The overarching goals of the The Big Sky Brain Project are to increase the neuroscience literacy of tens of thousands of Montana K-12 students and to enhance their opportunities for careers in the STEM field. Montana - with its vast and predominantly rural landscape, high rates of poverty, and large Native American population - requires novel science education approaches that are appropriate to the unique geographical, financial, and cultural challenges of the state. The Big Sky Brain Project team is made up of state and national leaders in the fields of neuroscience, science education, and Montana Indian education. In order to be responsive to these unique regional factors while providing a rigorous educational experience, the University of Montana's Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience and the spectrUM Discovery Area, the University's hands-on science museum, will collaborate with the Exploratorium to create a world-class neuroscience exhibition called the Brainzone. This exhibition will be housed in the new spectrUM Discovery Area, which will open in late autumn 2011 in a major regional shopping mall near the University. In a state with a population of less than a million, Southgate Mall has seven million annual visits - more than double the number of Montana's Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks combined. The Brainzone will be an integral part of spectrUM's popular field trip program for local K-12 students and will also be used in its mobile science program, which brings hands-on exhibits to isolated, underserved rural and tribal K-12 schools. The Brainzone will feature four exhibits and a computer learning lab to implement grade-specific curricula centered on neuroscience core themes ranging from gross neuroanatomy to cellular neurophysiology to learning and memory. Unlike similar educational exhibitions, the Brainzone will also include a working laboratory, called the BrainLab, that will house research-grade EEG instrumentation and a wet lab for Drosophila melanogaster neurobiology. The BrainLab, which will be in full public view, will be staffed by a graduate-level lab manager, and it will be utilized for K-12 student research demonstrations as well as by researchers ranging from high school interns to K-12 teachers to neuroscience faculty and clinicians from the University of Montana and Community Hospital in Missoula. In partnership with the Missoula County Public Schools, the Brainzone will host field trips for K-12 students to participate in grade-specific hands-on neuroscience exhibits and bench research. At other times it will be open to the public. In the final two years of the five-year project, the Brainzone exhibition will travel with spectrUM's mobile science program to bring core neuroscience curriculum to thousands of K-12 students living throughout Montana including those in isolated rural and tribal communities. Beyond the five-year duration of the grant, committed institutional support from the University, the Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience, and spectrUM will ensure the long-term value, care, and use of these unique educational resources.

Public Health Relevance

The Big Sky Brain Project will develop and implement world-class educational programming to increase public awareness of neuroscience. The project will involve exhibits and laboratory facilities in a high-profile retail mall location in the local community. K-12 students and visitors will learn about basic and applied neuroscience research, including research relating to public health issues such as brain trauma, epilepsy, and neurodegenerative disease. The project will provide opportunities to tens of thousands of Montana K-12 students to learn about careers in neuroscience and related STEM fields.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Education Projects (R25)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZDA1-GXM-A (12))
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Sasek, Cathrine
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University of Montana
Other Health Professions
Schools of Pharmacy
United States
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