Pick Your Brain at the Annual Pawtucket Brain Fair

Celebrate Brain Week with cerebrally inspiring and entertaining (free!) activities for the whole family.  
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Courtesy of Brain Week RI.

Is there anything more fascinating than the human brain? Some may say a single week is not nearly enough time to delve into all the wonders this complex organ has to offer, but it’s certainly a great start. Brain Week Rhode Island (BWRI), a themed week which highlights both the wonders of the human brain and the wealth of neuroscience research happening in the Ocean State (as part of the global International Brain Awareness Week campaign), will take place Saturday, March 11 through Sunday, March 19 and it has quite a few thrills in store.

On Sunday, March 12, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., children, parents, educators and more are encouraged to head over to Hope Artiste Village in for the a cerebrally inspiring and entertaining Pawtucket Brain Fair. The free, all-ages event will feature a variety of interactive stations where you can learn about brain health, participate in brain science labs, study your own brain waves, try on distortion goggles, familiarize themselves with community resources and more. Plus, have you ever wondered what a brain feels like? Attendees will even have the chance to touch a real human brain.

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Courtesy of Brain Week RI.

“It’s so exciting to be back in person. Brain Talk, the virtual talk show we developed during the COVID-pandemic, was a great hit but nothing compares to touching a real human brain or shaking hands with a scientist who inspires you,” says Victoria Heimer-McGinn, PhD, chair of Brain Week Rhode Island and assistant professor at Roger Williams University. “There is an abundance of neuroscience in Rhode Island and a growing public interest in the most remarkable computing device known to date: the human brain. People want to know just how everything happens, from dreams to our poor life decisions, to health conditions like Alzheimer’s. It’s no surprise that in seven years we have experienced substantial growth in terms of our audiences, supporters, and collaborators—even in light of the pandemic.”

Other activities hosted by local businesses at the fair will include free face painting and the chance to create your own brain art. Additionally, experts will weigh in with stimulating “Lightning Talks” presentations on associated topics such as brain health, mental illness, sleep, cannabis use, decision-making and artificial intelligence. Students can also take advantage of an on-site career fair and meet admissions officers from various Rhode Island schools (including Brown, Roger Williams, Bryant and more), plus learn about different viable science-related career choices. This year’s keynote speaker will be psychiatrist Alvaro Olivares, MD, who will speak on the state of mental health in Rhode Island. Dr. Olivares is chief of the Kent County Memorial Hospital’s cultural psychiatric program, chief of the ECT unit at Butler Hospital, and former radio host of “Mental Health with Dr Olivares.”

Heimer-McGinn also previews that some key changes have been made to the program this year in light of important conversations around diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility.

“We chose the venue in Pawtucket because it’s closer to a diverse community. Additionally, our outreach includes materials and presentations that are in Spanish and Portuguese as well as including ASL translators,” she says.

This year’s celebration will include a Puerto Rican Carnival Parade featuring traditional dancing, made possible by the Puerto Rican Institute for the Arts and Advocacy (PRIAA), and Latina 100.3 will broadcast live from the fair between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. This year’s BWRI Co-Chair, Kristin Scaplen, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Bryant University’s School of Health and Behavioral Sciences is looking forward to sharing her findings with wider audiences.

“My current research focuses on understanding the way learning and memory can be disrupted by drugs of abuse or other conditions. I have been delighted to work with Victoria Heimer-McGinn on this important effort to disseminate information and expose a diverse community to these sorts of connections,” she adds.

If you can’t make the Pawtucket Brain Fair, or are simply looking to continue the fun, the Brown Brain Fair will be held in Providence the following Saturday, March 18, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. This fun event is likewise free of charge and will also feature a number of activities from art projects and games to mini-lectures for both teenagers and adults.

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Courtesy of Brain Week RI.

In addition to the brain fairs, BWRI provides free in-classroom BRAINY visits to K-12 schools in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls throughout the month of March. Since its inception, the organization has visited more than thirty schools, reached more than 4,000 students, held more than fifty events, and created more than twenty online resources for participants.

Just take it from David Upegui, PhD, a science teacher at Central Falls High School.

“The human brain is responsible for our thoughts, emotions, and processing our world. No wonder learning about the human brain is so important for all of us! This is why Brain Week RI has been such an important part of my curriculum at Central Falls High School,” he says. “My school has been participating since 2016 and this year we have the privilege of running one of the outreach sessions at the Brain Fair. We are forever grateful for people like Dr. Victoria Heimer-McGinn and the rest of the Brain Week group for affording us the opportunity to explore this bundle of neurons.”

Stefan Pryor, a member of the BWRI organizing committee and the state’s incoming RI Secretary of Housing, agrees that neuroscience is one of the fields in which Rhode Island truly excels.

“Brain Week RI is an important way of getting the word out about the pioneering research and groundbreaking therapies that our state’s institutions and scientists are producing. It’s also a terrific way for Rhode Islanders to learn about and experience the progress for themselves — through events that are informative and enjoyable,” he says.

For more information about Brain Week RI, visit brainweekri.org.