Virginia Tech neuroscientists are passionate about understanding the mysteries of how brains function normally and the processes that go awry in disease states and after injury.

Now they are sharing their passion with the public in an event called “The Electric Brain.” This year marks the 10th straight year that the research institute has hosted the event on the Health Sciences and Technology campus to mark Virginia Tech’s official recognition of Brain Awareness Week. 

The public event includes brain-healthy foods and hands-on exploration beginning at 5 p.m. Monday, March 13, in the atrium at 4 Riverside Circle in Roanoke. Presenters will have stations on subjects including brain anatomy, how the brain responds to food, building neural connections in children, exercise and the brain, and more. 

What type of research are scientist sharing?

  • By studying zebrafish, Albert Pan and his team found a molecule critical in development of the brain’s stress response, a finding that sheds new light on the potential cause of mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety, and related disorders. 
  • Stephanie DeLuca at the research institute’s Neuromotor Research Clinic pioneered the use of intensive therapy that takes advantage of the brain’s intrinsic plasticity mechanisms to help children with cerebral palsy and other movement disorders to make rapid gains in function.
  • Sora Shin, in the research institute’s Center for Neurobiology Research, discovered that a neural pathway in the brain that typically provides signals to stop eating may be altered by early life trauma.
  • Alexandra DiFeliceantonio, an appetitive neuroscientist, is working to better understand interactions between the brain and food. She has provided evidence and advocated for the hypothesis that highly processed foods – such as sugary soft drinks, baked goods, chips, burgers and fries – share the addictive properties of tobacco

Other stations will feature Zhen Yan, director of the Center for Exercise Medicine ResearchKristofer Rau, assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine who teaches the medical neuroscience course; and Michael Fox, director of the School of Neuroscience in Virginia Tech’s College of Science.

“We are excited to share what we do with the community. It is a fun and informative event because it gives scientists and the public the chance to share thoughts and questions around one of the greatest enigmas of understanding life itself – the consilience of brains, minds and behavior,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology.

“Studying the fundamental mechanisms of how brains operate gives us insight into so many things that make us – whether as a fish, a mouse, a bird, or a human, from simple reflexive behaviors to critical bodily functions, like eating and sleeping, to more complex functions such as decision-making, thought and memory,” Friedlander said. “Understanding both healthy and diseased brains is crucial to better understanding who we are and why we act and interact the way we do as well as providing a scaffold for improving lives and the health of individuals and ultimately our communities.” 

The event is part of Brain Awareness Week, a global campaign to foster public enthusiasm and support for brain science. Every March, participants host activities that share the impact of brain science on everyday lives. The campaign promotes advancement and funding of brain science and is part of The Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives. Attendees will receive the traditional Brain School diploma from the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute.

In addition to inviting the community to the research institute for the Monday night brain school, graduate students studying neuroscience will be visiting health and science classrooms in the community. They will be sharing their work with high schoolers and encouraging the next generation of neuroscientists.

Attendees are asked to register in advance to attend “The Electric Brain.”

2023 Brain School Schedule for Monday, March 13:

  • 5 p.m.: Neuroscience learning activities for all ages in the Riverside 4 atrium. 
    • Virtual plasticity, electricity of the nervous system, and comparative neuroanatomy
    • Zebrafish and the human brain
    • ACQUIRE Therapy: Building neural connections
    • Stress and the brain
    • Noninvasive brain modulation: Ultrasound and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
    • Food and the brain
    • Exercise and the brain
  • 6 p.m.: Brain School
    • “Electricity is Life – Fire in the Brain!” presented by Friedlander, whose research at Fralin Biomedical Research Institute focuses on how the brain interprets patterns or noisiness of electrical signals.
    • “When Things Go Haywire,” presented by Associate Professor Matt Weston, whose research at Fralin Biomedical Research Institute focuses on treatment-resistant seizures.
    • “Changing Brain Activity Non-invasively,” presented by Wynn Legon, assistant professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute whose research focuses on using low-intensity focused ultrasound to treat addiction and pain.
    • “Rhythms of the Sleeping Brain,” by Sujith Vijayan, assistant professor in the College of Science’s School of Neuroscience, who studies sleep, memory and mental imagery.
  • 7:20 p.m.: Brain School Event ends
  • Extra Credit: Brain research facility tours
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