Mubarak Hussain Syed, an assistant professor of Biology at The University of New Mexico and head of the Syed Neural Diversity Lab, is hosting Building Diversity in Neuroscience, a workshop this week for local high school students as part of his Pueblo Brain Science project. 

“Pueblo Brain Science is part of the education and science outreach component of my NSF CAREER award. My goal is to visit Pueblo schools and engage and train teachers to implement low-cost approach neuroscience activities in the classroom. If I get funds from the state or any other generous donors, we can equip each school with the tools and the students can be involved in research in the classrooms,” he explained. 

The prestigious NSF CAREER award allows Syed to pursue his passions of understanding brain development and function, mentoring students, and science outreach. Syed, a neuroscientist, is interested in the development and function of neurons, glia (other cell types in the human brain), and neural circuits. His UNM lab studies developmental programs regulating neural diversity and function. His project, Mechanisms regulating neural identity, connectivity, and function–From stem cells to circuits, will receive $1.8 million over five years.

The three-day workshop from Thursday through Saturday will be led by Syed and his colleague Matthew Clark, assistant professor of Biology at Bucknell University, to allow students to explore opportunities in neuroscience in the labs and classrooms at UNM’s Physics & Astronomy and Interdisciplinary Science (PAÍS) building. The workshop will include UNM undergrads and local high school students and teachers, plus a live Zoom demo is planned for the schools at Zia and Jemez pueblos. 

“This will be live sessions of experiments related to neuroscience. Mostly the sessions will be dealing with fruit flies and using 3D printed PiVR and ethoscopes to monitor their behavior. Also, we will demo how fruit fly behavior can be modulated and regulated by shining light on their neurons. We will also record neural activity from worms and cockroaches. There will be lab tours on Thursday as well,” Syed noted. After morning discussions, afternoon demos include “fly pushing, larval wrangling, confocal microscopy scans, dissections… optogenetics, assaying fruit fly behaviors… backyard brains, and recording neural activity from worms.”

The Pueblo Brain Science outreach project is supported through the NSF and Grass Foundation. This project aims to improve science education and promote diversity in neuroscience by training and mentoring a diverse population of school kids, undergraduate researchers, and high school teachers, Syed explained, and strives to train and equip high school teachers to implement active learning modules and lessons aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards. A NeuroCURE class is also planned to train 10 undergrad students.

Syed hopes the workshop will get students excited about neuroscience research, as well as train teachers about using fruit fly as a model in their classroom. The goal of demonstrating 3D printable behavioral tracking equipment is to incorporate it later into high school classrooms. 

He also plans to help teachers perform original research in the classroom and build mentoring and teaching networks to diversify STEM, in particular neuroscience, he added.

“I want to have a long-term impact on science and education in the local Pueblo communities and excite and train undergrads in the neuroscience field. We’ll talk about brain and behavior, drugs, and addiction, since this is Brain Awareness Week, and diversify neuroscience by engaging and training diverse force of students at various levels,” he remarked. 

Image by Syed Lab student Natalia Chmielenko

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