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Disney Scientist Thrills Young Crowd

By Clarissa Wittenberg

Photos by Bill Branson

Recently, more than 800 high school and college students poured into Natcher Auditorium to hear Dr. Eric Haseltine, a neuroscientist and a Walt Disney executive. His talk, "The Fantastic Voyage: Let Neuroscience Take You on a Thrilling Expedition into Your Own Brain," was a feature of Brain Awareness Week, an annual event that informs the public about the importance of brain research.

The goal of the evening was to teach students about their brains and to stimulate interest in studies in the neurosciences and in research. Haseltine is executive vice president for research and development at Walt Disney's Imagineering unit in Los Angeles.

Audience participates in an experiment: holding their noses and trying to taste the difference between an apple and a raw potato.

He brought the students to their feet with several experiments: tasting a potato and an apple while holding their noses; catching a ruler in the light and in the dark. The first illustrated how various senses work together in our minds and the second was an example of varied reaction time. A lively speaker, Haseltine brought a Disney approach to the slides that demonstrated how the brain works. Students were actively involved and came to the stage and to the microphones during the evening.

Following Haseltine's presentation, NIMH director Dr. Steven Hyman introduced a panel of NIH neuroscientists to discuss what brought them to research, neuroscience and NIH. The goal was to stimulate interest in research and show how science crosses disciplines and offers exceptional career opportunities.

More than 125 schools and colleges in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia participated in the Brain Awareness programs. Brain Awareness Week is an international effort led by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, a nonprofit organization of more than 190 neuroscientists, including seven Nobel laureates, who are committed to advancing education about the public benefits of brain research. Five institutes sponsor Brain Awareness Week activities: NIMH, NINDS, NIDA, NIA and NIAAA.

Walt Disney executive Dr. Eric Haseltine (l) shares stage with NIMH director Dr. Steven Hyman (above) and works with a volunteer (below) on a reflex test to see if she can catch a ruler between her hands.

Audience members participate in a test of reflexes.

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