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5 Brain Awareness Week Ideas (Apply Now to Get up to $1,250 in Grants!)

Brain Awareness Week Ideas

Second week of March is always a special time of year for brain buffs. That is when educators from around the world join in for neuroscience outreach in schools and local communities!

Money’s always scarce, but your organization doesn’t have to tap into its own funds. If you write up and submit a proposal within the next couple of weeks (through October 31), you may get up to $1,250 to fund your Brain Awareness Week (BAW) activities for next March. This year, the IBRO/Dana Foundation Grants Program was expanded by 60%, so your chances of winning are bigger than ever!

But where to begin? You don’t need to break your head over activity ideas. We have a lot of wildly popular, effective and customizable hands-on experiments that have already made many an appearance during previous BAWs. Or, if you prefer something new, you can always scour our blog for inspiration from our fellows and interns! All of our experiments were designed to be conducted in makeshift labs, classrooms or public spaces. Being attractive and appealing whether you’re reaching out to middle-schoolers, college students or the general public, they all stand for democratization of neuroscience.

But what if you can’t make the second week of March? No worries. You’re not in any way required to stick with the exact BAW dates (March 11-17, 2024), nor will it affect your chances of getting awarded. Do it whenever you want, as long as you use the official Brain Awareness Week branding.

5 Brain Awareness Week BYB Classics

The foremost reason why these experiments strike a chord with so many people is that they break down very complex and sophisticated concepts in a way that looks and feels lo-fi enough not to intimidate anyone. Being featured on TED doesn’t do them a disservice either!

Another reason why we chose them is that they don’t take a lot of time or equipment.

1. BAW All-Time Favorite: Human-Human Interface

Required: Human-Human Interface + Guide

What does it take to achieve control over another person’s arm so that it moves because you wanted it to move? In its essence, this is an experiment in advanced neuroprosthetics that’s cooked up for audiences as young as 5th grade!

2. Cyborg Hand

Required: The Claw + Guide

Another example of a brain-machine interface, the Claw has always been a favorite with kids! An activity as simple as using the Claw to stack plastic cups is an excellent way to plant the idea of becoming a neuroengineer into young minds.

But it’s not just middle-schoolers who reap benefits from this humble contraption. Just this March, grad students from the Yale School of Medicine showed the Claw experiments on their Brain Education Day neuroscience outreach. “I found that the younger students (middle school) were more interested in using The Claw first-hand, whereas the older groups were fine with not taking a turn, but instead showed more interest in the mechanisms behind the technology,” said Ray Vaca, one of the grad students who led the workshop.

3. Dancing Cockroach Leg

Required: Neuron SpikerBox + Guide

Since the legendary TED-Ed “Cockroach Beatbox” video took off to hundreds of millions of views across different channels, poor cockroaches have stopped being synonymous with “eew”. At least we hope so! This experiment is all the more attractive because apparently, cockroach legs have versatile music tastes. So far, we’ve seen them dancing away to the likes of Daft Punk, Cypress Hill, Fall Out Boy, and even Mandopop!

4. Muscle Recruitment During Chewing

Required: Human SpikerBox + Guide (+ a box of snacks)

Redefine your Brain Awareness Week outreach by having your participants munch on different snacks AND learn from it! This experiment explores electromyography of the masseter and temporalis muscles in action, as they work to open and close our jaws. See what happens as you munch on anything from marshmallows to gummy bears and beef jerky!

5. Venus Flytrap & Sensitive Mimosa Electrophysiology

Required: Plant SpikerBox + Sensitive Mimosa Guide and/or Venus Flytrap Guide
Plants may not have brains, but they do have electrical activity sophisticated enough that we can even talk about behaviors! Moreover, plant neurobiology is an understudied field — which is bad for science as a whole, but good for inquisitive minds.

These experiments, also made famous by TED, will show your audience how plants use electrical signals when they need to move, catch unsuspecting prey and even count!

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