URI Brain Fair offers family-friendly exploration of brain science, health

Ryan Institute sponsors free, interactive event March 18

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Brain Fair 2017
At the URI Brain Fair in 2017, Scarlett Perrone, 7, of Lincoln, gets a look at wearable technology devices that can assist people with neurodegenerative diseases.
(URI photo/Michael Salerno)

KINGSTON, R.I., March 1, 2018 — The second-annual University of Rhode Island Brain Fair will offer the public a chance to discover firsthand the amazing capabilities of our brains and explore brain health and science through creative activities.

The URI Brain Fair is sponsored by the George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience at URI and is part of the third annual Brain Week Rhode Island, a celebration of the wonder of our brains and brain science. The URI Brain Fair will demonstrate how URI researchers are making great strides in combating neurodegenerative diseases and what we all can do to keep our brains healthy.

The free event is Sunday, March 18, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Avedisian Hall (College of Pharmacy), 7 Greenhouse Road, Kingston Campus.

Rachel Carley, a Class of 2020 doctor of pharmacy student, returns this year to again assist Pharmacy Professor Bongsup Cho in a 3-D tour of the brain. “I find that the 3-D brain tour is really fun because you see all different types of people in the theater audience. Those who understand the nuance of the brain and those who are just here to have fun and experience some of our amazing technology,” the West Greenwich resident said.

New attractions also are planned, including a two-story-high neuron, which can be “fired” only through audience participation. Dendrites on the first-floor of Avedisian Hall will be made of pressure-sensitive pads, and volunteers will need to provide “inputs” to fire the neuron, sending electric impulses (called action potentials) up an open staircase to the second floor, where receipt of the message will be signaled with lights or sound.

Also, Katharina Quinlan, assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy and the Ryan Institute, will offer participants a chance to experience visuo-motor plasticity, or motor learning, with the help of prism goggles. Volunteers will throw balls at a target without wearing the goggles and then don a pair and try again. Their vision will shift a noticeable 10 to 20 degrees, Quinlan said. “Participants will be fully aware of this visual shift, yet their ability to accurately throw the balls at a target will require practice to re-learn to aim,” she explained.

After removing the goggles, participants will again take aim at the target. They likely will be surprised that they need to re-learn to aim accurately with unaltered vision, Quinlan noted. “Hopefully this task will build a better appreciation for some of the tasks that our brains are constantly performing, which we take for granted.”

Throughout the day, URI faculty, students and staff from several disciplines will share their expertise in engaging and fun ways, including a brain nutrition quiz game, a demonstration of optical illusions, live music performances, healthy snacks and brain-themed giveaways, and a virtual reality encounter that simulates how a person with dementia experiences the world (adults only).

Register today to attend the URI Brain Fair or visit the event website to learn more.