Middle school students from the Washington, D.C., area will become brain scientists for a day when they visit the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland, on March 16 and 17, 2016.  Scientists from the National Institutes of Health will be at the museum to lead students through hands-on activities that explore the structure and function of the brain, and how alcohol and drugs can affect brain health.

The NIH activities are part of the museum's celebration of Brain Awareness Week (March 14-18), an annual global public outreach partnership of government agencies, universities, hospitals, patient advocacy groups, scientific societies, service organizations, and schools. The event was started nearly two decades ago by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, a nonprofit organization of over 300 leading neuroscientists, as a campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for young people to interact with NIH scientists and gain a better understanding of how the human brain develops and how it functions, and how to keep their own brains healthy," said George F. Koob, Ph.D., director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).  "It's also a great way for students to appreciate neuroscience as a potential career goal."

NIH activities will include:

  • NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON AGING (NIA): THE MYSTERIES OF THE BRAIN Students explore how we learn about human brains and discover how former "couch potato" mice benefit from healthy diets, exercise and mental stimulation.
  • NATIONAL EYE INSTITUTE ( NEI): MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE Students will learn how the brain and eyes work together during visual processing. Presenters will reveal how these complicated processes may at times cause optical illusions and affect perception.
  • NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF NEUROLOGICAL DISORDERS AND STROKE (NINDS): BRAIN LOBE-ORATORIUM This interactive exhibit will teach students about the four lobes of the human brain, including how each lobe contributes to perception, thinking, personality and behavior. Students will also have the opportunity to observe, and if they desire, to touch and hold a real human brain.
  • NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON ALCOHOL ABUSE AND ALCOHOLISM (NIAAA): COOL SPOT CARNIVAL Students will learn how alcohol interferes with adolescent brain development, as well as sensory perception, movement and balance. Students will then have the opportunity to try their hand scoring in a football-toss game while wearing "fatal vision goggles" to simulate being under the influence of alcohol. They will learn that even though adolescents may not feel alcohol's effects as immediately as older individuals do, they are being affected and must be alert to the dangers of alcohol for their age group.
  • EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF CHILD HEALTH AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT (NICHD): THE DRUNKEN BRAIN Students will step inside NICHD's novel, multi-sensory exhibit and see the amazing "Drunken Brain," pulsating with electricity and basking in a world of colored lights and eerie sounds.  They will learn about 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 OF MENTAL HEALTH (NIMH): SEE YOUR BRAIN IN ACTION Students will see how the brain and spinal cord work together to control emotions and physical well-being. They will observe the recordings of the electrical activity generated by muscles in their arms and fingers and gain a deeper understanding of the extent of the human nervous system.
  • NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON DRUG ABUSE (NIDA): NIDA BRAIN DERBY Students will play an interactive 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. The winners will receive a "Brain Scientist" certificate.

Media representatives are invited to cover Brain Awareness Week activities at the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM). Advance notice is required. Contact Tim Clarke, NMHM Deputy Director for Communications, at 301-319-3349. For more information about the museum, visit http://www.medicalmuseum.mil