Brain Awareness Week Partner Interview: Sung-Jin Jeong, Ph.D.

Seimi Rurup
March 7, 2017
Kids try goggles

This is the second in a series of Brain Awareness Week partner interviews, in which partners share their experiences and tips for planning successful events. Sung-Jin Jeong, Ph.D., is the principal researcher/director of the Neuronal Development and Disease Department/Brain Research Policy Center at the Korea Brain Research Institute.

sung-jin jeong baw partnerThe Brain Awareness Week effort in Korea is a large coordinated effort by several organizations, including the Korea Brain Research Institute, that has reached around 4,000 people the last several years. How difficult is it to reach consensus among the organizers when planning such a large program? Are there any tips you can give?

Since 2002, the Korean neuroscience community has actively participated in Brain Awareness Week, enhancing the public understanding on neuroscience and scientific value. Over the years, a series of events hosted by more than 15 universities and research institutes throughout the country have become more dynamic and exciting, attracting over 3,000 participants yearly. Korean Brain Society and Korea Brain Research Institute (KBRI) are co-organizers, playing a central role in gathering national brain research capacity and strengthening the cooperative network for the annual Brain Awareness Week event.

When planning for such a large program, it is indeed challenging to reach consensus among many relevant institutes. It is critical, however, to induce inter-organizational cooperation and reach consensus encompassing organizers’ needs. We try to make things work by weaving together everyone’s best ideas and key concerns before making major decisions on topics and planning programs.  Over the last few years, main topics presented during Brain Awareness Week were Brain Navigation (2014); Brain, the universe of our mind (2015); and What is Brain Research? (2016).  Fortunately, we have so far had fruitful outcomes and excellent performances by having the earnest discussions on planning each program and efficient role-sharing. We will do our utmost to continue building interactive partnerships with educational and research institutes nationwide, thus engaging the whole neuroscience community with a lively and successful Brain Awareness Week.

Two topics presented the last few years are artificial intelligence and neurotechnology. Do you find incorporating a visual or interactive component to the seminars helps to engage the audience?

Amid a surge of interest in artificial intelligence (AI) and neurotechnology, we have incorporated some AI-related programs in Brain Awareness Week over the years. Last year, there were interactive lectures delivered to general public on these issues. At Seoul National University, a seminar on “The power of Artificial Intelligence: Can Google’s AlphaGo beat Lee Sedol, human champ?” covered AI and robotics as an emerging technology that would profoundly impact the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). In KBRI, the lecture “Understanding Connectome with AI tools” addressed the discovery of the computational mechanisms of neural networks through analyses of high-resolution brain images using AI and other computing techniques.

Through public lectures, students had an opportunity to understand the implications of AI such as the benefits and risks from advanced AI, how the AI system could change the way we live, and current challenges to overcome and prepare for the future of AI. Above all things, we encouraged active interactions to provide immediate, formative feedback on how well students understood the topics of AI and 4IR through a quiz session during the lectures. By doing this, the complicated concepts regarding Neurotechnologies, which could be rather difficult for the non-specialist, became more accessible to the public. So far, public lectures have gained quite an encouraging response from students.

sung-jin kbri
Do you have a favorite Brain Awareness Week memory, where you felt a program made a difference, or connected with a particular audience or audience member?

Last year, KBRI’s events had the theme “Brain Research, a Key to Hopeful Future.” Among various events, there was an open-access lecture series of brain anatomy and 3D brain puzzles that aimed at enhancing interactions between young students and neuroscientists. The gathering provided students with opportunities to not only learn about the brain itself, but also talk with brain researchers on an informal basis.  This helped spark the students’ interests in neuroscience and in considering their future careers in science or other related fields, encouraging them to become the promising next generation of leaders in our society.

Building on such achievements, we already developed educational programs on topics such as virtual reality (VR) images of brain navigation, neuroethics, and more, to provide the public with a valuable opportunity to consider a range of issues related to brain science, and to raise students’ capacity of convergent thinking as part of an effort to nurture global science talent.

sung-jin photo
What does the Korea Brain Research Institute have planned for Brain Awareness Week 2017?

KBRI has set the stage for exciting activities based on the Daegu and Gyeongbuk regional alliance by co-hosting a series of programs with eight universities in the region. The uniqueness of our program features various hands-on activities for all ages.

For 2017, we have planned a variety of events including public lectures, open labs, exhibitions, and hands-on activities under the theme of “Our Brain’s spring, summer, autumn, and winter.” The public lectures are themed: Nine lifestyle habits (stroke prevention); Neurons do grow in the adult brain (cognitive functions and brain diseases); the Brain with optical illusions (correlation with brain function); and the Anti-Aging Brain (how to keep your brain fit).

We also plan to run dynamic practical activities including “Constructing 3D brain models,” “Matching brain puzzles,” “Experiencing Neuro-feedback.” This year, we are adding a new activity called, “Exploring the brain in Virtual Reality (VR),” which I expect will provide students with an awesome experience of navigating the human brain in VR. In addition, we will also hand out printed materials on neuroethics and its implications, as well as on other credible, neuroscience-related topics. We hope this dissemination of the latest scientific information will have a positive impact on the public’s understanding of brain awareness and education.

In the years to come, we plan to run diverse and dynamic programs on brain science with the abundant experience and know-how that we have accumulated throughout the years, which I believe is a significant step forward for country’s outstanding scientific development. baw-2017