A Dynamic Neuron & His Dynamic Poster At #SfN12
Oct19

A Dynamic Neuron & His Dynamic Poster At #SfN12

Ned The Neuron If you attended the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting earlier this week (SfN 2012) in New Orleans, you might have passed by a blonde woman carrying a fuzzy blue stuffed neuron. Lest you think you had one too many drinks on Bourbon Street, I’m here to tell you this was no hallucination. The neuron’s name is Ned. He’s an adventurous sort with a bunch of fun-loving friends—Stella the stellate nerve cell and Bernard the bipolar retinal cell, to name a few. At the moment, Ned works in the motor cortex of the brain, helping humans put one foot in front of the other to traverse the great outdoors. The blonde carrying Ned is Erica Warp. Once a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, studying spinal-cord development in zebrafish, Warp is Ned’s creator (and biggest fan). She dreamed him up during grad school, and when it came time to chart her future, she says the decision came down to “postdoc or Ned.” She chose the little blue guy. Along with developer Jessica Voytek, Warp has created an educational story platform around Ned: It includes a storybook overlaid with audio and music as well as interactive diagrams and mini-games. Voytek and Warp came to New Orleans to present a poster about their efforts to bring Ned’s story to life and to promote their iPad app, “The Adventures of Ned the Neuron.” (Android users, your app is coming soon.) “Neuroscience is a great gateway science for kids,” Warp says. “It’s cool. It’s something they can experience directly, through vision, touch, and other sensations.” But it’s also a subject that students typically don’t encounter until college, she adds. And that’s a shame. That’s because it’s a science that’s accelerating—a true frontier. There’s so much neuroscientists are now finding out about the brain, and there’s still so much they don’t know, Warp says. Kids should experience this vibrant field earlier, she contends. “Even if they don’t end up going into science later in life, we want them to have a positive association with it.” Voytek and Warp worked hard to get “The Adventures of Ned the Neuron” ready to launch at this year’s SfN meeting (having just established their company, Kizoom, in February). They managed to meet their deadline, although Warp says they are still doing some kid-testing and are making revisions to the app on the basis of feedback. Warp is hopeful that this initial story about Ned will be just the first in a series of adventures for Ned. If successful, she could see Kizoom adding stories to the app in which Ned explores other brain functions...

Read More
The Goods From The Society For Neuroscience’s Annual Meeting
Nov18

The Goods From The Society For Neuroscience’s Annual Meeting

Earlier this week, I attended the 41st annual Society for Neuroscience (SfN) meeting in Washington D.C. to gather information for some future C&EN stories. I thought the American Chemical Society national meetings were enormous, but this one takes the cake. At last count, the number of people attending SfN 2011 was more than 32,000—about double the number that usually go to ACS. Of course ACS meetings happen twice a year and SfN happens only once so it probably evens out, but the sheer size of the exhibit hall and some of the rooms for the oral sessions at this meeting were overwhelming. I got tired just walking from one end of the exhibit hall to the other, but I wanted to see how SfN’s goodies and swag compared with those of a typical chemistry meeting, so I soldiered on. Vendors had the usual mix of candies, cloth bags, and pens at their booths. Pens don’t typically draw me in, but one vendor that was giving them out had the longest line in the joint. That’s because DPSS Lasers was personalizing their pens on the spot. The firm, a laser supplier, of course, took down folks’ names and then etched them into the sides of their pens with a high-powered UV laser. One woman standing in line with me quipped that this was the longest line she’d stood in at the meeting, with the exception of the line at Starbucks. For those who’ve never been to the DC convention center, it contains only one of the infamous coffee stands, which always has a queue with at least a 20-minute wait. Passing by animal enclosures, microscopes, and electrochemical setups for neuronal recording, I eventually reached the Elsevier booth farther down the hall. The vendors there were giving out pins and do-it-yourself brain caps. Simply pop the brain parts out of the paper sheet, cut and tape, and voila!—you’ve got a map of the parts of your brain that fits conveniently over your noggin. Just make sure you wear it with the occipital lobe in the back; it would be embarrassing otherwise. But one of the most interesting booths I passed by was one from UC San Diego’s School of Medicine. The people manning that booth weren’t selling anything, the girl who I spoke with assured me. They were just demonstrating their new Digital Brain Library. The display drew me in because on one side, it showed videos of brains on ice being sliced and photographed. On another screen, a three-dimensional brain representation was being rotated and opened up for an inside view. The researchers at UC San Diego’s Brain Observatory work...

Read More