Twice a year the MIT Museum honors women in science while simultaneously inspiring their future peers with Girls Day, an event aimed at children 10 and up. This November the theme was neuroscience, and the event organizers naturally reached out to Harvard for volunteers.
MIT contacted the Conte Center, whose advisory board includes MCB faculty Takao Hensch and Jeff Lichtman. Through their work, three MCB scientists participated in the event: Rashmi Sarnaik and Alice Tao from the Hensch lab, and Daniel Berger from the Lichtman lab.
“I was involved in educational outreach events when I was an undergraduate student, so I was very excited to take part in Girls Day,” said Tao. “Growing up, the women scientists I met have been amazing mentors, and I appreciate opportunities like Girls Day for girls to learn about fascinating scientific principles from other women scientists.”
The scientists demonstrated a simplified electroencephalography (EEG) reading, showing the attending children and parents the electrical readouts of their own brains.
“Since having two daughters of my own, I’ve become more aware of presenting images of women in all walks of life, including science,” said Sarnaik. “It was a wonderful experience to explain to kids that their brains generate and communicate via electrical signals. Seeing their eyes widen with curiosity was very gratifying. What was a bit unexpected was to see how excited even parents were at seeing their own brainwaves, and how they change with attention or meditation.”
The attendees were not the only ones who benefited from the experience. According to Berger, events that involve explaining your research to a lay audience can be just as useful to the scientists.
“I like explaining my research to others because it requires me to think more deeply about what I am doing and why,” said Berger. “Especially when talking to non-scientists, I have to try to come up with ways to explain complex concepts in simple terms. This helps me organize my own thinking, and you never know what you will be asked! Sometimes a simple question can make you think about your own research in completely novel ways.”
The next MIT Museum Girls Day will take place in March 2019.