Science Outreach

The Brain Research Institute’s Educational and Community
Science Outreach Programs


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The BRI sponsors multiple scientific and educational outreach programs throughout the year for the greater Los Angeles community. Events include school visits, tours and demonstrations by "Project Brainstorm" and "Interaxon," "Brain Awareness Week" activities, judging and presentation of awards at the California State Science Fair, and the LA BRAIN BEE, and BRI Summer High School and Undergraduate Student Research Internship Programs. 

Project Brainstorm
Project Brainstorm grew out of the former SPARCS (Special Achievement Rewards for College Scholars) Program that was developed by Dr. Arnold Scheibel and Ms. Norma Bowles of the ARCS Foundation (Achievement Rewards for College Scientists). In 2006, two graduate students in the UCLA Interdepartmental Neuroscience Ph.D. Program, Libby O’Hare and Rafael Romero, together with Dr. Joseph B. Watson organized Project Brainstorm into a formal course (NS192B) that offers undergraduates the opportunity to conduct field internships in Los Angeles area schools. Under the current leadership of Daya Alexander and Nicholas Hardy, Neuroscience graduate students teach undergraduates at UCLA how to speak to K-12 students about how the human brain works in a simple way. On a typical visit, a team of 2 graduate and 8 undergraduate students teach kids with a very brief power point presentation, a few teaching props, plastic models of the brain, real human brains, and a few animal brains for comparison. Through group participation, interactive games at stations, and hands-on exercises, students receive instruction in the basic science of the brain such as "What does the brain do? What is it made of? What happens as your brain grows? What is good for your brain? What is bad for your brain?" More formal topics included Brain Injury, Learning and Memory, Neurological Disorders and Effects of Drugs on the Brain. Students and teachers alike love our Neuroscience students and they respond with enthusiasm and show a great deal of interest in the brain. Hopefully this interest will survive, be nurtured and grow until the students are able to pursue an educational path that will lead them to careers in science. Project Brainstorm together with Interaxon also holds special community events off campus.

For additional information, click here.

Brain Injury ActivityInteraxon is an Undergraduate Neuroscience Educational Outreach Group affiliated with the BRI. Interaxon was founded in 2006 by Shanna Fang who was among the first group of undergraduate students to complete the Project Brainstorm course. Interaxon consists of 50 or more members from a wide variety of majors. Their primary focus is helping schools in disadvantaged Los Angeles areas which are under-funded in the sciences. Interaxon uses approaches such as stations, brain models, novel games, and props to talk about the brain, often with help from graduate students and faculty. Interaxon has been a huge success in the Los Angeles area, reaching out to a large number of K-12 student groups with as many as 6 presentations per quarter to as many as 150 students in a single visit to a school.

For additional information, click here.

Brain Research Institute Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE)

Pathway to Neuroscience and Physiology

The UCLA Brain Research Institute (BRI) sponsors a summer undergraduate research experience (BRI-SURE) pathway program for students currently participating in the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) and other honors research programs whose goal is to increase diversity. This program solicits applications from students from universities and colleges across the nation. BRI-SURE Pathway is an 8-week, intensive summer research- training program for exceptional students interested in pursuing research careers in Neuroscience or Physiology. The program is designed to provide a rigorous, in-depth research experience to prepare participants for top-quality Ph.D. and M.D./Ph.D. graduate programs. The BRI-SURE residential program offers a summer stipend of at least $2,000.

BRI-SURE participants will:
 • conduct independent research with outstanding training program faculty mentors work in a cutting edge science and technology environment
 • gain exposure to some of the nation's finest biomedical investigators and an extensive variety of research topics
 • receive individualized career counseling and develop career interests
 • participate in workshops, seminars and journal clubs
 • build a social network with student peers and faculty
 • prepare to apply to the best Ph.D. neuroscience and physiology programs.

BRI-SURE Pathway selects participants based on academic achievement, leadership, and commitment to diversity. BRI-SURE Pathway seeks students from either underrepresented or economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The 8-week program includes weekly lectures and workshops that are tailored to our students. We also provide training in scientific writing and poster preparation and presentation. The program is under the administration of the UCLA SPUR (summer programs in undergraduate research) umbrella and participates in many of their campus wide summer activities culminating in a final summer poster day.

Application requirements:

• be in good academic standing with a minimum GPA of 3.0;
• Complete UCLA SPUR Online application form
• Academic transcript
• Personal statement (limit to 1000 words) that describes your past, present or future leadership in and commitment to research and diversity in science
• Summary of prior research, if any (limit to 1000 words)
• Two letters of recommendation from science faculty
• Paragraph (500 words or less) summarizing your interest in neuroscience or physiology;
• In a separate file, applicants need to rank in order of preference, the top three research training areas: Neuroendocrinology, Sex Differences, and Reproduction; Neural Repair; Neural Microcircuits; Neurobehavioral Genetics; Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology; or Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology.

Submit additional application materials directly to:

For more information contact:
Dr. Dwayne D. Simmons, Program Director
or Mr. Benjamin Ha, Program Representative BRI-SURE Program
For Application and Instructions please go to:


Together Neuroscience and Physiology training programs include a combined total of over 200 UCLA faculty mentors. Each training program has identified five potential faculty mentors based on their outstanding track record in undergraduate training and research.

Neuroendocrinology, Sex Differences, and Reproduction
Research interests include sex determination and sexual differentiation, hormonal regulation of neural function, gender differences in disease, cellular and molecular analysis of neural development, neural regulation of gonadal and adrenal function, glial neurobiology, stress, aging, neuroendocrine immunology, growth factors and cytokines, and genetic approaches. The faculty in this area include: Drs. Art Arnold (Director), Christopher Colwell, Paul Micevych, Barney Schlinger, Nancy Wayne, and Stephanie White.

Neural Repair
The program faculty represent a number of departments and disciplines, encompassing a wide range of topics including the mechanisms leading to neurodegeneration and neuroprotection, neuronal growth and network formation during development, and neuronal plasticity in response to pathology and injury, and strategies for developing applicable therapies. The faculty in this area include: Drs. Marie-Françoise Chesselet (Director), Thomas Carmichael, Bennett Novitch, Michael Sofroniew, and Yi Sun.

Neural Microcircuits
The overall goal is to train a cadre of outstanding researchers who have both an in-depth understanding of the theoretical principles that underlie the function of neural microcircuits in multiple systems and extensive research training in modern experimental approaches to analyze neural microcircuits. The faculty in this area include: Drs. Jack Feldman (Director), Nicholas Brecha, Jack Feldman, Larry Hoffman, Baljit Khakh, and Felix Schweitzer.

Neurobehavioral Genetics
This program emphasizes training in human studies, as well as, investigations of a wide range of model organisms, incorporating state-of-the art approaches to neurobehavioral phenotyping, experimental and quantitative genetic analysis, and genomics. The faculty in this area include: Drs. Daniel Geschwind (Director), Nelson Freimer, Guoping Fan, Ming Guo, and Roger Woods.

Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology
The focus of this training program is on the cellular and molecular mechanisms of neural plasticity, broadly conceived. The program educates students in all aspects of neuroscience, with a particular focus on the application of molecular and cellular techniques to specific neurobiological questions. The faculty in this area include: Drs. David Glanzman (Director), Steven Clark, John Colicelli, V. Reggie Edgerton, Carlos Portera-Cailliau, and Dwayne Simmons.

Cellular Neurobiology
Research interests of the training faculty include membrane biophysics, cellular electrophysiology, molecular neurobiology, developmental neurobiology, intercellular interactions, sensory physiology, and central nervous system processing. The faculty in this area include: Drs. Thomas O'Dell (Director), Christopher Colwell, Diane Papazian, Hui Sun, and S. Lawrence Zipursky.

Molecular Cellular and Integrative Physiology
The Molecular, Cellular & Integrative Physiology (MCIP) program is an interdepartmental Ph.D. program that brings together a large group of renowned faculty to educate the next generation of scientists to explore complex biological functions. The faculty in this area include: Drs. James Tidball (Director), Rochelle Crosby, Baljit Khakh, David Walker, and Amy Rowat.


In addition to participation in weekly lab meetings and other research related activities, students will greatly benefit from exposure to the breadth of diverse research opportunities at UCLA, as represented by our seven training areas. More importantly, we believe that student-faculty and student-student interactions are crucial for cultivating lasting relationships, which inspire and encourage students to pursue their research careers at UCLA or other UC campuses. Opportunities will be maximized for cultivating personal relationships through a number of academic programs, which are well-established and have a successful track record in addition to social activities that are organized by the UCLA Graduate Division SPUR program.

The weekly schedule includes a minimum of 30 hours research experience, with the following additional activities:
Tuesday mornings weekly SPUR research workshops (writing and strategies for graduate    applications and fellowships)
Tuesdays at noon weekly undergraduate forums (lunch sponsored by the BRI)
Wednesday mornings weekly SPUR faculty research seminar
Thursday afternoons 3-5 campus tour/lab visits
Fridays at noon brown bag lunch journal club
• Lab meeting varies by lab, once per week
• Weekly meeting with mentor (TBD)
• Evening SPUR GRE prep course one night a week conveniently located near the dorms.

Undergraduate Forums:
This weekly seminar series sponsored by the BRI is currently in its third year. Every summer, faculty and students participate in an enrichment activity designed to broaden the perspective of students and familiarize them with diverse research areas. The seminars are designed as informal, roundtable meetings to encourage student participation and interaction, and are enhanced by pizza and soft drinks provided by the BRI. Building on this program, faculty mentors from each of the seven training program areas will present a "white board" overview of their work during the first part of the meeting, and use the second half of the seminar as an open forum devoted to discussing a variety of topics of interest to students. Discussion topics will range from specific research issues, to questions relating to career choices, such as “What is the typical day like in the life of a professor?” or “What are the differences in career paths between an MD, PhD, or someone who has both?” “What qualities do you look for in an applicant?" We have found the small group format and the informal setting very conducive to interaction among students and faculty.

Journal Club/Brown Bag Lunches:
There is often a steep learning curve for summer students new to research. You are immersed in a new field of study with new vocabulary and a new group of people --leaving an overwhelming feeling. Furthermore, sometimes even the most confident students do not feel comfortable asking questions and discussing what they are learning in the lab with their mentor. In order to address this issue, students will attend weekly lunch-time journal club meetings with Scientific Programs coordinator, Dr. Kathy Shenassa. She will lead a discussion on a journal article relevant to their areas of research to allow a deeper understanding of their own research area, as well as other disciplines and methodologies. This informal setting will also be an opportunity for students to share their personal and academic experiences with their peers in a comfortable and interactive setting. We have found these summer lunch journal clubs extremely helpful in building students’ confidence in their subject matter, as well as in building a sense of community.

Campus Tours:
Students will visit a number of different sites in and around the rich and expansive UCLA campus along with UCLA undergraduate or graduate students. Points of interest include Westwood Village, Fowler Cultural Museum, the Getty Center and museums, the UCLA Botanical Gardens, libraries, UCLA Japanese Gardens, Ackerman Student Union, and the Wooden Student Recreation Center.

UCLA Lab Visits:
Students will arrange visits to two laboratories with research areas different from their own. These visits will be led by graduate students in the lab, and will provide our students with a better perspective of graduate study, and will provide an opportunity to pose questions and interact with graduate students.

Visits to Other UC Campuses:
In order to familiarize students with other UC campuses, students will take up to two trips; UC Irvine and/or UC Riverside. These trips will provide exposure to the many exciting research opportunities at UC campuses. These trips will be coordinated by the graduate programs at UC Irvine and UC Riverside.

Participation in Poster Sessions:
Students will be required to present their work at the SPUR poster session. There will be a competition for best poster presented, judged by the same panel who selected the program students.

GRE Prep Course:
Student interns will participate in the GRE preparation course offered through our partnership with the UCLA Graduate Division SPUR program. This program, available for UCLA SPUR students, helps them improve their scores and build strong test-taking skills in a small classroom setting. Throughout the program participants will take practice exams, receive extensive personalized feedback, practice tips, and much more.

Sponsorship to the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting:
We will invite senior level students interested specifically in the neurosciences to participate in the annual Society for Neuroscience (SfN) meeting following their internship summer. The largest gathering of neuroscientists, SfN provides an excellent and exciting learning opportunity for students, while allowing us to strengthen our relationship and continue to follow up with their progress. Prior to the meeting, we will help students navigate the conference schedule and create a workable and effective daily agenda, to include seminars and poster sessions on topics of interest, as well as participation in the society’s diversity workshops and committees, and a variety of social and networking activities. Furthermore, students will meet with UCLA representatives on a daily basis to discuss ongoing plans. Students are paired with a UCLA graduate student during the conference.

Brain Awareness Week


Brain Awareness Week 2009 Showcase Video (wmv 14.0mb)
Brain Awareness Week 2008 Showcase Video (fla 7.1mb)

Human Brain

Each year the UCLA Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience recognizes Brain Awareness Week (BAW). During a typical BAW, over 250 students from schools in Los Angeles county visit the BRI on a very special field trip to celebrate the brain. Each day K-12 students arrive in front of the Gonda (Goldschmied) Neuroscience and Genetics Research Center to join Project Brainstorm leaders. The tour begins with a brief overview on the structure and function of the brain, and then graduate students conduct presentations onGraduate Instructors the brain, including some hands-on activities, and educational, age-appropriate presentations ranging from brain injury, two-point discrimination testing, sensation, synaptic function, hemispheric differences, motor system and lobe functions set up by the Interaxon undergraduate group. The students then visit research laboratories in the Gonda Center where they hear presentations about research on topics such as Aplysia, Drosophila, and memory research. Regardless of grade level, all students express great curiosity, insight, and interest throughout the entire day while being guided through the fascinating neuroscience research environment at UCLA.

New Initiatives
The BRI Outreach Program also sponsors prizes at the Annual California State Science Fair, awarding multiple Neuroscience prizes for both the senior (grades 9-12) and junior (grades 6-8) levels. The BRI also sponsors the LA BRAIN BEE in the winter. During the summer, local high school students take part in NeuroCamp which is a newly developed BRI outreach program that brings together a group of 10-12 highly motivated high school students in a centralized lab setting (Click here to read the article in Neuroscience News). Students learn the fundamentals of neuroscience and basic lab techniques in multiple 1-week modules, which include Brain Imaging, Molecular Neurobiology, and Neuroanatomy. 

BRI Outreach Contacts
Ellen M. Carpenter, Ph.D.
Associate Director for Outreach, BRI

Project Brainstorm Team Leaders
Daya Alexander:
Nicholas Hardy:

UCLA Links
UCLA Project Brainstorm
UCLA Interaxon

Educational Links

How the Brain Works
Recovering From A Stoke
NERVE, Neuroscience Education Resources Virtual Encycloportal is the Society for Neuroscience information gateway for teaching K-12 students about the nervous system:
Fun sites for kids to understand the brain through games and analogies:
A creative site for understanding how drugs influence the brain reward pathways:
Online Book of Brain Facts:
National Institute on Drug Abuse- School materials and links to correct information about abused drugs:

Informational Links

The Mental Note
Los Angeles Brain Bee


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