Volume 12, Issue 9 (September, 2008)


Welcome to the Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter.

Here is what you will find in this issue:

1. What's New at Neuroscience for Kids
2. Neuroscience for Kids Site of the Month
3. New Podcast
4. Medicinal Herb Garden
5. Memory Walks
6. Why are School Buses Yellow
7. Media Alert
8. Treasure Trove of Brain Trivia
9. Support Neuroscience for Kids
10. How to Stop Your Subscription


Neuroscience for Kids had several new additions in August including:

A. August Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter was archived
B. Juggling Causes Rapid Brain Changes
C. New Treatment for Huntington's Disease
D. Red Light - Green Light Reaction Time Test
E. Diving and Head Injuries
F. New Online Brainy Jigsaw Puzzles and Postcards

In August, 12 new figures were added and 54 pages were modified.


The Neuroscience for Kids "Site of the Month" for September is "Grey Matters. From Molecules to Mind" at:

"Grey Matters" is a series of 15 lectures (each about 60 minutes in length) "to enhance public awareness of recent developments in brain research." Produced by UCSD-TV, Grey Matters lectures can be watched online in streaming video. Many of the videos have additional resource materials, including a biography of the neuroscientist who gives the lecture, questions about the material to test your understanding, short video clips, links for further reading, and lesson ideas.

Visit the video archives (click on the button in the upper left side of the web site) to see a listing of all of the programs. Currently, Grey Matters includes the following programs:



The Northeast Center for Special Care, a program to help people rehabilitate and recover from brain and spinal cord injuries, asked me to record a podcast about Neuroscience for Kids. You can listen to this program at:

If you cannot open this link, cut and paste the address into Windows Media Player, QuickTime, Real Player or other media player you use.

To download the podcast:
PC - Right Mouse Click and Save Link Target As
Mac - Hold Mouse Down + Option Key and select Save Link Target As



Plants have been used for centuries to treat different illnesses. Many medicines have their origins in chemicals contained in these plants. At the University of Washington where I work, there is a 2.5-acre Medicinal Herb Garden with hundreds of plants that have been used to treat a variety of diseases and conditions. Last month, I took a walk through this garden to see many of the plants in full bloom and to identify those that have been used to treat neurological disorders.

One of the first plants I found was St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum). According to the National Center of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, St. John's Wort is useful for treating mild to moderate depression. Black cohosh and lemon balm are two other plants in the garden that have been used to treat depression. Other plants I saw in the garden have been used to treat headaches, insomnia, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, pain, memory problems, anxiety, stress and glaucoma. To see photographs of some of these plants, visit my UW Medicinal Herb Garden photo album at:

For more information about medicinal plants, visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at:


The Alzheimer's Association is coordinating nationwide Memory Walks to raise awareness and support for Alzheimer care, support and research. Each Memory Walk is 2-3 miles in length held on a weekend morning. To find a Memory Walk in your neighborhood, see:


(With many students going back to school this month, I thought I would reprint this article that I published in the January, 2003, Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter)

Have you ever wondered why school buses are yellow? Why not green or red or blue? Who decided buses should be yellow? Are yellow vehicles safer than vehicles of other colors?

Prior to 1939, students traveled to school in vehicles of all shapes, sizes and colors. Because there were no standards for constructing school buses, bus manufacturers complained that they could not make buses quickly on assembly lines. That's when Frank W. Cyr stepped in. In April 1939, Cyr organized a conference of transportation officials, engineers, bus manufacturers and paint companies to set up national standards for constructing school buses. (I do not think that any neuroscientists attended this meeting.) The conference was organized to decide on bus standards such as bus length, aisle width, ceiling height and color. It was decided that buses should be yellow with black letters because the people at the meeting thought this color combination was easiest to see in the light of the early morning and late afternoon.

Although school buses have changed since 1939, they are still yellow. School bus yellow even has a special name ("National School Bus Chrome Yellow") and its formula is registered with the National Bureau of Standards (Federal Standard No. 595a, Color 13432). There is no federal law that requires school buses to be yellow, but all states have adopted the standard.

What is so special about yellow? Cells in the retina of our eyes respond to light with wavelengths between about 380 and 760 nanometers. This is visible light. Our brains perceive light of different wavelengths as different colors. Wavelengths between 510 and 570 nanometers are perceived as green and yellow. In fact, our eyes are most sensitive to these green/yellow wavelengths. So scientific evidence supports the 1939 conference decision to paint buses yellow: yellow is the color we see best.

There is also evidence that yellow cars are less likely to be hit by other vehicles. Researchers at the University of Granada (Spain) examined the records of Spanish traffic accidents between 1993 and 1999 (57,472 total accidents). They found that yellow and white cars were approximately 4% less likely to be hit by other cars; black cars were most likely to be hit. Light colored cars gave further protection in poor weather conditions such as fog and rain.

Although the protective effects of yellow cars are small, every little bit of added safety helps, especially when the passengers are kids on their way to school. So, the next time you are on a school bus, you can thank Frank Cyr for your yellow bus and for giving you some added protection.


Lardelli-Claret, P., Luna-del-Castillo, J,D., Jimenez-Moleon, J.J., Femia-Marzo, P., Moreno-Abril, O., Bueno-Cavanillas, A., Does vehicle color influence the risk of being passively involved in a collision? Epidemiology, 13:721-724, 2002.

U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Highway Safety Program Guideline #17, online.


A. "Coddling Human Guinea Pigs" by Sharon Begley (Newsweek magazine, August 25, 2008 issue) discusses the difficulties of doing research with human subjects.

B. "The Snore Wars" by Sanjay Gupta (Time magazine, September 1, 2008) discusses the problems associated with snoring.

C. "Lethal Fuzz" by Terrence D. Fitzgerald (Natural History Magazine, September, 2008) discusses the toxic hairs of caterpillars.

D. Visiting the Washington, D.C. area? Stop by the Drug Enforcement Agency Museum & Visitors Center for information about the impact of drug addiction. For more information about the center, see:


A. As much as 40% of the world's supply of medicinal morphine (a powerful pain reliever) comes from the island of Tasmania. (Source: The Scientist, March, 2008.)

B. Famous people who suffered or suffer from tinnitus (ringing in the ears):
Ludwig Van Beethoven (composer)
Steve Martin (comedian)
William Shatner (actor)
Alan Shepard (astronaut)
Barbara Streisand (singer/actress)
Peter Townsend (musician)
(Source: Wallechinsky, D. and Wallace, A., The New Book of Lists, New York: Canongate, 2005)

C. Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the 2008 Democratic vice-presidential running mate of Senator Barack Obama, underwent successful surgery for a brain aneurysm (an abnormal blood vessel) in 1988.

D. Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, winner of the 1904 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, is well known for his work on classical conditioning. In 1923 on a trip to New York City with his son, Pavlov was robbed of $2,000 in Grand Central Station. (Reference: Thomas, R.K., Recurring errors among recent history of psychology textbooks, Amer. J. Psychology, 12:477-495, 2007.)

E. Neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing (born 1869; died 1939) played on the Yale College baseball team. (Source: Bynum, W.F. and Bynum, H., editors, Dictionary of Medical Biography, Westport (CT): Greenwood Press, 2007.)


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Your comments and suggestions about this newsletter and the "Neuroscience for Kids" web site are always welcome. If there are any special topics that you would like to see on the web site, just let me know.


Eric H. Chudler, Ph.D.