Volume 4, Issue 3 (March 2000)


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. Brain Awareness Week
4. Poisonous Monsters
5. Pinky Pain
6. Book Review
7. Media Alert
8. Treasure Trove of Brain Trivia
9. How to Stop Your Subscription


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

A. February Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter was archived
B. March NeuroCalendar
C. March Fact-A-Day Calendar
D. Memory and the Hippocampus
E. Link Between Virus and ALS
F. Brain Rhyme Time Worksheet
G. An Activity A Day to Learn About the Brain
H. Brain Tries to Help After Sleep Deprivation
In February, 18 new figures were added and 81 pages were modified.



The Neuroscience for Kids "Page of the Month" for March is the Cyber Museum of Neurosurgery at:

Enter the Cyber Museum of Neurosurgery for a tour of the major advances in neurosurgery. Sponsored by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, the museum is a storehouse of information about neurosurgical procedures and the people who developed them. From Egyptian papyri to the case of Phineas Gage to neurosurgeon Dr. Harvey Cushing, the museum covers a wide range of material. Each topic is covered in detail and illustrated with many photographs and drawings. The Cyber Museum of Neurosurgery is also convenient: unlike a traditional museum, the Cyber Museum is free and only a mouse click away.


This is the month! Finally, Brain Awareness Week (BAW) is here. I hope you have plans to celebrate BAW. If you don't, it is not too late to get an event organized. Even one day spent thinking about the brain and the research being done to uncover the mysteries of the nervous system would be worthwhile.

You may still have time to schedule a visit by a neuroscientist. Visit the Society for Neuroscience Committee on Neuroscience Literacy web site to see if there is a neuroscientist near you who can visit. To locate an interested neuroscientist, see:

Perhaps your class can devote some time to a unit on the brain. An outline of BAW activities can be found at:

If you would like to share what you did for BAW, send me a short note (e-mail: and I may include it the April issue of the Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter. I am sure that newsletter readers would like to hear what you did during BAW.


A few weeks ago my family and I took a trip to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. To escape from the rain, we went inside the reptile/amphibian house to visit the snakes, lizards, turtles and frogs. The first animals to greet us in this exhibit were the Gila monsters. I had heard that the venom of the Gila monster was neurotoxic, but I did not know much about the poison. I decided to do some research.

According to Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, "Gila" is pronounced "Hee La." The Gila monster is the only lizard in the world that contains venom. It belongs to the genus "Heloderma" and there are two species: Heloderma suspectum and Heloderma horridum. The natural habitat of the Gila monster ranges from the deserts of southern Mexico to Utah including the Sonoran, Mojave and Great Basin Deserts.

There are several differences in the way Gila monsters and snakes deliver their venom. First, snakes have a venom sac in their upper jaws. The Gila monster has its venom sac in the lower jaw. Second, poisonous snakes have hollow teeth similar to a hypodermic needle. Snakes deliver their venom through these fangs as if they were giving an injection. Gila monsters do not deliver their poison like this. Rather, Gila monsters have venom ducts that open up near the base of their teeth. With its strong jaw and sharp teeth, the Gila monster chews and tears when it bites. Grooves on the outside of the teeth direct the flow of venom toward the wound.

Gila monsters do bite people although this is rare and usually not fatal. Untrained people should NEVER pick up a Gila monster. Most bites occur when people handle the animals carelessly. Common symptoms of the bite include pain, reduced blood pressure, nausea and vomiting. Gila monster venom can affect the nervous, circulatory and respiratory systems. The venom contains enzymes and other chemicals that cause pain, swelling, and heart and respiratory problems. The venom contains several "neuroactive" chemicals including bradykinin, serotonin and nerve growth factor. These chemicals may contribute to the pain caused by a Gila monster bite.


Hooker, K.R. and Caravati, E.M. Gila monster envenomation. Ann. Emer. Med., 24:731-735, 1994.

Russell, F.E. and Bogert, C.M. Gila monster: its biology, venom and bite-a review. Toxicon, 19:341-359, 1981.


I play basketball at least once a week. I've had my share of sprained ankles, but never anything too serious. This month I had a new injury. As I chased a loose ball, my little finger jammed hard against the ball. I knew something was wrong when I looked at my finger and saw that it was not straight; rather, it looked like a broken twig, jutting out at a strange angle. The pain I felt was also a sign that things were not right.

As a friend drove me to the emergency room, I wondered if I had a sprain, a dislocation or a broken finger. X-rays confirmed that I had dislocated the second joint on my little finger, but did not suffer any broken bones.

You may be wondering what this story has to do with neuroscience. To fix the dislocation, the doctor had to pull the finger out to place the joint back in its proper place. As you can imagine, this can be quite painful. However, it is not painful if the finger is anesthetized. This is where the neuroscience comes in: local anesthetics. The doctor injected a local anesthetic ("lidocaine") into my finger. After a few minutes my finger was numb and the doctor reset the joint.

In the late 1800s, cocaine was used as a local anesthetic. In 1943, lidocaine was synthesized and is in common use today. Lidocaine works by blocking nerve impulses (action potentials). It does this by making sodium channels on a neuronal membrane less likely to open. Therefore, sodium ions have trouble moving across the neuronal membrane. This prevents depolarization of the neuron and an action potential will not fire. You can read about the importance of sodium ions and how action potentials are produced at:

My thanks go out to lidocaine: thank you for blocking those action potentials!


"The Magic School Bus Explores the Senses" by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen, Scholastic, 1999, 48 pages (ISBN: 0-590-44698-3).

[The review is by Lynne Bleeker, middle school teacher and Neuroscience for Kids consultant]

The Magic School Bus book series is extremely popular with teachers and young students alike, and with good reason. The plots are imaginative, the cartoon characters interesting, and the scientific information accurate. "The Magic School Bus Explores the Senses" does not disappoint. In this story, Ms. Frizzle's class jumps into the bus to return some lecture notes on the five senses to Ms. Frizzle. However, the driver pushes the "shrink" button accidentally and they end up in the eye of a police officer. The bus travels through the officer's eye and optic nerve to the brain. No sooner does the bus return from that perilous journey than it falls into an ear, through the eardrum, along the auditory nerve and to a hearing area of the brain. The bus falls back out of the ear and is sniffed up by a dog. After a discussion of the sense of smell and some comparisons among the smelling abilities of different animals, the dog sneezes the bus onto Ms. Frizzle's pizza. The bus is eaten along with a bite of pizza, and the students take refuge in a gap between taste buds on the tongue...where they follow a receptor cell's path to the brain. In a desperate attempt to get away from the taste area of the brain (which was registering anchovies!), they move to parts of the brain that interpret "touch" messages. From there, they travel along a nerve to Ms. Frizzle's skin, and out a pore. An accidental slip into a cat's ear allows for a review of the sense of hearing and also a discussion of balance before they arrive safely back at school and the bus returns to its original size.

The book includes a huge amount of information about the five senses, yet it is done in such a wacky and interesting way that the reader does not even notice how much he or she is learning! I thought the diagrams for "hearing" and "taste" were particularly well done and the "punny" summary of the five senses on the last page brings a smile. I highly recommend this book to both students and adults. (My four-year-old even learned a few things about how his ears work!)


A. National Sleep Awareness Week - March 27 to April 2, 2000

B. From the March 2000 issue of Scientific American
- "Brain Terrain," a short letter outlining the controversy of brain mapping.
- "Brain Invaders," an article on a brain implant to restore hearing.

C. "The Pain is in the Brain", in the March 2000 issue of Discover Magazine - new insights into the origins of headaches.

D. "Grow Your Own," in the February 12, 2000 issue of New Scientist - an article about neuron regeneration in adults.

E. Bill Nye the Science Guy is coming back! In September 2000, Bill Nye the Science Guy will be broadcast on the cable channel called Noggin. Noggin has broadcasting rights to all of the Science Guy's shows and will have Bill Nye create more shows for the new channel.

F. If you are in Pittsburgh, PA, check out the new planetarium show called "Gray Matters: The Brain Movie." This show at the Carnegie Science Center takes you on a tour around, through and inside the brain.

G. The Sunday newspaper insert (probably the March 12 newspaper) with the feature called will include "Neuroscience for Kids." Not all newspapers include the insert. Check for its availability in a newspaper in your area.


A. 13,285 scientific abstracts (posters and slide presentations) were presented at the Society for Neuroscience meeting held in October 1999. (Statistic from the Society for Neuroscience Newsletter, January/February 2000.)

B. The human eye weighs about 7.5 g. (Statistic from R.F. Spaide, Diseases of the Retina and Vitreous, 1999.)

C. The barbituate "pentobarbital" is also known as truth serum.

D. A 12 oz can of Jolt cola has 71 mg of caffeine. A cup of coffee has 60-150 mg of caffeine.

E. The first lobotomy in the United States was performed by Walter Freeman in 1936.


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.