Exciting Students about Neuroscience: The Altamont School- University of Alabama at Birmingham Outreach Partnership (Lead PI: Mike Wyss)

Exciting Students about Neuroscience: The Altamont School-University of Alabama at Birmingham Outreach Partnership
Students Reached: ~ 400 students, fifth – twelfth grade, > 70 high school students
Lead Researcher:   Dr. Michael Wyss, University of Alabama at Birmingham
Lead Teacher: Dr. Mary Williams and Mrs. Trudy Loop, the Altamont School  

Dr. Mary Williams and Mrs. Trudy Loop, who are both science teachers at the private Altamount School, worked with Dr. Michael Wyss, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), to develop multiple activities to introduce fifth to twelfth grade students to neuroscience. In the first of these events, Dr. David Sweatt, of the UAB Medical School, gave an assembly to all of the approximately 400 fifth through twelfth grade students at the Altamount School.

33 students in the ninth and tenth grades in Dr. Williams’ Honors Chemistry class each prepared posters that were displayed publicly as part of Brain Awareness week. Students each chose a neurochemical to study, then prepared posters describing their basic chemistry and structure, how they function within the body, and particularly how they affect the teenage brain. Topics chosen included neurotransmitters, hormones, and illicit drugs. Multiple sessions were led by guest speakers, each hosting approximately 15 high school students as part of Brain Awareness month. One speaker, Dr. Carl McFarland of UAB, talked about studying neuroscience in college and facilitated a summer research position for one student. Mrs. Loop led a session on guided relaxation for faculty, then in the next session Ms. Sharron Swain of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham discussed meditation for faculty and students. Students then dissected human and mouse brains under the guidance of Dr. Scott Barnum, UAB, in the fourth Brain Awareness month session. Dr. Caroline Reich, a practicing radiologist, discussed neuroimaging and her career in neuroradiology. Finally, an Altamount alum and brain cancer patient, Mr. Barry McCrae, visited students and shared his experiences with them.

Neuroscience questions, designed by students in Mrs. Loop’s classes, were incorporated into the daily “Morning Reports” at the Altamount School. Students who correctly answered those questions were awarded neurotransmitter temporary tattoos. 12 high school students competed in a local Brain Bee competition, and laboratory exercises examining the effects of cortisol and stress, the fundamentals of Huntington’s Disease, sheep brain anatomy, sleep patterns, and the electrophysiology of insects were included in both Mrs. Loop’s and Dr. Williams’ courses.

In addition to the duties described above, Dr. Williams organized all speakers and created promotional material for all events, and Dr. Wyss coordinated all efforts between UAB faculty and the Altamount School, where 27% of students involved qualify for financial aid. Responses to these programs were overwhelmingly positive and this program will be expanded upon in the future.

ASBMB HOPES funding was used to purchase supplies for student posters, electrophysiology and coristol level kits, a sleep monitor, neurotransmitter tattoos, brains for dissections, a speaker honorarium, and laboratory consumables. Brain Awareness month activities will continue in the future, and field trips to the laboratory of a practicing scientist will be incorporated into future fall semesters at the Altamount School.


Left: Neurotransmitter temporary tattoos, worn my students
Right: students dissecting a human brain with Dr. Barnum