The brain is on NYC's mind this week.
The global campaign Brain Awareness Week kicks off Monday, with events and lectures planned around the city to bring awareness to advances in brain science and how people can maintain their brain health.
We talked with neuroscientist Dr. Sloka Iyengar, director of education for Discovery Times Square and a clinical researcher with the Northeast Regional Epilepsy Group, about Brain Awareness Week and developments in the field of neuroscience.
What happens during Brain Awareness Week?
Neuroscientists talk to kids, non-neuroscientists, everyone, about what we know about the brain.
Why is it important to have this dialogue?
One of the reasons is, all the research that is being done in the United States is being paid for by taxpayer money. I think we just have an obligation to say what is happening with their money. The research is also just very exciting. Our brains make us who we are. Just to be able to understand a little bit about how the brain works is fascinating. If we understand what research is being done, I think we can have a bigger impact on our own health. For instance, if you read about research that talks about sleep deprivation and what that does to the brain, you might be more inclined to sleep well.
How else can we be more mindful of our brain health?
Regular exercise is good for the brain, socializing with friends, eating a healthy diet. Lifestyle factors, such as abstaining from drugs and alcohol, are all good things for the brain. Wearing a helmet when riding a bike is good for the brain. And trying new things, such as doing something with your [opposite] hand, or doing puzzles, all help the brain.
What is still a mystery about the brain?
For me personally, I think consciousness is just something that we don't understand very well. It makes us who we are, but we know so little. Another big question in neuroscience is how much of disease is genetic and how much happens as an adult. With schizophrenia, for instance, we're finding out that there is some genetic component. It doesn't give us a treatment right now or next year, but the more we understand these things, maybe in the future we will have something to predict. Little steps now lead to big breakthrough hopefully.
What have been some recent breakthroughs in the neuroscience field?
A big discovery is the technology optogenetics. What it can do is use light to activate neurons. It's a big breakthrough in the lab. On the patient side, there's a lot of [progress] with brain-computer interfaces. People who have been paralyzed for years, neuroscientists can implant a brain-computer interface and they can walk again.
What are some everyday applications of neuroscience research?
I think if you have a better sense of research you can apply those findings. For instance, you might think that mild concussions may not be that harmful, but research shows you that it can be, and you still should have it checked out. With lifestyle changes, we know that when you have a lot of stress, there are hormones that can impair memory, so that could be an implication to not be too stressed and to meditate.
Brain Awareness Week events
Here’s some of what’s happening in NYC:
Staying Sharp: Experts from NYU's Center for Cognitive Neurology discuss memory, healthy brain aging and caregiver issues. 2-4 p.m., FREE. NYU Langone Medical Center, 550 First Ave., Alumni Hall B. RSVP: Eventbrite.com
NYU Community Brain Fair: All-ages fair, featuring interactive exhibits on the brain. 2-5 p.m., FREE. 550 First Ave., Farkas Auditorium Breezeway. RSVP: Eventbrite.com
The Future of Minds, Brains and Machines: Gary Marcus talks about the future of neuroscience and artificial intelligence. 8:30 p.m., $8. Cornelia Street Café, 29 Cornelia St., 212-989-9319
Understanding Autism: Professor Amanda Mentzer and Dr. James Hedges discuss their research on autism. 12:15-1:30 p.m., FREE; Queens College, 65-30 Kissena Blvd., Flushing, New Science Building, room A302. RSVP: Eventbrite.com
Community Brain Expo: Test, trick and learn about your brain at this annual all-ages expo. 2-5 p.m., FREE. Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute at Columbia University, 40 Haven Ave. RSVP: Eventbrite.com
Brain Awareness Fair: Hosted by the Sinai Neuroscience Outreach Program, with exhibits on helmet safety, brain myths and more. 3-6 p.m., FREE; Guggenheim Pavilion at Mount Sinai Hospital, 1468 Madison Ave., 212-241-6500
BioBase: Hands-on learning stations will teach kids about the brain. 3-7 p.m., FREE; The Lower East Side Girls Club, 2101 Ave. D. RSVP: Eventbrite.com
BioBus: Board this mobile lab for an up-close look at brains. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., FREE. Washington Square North at Fifth Avenue. RSVP: Eventbrite.com
Brain Camp: Activities on brain health for ages 7 and up, plus real brain specimens. Admission $27 adults, $19.50 kids ages 3-11 (use code BRAINWEEK to save $5), 11 a.m.-1 p.m.; Discovery Times Square, 226 W. 44th St., 866-987-9692, discoverytsx.com
ArtLab - Memory + Myth: A theater-based exploration of the neuroscience of memory, featuring original work from The Deconstructive Theatre Project. 6:30 p.m., $10; Center for Performance Research, 361 Manhattan Ave., Williamsburg. Tickets: Eventbrite.com
Brains and Brews: NYU Professor Eric Klann discusses the relationship between molecules and memory, and NYU Professor Joseph LeDoux talks about the mind-brain connection. 7 p.m., FREE. Drom, 85 Ave. A. RSVP: Eventbrite.com