First came the burritos, then the brains, for students interested in the neurosciences

First came the burritos, then the brains.

Somewhere in between, more than 50 undergraduates who showed up for the Stanford Undergraduate Neuroscience Society’s “Brains and Burritos” heard from researchers and mingled with others curious about brain science.

Tanya Raschke
Tanya Raschke

PANOS VANDRIS, a sophomore studying biology and comparative literature and an organizer of the event, said the organization behind the event began last year as a way to build connections among students who come from different departments – ranging from biology to computer science and beyond – but share an interest in neuroscience.

“We want SUNS to be a community for undergrads in the same way as the Stanford Neuroscience Institute” is for faculty, Vandris said.

“The institute has been building our community of researchers at all levels: faculty, staff, postdocs and graduate students, for the past five years,” said TANYA RASCHKE, the institute’s associate director for planning and operations. “The Undergraduate Neuroscience Society is a wonderful opportunity to expand that community to undergrads interested in neuroscience and to expose them to what scientific research is all about.”

Those who attended the event, held at the Women’s Community Center, got a chance to hear from four neuroscience researchers, including JULIA KALTSCHMIDT, associate professor of neurosurgery, who, she pointed out during the burrito phase of the evening, studies how the intestines expand and contract during digestion. Kaltschmidt joined  SUSAN MCCONNELL, professor of biology; MARY HYNES, research associate professor of biology; and GREG SCHERRER, assistant professor of anesthesiology and neurosurgery, to talk with undergraduates about their research and how to pursue an education in neuroscience at Stanford.

Then came the brains. Students from the Neurosciences PhD Program’s Brain Day team brought several whole human brains as well as components, including spinal cords and a cerebellum – all donated for research and education – for attendees to examine.

Although most of those who came to the event already had an interest in neuroscience, the chance to see and touch a human brain was exciting and, for some, transformative.

“It was pretty surreal to hold a brain and think that’s someone’s whole life,” said NATALIE HAMPTON, a freshman who said she was interested in studying psychology and neuroscience. “I’ve been here for a week and I got to touch a brain,” she said.

For freshman YOSHEB GETACHEW, the experience was a chance to make connections to what he had only heard about in classes and read about in books. “It was an epiphany.”