Volume 3, Issue 8 (August, 1999)


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. Breaking the Ice: Introducing the Nervous System
4. Big Ear, Small Brain
5. Watch Safely
6. Book Review
7. Media Alert
8. Annual Society for Neuroscience Meeting
9. Treasure Trove of Brain Trivia
10. How to Stop Your Subscription


Neuroscience for Kids had several new additions in July. Here are some of them:

A. July Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter was archived
B. Alzheimer's Disease
C. Ecstasy (MDMA)
D. August NeuroCalendar
E. Neuroscience Word Origin Worksheet and Answers

In July, 24 new figures were added and 79 pages were modified.

Neuroscience for Kids milestones:

A. There are now more than 3,000 people who receive the "Neuroscience for Kids" newsletter each month.

B. As of July 31, 1999, the "Neuroscience for Kids" web resource contains 1,794 images (gif and jpeg files) and 527 separate web pages (html and pdf files).


The Neuroscience for Kids "Page of the Month" for August is "The New Brain" at:

Note: this page is no longer available online

"The New Brain" is an on-line special issue of "Feed Magazine." The issue includes short essays by eight well-known neuroscientists: Drs. Daniel Dennett, Joseph LeDoux, Steven Quartz, Michael Gazzaniga, Susan Greenfield, Vilayanur Ramachandran, Nicholas Humphrey, and William Calvin. Each neuroscientist was asked to write about his or her favorite brain area. These essays are easy to read and provide a fascinating look at current brain research.


The "Back to School" sales have begun, telling us that a new school year is about to begin. This year, why not start by studying the nervous system? Here are some of my favorite activities to get students and teachers interested in how the brain works.

A. Brain Models: modeling the brain can introduce concepts related to brain size, functional specialization and effects of neurological disorders. You can use playdough, clay, recyclable material or even Jello to make brain models. For more on modeling the nervous system, see:

B. Neurotransmission: information is passed from neuron to neuron at a synapse. It is at the synapse where a chemical ("neurotransmitter") released from one neuron binds to a receptor on another neuron. This is an important concept for students to understand especially because psychoactive drugs work by affecting neuronal function at the synapse. A good way to illustrate chemical transmission is by having students pretend they are neurons. Give each student an object (a vial of liquid works well, but even a small rock will work). The object represents the neurotransmitter. Students should form a straight line with the "neurotransmitter" in one hand. When someone says "GO!" the first student in line should give his or her neurotransmitter to the next person in line. When this person receives the neurotransmitter, he or she passes the neurotransmitter to the next person in line. Finally, the "signal" will get to the last neuron. You can even have "neuro races" by dividing students into teams to see how fast each team can pass the signal down the line.

C. "Brain" Helmets (Mr. Egghead): since your brain is the most important organ in your body, it is essential that you protect it. Get a raw egg (still in the shell) to represent your brain. Collect material that can be used to build a helmet for your egg-brain. Plastic baskets or containers, styrofoam, small boxes, packing material, tape, string and newspaper can be used. Build your helmet around your egg-brain. After all the helmets with egg-brains have been built, drop them from an equal height and see which helmets protected the egg-brains successfully. This activity is meant to reinforce the importance of wearing a helmet when biking, skating, skateboarding and skiing. It also encourages students to be creative as they design and build their helmets.


People are fascinated by creatures with big brains. Elephants (average brain weight = 6,000 g; ~13 lb) and sperm whales (average brain weight = 8,000-10,000 g; 17-22 lb) have the largest brains of all animals and of course have very large bodies. Humans and dolphins have the biggest brains compared to their body sizes. The adult human brain (average brain weight = 1,400 g; ~3 lb) makes up approximately 2% of the total body weight. Which animal do you think has the smallest brain?

Perhaps the distinction of the vertebrate (animal with a backbone) with the smallest brain is the deep sea fish called "Acanthonus armatus." This fish lives on the ocean floor at depths between 1,700 and 3,700 meters. A fish with a body weight of 140 g has a brain that weighs only 0.0035 g. On average, the brain of this fish makes up only 0.0247% of its total body weight.

What this fish lacks in brain, it gains in its ears. The inner ear of this fish is huge! In fact, it has two structures (the semicircular canals and otolith) in its ear that are many times larger than its entire brain! The semicircular canals and otolith are important for maintaining balance. Scientists think that these large "ears" are used to detect and gather prey on the ocean bottom. In all animals, the brain is an organ that requires many nutrients. Perhaps because this fish lives at the bottom of the ocean and is not very active, it does not need a large brain to survive.

I don't know about you, but I prefer the human arrangement: small ears and big brain.

Reference: Fine, M.L., Horn, M.H. and Cox, B. Acanthonus armatus, a deep-sea teleost fish with a minute brain and large ears. Proc. Royal Soc. London B230:257-265, 1987.


On August 11, 1999 a total solar eclipse will occur in much of Europe, the Middle East and India. Although I will not be able to experience the eclipse since I live in Seattle, Washington, I thought this would be a good time to remind people in the path of the eclipse to make sure they view the eclipse safely.

When is a good time to look at the sun during an eclipse? NEVER!!! NEVER look at the sun! Just don't do it! It is NEVER safe to look at the sun! The sun can cause damage to your eyes by burning a hole in your retina (the back part of your eye with cells that respond to light). This type of damage cannot be repaired. And forget about sunglasses; sunglasses will NOT protect your eyes.

The only safe way to watch an eclipse is to watch it indirectly, such as through an easy-to-make pinhole projector. The "Exploratorium" has some suggestions for ways to enjoy an eclipse safely:


Richard Walker, "Brain: Our Body's Nerve Center," Danbury: Grolier Educational, 1998, 48 pages (ISBN 0717292673).

Francesca Baines, "Senses: How We Connect With The World," Danbury: Grolier Educational, 1998, 48 pages (ISBN 0717292703).

Both of these books are part of the "Under the Microscope" series published by Grolier Educational. They are most appropriate for students in grades K-6, although anyone with an interest in the nervous system will appreciate the vivid photographs in these books.

"Brain" starts by comparing the nervous system to a country with the brain as the body's government. The book continues with a discussion of the anatomy of neurons, nerves, spinal cord and brain. Each topic is illustrated with low and high magnification photographs and detailed, colorful drawings. Although all of the functions of the brain cannot be covered in such a short book, Walker does discuss personality, memory, balance and sleep. A few pages are also devoted to the endocrine system and hormones.

Like "Brain," "Senses" includes photographs and drawings to illustrate concepts. After a brief introduction to the senses and nervous system, Baines discusses 1) the skin and touch; 2) the tongue and taste; 3) the nose and smell; 4) the ear, hearing and balance and 5) the eye, light and vision.

I cannot say enough about the excellent photographs contained within the 48 pages of these books. Many of the photographs were taken using microscopes, including an electron microscope. These graphics provide a view of the nervous system not often seen in books for young students. Each book also contains a glossary and an extensive index. In addition to these books on the brain and the senses, the "Under the Microscope" series contains books about the heart, skeleton, digestion, reproduction, breathing and muscles.


A few articles related to new research on Alzheimer's disease:

A. "Outsmarting Alzheimer's" in Newsweek magazine, July 19, 1999, p. 59.
B. "Hope Meets Hype" in Time magazine, July 19, 1999, p. 88.
C. "Unraveling A Mystery With A Few Good Mice" in US News and World Report, July 19, 1999, p. 50.


From October 23 to October 28, thousands of neuroscientists will converge at the Miami Beach Convention Center for the Annual Society for Neuroscience (SFN) meeting. Although the meeting will not be held until October, it is not too early to think about attending. There are several programs at the meeting for high school students and teachers. For example, there are several workshops for teachers and a short neuroscience course for high school students.


A. A giraffe sleeps only two hours each day.

B. The adult human spinal cord weighs about 35 grams (0.1 lb).

C. There are about 1,200,000 nerve fibers in each human optic nerve.

D. The human eyeball is 24.5 mm (~ 1 in) long.

E. The brain of a cat weighs about 30 grams. (Remember, an adult human brain weighs about 1,400 grams or 3 lb.)



To remove yourself from this mailing list and stop your subscription to the Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter, send e-mail to Dr. Eric H. Chudler at:


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.