WASHINGTON – The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) will present five neuroscientists with this year’s Science Education and Outreach Awards, comprising the Award for Education in Neuroscience, the Science Educator Award, and the Next Generation Awards. The awards will be presented during SfN’s annual meeting, Neuroscience 2023.
“The Society is honored to recognize this creative group of neuroscientists working to educate the public about science and combat misinformation,” SfN President Oswald Steward, said. “Their innovative approaches — including games and viral social media videos — inspire not just the next generation of neuroscientists, but also non-scientists around the world, provide hands-on experience to underserved communities, and increase the public’s understanding of neuroscience.”
Award for Education in Neuroscience: Angel Kaur
The Award for Education in Neuroscience recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to neuroscience education and training. The award includes travel to SfN’s annual meeting.
Angel Kaur, an associate professor of neuroscience at the University of North Carolina (UNC), Asheville, has implemented creative strategies to educate both neuroscience students and students outside of the sciences. In addition to designing and teaching many neuroscience courses and laboratory activities, Kaur expanded her reach by creating several interdisciplinary courses including a freshman seminar on science communication and an Arts and Ideas course on neuroscience fiction in film. These courses are well loved and help inspire an interest in neuroscience for students outside of the department. She has also created game-based learning activities for her neuroscience courses, including a neurotransmission board game called Signal, a vocabulary card game series called Forbidden Neurds, and several interactive puzzles. These games have been so successful they have been showcased at conferences, adopted by faculty across the country, and led to many speaking opportunities. Kaur has secured education grants that help expand upon her pedagogy and grow her own educational practice, as well as bring scientific studies into undergraduate classrooms across STEM departments at UNC Asheville. Kaur has also received many honors and awards, including various teaching awards, from UNC Asheville.
Science Educator Award: Christian Bravo-Rivera and Kelly Lambert
The Science Educator Award is supported by the Dana Foundation and honors two neuroscientists who have made significant contributions to educating the public about neuroscience. The award includes a $5,000 prize, travel to SfN’s annual meeting, and an opportunity to write a feature commentary on science education in eNeuro.
Christian Bravo-Rivera, a neuroscientist at the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine, created NeuroBoricuas, a groundbreaking initiative that is inspiring and nurturing the next generation of neuroscientists in Puerto Rico. NeuroBoricuas promotes neuroscience knowledge in Puerto Rico by developing research labs in high schools, enabling educators to teach neuroscience, and creating collaborations between research institutions and schools. Bravo-Rivera has brought together a group of scientists and educators committed to revolutionizing the scientific culture of Puerto Rico and created a platform for students to engage in hands-on experiments, interactive workshops, and mentorship opportunities. Aspiring neuroscientists also help and encourage each other as well as exchange findings and join in scholarly conversations through NeuroBoricuas. Bravo-Rivera actively seeks to engage students from underrepresented communities, provides them with opportunities that may have otherwise been inaccessible, and prepares them to excel in the diverse and collaborative scientific community. His ability to make complex scientific concepts accessible and engaging is unparalleled and his leadership, creativity, and unwavering commitment to improving science education have had a lasting impact on countless students in the wider community, fostering curiosity and instilling a love of learning.
Kelly Lambert, a behavioral neuroscience professor at the University of Richmond, deftly merges best practices in education with outstanding science that makes neuroscience accessible, interesting, and fun for both her students and the community at large. She has written two textbooks, “Clinical Neuroscience: Psychopathology and the Brain” and “Biological Psychology,” which both have sold thousands of copies, educating students around the world about the wonders and mysteries of the brain. She has also written three mainstream books — “Lifting Depression,” “The Lab Rat Chronicles,” and “Well-Grounded” — and is at work on a fourth. Lambert’s work is often covered in the mainstream news and her rodent driving research and science outreach program has been highlighted in two documentaries, including the Netflix series, “The Hidden Life of Pets,” demonstrating her exceptional ability to present complex concepts to non-scientists in an accessible way. She also engages in public outreach in various ways, from appearing on podcasts to creating a YouTube video series called “Brain Chronicles,” which explains fundamental neuroscience concepts in twenty minutes or less. At Randolph-Macon College, she co-founded the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, which has provided hundreds of college students full-time paid summer research experiences. She is incredibly caring, creates an inclusive and nurturing environment particularly appreciated by students from traditionally marginalized communities in STEM, and continues mentoring her students throughout their career, establishing lasting relationships. Lambert is an innovative
teacher who provides excellent training in the classroom and beyond, has been honored for her undergraduate teaching and mentorship, and has inspired a multitude of students from all backgrounds to pursue careers in neuroscience due to her passion for teaching.
Next Generation Award
The Next Generation Award recognizes SfN chapter members who have made outstanding contributions to public communication, outreach, and education about neuroscience through activities such as classroom engagement and social media campaigns, typically at the high school level or below. The award includes a $300 honorarium and a $750 travel award, plus a $2,000 chapter grant to be used to continue the chapter’s outreach efforts in the following year.
Pre/Postdoctoral: Erin Purvis and Benjamin Rein
Erin M. Purvis, a neuroscience doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, is passionate about connecting biomedical researchers and trainees with the community and has engaged with students at all levels — from elementary to graduate school — with a focus on underserved groups. She co-created an academic program in community engagement at the University of Pennsylvania that includes both a graduate-level course and a certificate program. The course allows biomedical graduate students to develop their science communication skills by preparing demonstrations and hands-on activities for local high school students in West Philadelphia. The course also includes discussions of the challenges local schools face and proposals to address them, as well as reflections on the connection between students’ biomedical research and the local community, the historical role of science in underrepresented communities, and opportunities to increase science-oriented engagement throughout doctoral training. The certificate program is the first formalized academic program in community-engaged scholarship to be offered for biomedical trainees at the University of Pennsylvania. She also helped launch a partnership providing a dozen undergraduate students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities with a summer internship that challenged each of them to hone skills in science communication and design their own project proposals. Purvis’s efforts to establish a sustainable connection between biomedical students at the University of Pennsylvania and the community of West Philadelphia will have a lasting effect of community engagement and inspire generations of future neuroscientists, both those at Penn and in the local community.
Benjamin Rein, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University, creates educational videos viewed by millions on social media apps such as TikTok and Instagram. He started posting videos to combat misinformation at the start of the pandemic, quickly gained views and followers, and realized the immense potential to educate and break down barriers between
science and society. His videos cover a variety of topics in neuroscience and related areas, such as summarizing research articles, debunking misinformation in viral videos, teaching basic neuroscience principles, and providing guidance for students pursuing careers in science. He now has over 700,000 followers on TikTok and over 115,000 followers on Instagram. His TikTok videos have over 50 million views and have been featured on Good Morning America, the New York Post, and ABC News, and Rein has appeared on Entertainment Tonight, written for multiple magazines, participated in over 30 podcasts, provided consultation for documentaries, and given a variety of talks. He also spearheaded writing a letter backed by scientists, physicians, and educators to the podcasting app Spotify requesting that the platform implement a misinformation policy in light of COVID misinformation being spread through its podcasts. As a result, Spotify changed its policy. Rein also helps other scientists improve their public communication skills through an interactive workshop he created and he provides career advice and free resources for students on his website (such as curriculum vitae templates and a sample PhD interview schedule). His exceptional skills at communicating science in an accessible and interesting way have allowed him to have a broad reach and help combat misinformation and increase scientific understanding and public trust of science.
The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) is an organization of nearly 35,000 basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and the nervous system.