Psyched Out: Mayborn presents Brain Awareness Week

By JP Graham | Reporter

The Mayborn Museum is home to multiple exhibits, interactive activities and artifacts that reveal the history of Waco. This week in particular, the Mayborn is also home to Brain Awareness Week, a global campaign launched by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives. Visitors are invited to explore the exhibit’s games and brain teasers from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. this week at the museum on University Parks Drive.

Nancy Minter, coordinator of Portal to the Public for the Mayborn Museum, reached out to the neuroscience department at Baylor University last year to begin planning this week’s exhibit. Minter, alongside Baylor’s associate psychology professor Dr. Michael Scullin and Ph.D candidate Suzanne Nolan, began coordinating the week-long event months ago.

Minter said the purpose of the celebration is to raise awareness regarding current research in the field and to help the public understand how that research applies to their everyday lives.

Last year’s Brain Awareness Week at the Mayborn attracted around 600 people, but Minter said that Monday alone attracted over 1000 visitors from Waco and elsewhere around the country.

“We are touching a lot of lives, bringing an awareness of the importance of your brain, and taking care of the parts of your brain.” Minter said. “Especially when it’s a hands-on activity and [visitors are] actively engaged.”

Throughout the week, various activities are set up to teach visitors more about the way their brains work. One of these interactive activities asks participants to write their name or draw a picture with their non-dominant hand. Minter said this demonstrates how the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body and vice versa, allowing participants to test the difference in each of their hand’s abilities.

An interactive activity at the Mayborn Museum’s Brain Awareness Week exhibit.
Photo courtesy of Grace Pruett

To find funding for Brain Awareness Week, Minter applied for the Portal to the Public grant, which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. This grant, ultimately awarded to the Mayborn Museum, was one of only sixty of its kind, which were awarded to museums, universities and libraries across the country.

Minter said the grant application process required more than simply filling out an application; she had to prove that the exhibit would make a far-reaching impact on the community.

“Part of this Portal to the Public grant also has intellectual merit involved,” Minter said. “The requirement for anyone writing a grant is to provide broader impact, and that’s where it bridges Baylor University with the public here at the Mayborn.”

Shelby Rivers, a Baylor graduate student studying psychology, headed a station at the exhibit titled “What is a scientist?” For this activity, participants observed photos of students conducting research, some of whom were dressed in lab coats and others who were not, and were asked to decide which of those depicted in the photo were scientists. Rivers said this activity is supposed to address stereotypes surrounding scientists.

“Kids come up and draw what they think a scientist is, so the idea is to get them thinking about stereotypes and how scientists can do lots of different things,” Rivers said. “It’s really important for psychology because sometimes people don’t think of that as a science.”

Additional Brain Awareness Week events include activities related to sleep science, color perception and memory and brain structures. Not every activity is available everyday, as they are cycling through a rotating schedule. The Brain Awareness Week exhibit is included in the general price of admission and is free to Baylor students and faculty until Sunday, March 18.