The PBS Brainiacs Outreach Again

April 08, 2016
Brain Awareness Week 2016 officially spanned March 14-20th, but for PBS Professors Karen K. Szumlinski and Tod E. Kippin, outreach activities at local schools and organizations began in January and continue on into late April. For the past 5 years, “The Brainiacs” Drs. Szumlinski and Kippin have been conducting brain awareness presentations for the 7 preschool classrooms at the Orfalea Family Children’s Center on West Campus, teaching 3 to 5 year olds about the basics of brain function, with a focus on brain safety. With the “matriculation” of their own children to elementary school, Drs. Szumlinski and Kippin established The Brain Booth for Hope Elementary School’s STEM night in 2015 and this year, with the assistance of their graduate students, took over a classroom with brain exhibits, dissections and neuron face-painting. In an effort to provide a more intimate learning experience for Hope Elementary School students, Dr. Szumlinski created the “Hope for Brains!” neuroscience program for Grades K through 6.


Taking over the Science classroom for a period of 2.5 weeks, Drs. Szumlinski and Kippin ran a fun, interactive, course that included an exhibition of human, sheep, mouse and rat brains, sensory and memory experiments, microscopy, excitatory/inhibitory neurotransmitter relay races, and the ever-popular “build a pipe-cleaner neuron” activity. Once again, for the preschool and younger elementary students, Eggalicious was the star of the show as the children marveled over how her helmet protected her skull and kept her “egg brains” from coming out. The Hope School 6th graders had so many questions, Dr. Szumlinski had to come back for a 2nd session! Dr. Szumlinski took her brains on the road to the Goleta Valley Girls Inc. afterschool program on April 6th as a participant in their STEM afternoon, providing an opportunity for grade K to 6 girls from around Santa Barbara, Goleta and Isla Vista to view brain specimens and inquire about the brain.

Later this month, Dr. Szumlinski will be running an all-school program at Santa Barbara Charter School, making this year’s Brain Awareness campaign the largest yet! “My hope for the very near future is to conduct similar school-wide or organization-based programs all across Santa Barbara and Goleta. We have such a strong neuroscience community here at UCSB, with lots of enthusiastic researchers and students – there is absolutely no reason why this cannot be accomplished. This year, 2 individuals managed to reach out to 2 entire elementary schools, in addition to more than 100 preschool children and 150 children in an afterschool program. I envision creating a Brainiac Club to recruit interested graduate and undergraduate students, as well as faculty to the cause. With more people-power (and some funding), we can develop city-wide activities that rival the Brain Awareness Week programs at other UC campuses and show the children of our community what their brains are made of!”, said Dr. Szumlinski. Individuals interested in participating in Brain Awareness Week and expanding the program are encouraged to contact Dr. Szumlinski directly by email: