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This Mobile 'Think Tank' Will Give Science Experiments Street Cred This Mobile 'Think Tank' Will Give Science Experiments Street Cred

This Mobile 'Think Tank' Will Give Science Experiments Street Cred

by Tyler Alterman
March 10, 2013

Before I tell you why you should fund a lab-on-wheels called The Think Tank, I want to tell you a tale of two mysteries. Mystery one: Why I didn’t become a scientist. Mystery two: Why I did become a scientist.

From my father to my great-great-Ukrainian grandfather, I come from a long line of New York detectives. As a child I aspired to continue the family tradition, but way, less Bogart than Boyle: I wanted to be a scientific detective. My mother would have to pry my nose out of soy sauce-stained books on Stegosauri whenever we went out for Chinese.
But ten years later, I hated science. You probably did too. As you and I climbed mountains of scientific facts for multiple choice tests, we imagined that the only folks who could do this for a living must be people with pocket protectors and sad, sterile lives. So, we did not become scientists.

But now, I study the mind and brain—as a scientist. I became scientist because I was eventually taught what science is truly like by meeting scientists, and by doing science.

What kinds of people are scientists? My fellow researchers are opera singers, artists, filmmakers, and rock musicians. But they have one strand in common: curiosity. What’s abuzz in my brain when I learn? Does hand sanitizer actually work? Why do some grassroots campaigns succeed while others fail? They have questions they want answered so badly, that they’ll use any tool available to get the best answers. It’s not about facts and figures, but the figuring.

There is a new wave of process-promoting educators who realize this. Perception researcher, Beau Lotto, recently guided a classroom of 10-year-olds from brainstorming, to experimenting, and finally to an overwhelmingly student-driven publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Proposals for experiential science education have made New York Times headlines. My STEM initiative, a lab-on-wheels dubbed 'The Think Tank,' will join this new wave by delivering experiential education through a science we all have a stake in: the science of the mind.

The Think Tank is a collaboration between artists, scientists from my lab, and over 100 citizen backers. Together we will transform a recycled box truck into a literal and metaphorical vehicle geared toward engaging the public with behavioral and brain science.

It will arrive with a movement of people realizing that the behavioral and brain sciences stand to improve lives. Public servants like scientist/policy-maker Dr. Pooja Agarwal are using cognitive science research to improve classrooms. The Obama administration is considering a multi-billion dollar investment in building a map of the brain. The Think Tank will bring this movement to the public. Similar to the American Museum of Natural History’s “Mobile Museums,” The Think Tank will:
  • Drive to elementary and high schools where mobile researchers will teach students about cognitive science by having them plan their own experiments, and carry them out aboard the vehicle.
  • Invite citizens aboard to participate in actual studies and teach them how cognitive science can improve their lives.
  • Collaborate with world-renowned psychologists and neuroscientists to deliver sidewalk talks, taking the public on their explorations into human thought and behavior.

In doing so, The Think Tank will spread literacy not only for cognitive science, but the scientific process in general. So far, we’ve been lucky enough to receive $10,000 in grant money, and we’ve gotten backing from CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College, the Goldsmith Scholars program, and 100+ citizen donors. However, all donations will be returned if my team cannot raise the remainder before March 13. Thus, I’m putting out this appeal to the GOOD community for help.

If you're a STEM advocate, brain geek, or supporter of experiential education, please share and donate to our fundraiser page before the March 13 deadline.

This project is featured in GOOD's Saturday series Push for Goodour guide to crowdfunding creative progress.

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