labile Brain: Neuroplasticity Throughout the Lifespan will feature leading brain researchers from across the country.
“We’re looking forward to working with our partners throughout the area to celebrate Brain Awareness Week,” Friedlander said. “It’s a great opportunity to help share some of the wonder of the brain with our friends, neighbors, and colleagues in the community.”
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