March 7, 2007
By Melissa Evans
What comes to mind when you think about collector's items? A typical collection would be a book of rare stamps, a piggy bank of foreign currency, a three-ring binder of baseball cards or a shelf of Beanie Babies in little plastic boxes.
An office full of human brains and brain-inspired toys and knick-knacks is not your average collection, but then, Brooke Hallowell is not your average collector.
Hallowell is the associate dean of research and sponsored programs at the College of Health and Human Services and began her collection while studying brain functions and language acquisition in college. "Then I'd say that from there it kind of took off exponentially," she says laughing. "I don't even remember how it got started. I enjoyed thinking about brains, people gave me brain toys, and then I started thinking, 'Well, that's really fun.'"
She now has more than 200 cranial-inspired pieces, ranging from water-squirting brains and Happy Meal toys, to brain-shaped Jell-O molds, mouse pads and hats, among others.
Hallowell says her best pieces are the ones made for her by family and friends, "My favorite thing is a quilt that my mother made for me. It has embroidery on it and highlights certain functional areas of the brain. It's very special."
Another of her most cherished items is a wooden box made by her son. The box contains a brain jigsaw he made as a gift.
Her collection serves as a reminder to herself and to her students of the exciting nature of the brain, especially when the study of such a complicated organ can seem intimidating and overwhelming.
"A lot of people think that neuroscience is really hard or too challenging," she says. "So it's kinds of fun to have a fun perspective on brains. It's not all serious and it's certainly not all drudgery."
While the heart stands for intense emotions like love and anguish, Hallowell feels the brain is also representative of human nature.
"It's just really amazing. If you pick up a real one, it's just incredible to hold it and to think about holding everything that contains a persons mind: our thinking, our reflecting are in an actual physical structure," she says. "It's really just such a phenomenal structure."
Melissa Evans is a student writer with University Communications and Marketing.