June 17, 2010

VU, Adventure Science Center set to create interactive exhibits on the brain

VU, Adventure Science Center set to create interactive exhibits on the brain

Vanderbilt University has received a $624,000 federal stimulus grant to help develop state-of-the-art interactive exhibits on the brain and brain disorders at Nashville’s Adventure Science Center.

This award extends a long-standing partnership between the Vanderbilt Brain Institute and the Adventure Science Center aimed at promoting public understanding of brain science and reducing the stigma of mental illness, said institute director Mark Wallace, Ph.D., who is heading up the exhibit project.

While the new exhibits are intended to be “child-friendly,” said Wallace, “we really want to engage the adult visitors as well, and teach them something about mental illness, mental health and the exciting research being done at Vanderbilt.”

Current studies include the brain mechanisms that underlie autism, how the brain processes information, and how the chemical systems of the brain influence behavior.

The one-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health is a community outreach supplement to the five-year, $10 million grant awarded in 2007 to establish a Silvio O. Conte Center for Neuroscience Research at Vanderbilt.

The Adventure Science Center “is such a logical place for us to reach out into the community,” noted Randy Blakely, Ph.D., who directs the Conte Center and the Center for Molecular Neuroscience at Vanderbilt.

A goal of the exhibit, to open by early summer 2011, will be to achieve visually-striking, information-rich displays comparable to those developed for the new Space Chase wing of the Adventure Science Center, including the potential for multimedia presentations.

“The Conte Centers … feature our best and brightest researchers using cutting-edge approaches to tackle the most important problems in neuroscience and mental disorders,” said Laurie Nadler, Ph.D., chief of the Neuropharmacology Program at NIMH.

“For that reason, public outreach … is emphasized, so people can learn about the latest discoveries about the brain and mental illness and realize that mental disorders are brain disorders,” Nadler said.

Vanderbilt’s proposal was “particularly strong” because of its ongoing outreach efforts, including the annual Brain Awareness/Brainstorm programs and relationship with the Adventure Science Center, she added.

Chris Ciarleglio, Ph.D., who recently earned his doctorate through the Vanderbilt Neuroscience Graduate Program, has been named assistant director for Outreach and Education at the Vanderbilt Brain Institute and will serve as Vanderbilt coordinator of the exhibit project.

A 12-member advisory committee that includes Blakely, Wallace and members of the Nashville community will work with the Adventure Science Center exhibit team. Serving as the project's content team, the group will aid in this exhibit's conceptual design and will be responsible for content review.