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UM News
October 04, 2011


The Big Sky Brain Project, a collaboration between The University of Montana’s Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience and spectrUM Discovery Area, recently received a five-year, $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The grant, awarded by the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, will fund a neuroscience learning center called the Brainzone that will feature four hands-on exhibits, a computer lab and a working laboratory aimed at increasing science literacy and interest among K-12 students.

UM will work with the Exploratorium in San Francisco to develop the Brainzone, which will be housed in a future spectrUM location off campus set to open in the fall of 2013. The Brainzone also will be incorporated into spectrUM’s mobile science center that travels to schools across Montana, including many in rural and tribal regions.

Michael Kavanaugh, director of the Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience, worked with Holly Truitt, spectrUM director, to secure the grant. Kavanaugh said the project is a result of a long-term partnership between the Center for Structural Neuroscience and spectrUM. The two also are collaborating with other local organizations, including Missoula County Public Schools and Community Medical Center, to bring the Brainzone learning experience to thousands of K-12 students in Montana and around the country.

“One of the unique goals of the project is to expose kids to ‘real life’ neuroscience research and teach about career opportunities in the fields of science, technology and medicine,” Kavanaugh said. “So in addition to the world-class exhibits, we will host a working laboratory with the involvement of UM faculty, including neuroscientist Sarah Certel and clinical neurologist Tom Swanson.”

Eight institutions across the country received NIDA grants to develop innovative neuroscience education programs for K-12 students and teachers. Recent U.S. Department of Education reports show that the nation’s eighth-graders score lower than students from nine other countries in science knowledge and skills, an issue NIDA hopes to combat by awarding the grants.

“Creative strategies are needed to ensure that the United States maintains its competiveness in the scientific field,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, NIDA director. “Since neuroscience cuts across many different disciplines and can help in understanding all kinds of behavior, it is the ideal vehicle for capturing people’s interest and engaging them in science at any age.”



Western Montana, dailies


Contact: Michael Kavanaugh, director, UM Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience, 406-243-4398,