NW Noggin & PDX3DP Lab: 3D Printing Brain Models for Students in Oregon

3D printing is very helpful when used to make teaching tools and visual aids for the classroom . When I was scrolling through my Twitter feeds recently, I came across a good example of this application when I saw an interesting tweet from Portland, Orgeon-based nonprofit neuroscience outreach group NW Noggin , or Northwest Neuroscience Outreach Group: Growing in Networks.

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The NW Noggin organization sends its award-winning graduate and undergraduate art and neuroscience volunteers to work in classrooms and at community events. These artists, students, and scientists share their expertise and area educational resources in order to get young people excited about art and science, and teach the public about continuing taxpayer-supported neuroscience research in a fun way.

“NW Noggin is a locally sourced, 501(c)(3) shoestring nonprofit organization . Your tax-deductible contribution supports the purchase of sheep brains, pipe cleaners, electrodes and clay for innovative, arts-integrated outreach, and helps send volunteers from local universities (including Portland State UniversityOHSU , and other area institutions ) to public school classrooms and free community events…” the website states.

The organization got started in the Pacific Northwest in 2012, and has since expanded to holding events in places like Chicago and even Washington D.C. NW Noggin claims that integrating art into science education can make “learning personally relevant” for students, especially when it’s focused on the organization’s specialty – brains.

The website explains that “Noggin volunteers now regularly visit K-12 classrooms throughout the academic year , and arrange public, semi-monthly collaborative presentations on research and art.”

This brings me back to the interesting tweet I saw from NW Noggin. One part was the picture you see above, and the second was a screenshot, which you can see below, from Shashi Jain, an e-NABLE  volunteer, instructor at TYE Orgeon , and the organizer of the PDX 3D Printing Lab , a group of 3D printing enthusiasts in Portland who meet monthly to talk about their 3D printing projects and businesses, collaborate, and learn from each other. PDX3DP LAB is also a partner organization of, you guessed it, NW Noggin.

That’s right – NW Noggin teaches kids about neuroscience by having them touch brains. Jain offered to 3D print brain models for NW Noggin’s roadshow, which is coming (virtually, of course, thanks to COVID-19) to Oregon’s largest school district, Portland Public Schools (PPS), later this month.

On three consecutive Thursdays – May 14, 21, and 28 – from 10-10:45 am, the NW Noggin Online team will conduct Google Hangouts for students in 6th-8th grade at the PPS Creative Science School . The volunteers will be answering questions from students, and they’ll show 3D printed brains and real animal brains on the screen, in addition to hosting a talk with neuroscience graduate students and providing some interesting at-home art project ideas.

NW Noggin is providing the teachers with kits for their virtual activities, and PDX3DP LAB is providing ten full-size, 3D printed human brains for the occasion. The 3D printable brain models can be found on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) 3D Print Exchange website , which was launched back in 2014 as a way for people to download, edit, and create health and science-related 3D printing files for free.

This is what I love about the 3D printing and maker communities – the desire to help others by sharing knowledge. 

To learn more about 3D printing brains, check out this post by NW Noggin about a previous partnership with Jain at the Portland Mini-Maker Faire.

“These models always attract student and public interest, and are tangible, graspable objects that help teach through visual inspection, direct touch – and discussion about research related to the brain and behavior,” the post states.

“We handled our cerebrums, crafted pipe cleaner neurons , considered intriguing questions about making and brains, and enjoyed discovering the motivating, innovative, creative work and play of Portland’s thriving maker community!”

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