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First-ever BrainFest inspires young minds at Pacific Science Center

Allen Institute and Pacific Science Center partnership kicks off with a cerebral celebration

UW Research volunteers

How do you categorize brain cells? What are white matter and gray matter? What happens when a neuron gets damaged? Can you transplant parts of the brain? Why does this brain smell weird? Are we living in a simulation? Oh, and where’s the bathroom? 

Researchers from the Allen Institute fielded these and countless other questions as they shared their passion for neuroscience at BrainFest: A Cerebral Celebration on March 16. As part of a new partnership with Pacific Science Center, the Allen Institute Education & Engagement team planned an afternoon of brainy fun at the museum, including a dozen activity stations led by Allen Institute staff and collaborators. Over a thousand visitors showed up to play games, make crafts, explore the latest scientific tools and data, and ask scientists all their burning questions about the brain. 

Hand holding up an event passport.
Visitors were invited to complete a BrainFest “passport” as they explored the activities, receiving a letter stamp at each station to ultimately spell out the words STAY CURIOUS. Photo by Erik Dinnel / Allen Institute

It’s an exciting challenge to share cutting-edge neuroscience research in ways that appeal to everyone from preschoolers through professors. At one station, visitors referenced images of actual brain cells as they constructed cell models out of pipe cleaners. At another, they explored the brain’s evolutionary origins by comparing the structure of different animal brains – including a cranial endocast from a Tyrannosaurus rex 

Attendees completing a custom puzzle while learning about cell types characterization

Visitors explore the Allen Institute’s cell types research through hands-on activities. Photo by Erik Dinnel / Allen Institute

Kids and adults worked together to assemble a six-foot-tall jigsaw puzzle as they learned how scientists piece together neuron reconstructions from electron microscope images. An interactive sorting game presented the Allen Institute’s pioneering research on brain cell types, and scientific charts came to life through a colorful wooden model that could be assembled like a puzzle. 

University of Washington researchers share human brain samples with visitors.

University of Washington researchers share human brain samples with visitors. Photo by Diana Johns / Pacific Science Center

Collaborators and students from the University of Washington also contributed to the fun. Researchers from the UW Biorepository and Integrated Neuropathology (BRaIN) Laboratory shared samples from the brains of healthy human donors as well as those with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions. UW students invited visitors to touch a sheep brain, try on prism goggles to explore neuroplasticity, and record electricity from their own nervous systems using an electromyogram.  

Rui Costa shares neuroscience with visitors of all ages on the Live Science Stage.

Rui Costa shares neuroscience with visitors of all ages on the Live Science Stage. Photo by Erik Dinnel / Allen Institute

Allen Institute President and CEO, Rui Costa, Ph.D., D.V.M., presented to a standing-room-only crowd at the museum’s Live Science Stage. He described the many ways that Allen Institute researchers are exploring new frontiers of neuroscience – and how future scientists in the audience might someday join them.  

“Watching a 10-year-old child connect with a STEM professional who looks like them, sharing a moment of ‘wow’ over the size and shape of the T. Rex brain, is an unforgettable memory for all involved,” said Diana Johns, Vice President of Exhibits, Education, and Outreach at the Pacific Science Center. “PacSci is thrilled to have this partnership in curiosity with the Allen Institute!” 

Event volunteers looking at brain models with science center attendees
Allen Institute researchers answer visitor questions and share a human brain model at the “Ask a Scientist” booth. Photo by Erik Dinnel / Allen Institute

Her enthusiasm was also shared by Allen Institute volunteers: “I think this [event] opened a greater excitement in me for the work we do at Allen,” one noted. Others shared that it was “gratifying to witness the genuine interest of the general public” and that they enjoyed being able to “spark some curiosity about brains in kids and adults, as well as have fun ourselves.”  

We hope you’ll join us for more curiosity and fun at BrainFest 2025! 

About the Allen Institute

The Allen Institute is an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit research organization founded by philanthropist and visionary, the late Paul G. Allen. The Allen Institute is dedicated to answering some of the biggest questions in bioscience and accelerating research worldwide. The Institute is a recognized leader in large-scale research with a commitment to an open science model. Its research institutes and programs include the Allen Institute for Brain Science, launched in 2003; the Allen Institute for Cell Science, launched in 2014; the Allen Institute for Immunology, launched in 2018; and the Allen Institute for Neural Dynamics, launched in 2021. In 2016, the Allen Institute expanded its reach with the launch of The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, which identifies pioneers with new ideas to expand the boundaries of knowledge and make the world better. For more information, visit

Science Programs at Allen Institute