Ladies and gentlemen I'm proud to introduce to you a joint project between my wife Jessica Voytek and our friend Erica Warp: The Adventures of Ned the Neuron! To get the important pitch out of the way first, please go contribute some money to their Kickstarter campaign to help them get started if you want to help.
Also, please consider following their company on Facebook. I promise they're not spammy.
For several months now Jessica and Erica have been working on their company, Kizoom, to develop the first of what I hope to be many science education eBooks for kids. The fact that this is being built using open or semi-open tools and platforms is also pretty amazing.
Note that I'm in no way connected to this company, though the obvious disclosure is that my wife and I are financially entwined and, as unbiased as I try to be, I of course cannot be completely so. I mean, I'm writing this post, aren't I? But... as a new father I'm coming to appreciate more and more the joys of well-written, scientifically accurate educational materials.
So who are Erica and Jessica and why should you trust what they write?
Erica earned her PhD in neuroscience from Berkeley working on spinal cord development. She published three super cool papers during that time, one each in Nature, PNAS, and Current Biology. I promise you she knows her brains.
Jessica is the primary author on our brainSCANr paper which we published in The Journal of Neuroscience Methods earlier this year. She earned her Masters degree in Information Management and Systems at Berkeley, which she completed while very pregnant with our son. Not only does she know her brains, she's also technically and artistically very savvy.
The two of them have been working hard on this baby of theirs (that's them celebrating after submitting their NIH grant). They have managed to put together a book that is fun and interactive for kids (their target audience) while being educational and totally neuroscientifically accurate.
No neuro nonsense. Just good science and good fun.
So many of us neuroscientists complain about the poor public understanding of our field that it's time for us to stop being critics and start trying to make the changes we want to see. And that's what I love about Kizoom and The Adventures of Ned the Neuron: two very smart neuroscientists and techies are putting themselves forward and trying to make science more approachable to the most scientifically vulnerable group.
Erica wrote the story and drew the early artwork while Jessica has been working on getting the whole thing coded up, animated, etc. Basically the techy nerd work.
What's impressed me the most is that, throughout all of this had work, they've also been doing a lot of science outreach and communication for kids. Jessica worked for the Girl Scouts for years, including developing a cookie booth finder to help people locate the nearest Girl Scout troop selling cookies in their area!
In May Jessica and Erica volunteered at a Girl Scout event to teach young women about neuroscience and the brain with the help of Ned the Neuron!
We also recently learned that, out of the thousands of abstracts and poster submissions to the Society for Neuroscience Conference this October, their poster "User experience design for children's neuroscience education" has been selected as one of nine in the new "Dynamic Posters" session.
What's that? Well, according to the email they received,
A dynamic poster is an electronic version of the current paper-based format, displayed on an LCD screen rather than a poster board. However, it’s more than just an e-poster, which is typically an electronic - but still static - PDF version of a paper poster. Embedding multimedia content is encouraged such as videos, slides, animated charts or graphs, scrolling text, or a 3D rotation of a model. A dynamic poster presentation is designed for face-to-face interaction: like a regular poster presentation, the dynamic presentation will be driven by the primary author while attendees visit the poster. Some text elements of the poster will always be viewable for browsing by people walking by or waiting for their turn to speak with the presenter. Other parts of the poster will be operated by the presenter, who can click on and play a video or enlarge a graph to better illustrate a method or result.I definitely applaud the Society for Neuroscience for finally taking this kind of tech-based approach.
I wish I could convey to you in words the emotional love the both of them have for this project. I'm really proud to have seen it grow from nothing into a nearly completed project. Please check it out and consider helping if you can.
Voytek JB, & Voytek B (2012). Automated cognome construction and semi-automated hypothesis generation. Journal of neuroscience methods, 208 (1), 92-100 PMID: 22584238
Warp E, Agarwal G, Wyart C, Friedmann D, Oldfield CS, Conner A, Del Bene F, Arrenberg AB, Baier H, & Isacoff EY (2012). Emergence of patterned activity in the developing zebrafish spinal cord. Current biology : CB, 22 (2), 93-102 PMID: 22197243
Marriott G, Mao S, Sakata T, Ran J, Jackson DK, Petchprayoon C, Gomez TJ, Warp E, Tulyathan O, Aaron HL, Isacoff EY, & Yan Y (2008). Optical lock-in detection imaging microscopy for contrast-enhanced imaging in living cells. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105 (46), 17789-94 PMID: 19004775
Wyart C, Del Bene F, Warp E, Scott EK, Trauner D, Baier H, & Isacoff EY (2009). Optogenetic dissection of a behavioural module in the vertebrate spinal cord. Nature, 461 (7262), 407-10 PMID: 19759620