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Brain Exhibit Invites Touch, Squeeze

By Constance Burr

On the Front Page...

Do you know your way around your brain? Kids and adults can take a virtual walk through cerebral megamodels in "Brain: The World Inside Your Head," an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution's Arts and Industries Bldg. You are invited to touch, squeeze, pull, stand on, even walk all over the exhibit, which interprets the latest research on the body's center of thought, emotion, memory and action.


When you cruise the snazzy interactive stations, don't miss Synapse Pop, which highlights connections between communicating neurons. Release a red ball that rumbles through a purple axon tunnel. At the end is a gap between neurons, a synapse. The ball disappears and sets off a clatter, imitating the action of a chemical signal traveling between neurons.

Getting Inside Your Head: Two visitors take a hands-on look at the physical aspects of the body's central command through the "Unhinge-A-Brain" interactive display.

Walk into Lightning Storm, a model that reveals how electrochemical activity works. Take the spaceship controls to view neurons from different species, and play a video game to find out how sleep recharges the human battery.

In Back and Forth, you'll see how your brain controls your ability to balance. A timer tells you how long you can balance on a specially designed board, while a figure lights up as the brain coordinates this complex action.

"Part of our job was to explain links between the brain's organization and function — from cellular activity to perception to cognition," said Dr. Dennis Glanzman, chief, Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience Program at NIMH. "The challenge was to show that the brain is always active and changing." Glanzman and Dr. Douglas Meinecke, chief, Developmental Neuroscience Program, NIMH, have been project consultants.

Back and Forth — Visitors to "Brain: The World Inside Your Head" can try to balance on a platform to see how the brain controls balance.

A gaggle of 7- to 9-year-olds at the Smithsonian Associates' Brain Craze Camp made the models work. One budding brain surgeon and deft video gamester targeted tumors and zapped them with radiation.

"My brain isn't done yet," another camper noted as he tracked animated neurons firing.

Stations explore both healthy and malfunctioning brains. Brain disorders such as depression, Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, and schizophrenia are described, as are headaches, dyslexia, strokes and tumors. The Agony of Addiction portrays alcohol and drug abuse, which cause permanent changes in brain chemistry. Families are encouraged to discuss these conditions as disorders with physical causes, while new research, treatments and technologies emphasize that many of them are treatable.

Boost Your Brain — Visitors spin the wheel to score points for activities that promote brain health - learning, nutrition and exercise.

Depending on your interests, you can focus on physiology, imaging and learning techniques, language, consciousness, and sleep, or the mind as what the brain does. "Brain Bytes" point out amazing facts throughout: The brain contains as many neurons, over 100 billion, as there are stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. It feels no pain, though it registers pain through the entire body. Your brain is constantly creating and interpreting who you are.

Scientists will give a self-paced exhibit tour on Friday, Sept. 28 at 6:30 p.m. The following experts will answer questions and explain the brain more thoroughly: Dr. Alan Leshner, director of NIDA; Dr. Gerald Fischbach, dean, Medical College at Columbia University, and Drs. Richard Nakamura, deputy director, and Stephen Foote, division director, both of NIMH. Dr. Steven Hyman, NIMH director, will offer opening remarks. Contact the Smithsonian Associates for more information at (202) 357-3030 or visit

EEG — Children and grownups can lean on electrodes to see a simulation of real-time EEG measurements of corresponding brain activity.

"Brain" will remain at the Smithsonian until Jan. 2, 2002, when it will travel to 15 more sites. It was made possible by a grant from Pfizer and produced by BBH Inc., in collaboration with NIH, including NIMH, NIDA and NINDS.

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