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Alumni, Intel STS, Intel ISEF

Neuroscience and music are more related than you think

7:00AM, August 22, 2017
Doing Science
Sara Kornfeld Simpson has been a flautist for 11 years.

Sara Kornfeld Simpson has been a flautist for 11 years.


Sometimes, science and art converge in beautiful ways. Sara Kornfeld Simpson embodies that incredible meshing. She is double majoring in neuroscience and music at Boston University and has played the flute for 11 years and the oboe for 9.

"There's absolutely a connection between science and art, on many levels!" said the Intel ISEF 2011-2012 finalist and Intel STS 2014 semifinalist. "Both my scientific and artistic endeavors stimulate and excite my intellect, require discipline, problem-solving, and creativity, and are critical to my identity."

On September 17, Sara will perform at the Society's Signature Alumni Event in New York. The event will feature two presentations with alumni leaders from business, social entrepreneurship, and digital marketing sectors.

Read on below to learn more about Sara's scientific and artistic journey.

THE CONNECTION BETWEEN SCIENCE AND ART: There's absolutely a connection between science and art, on many levels! First, there are some really interesting studies about music and the brain. For example, cognitive neuroscientists are trying to understand how we perceive rhythm, tonal structure, and a sense of key in music, and how our perception of musical structure (arguably, “syntax”) compares to the way our brain processes language.

There are some really interesting studies about music and the brain.

But music does more than provide a topic for intellectual investigation, it also provides scientists with an artistic outlet. I know many scientists who are also musicians that perform in local orchestras and find music to be a joyful way to pass time outside of the lab. Personally, I have found studying music seriously to not be too different from performing scientific research — tireless hours of benchwork and optimizing techniques leading up to a critical experiment is not too different from tireless hours in a practice room leading up to a big performance. Both my scientific and artistic endeavors stimulate and excite my intellect, require discipline, problem-solving, and creativity, and are critical to my identity!

Both my scientific and artistic endeavors stimulate and excite my intellect, require discipline, problem-solving, and creativity, and are critical to my identity!

HER CURRENT STEM GOALS: I hope to pursue doctoral studies in neuroscience and spend the rest of my life doing neuroscience research at an academic or private research institution. Currently, I am very interested in research about the mechanisms by which the brain modulates neural signals and the way these neuromodulatory mechanisms facilitate behaviors like learning and remembering stimuli. My current research at Boston University relates to this topic, and I hope to do further research on it in graduate school.

Sara presenting her research at a Scripps science fair.

HOW SHE BECAME INTERESTED IN STEM: I became interested in neuroscience as a result of a music performance. While in middle school, I performed a recital at the former Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, California. After the performance, I learned a little bit about the kind of research that was done there and was fascinated. Later on, as part of a job-shadowing event, I was in the audience listening to two neuroscientists discuss their research on music and the brain. Though my interests are now more aligned with neurobiological research rather than the cognitive methods used to study music and the brain, I have never lost interest in this fascinating topic that sparked my curiosity about the mind.

Intel ISEF launched me into the STEM world and ignited my excitement about scientific research!

THE IMPORTANCE OF SCIENCE FAIRS: Intel ISEF launched me into the STEM world and ignited my excitement about scientific research! Science fairs allowed me to pursue my interest in neuroscience and to conduct high-level scientific research — far beyond the school curriculum — at a young age.

Most important to my developing passion for science, each science fair — from the local level through Intel ISEF — gave me the opportunity to discuss my research with professional scientists. They listened to my poster presentation carefully and attentively, asked challenging questions, and encouraged me to continue my research, which inspired me to take myself and my work seriously and feel like a part of the broader scientific community.

I recently attended a science fair at Boston University where high school students presented their summer research to students and faculty. It was my first time being the listener and the students’ joy in answering my questions and discussing their research reminded me so clearly of the value of this special interaction provided uniquely by science fairs. I hope to continue to be a part of science fairs for the rest of my life; I think this is an invaluable way to excite young minds about STEM.

Science fairs ... inspired me to take myself and my work seriously.

HER ADVICE TO YOUNG PEOPLE INTERESTED IN STEM: I cannot emphasize enough the importance of curiosity. I believe there are no “bad” questions, and science moves forward because of inquisitiveness and curiosity. Never be afraid to wonder and dream, or to voice your queries and thoughts!

1:56pm, June 28, 2017

By Sophia Stuart

On May 17 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, 26 middle schoolers from 19 countries, all rising stars in math, applied science, technology and engineering, presented the projects that qualified them for the Broadcom MASTERS International program.

The Broadcom MASTERS International 2017 delegates at the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles, California.
1:53pm, June 27, 2017

By Sophia Stuart

The excitement at the back of the bus was mounting. Twenty-six middle schoolers, called delegates, all rising global stars in math, applied science, technology, and engineering, had just flown into Los Angeles from around the world to participate in Broadcom MASTERS International 2017. They’d come from a total of 19 countries, including Australia, Brazil, China, India, South Africa, and the UK. 

Jun Young Kim, from South Korea, takes time to pull apart eelgrass in the Newport Beach harbor so it can be replanted.
2:07pm, June 21, 2017

By Benjy Firester (Intel ISEF 2016 and 2017), rising senior at Hunter College High School

Benjy Firester gives a hands-on demonstration for kids at the World Science Festival.
2:19pm, June 20, 2017

The Society for Science & the Public is committed to encouraging all young people into STEM fields and careers. As a part of this pursuit, the Society is providing $120,000 in grants to five innovative organizations supporting community-based STEM projects and 23 science research programs to purchase much-needed equipment for teachers across the country. In total, $20,000 will be distributed to the nonprofit organizations, while $100,000 will go to teachers.

Electric Girls teaches girls leadership, electronics, and computer programming skills.
11:20am, June 12, 2017

In the past few months, Eleanor Sigrest led a booth for kids at the recent World Science Festival and met an astronaut. She has been a featured speaker at several STEM conferences and was invited to NASA Goddard and Aerojet.

Eleanor, who won the top award at Broadcom MASTERS 2016, is maybe the busiest middle school student!

Read our interview with Eleanor below to learn more about what she plans to do next.

11:49am, June 5, 2017

A high school student inspired by her own hearing loss and use of hearing aids created an effective wind noise reduction device. Another is researching head and neck cancer — specifically how to inhibit cancer growth.

Kearra researches the UCP2 gene in a lab.
9:00am, May 30, 2017

On a college study abroad trip, Twila Moon stood near a large valley glacier in Nepal. She heard the glacier melting, and dripping, and ice shifting.

"I thought it was the most interesting, magical thing," Twila said.

She was enthralled — and went back to school to become a glaciologist. Now, Twila, an Intel ISEF 1996, 1998, and 1999 finalist, studies climate change's effects on glacial ice.

Read our interview with Twila below to learn more about her research and why science is so important.

Twila Moon (left) (U. Colorado), Mark Behn (WHOI), and Ian Joughin (U. Washington) in the field checking science instruments near the west coast of the Greenland Ice Sheet.
9:00am, May 26, 2017

Emily Cross, a Society alumna from Ontario, Canada, studies fossils, specifically chemical processes to better break them down, without damaging fossilized preserved tissues. Her research may even improve the mining process. Recently, Emily participated in the X-STEM USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. and gave a keynote speech.

Emily Cross delivered a keynote speech at the X-STEM Science and Engineering Festival.
9:00am, May 24, 2017

Masayuki Mac Takahashi, a Society alum of the 1959 National Science Fair competition (now the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair), returns to judge projects at Intel ISEF. He judged at this year's competition in Los Angeles.

Dr. Masayuki is one of seven directors of the Japan Science Society. In the 1959 competition, held in Hartford, Connecticut, he won the 3rd place award with his study of "Dune plant ecology on the Enshunada coast."

Read on to learn how Masayuki is working to bring mentorship to Japan, especially in STEM education and research.

Masayuki Mac Takahashi is a Society alum of the 1959 National Science Fair competition.
12:00am, May 22, 2017

Last week in Los Angeles, California, nearly 2,000 high school students from 78 countries, regions, and territories competed in Intel ISEF, the world's largest international pre-college science competition. At the culmination of the competition, approximately $4 million was awarded to the finalists.

Amber Yang, Ivo Zell, and Valerio Pagliarino won the top awards at the Intel ISEF 2017.
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