Build a camBRAIN blog

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A highlight of the CamBRAIN year is undoubtedly the Cambridge Festival. Each year this sees around 30 volunteers from departments across the university deliver our interactive event Build a CamBRAIN to thousands of visitors.

Starting out at the level of the brain and zooming in to neurons (including looking at real ones under a microscope!), at Build a CamBRAIN, families learn things like how brains are adapted to different species; how a neuron works; and what we use different parts of our brains for.

Armed with pipe cleaners, life-sized brain models, games, and even live fruit flies, our volunteers are put to the test against the curious and impressively insightful questions of children over the weekend. It’s fast paced and it is easy to be sucked into your activity, but there’s always a chance to move between stations or visit neighboring stalls – perhaps a morning spent crafting neurons from playdough, and then an afternoon at the microscope helping kids to spot the features of the neurons they just created in real life. It’s tiring work but nothing beats hearing those “wow, look!”s and “I want to be a scientist now”s. Between the crafts, there is also the chance to talk in more depth with older family members about your own work and what life as a researcher in Cambridge is like.

Each year ahead of the event, we hold a training evening with beers and snacks for the team to get to know each other and the activities. Spending the weekend together in such fun but chaotic circumstances is a powerful bonding moment! It is a great chance to hone those science communication skills and get some tips from the more seasoned festival goers.

The Cambridge Festival is the headline event, but in the past we’ve taken Build a CamBRAIN to other festivals including the Big Weekend on Parker’s Piece, so keep your eyes peeled throughout the year for the chance to volunteer!

If you’re keen on science communication and outreach, check out our blog post Sci-comming as a Student for comprehensive advice on how to get involved and building your skills.

Posted on 31/08/2023