This week is Brain Awareness Week (BAW), an annual observance dedicated to raising public awareness about the progress and benefits of brain research. Coordinated by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and the European Dana Alliance for the Brain, every March, BAW unites the efforts of partner organizations around the world in a week-long celebration of the brain.
From visiting classrooms for Brain Awareness Week, Dr. Janet Dubinsky from the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota became aware that teachers wanted to learn what neuroscience has uncovered about brain mechanisms of learning and memory. To address this need, the Department of Neuroscience and the Science Museum of Minnesota created BrainU. Her current partner is Dr. Gillian Roerhig from the STEM Education Center.
Launched in 2000, BrainU is a grant-funded professional development program that teaches educators neuroscience principles and effective methodology for teaching neuroscience in the middle to high school classroom. BrainU, the neuroscience teacher institute, provides teachers with up to 160 hours of neuroscience training, materials, and staff support to bring brain science to their students. Participants in these professional workshops receive updates on the latest in neuroscience research — discussion is complemented with hands-on activities and lab work.
The BrainU website provides lesson plans and resources for teachers and some cool stuff, including brain pictures, optical illusions, and movies.
The movie ‘The Synapse’
In the nervous system, the synapse is essential for neuronal function. A synapse is the junction between two nerve cells or neurons, consisting of a minute gap across which impulses pass by diffusion of a neurotransmitter. The movie ‘The Synapse’, used with permission from BrainU, tells an entertaining and informative story of how neurons communicate with each other at synapses, changing information from electrical to chemical and back to electrical signals. Check out their story below (the movie opens in a new window).
Copyright 2000-2012, BrainU, University of Minnesota Department of Neuroscience and Department of Curriculum and Instruction. Supported by a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the National Center For Research Resources and the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives of the National Institutes of Health, with additional funding from SEDAPA and ARRA. Its content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of NCRR or NIH.
With humans living longer than ever before, diseases associated with aging are becoming a major focus of medical research. Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, are a major source of concern to aging adults. This is because such diseases not only lead to death, they do so through a particularly frightening route that includes loss of independence, memory, function, and personality. All adults experience a decline in certain aspects of brain function as they age. Memory, speed of cognition, and reasoning are among the functions most affected . The effects of aging on cognition appear to be due to atrophy of brain tissue in particular regions, especially the prefrontal cortex and parietal cortex , as well as decreased neurotransmitter levels.
The ability to multitask and mentally juggle multiple demands is essential in today’s fast-paced world. At the same time, we’re bombarded with information that can both distract and overload our focus and attention.
Many of us need a caffeine “boost” in the morning or throughout the day to maintain mental focus. However, drinking too much coffee or tea leaves you feeling like you need to do a couple of laps around the building.
And although coffee consumption offers a number of potential health benefits, many of us drink more than enough of it on a daily basis. Energy drinks are an alternative option. However, their effects on cognitive performance are principally related to the presence of caffeine .
Enter Brain Toniq
Brain Toniq bills itself as the world’s first and only botanical-based, non-caffeinated functional “think drink”, specifically designed to increase mental focus, function and clarity. According to the Brain Toniq website:
Formulated out of plant extracts and natural compounds, the ingredients in Brain Toniq have a long, proven history for their effects on increasing brain power and cognition.
I’d previously heard about Brain Toniq and was intrigued at the idea of an energy drink designed to increase cognitive performance. Additionally, the Brain Toniq website references peer-reviewed research studies that examine many of the ingredients. When I contacted the company, they were kind enough to send me a sample to review.