The Canadian Association for Neuroscience is very proud to announce that the Ottawa Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience has been awarded a 2019 CAN Neuroscience Outreach & Advocacy Award for their important and very successful knowledge transfer activities within the scientific community and to the public. The CAN Advocacy Committee was impressed by the large range of activities organised by the SfN Otttawa team, and the extent of their outreach to the Ottawa community. Their enthusiastic and relentless work has allowed them to very successfully promote the importance neuroscience research to a large audience.
The Ottawa SfN Chapter’s activities included the organization of outreach educational events, community fundraisers, and academic and community knowledge transfer. A group of 17 very motivated students that recruited volunteers from Carleton University and the University of Ottawa organized these events. The SfN Ottawa chapter has had a significant impact in science promotion in the Ottawa region for a number of years, and was awarded the 2018 Chapter of the year award from the Society for Neuroscience for these efforts.
An overview of the activities organized by the Ottawa SfN Chapter is presented here.
Public Outreach Educational Events
The SFN Ottawa Chapter organizes a number of educational outreach programs aimed at disseminating neuroscience research to children and adults of all ages. The Chapter has done this through different events that include visits to schools, organization of neuroscience clubs, more recently with visits to the museums, and through regional and national competitions based on neuroscience knowledge.
Brain Awareness Week
Following the leadership of the Dana Foundation and in coordination with SFN Chapters around the world, students and faculty members of the SFN Ottawa chapter visit schools in the spring of every year to promote education and research about the brain at local elementary and high schools. Last year their members visited over 40 schools in Ottawa and its surroundings, reaching more than two thousand students in one week. This represented an increase of about 20% from the previous year, in part because of a collaboration with the University of Ottawa Brain and Mind Institute. Presentations include topics like how the brain makes sense of the world, Brain and Mental Health, The Plastic Brain, and The Brain in Health and Disease. Brain Awareness Week has featured in radio and TV news outlets almost every year since we started the program.
Ottawa Brain Bee
For the past seven years, the SFN Ottawa chapter has been hosting the Ottawa Region Brain Bee Competition, a neuroscience trivia competition with grade 10-12 high school students competing to participate at the National Brain Bee competition. Generally, five to six schools participate in this event with an average of 15 students entering the competition. The winner travels to Hamilton Ontario to participate in the National Brain Bee competition, and a chance to represent Canada in the World Brain Bee. In addition, the winner of the competition earns a summer paid research internship in Dr. Alfonso Abizaid’s lab to train in basic neuroscience techniques. This initiative has been very successful in part because of the internship offered, but also because the SfN Ottawa Chapter has started to train students in the fall by creating neuroscience clubs at different schools across the city. This has generated a pool of students that are highly motivated and well trained. The Ottawa competitor from this year, Melisa Eraslan, a grade 10 student from Colonel By High School, placed 5th in the national competition (http://brainbee.ca/). The creation of more science clubs will lead to an increase in the pool of participant schools and students and aims to bring Ottawa in the top three competitors.
A Day at the Museum
Last year the SfN Ottawa chapter started a partnership with the Canadian Science and Technology Museum to conduct Brain Awareness Week activities and demonstrations associated with how the brain works. These demonstrations included hands on activities showing how to measure brain waves (i.e. EEGs), neural conduction, neuromuscular synapses, etc. The activities were prepared for young children and their parents, and took place on March 8th. Over 2000 children and their parents participated in the demonstrations that took place on that one day. The feedback received by the museum was excellent, and SfN Ottawa repeated the event over the whole Brain Awareness Week in March of 2019. Because of this event, the Ottawa SfN Chapter was invited by Ontario Brain to participate in Brain Bonanza, a similar event that took place June 16th and 17th 2018 to highlight the “Brain: The Inside Story” exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Nature. During these two days, SfN Ottawa chapter volunteers gave demonstrations to over 6000 children and their families.
In all, the collaborations with the Museums had a massive impact and allowed them to reach a much larger audience and encouraged them to commit to continue these collaborations as part of their annual outreach and education activities.
On Demand Presentations
In addition to Brain Awareness Week, the Ottawa SfN Chapter offers presentations to schools, retirement homes, and non-profit groups on demand. These are free and tailored according to the requests of those requiring the lectures. In the past, these lectures included presentations on aging and cognition given to retirements homes, the dangers of energy drink misuse in children and adolescents given to elementary school children, concussions in sports given to the general public as part of a science café, and the importance of sleep on mental health and quality of life, presented to the Lymphoma Society of Canada. Last year the chapter presented lectures on the neurobiology of addiction to a support group in the Royal Ottawa Hospital clinic for addictions. Finally, they have also conducted talks about stress in the work place at Health Canada. While these services are not a widely advertised, these are relatively popular through word of mouth and is a service we are committed to fulfill.
One of the primary mandates of the SFN Ottawa Chapter is to increase mental health awareness in the community. To fulfill this mandate, they created 8 years ago a public event that combined neuroscience and art to support a local charity. In addition, the SFN Ottawa Chapter partnered with the Royal Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa Brain and Mind Institute to participate in a number of events that raise funds for research in neurodegenerative disorders, and mental health disorders to ultimately improve the health of Canadians.
Brain and Mental Health Art Show
The SFN Ottawa Chapter collaborated with the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Hospital, and the Ancoura Foundation to have a community event in which local artists submit their work where the main emphasis is on Neuroscience and Mental Health. Proceeds from this event go to the Ancoura Foundation, a charity that supports a community of half way homes housing mental health patients. This is an open public event and is widely advertised in the community. Last year the show attracted over 400 people from the public and featured on TV and Radio shows. In addition, the event raised over $7000 for Ancoura.
Lap the Gats
This is an event organized by the University of Ottawa Brain and Mind Institute. In this event, teams of students and faculty members participate in a biking race through the Gatineau Hills to raise money in support of Parkinson’s disease research. Members of the SFN Ottawa Chapter participated as volunteers organizing and running the event, as well as racing in the event.
Academic Knowledge Transfer
For the past 8 years, the SFN Ottawa Chapter has organized a number of knowledge transfer events that include conferences, lectures and symposia aimed at promoting the dissemination of scientific knowledge to the academic and general public. These events have been extremely successful and have provided a fantastic platform for local students and researchers to present their work to their peers and to the community as a whole. These events have also brought some of the best neuroscientists in the world to Ottawa.
SFN Sponsored Grass Lecture
For the past eight years, the SFN Ottawa Chapter has supported the SFN Grass Lecture, a public lecture that highlights research within the context of pressing issues in our community and one given by a world class neuroscientist. These lectures have included speakers like Dr. Connor Liston (2018; Corticolimbic circuits underlying depression), Dr. John Cryan (2017; Gut Microbiome and mental Health), Dr. Tracy Bale (2016; Transgenerational Effects of Trauma), and Dr. Bruce Cuthbert (2015; Research Domain Criteria for Mental Health). In general, the Grass Lecture has an average attendance of 350 people from the community, faculty and staff from Carleton University and the University of Ottawa, and takes place at Carleton University or at The Royal Ottawa Hospital as part of the Young Researchers Forum.
The Young Researchers Forum
For the past 6 years, the SFN Ottawa Chapter has collaborated with the Royal Ottawa Hospital Research Centre to organize a regional conference where mental health partners, from researchers and clinicians to patients and their families, gather to discuss the latest findings, theories and challenges related to brain disease. Students and Faculty members of the SFN Ottawa Chapter volunteer to organize the conference and participate as judges for student poster competitions, giving lectures and workshops, and working at the registration table. The Chapter also supports a prize for the best basic science poster. This is one of the most important events conducted by the Chapter because it has solidify the relationship between two different institutions, and allows for direct interaction between students and stakeholders (i.e. patients and their families). Over 350 people in average attend the Conference every year.
The Brain and Mind Institute Research day
This is a regional meeting where basic researchers and clinicians present latest findings in relation to brain disease and function. This event is organized through a collaboration between the University of Ottawa Brain and Mind Institute, Carleton University Department of Neuroscience, the SFN Ottawa Chapter, and the University of Ottawa Psychology Department. The event is the largest neuroscience conference in the city and brings together neuroscience researchers from all institutions in the Ottawa region. Presentations include symposia given by local researchers and a keynote (the Anthony Hakim Lecture) that brings a top international neuroscientist. These have included Dr. Larry Young (2017; neurobiology of love and bonding), Dr. Eric Nestler (2015, Neurobiology of Depression), Dr. Tracey Bale (2016, in collaboration with SFN Ottawa Chapter).
In all, for the past 10 years the SFN Chapter has provided services to the community that raise science awareness and promotion. The SFN Ottawa Chapter has played a key role in bringing together several institutions including Universities, School Boards and Museums. Through these collaborations, The Chapter is providing services that have an impact not only at the academic level, but also at the community level where more and more people are learning about the brain, and how advances in brain research bring better quality of life.
The Canadian Association for Neuroscience is very proud to give the SfN Ottawa Chapter a 2019 CAN Outreach and Advocacy Award.
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