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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Brain Study and Impact

I attended a mind brain presentation at Boston University on Friday. The presentation provided a snapshot of what is happening in this field, and gave me lots of ideas I want to develop and think about as I continue my work to  teach young children well.

The many ideas I gained were like tiny seeds implanted in my brain, seeds I'll read more about and begin to grow as I develop my understanding of this arena. Initially however, the day-long event provided me with the following school-related ideas and emphases:
  • Our school system STEAM efforts are well directed, and the work I do to manage and develop these efforts with good research and intent matters. Creating opportunities for students to work together and integrate multiple disciplines to understand facts, patterns, and relationships as well as to invent new solutions is key instruction for the future our children will face.
  • Quantitative literacy is essential for our students, and the more that we can model mathematics in multiple ways online and offline is integral to their future success in any discipline. My advocacy for 3-dimensional modeling programs like Minecraft, 3-dimensional printers, and other sophisticated technology is right-on when it comes to developing the ability to create and understand computational models and analysis. 
  • Modernizing schools and teaching is essential to preparing students for the incredible opportunity for exploration, investigation, and innovation that exists. Old time school is not relevant to our world today.
  • Interdisciplinary Study, Thinking, and Innovation is the way of the future, and we need to foster deep, relevant, engaging problem/project base learning to build this skill and perspective.
As I noted, much of what I learned, I am just beginning to understand, however, I did add my cryptic notes below, notes I'll share with students as rationale for much of the study we do. For example, when I return to school, I'll say to students, overall I learned that scientists are basically trying to figure out how to make a Google map of the brain that shows all its parts and clearly defines how the brain behaves too. This is very complex since every brain is unique and ever changing. In some ways, our brain exploration mirrors space and ocean explorations since all three areas of study are essentially frontiers where there is much to know and understand. I'll likely discuss this before I show The Powers of Ten movie, a movie that brings this connection to life and helps to teach the fifth grade math standards too.

I will introduce children to philanthropy, the desire to contribute to the welfare of others, expressed especially in the donation of money to good causes. I will tell them the story of Rajen Kilachand, who recently donated $115 million dollars to Boston University to jump-start more collaborative science research, and for whom Boston University's new integrated engineering and life science center is named. I had the chance to meet Rajan and his family at the event. I also learned the impact and information related to philanthropy and the basic sciences and math.

Marc Kastner, President of Science Philanthropy Alliance, discussed the role of government funding and philanthropy. Kastner noted that Kilachand's donation was a "spectacular example of what science needs." He further noted that research and development impact the long term health of the economy which we can use to infer that research and development impacts the long term overall health of organizations including schools. Kastner mentioned that the United States dropped from first in research and development in the world to tenth, and that this could have consequences. He spoke in support of federal funding for the sciences, and said that philanthropy cannot fill the gaps that less public funding creates. The discussion moved to the need for greater collaboration amongst research universities and organizations.

Seeing the Depth and Vitality of Math
I had the chance to talk to Peter Robert Kotiuga, a Boston University mathematician who recommended that I read The Enjoyment of Mathematics and Pioneering Women in Mathematics. I learned a bit about his research, research that, in part, focused on the visual aspects of mathematical thinking and learning.

Recognizing the Impact of Interdisciplinary, Investigative Science Study and Impact
Later, during a symposium of scientists, I learned about new inventions in the biology and engineering:
  • Robert S. Langer introduced a new method for drug delivery, and noted that delivery systems is a main focus of biotech today. He explained that in days of old and still today, physicians and scientists, looked around their homes to find materials and models for needed invention, and used "trial and error" to invent, but now scientists are using computational models to invent via technology. He looked forward to a time when we will make organs on a chip and design body parts on a computer. An example of the production of skin and how that can much more quickly help burn victims was amazing. 
  • Richard Kitney discussed synthetic biology, and mentioned that we are in the 4th Industrial Revolution which is a time of interdisciplinary invention. He talked about new ways to make vaccines, and the fact that the flu is predicted to be big this year. He told of the use of biosensors in the body and synthetic biology. During the symposium, it was noted that DNA Code and Binary code will likely synthesize in a biodigital fusion. 
  • The discussion led to genome editing to mitigate or end disease, and the invention of the CRISPR. Diseases with single mutations are much easier to understand than diseases with multiple genetic mutations. This science depends on interdisciplinary efforts. For example the data collected in the labs is then interpreted by computational models to find patterns and relationships that lead to greater understanding and innovation.
  • At times, due to the extent of data, computational modeling may not work, and the human eye and interpretation may be better. 
  • It was noted that working close to one another leads to good synergy and interdisciplinary work because of the relationships that develop, relaxed nature of the connections, and the proximity. Creativity flows better in these environments. Yet, we know there is a good rhythm of creativity that exists with close-proximity share and global share via social media and other means.
  • The inventions they are creating essentially promote a feedback pattern of assess, choose, and activate to solve biological problems. Involving the public in a dialogue with regard to biotechnology was seen as positive, and it was also mentioned that embedding the social sciences in all new research programs was important too. 
  • Networking was emphasized, and the need to seek and identify the terminal points, points of effective exchange, is valuable. 
  • The future of neuroscience was discussed. With regard to brain disorders, the role of heredity was noted, and the potential to treat these disorders with gene therapy was illustrated. The study of brain disorders is still in its infancy, and the fact that every brain is different makes this research very complex. The fact that parts of brains can be made in a dish, makes progress in this area possible. Animal studies with mice are not as effective in this regard since the mouse brain is so different than the human brain. Studies with primates are more promising. Good research and innovation in this area will create better lives for individuals and the nation--brain disorders cost our communities lots of time, money, and trouble. 
  • Robert DeSimone mentioned that the Boston science community is the most interactive community, and that's great for the city of Boston and its universities. 
  • DeSimone said that the goal is to make a Google Map of the brain to make the brain parts and interactions transparent. 
  • It was further noted that the goal is to make activity maps of the brain to show how the brain works. Optogenetics is a study that is promising in this regard. 
  • The fact that the brain is continually developing makes the science more complex. For example brains of twins that begin as identical personalize over time. 
  • Quantitative literacy is important to understanding this science. The new world of medicine will be a world of genotyping and interdisciplinary work. A mechanistic understanding of the brain is desired. 
  • Boston University is doing some ground breaking work with anxiety, and they are working with local school systems in this regard. 
There is terrific energy and enthusiasm related to neurology and the potential for bettering lives this study brings. There is lots to consider, and much we can do to prepare our students for the world they will inherit and develop in this regard.