Welcome to the Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter.
Here is what you will find in this issue:
1. What's New on the Neuroscience for Kids Web Pages
2. The Neuroscience for Kids Page of the Month
3. Down Side of Bungee Jumping
4. Thanksgiving Day Conversation Starter
5. Book Review
6. Media Alert
7. Treasure Trove of Brain Trivia
8. How to Stop Your Subscription
A. October Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter was archived
B. Encephalitis Bites the Big Apple (New York City!
C. NeuroHangman Game
D. Scrambled Neuroscientist Game
E. A Cup of Blueberries a Day Keeps Neurological Problems Away
F. The Lasker Award
The Neuroscience for Kids "Page of the Month" for November is the Virtual Reality Brain Project. (Site not working, August 2001)
The Virtual Reality Brain Project, sponsored by SUNY Health Science Center
in Brooklyn, New York lets you "hold" a human brain without actually
touching it. The site uses QuickTime Virtual Reality Technology that
permits users rotate several human brain dissections. You can zoom in and
zoom out to see different brain structures. You must have the free
Quicktime 3.0 plug-in installed on your computer to use this site. Also,
because the graphic files are large (1.4 to 3.5 MB), it may take a long
time to download the dissections. Nevertheless, the Virtual Reality Brain
Project is an excellent demonstration of how technology can be used to
teach brain anatomy.
Climb to a height of 200-400 ft. Attach an elastic cord around your ankles. Now dive head first toward the ground. Before smashing into the ground, get pulled back by the elastic cord. Now, you're bungee jumping!
Bungee jumping originated on the South Pacific island of Pentecost and was introduced to the world in the 1950s by a National Geographic film crew. Pentecost islanders would strap vines to their ankles and jump from raised platforms. Today people looking for a quick thrill can bungee jump from bridges, cranes, platforms or even hot air balloons. It has been estimated that jumps result in a G-force (force of gravity) between 2.5-3.0 G, but higher forces may be reached during some jumps. Some people turn themselves into human slingshots and propel themselves into the air in what is called a "reverse bungee jump."
Of course there are many people who are reluctant to jump several hundred feet with only a bungee cord to prevent certain death. Broken bungee cords may be the least of your worries. The medical literature is full of other problems associated with bungee jumping. The most common injury is to the eye. Some jumpers complain of blurred vision immediately after a jump. Eye examinations of these people often show that the blood vessels that bring blood to the retina have broken. The blurred vision may clear up by itself, but it sometimes takes several months for complete recovery. These eye injuries may be caused by rapid increases in blood pressure and intraocular (inside the eye) pressure.
Bungee jumping may also cause spinal cord injuries. One person suffered a compressed spinal cord after a bungee cord on one side snapped during a reverse bungee jump. When the bungee cord broke, the person's head snapped to one side and caused damage to the cervical spinal cord. Unfortunately, the injury left this individual paralyzed, without the use of his arms and legs.
Finally, at least one case of peripheral nerve damage has been reported. This occurred in a person who made frequent bungee jumps. Apparently, a nerve supplying the foot became compressed or stretched, and this caused some loss of sensation and reduced motor function of the foot. The multiple jumps may have caused the ankle strap to damage this nerve repeatedly.
As with all risky sports, the thrill of the event must be weighed against
the potential for injury. By using the proper safety equipment, the
chance of risk can be reduced. (Note: even with all of the proper safety
equipment my wife still won't let me near a bungee jump.)
"Did you know that the brain of the domesticated turkey is about 30% smaller than the brain of a wild turkey?"
Although you may get some strange looks from your dinner companions, you can assure them that data support your statement. In 1995, researchers in Germany compared the brain and body sizes of wild and domestic turkeys. They found that the brains of male domesticated turkeys weighed 35.1% less than that of wild turkeys. Female domesticated turkeys had brains that weighed 24.3% less than those of wild turkeys. These reductions in brain size occurred despite an overall increase in the body weight of domesticated turkeys: domesticated male turkeys weigh about 50% more than the wild type; domesticated female turkeys weighed about 100% more than the wild type.
The areas of the brain involved with vision showed the largest reductions in size. The authors of the study believe that the smaller brain sizes are the result of "extreme breeding." Furthermore, the researchers believe that differences in the habitat and behavior of domestic and wild turkeys may have resulted in the brain differences and note that domestic turkeys lack the alertness and wariness shown in wild turkeys.
And if anyone at dinner asks you, "So, just how big is a turkey brain?", here is your answer:
A turkey brain weighs about 7 g (0.25 oz)
Reference: Ebinger, P. and Rohrs, M. Volumetric analysis of brain
structures, especially the visual system in wild and domestic turkeys
(Meleagris gallopavo), J. Hirnforsch, 36:219-228, 1995.
[This book review was written by Ms. Lynne Bleeker, Middle School Science Teacher consultant.]
"The Human Brain" is a thin little book packed with information about this mysterious and amazing three-pound organ. Greenfield's descriptions of disorders of the brain, such as Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease and amnesia, are excellent. Her discussion about addictive drugs and the neurotransmitters they mimic and those they affect is also very clear. I especially appreciated her explanation of action potentials and synapses. For example, to describe chemical neurotransmission, she uses the analogy of a boat which has to be brought to water, cross and dock on the other side. After reading the book I felt I had a more thorough understanding of the electrical and chemical components of an action potential.
Additional diagrams and pictures would have been helpful; I often found myself mentally reviewing the locations of parts of the brain and wishing that there were labeled diagrams for reference. I counted only four photographs and seven diagrams in the 160-page book. The electron micrograph of a synapse was very illuminating.
In addition to the careful descriptions of what is known about the brain, Dr. Greenfield's discussions of the riddles of consciousness, mind and memory were greatly appreciated. The relation of the physical brain to the mind and a person's individuality is still mostly a mystery to science, and as she says in her concluding remarks, "We have seen astounding progress but the adventure is only really just beginning." This positive approach to what is not known left this reader feeling invigorated rather than overwhelmed by the book.
I would highly recommend the entire book to college students and adults,
and would use sections of it with middle school and high school students.
It would be an excellent addition to the home or school library, both for
its neuroscience content and for its descriptions of the processes and
frontiers of scientific study.
B. Mickey Mouse, Ph.D., Scientific American, November, 1999. Inserting a single gene makes mice smarter.
C. The Mystery of Consciousness, Time Magazine, October 18, 1999, also available online at:
B. The cerebral cortex makes up about 77% of the total volume of the human brain. (Statistic from Trends in Neuroscience, November 1995.)
C. Humans can hear sounds with frequencies between 20 and 20,000 Hz; cats can hear frequencies between 100 and 60,000 Hz; elephants can hear frequencies between 1 and 20,000 Hz.
D. Written about 1,700 B.C., the Edwin Smith surgical papyrus contains the first recorded use of the word "brain."
E. The National Institutes of Health was established in 1887.
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.
"Neuroscience for Kids" is supported by a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the National Center of Research Resources.