For many, learning about science is like hearing Klingon: you may have a (very) vague idea about what’s going on, but you’d be hard-pressed to explain it. That’s why at Queen’s University, steps are being taken to bridge this gap and reach out to the public.
Queen’s has a neuroscience research program of international renown. However, they aren’t limiting their work to the laboratory. Rather, they are taking their knowledge and putting it to work in their community through their Neuroscience Outreach Program.
To quote Rachael Bosma, one of the members of the Neuroscience Outreach Executive Committee and a Neuroscience program student: “Our goal is to share what we have learned with our community. We aim to be at the forefront of discovery and innovation in our research — but being able to meaningfully communicate what we have discovered to the people that support us is another equally important challenge.”
Adds Mohsen Omrani, another student member, “As scientists, what attracts us to our research is the excitement of knowing more. Our outreach activities are a medium to share this excitement with the public.”
Queen's Neuroscience Outreach Program is a student-run initiative that aims to break down the barriers that keep people from learning about science. Through educational programs, they engage children, encouraging curiosity and a passion for learning. Through public lectures, they keep adults informed and up-to-date about the latest scientific discoveries. And through a variety of activities, they keep the elderly young, by occupying their minds and answering their questions about brain health. As program member Justine Itorralba explains: “Not only does the seniors’ community enjoy learning about the neurosciences from neuroscientists, but they also are pleased to hear talks directly related to them and the betterment of their lives."
Learning doesn’t have to be painful; it can be both fun and informative. For example, here are just a few of the program’s exciting undertakings:
· Brain awareness day — A fun day of touring science labs and participating in a wide variety of hands-on activities for over 200 grade 5 & 6 students.
· Adolescent psychiatry — At Kingston General Hospital, with the generous financial support of the Kingston Community Foundation, neuroscience students implement a twice-weekly exercise and social program.
· Science Rendezvous — Along with The Royal Military College of Canada and other groups from across Queen’s, we convey the excitement of science to the public in a one-day event.
· St Mary's — A fun social program held at St. Mary's hospital which engages a range of people undergoing rehabilitation therapy in holiday-themed games, arts and crafts.
· Public lectures — Held annually, these talks focus on current ‘hot topics’. For example, this past year a number of local experts (including Drs. Angeles Garcia and Dallas Seitz, and Ms. Caitlin Norwich-Stevenson) spoke on the topic of dementia.
· Brain Bee — The thrill (and pressure!) of a spelling bee is brought to the world of brain facts in this event for high school students. Local winners go on to compete nationally and have the chance to participate in the actual international event (which was hosted in Vienna last year).
· SEEDS — An enrichment course for grade 7 & 8 students, designed to teach them about the ways neuroscientists study the brain. Plenty of hands-on experience with research tools and more importantly, learning when and how to apply them.
· Seniors’ course — Usually hosted at the local seniors centre, this Mind and Body Wellness course is aimed at teaching seniors about important, interesting, and relatable topics including: healthy active living, working memory, chronic pain management, and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Impressively, Queen's Neuroscience Outreach Program has even looked far beyond its borders and branched out beyond the Kingston community: it hosted the first annual neuroscience outreach program at the Canadian Neuroscience Meeting in Toronto on May 23, 2013. This event brought together neuroscientists from across the country to network and share different ways of community outreach.
Says Rachael: “This was an excellent opportunity to take our outreach program to the broader Canadian community. We shared ideas and resources — it was a great networking opportunity.”
Science is an intimidating topic to many. But Queen’s Neuroscience Outreach Program is successfully navigating the obstacles that make this so. The lesson, is the same as it was back in kindergarten: together, we can work towards understanding anything (including neuroscience) — and have fun doing it.
Our Mission: To develop long-term consistent community projects focused on issues of mental health, aging, and physical rehabilitation.