Nooa Marantz-Pylkkanen is a busy 8-year-old boy who spends his time doing gymnastics, Tae Kwon Do, archery, and soccer, and he loves video games. Unlike most third graders, he also spends time at scientific conferences and attended his first when he was just six months old, the Cognitive Neuroscience Society (CNS) annual meeting in San Francisco. For this year’s CNS meeting in San Francisco, he decided to take a more active role — giving out awards for his favorite posters.
Posters are great, he says, because “you get to see what other people are learning, and other scientists can figure out how to help more.” Marantz-Pylkkanen estimates he has heard presentations for more than 30 posters so far and is only halfway through the meeting. He has been giving his favorite presenters a certificate he printed before even arriving to CNS that the researchers have been proudly displaying on their poster boards.
One of his favorite posters so far was about the Laurel/Yanny auditory illusion. He enjoyed understanding the science behind why some people heard an audio clip one way while others heard it differently — a phenomenon that captivated the world last spring.
“I learned it was because the frequency of the sound changed how people heard it,” Marantz-Pylkkanen says. Making the poster more fun was that the presenter had headphones to share the audio clips at different frequencies.
I judged them based on how they talked to me and if I could then understand it well. -Nooa Marantz-Pylkkanen
A key criteria in judging the posters was how well the researcher explained their work rather than the information on the poster itself. “I judged them based on how they talked to me and if I could then understand it well,” Marantz-Pylkkanen says. He judged posters more harshly, for example, if the speakers did not maintain eye contact and take an interest in explaining their work. Great tips for any presenter!
Another favorite poster of his was about diagnosing concussions in female boxers at Notre Dame. “It was a little fun because they showed a game,” Marantz-Pylkkanen explains. They had pictures showing how those suffering from concussions see pictures differently. The researcher, he says, also explained the science very well and spent a lot of time with him.
Marantz-Pylkkanen’s parents are both cognitive neuroscientists at NYU who study the neurobiology of language, which is why he is such a veteran scientific conference-goer. The conferences also provide an opportunity to explore a new place. He was excited, for example, to check out the Exploratorium on this trip where they were showing a dissected cow eye. “It was kind of fun to see,” he says.
He was also excited to share that his class is currently studying crayfish. While Marantz-Pylkkanen enjoys science, his favorite subject at school is recess. He also likes nonfiction writing and is currently exploring different types of video games.
In addition to taking the initiative to give his own poster awards, Marantz-Pylkkanen also took the opportunity to turn the tables on his interviewer (me!) and ask about “brain training” games from Lumosity. I see a future in science communications for him already.
-Lisa M.P. Munoz