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Exploring the Final Frontier: Brain Awareness Week

The human brain is responsible for amazing things – from space travel to skyscrapers, from epic poems to cures for a host of formerly deadly diseases. What it hasn’t done so well at, so far, is understanding itself.

Actually, it is only by comparison to our knowledge about other things—how our hearts work, or how life formed on our planet—that our understanding of the brain falls a bit short. Though there’s a lot we still don’t understand, we have learned quite a bit about our brains, especially over the last 100 years, thanks to the hard work of pioneering scientists who developed new tools to explore below the microscopic level.

BAW logoToday is the first day of Brain Awareness Week (BAW) 2015, celebrating their work, and the ongoing work that continues to increase our understanding of our brain—the incredibly complex organ that defines us has humans. This is the 20th BAW, which is sponsored each March by the Dana Foundation.

Why do we need a Brain Awareness Week? Here are a few answers to that:

1. The obvious – our brains are who we are: Understanding how the brain works can tell us a lot about why we behave the ways that we do—from how we learn language to how we assess risks or react to trauma. Knowing more about who we are can help us make decisions about how we live together in society.

2. Brain disorders are serious and common: Traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, brain tumors, stroke, and of course, the brain disorders we call mental illnesses – taken together, they affect most of us, or someone we’re close to. And for the most part, they are either life-threatening or in some way life-defining, because our brains are the control centers of our bodies. We need to know more about how the brain works to treat its disorders better.

3. The brain is complicated, and neuroscience is hard to understand: Brain Awareness Week tries to bring brain science to those who aren’t neuroscientists. There are events to help teach students about the brain and online resources for those of us who are interested. One hope is that more students will get excited about the brain and pursue careers related to neuroscience or brain health. And for the rest of us, knowing more about how our brains work prepares us for the coming explosion of new knowledge about brain health.

There’s a wealth of online information about the brain. You can explore through the following links—a small sample of what’s out there:

Drawing of neurons by Ramon y Cajal

Santiago Ramon y Cajal, a Spanish scientist, is often called the father of neuroscience. His detailed illustrations of neurons, drawn in the late 19th century, were the first ever depictions of these cells.

The BAW website has a long list of resources.

BrainFacts.org has a wealth of brain-related information, photos, news, and resources.

BrainCraft: A YouTube channel of short, fun videos about how our brains work.

A lovely video showing neurons in action.

A video with a little more detail about how neurons actually fire.

A short lesson on neurons—less beautiful but very clear and informative.

A good, short video about mapping the brain.

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