The long-term aim of this project is to develop a revolutionary way to engage middle and high school students in neuroscience and thereby increase their interest in possible careers in this area. This will be achieved by creating highly interactive and immersive educational materials that make maximal use of today's 3D modeling and videogame technologies. Using the brain of a 3D character, the students will first observe and then control, the activity levels in the regions of the brain that are responsible for sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste and movement. In doing so, they will learn how structure and function in the brain are related, how the functions of the brain are compartmentalized, and how imaging technologies, such as functional MRI, are used to monitor changes in brain activities in people. Having explored the brain at the macroscopic level, the students will then enter the microscopic world of neuroscience where they will explore synapses in a "patient" with neurological symptoms. In this case study, the students will travel into a 3D model of the patient's brain where they will observe activities within the synapses, take measurements about the production, release and interactions of neurotransmitters with their receptors, compare these measurements with those in normal synapses, develop a hypothesis to account for any abnormalities identified, test that hypothesis by applying specific treatments, and then compare responses to those treatments to determine if their hypothesis was correct. In doing so, the students will leave their usual passive roles as 'receivers of information'in the classroom to take active roles of neuroscientists in search of a diagnosis and treatment for a real-world disease. This project will address the growing problem of lack of diversity in the science work force by partnering with schools with high percentages of economically disadvantaged underrepresented minority students, and an all- girls school in Atlanta. Not only will these students help at the outset of the project by identifying the neuroscience topics students find most difficult to understand, but they will also be directly involved in field- testing the educational materials in their formative stages. In the latter component of this Phase I project, the students will provide critical input into the design and presentation of the neurology case study to ensure that it 'speaks'to two demographics that currently are underrepresented in science in the US.
While diseases of the nervous system, such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, autism and depression are critical health problems in the United States, few of our high school students are interested in careers aimed at combating these diseases. This is especially true for girls and under-represented minority students. This project will address these problems by combining 3D software and video game technologies to create teaching materials that will engage high school students in important concepts in neuroscience.