NIH scientists once again wowed young people with science, fun and games at 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.
At left, a student from Reid Temple Christian Academy in Glenn Dale, Md., discovers the disorienting properties of the Fatal Vision goggles at NIAAA’s Cool Spot Carnival. NIAAA’s Diana Urbanas looks on. At right, NICHD’s Dr. Dennis Twombley demonstrates the Drunken Brain to students from Our Lady of Lourdes School in Bethesda.
Photos: National Museum of Health and Medicine
Locally, the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Md., hosted Brain Awareness Week activities. Seven NIH institutes conducted interactive activities with middle school students at the museum.
Activities included NEI’s More than Meets the Eye presentation, which uses optical illusions to illustrate visual processing in the brain; NIA’s Mysteries of the Brain, which used word games to demonstrate the brain’s power to remember patterns; and NICHD’s Alcohol and the Developing Brain session, which featured the Drunken Brain, an interactive exhibit that shows how the brain functions normally and while under the influence of alcohol.
Students also played NIDA’s Brain Derby, where they answered questions about drugs’ effects on the brain and body. At NIMH’s Wonders of the Brain presentation, some students did their homework ahead of time, with one even knowing all about the Stroop effect, originally demonstrated in a famous experiment in which an individual is tasked with reciting the ink color a word is printed in as opposed to the actual word. For example, if the word “blue” is printed in red, the individual should say “red.” People completing this task often slow down and make mistakes when reading the mis-matched words and colors, showing that the brain makes assumptions based on past experience that must be overcome.
NIMH scientists also presented the Seat of Personality, using the famous case of Phineas Gage, who lived following an accident in which a metal rod pierced his brain—causing significant changes in his personality—to demonstrate the jobs performed by different parts of the brain.
NINDS presented the Brain Lobe-oratorium, an interactive exhibit that teaches students about the lobes of the human brain. Scientists impressed the crowd with a real, preserved human brain that students could view.
At NIAAA’s Cool Spot Carnival, students learned first-hand how alcohol interferes with sensory perception, movement and balance as they tried to score in a football-toss game while wearing goggles that simulate being under the influence of alcohol. A brave teacher accompanying one of the groups even agreed to go head-to-head against a student while wearing the goggles to demonstrate that even age and maturity are no match for alcohol’s effects.
Dr. Ivana Grakalic of NIAAA’s Division of Neuroscience and Behavior said parents and teachers were as engaged in the activities as the students. Several chaperones admitted they didn’t know that the brain continues maturing well into the third decade of life, assuming that development was complete around age 10.
Diana Urbanas of NIAAA described the day as an opportunity for young people to learn just how amazing the human brain is and why it’s so important to take care of it. “It’s a great way to see first-hand the scientific process and stimulate interest in the sciences,” she said.