Flying footballs, couch potato mice, and what can happen with explosive-propelled iron spikes are just a few of the interactive tools that scientists from the National Institutes of Health used to teach young people about the amazing human brain at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Md., on March 14 and 15.
The NIH activities are part of the museum’s celebration of Brain Awareness Week, an annual worldwide effort coordinated by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research. The week (March 12–16) brings together universities, hospitals, patient advocacy groups, professional associations, government agencies, service organizations, and schools to celebrate the brain.
“This is a great event that offers students the opportunity to gain a better understanding of how the human brain develops and how it functions,” said Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D., acting director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “It’s also a wonderful way for students to appreciate neuroscience as a potential career goal.”
Scientists from seven NIH Institutes will be on hand to conduct interactive activities with middle school students:
At NIAAA’s Cool Spot Carnival students will learn how alcohol interferes with sensory perception, movement and balance, and try their hand scoring in a football-toss game while wearing fatal vision goggles that simulate being under the influence of alcohol. Young people tend to feel alcohol’s effects on their fine motor skills more than on their gross motor skills, and it is these fine motor skills they will need to successfully complete the football toss. This helps drive home the message that, even though adolescents may not feel alcohol’s effects as immediately as do older individuals, alcohol is still affecting their functioning and putting them at risk. Other carnival activities will include flip-board games that give students a chance to pick your no’s, demonstrating the best way to say no to alcohol, and dispel the myth that everybody is drinking.
• National Eye Institute (NEI)
NEI’s More than Meets the Eye presentation uses optical illusions as a way to learn about visual processing in the brain. Presenters will explain, based on scientific research of the visual system, why we think we see things that are not really there. Students will learn that vision takes more than the eyes -- it involves complicated circuitry in the brain.
• National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Scientists from NIA’s Laboratory of Neuroscience will present Mysteries of the Brain to allow students to explore how we learn about human brains. They will discover how former couch potato mice benefit from healthy diets, exercise, and mental stimulation.
• Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Students who visit NICHD’s Alcohol and the Developing Brain session will step inside NICHD’s multisensory exhibit and see the amazing Drunken Brain, pulsating with electricity and basking in a world of colored lights and eerie sounds. NICHD scientists will explain some of the unique effects of alcohol on the brain and how alcohol exposure during pregnancy and adolescence can lead to possible brain damage and alcohol addiction later in life.
• National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Students will play an interactive computer-based game called Brain Derby. They will be divided into two teams, each of which will have the opportunity to answer questions related to how abused drugs act in the brain and body, with the winners receiving a Brain Scientist certificate.
• National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
At NIMH’s Seat of Personality station, students will learn about the role of the frontal cortex in emotion, judgment, empathy, humor and other facets of personality. Students will be told the story of Phineas Gage and his famous 1848 railroad accident that blew an iron spike through his frontal cortex. NIMH scientists will depict his famous head injury and the changes seen in his personality after the accident. Students will also learn about the role the brain plays in visual processing, by viewing optical illusions which will demonstrate that they cannot see something unless their brain allows them to think.
• National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Children will have the opportunity to explore the NINDS’s Brain Lobe-oratorium, an eye-catching, full-color, educational and interactive exhibit that is designed to teach them about the lobes of the human brain. NINDS scientists will help students learn about what each of the brain’s lobes does for perception, thinking, personality, and behavior, and will answer questions about such common activities as watching 3-D movies and texting their friends.
The National Museum of Health and Medicine’s Brain Awareness Week activities will take place at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, on the Forest Glen Annex in Silver Spring, Md. Media wishing to attend should contact Melissa Brachfeld at (301) 319-3313 or visit http://www.nmhm.washingtondc.museum for more information.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health, is the primary U.S. agency for conducting and supporting research on the causes, consequences, prevention, and treatment of alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and alcohol problems. NIAAA also disseminates research findings to general, professional, and academic audiences. Additional alcohol research information and publications are available at http://www.niaaa.nih.gov.
The NEI conducts and supports research, training, health information dissemination, and other programs with respect to blinding eye diseases, visual disorders, mechanisms of visual function, preservation of sight, and the special health problems of individuals who are visually impaired or blind. Additional information can be found at http://www.nei.nih.gov.
NIA leads the federal effort supporting and conducting research on aging and the medical, social and behavioral issues of older people. For more information on research and aging, go to http://www.nia.nih.gov.
The mission of NICHD is to ensure that every person is born healthy and wanted, that women suffer no harmful effects from reproductive processes, and that all children have the chance to achieve their full potential for healthy and productive lives. In pursuit of these goals, NICHD supports a broad spectrum of research on normal and abnormal human development, including contraception, fertilization, pregnancy, childbirth, prenatal and postnatal development, and childhood development through adolescence. The mission areas also include research on intellectual and developmental disabilities and rehabilitation medicine. More detailed information can be found at: http://www.nichd.nih.gov/research/org/supported_by.cfm
The National Institute on Drug Abuse is a component of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Dpartment of Health and Human Services. NIDA supports most of the world’s research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction. The Institute carries out a variety of programs to inform policy and improve practice. Fact sheets on the health effects of drugs of abuse and information on NIDA research and other activities can be found on the NIDA home page at www.drugabuse.gov. To order publications in English or Spanish, call NIDA's DrugPubs research dissemination center at 1-877-NIDA-NIH or 240-645-0228 (TDD) or fax or email requests to 240-645-0227 orhttp://drugpubs.drugabuse.gov/. Online ordering is available at http://drugpubs.drugabuse.gov/.
The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. For more information, visit http://www.nimh.nih.gov.
NINDS is the nation’s primary supporter of biomedical research on the brain and nervous system. The Institute supports and conducts basic translational and clinical research on the healthy and diseased nervous system, fosters the training of investigators and seeks better understanding, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of neurological disorders. For more information, visit http://www.ninds.nih.gov/.