First Annual Health Sciences Symposium

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September 9 marked the first annual Health Sciences Symposium. It was a huge success with 110 staff members, volunteers, and citizen scientists attending the main lectures and breakout sessions. Dr. Nicole Garneau, curator of human health, opened the day with a discussion on personalized genetics and both the opportunities and limitations of having your own DNA analyzed.

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After this, volunteers attended the first set of breakout sessions. In one session attendees were introduced to the study of biofeedback and brainwave research and learned how this research is being applied to stress management, education, epilepsy and the entertainment markets. In the end, attendees learned how brainwave oriented games can help people learn some methods of internal self-regulation while having fun!


Another break out session focused on how teaching methods affect memory. It explained how memories are created using the huge network of neurons and the synapses between them. Through using inquiry-based learning and informal education volunteers can help make these neural connections stronger for guests by giving them a personal context through which to frame their learning.


The third session explained how an exhibit is made and the decisions that take place during concept, building, and maintenance phases. It introduced the staff members who are involved in each of these steps and what we do with ideas presented by volunteers.

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Everyone then came back together for the Neuroscience of Memory talk with Dr. Angela Rachubinski of University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Each person was asked to remember a special moment from their life as volunteer, Julia Johnston, recollects below:


“Remember your first kiss,” ordered Angela Rachubinski, opening her presentation. Unlike most in the audience, I have no recollection of a first kiss. But I do remember playing “Spin the Bottle” at my first high school party and that crazy bottle pointed straight at… my big brother, who was burdened with watching out for me. Eeuuu! I still wrinkle my nose and crinkle my face in embarrassment and yuckiness.


That memory from 57 years ago seems clear but, says Rachubinski, who has a doctorate in brain study and research, “Every time you recall a memory, it is open to being changed.” She showed how a memory is formed, stored and retrieved in the brain’s various compartments. Those wrinkles in our brains make more area for cells to process and capture memories, unlike a mouse with smooth brain surface.


She included other memorable facts, such as memory loss affects 1 in 5 after the age of 71, odors play a significant part in memories, it’s easier to recall items that can be visualized, and we use close to 100 percent of our brain." 

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After a quick lunch, people headed off to the final breakout sessions of the day with two options from the morning and a third talk by volunteer team leader, Dr. Lindy Baer, who discussed the body’s ability to adapt to the elements such as space, heat, cold, and specifically altitude as that is the focus of the Expedition Health gallery. He discussed how the body regulates and brings us back to homeostasis when met with adverse conditions.

The last event of the day was a panel discussion with local biotech researchers who study microbes for a variety of purposes. Some were studying bacteria in the gut for health research, while others for quality control of beers and others were working on creating surfaces that prohibited the growth of bacteria without harsh chemicals.

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