McCormick Students Host Chicago-Area Kids for ‘Brain Fair’

Free educational event will bring neuroscience to life for families

Kids react to an experiment in which cockroach legs are electrically stimulated at the 2012 Brain Fair.

Chicago-area kids and their families will get to explore the world of neuroscience — and even hold a real brain — at Northwestern’s third annual Brain Fair on Saturday, March 16.

Nearly 70 Northwestern neuroscience students from the Northwestern University Brain Awareness Outreach (NUBAO) organization — including several from the McCormick School of Engineering — will work hands-on with Chicago families to reveal the secrets of the brain through interactive demonstrations and experiments.

The activities — designed for children from kindergarten to eighth grade — aim to teach kids about the brain and spark their interest in science learning outside the classroom. Participants will control a robotic toy using electromyography (EMG) signals from their own muscles, touch a real brain, and learn about brain injury and safety, among other activities.

“We share experiments that we feel create astonishment and excitement in parents and kids alike, and embed learning within an unforgettable experience,” said Shoai Hattori, a Northwestern PhD student and NUBAO co-founder. “The Brain Fair gives all of us a chance to bring the excitement out of the lab, to talk to people and get them excited about what we do.”

Emma Baillargeon, a PhD student in biomedical engineering at McCormick and a NUBAO volunteer, said she enjoys encouraging kids’ interest in science — something Baillargeon’s own family members and teachers did when she was young.

Participants handle sheep brains at the 2012 Brain Fair.

“There's only so much you can learn in the classroom, and often times the brain and neuroscience isn't covered at the elementary level,” Baillargeon said. “That's why I think the Brain Fair is a great opportunity for kids and parents to try hands-on activities and see demos outside of the science classroom.”

Families may register on a first-come, first-served basis at The fair will be hosted by the Nettelhorst School, located at 3252 N. Broadway St. in Chicago. 

There will be two sessions on March 16: a morning session from 9 to 11:30 a.m., and an afternoon session from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Parents must accompany children.

The Brain Fair is held in celebration of Brain Awareness Week, a global campaign to increase public awareness of the benefits of brain research.

NUBAO is a graduate student-led outreach organization dedicated to bringing neuroscience to the public in the Chicago area. Bringing together graduate and undergraduate students, faculty, and staff from a range of departments, the organization has organized workshops, open houses, and lectures during and outside of Brain Awareness Week.