air NEUROSCIENCE FOR KIDS NEWSLETTER - Volume 14, Issue 4 (April, 2010)

Volume 14, Issue 4 (April, 2010)

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. 2010 Brain Awareness Week
4. Into the Classroom
5. Up in the Air
6. Northwestern College Neuroscience Camp
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 March including:

A. March Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter was archived
B. 2010 Brain Awareness Week Open House
C. May and June Neurocalendars
D. Blueberry Juice May Improve Memory in Older People
E. New Regulations to Protect Pets from Flea Poison

In March, 9 new figures were added and 58 pages were modified.


The Neuroscience for Kids "Site of the Month" for April is "" at: is the official Web site of the Nobel Foundation. Each year, the Nobel Foundation awards a prize (including more than 1 million dollars) to a person or group of people in recognition of achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and for peace. Many neuroscientists have received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and the Web site is a great place to learn about the work and life of these great researchers.

Start your exploration of this large web site by clicking on the "NOBEL PRIZES" button in the upper left side of the main page. Then click on "Nobel Prize in Medicine" in the upper center. This will take you to a section all about the Nobel Laureates in medicine. You can go directly to information about some neuroscientists by clicking on "Nobel Prizes in Nerve Signaling" (lower right side of page) at:

Select any of the articles to read about the work that resulted in the prize. My favorite parts of these articles are the biographies and autobiographies where I can learn more about the lives of the scientists. The "Other Resources" button (lower right side) leads to interviews, papers and Web sites of each laureate. Other neuroscientist Nobel Laureates can be found by searching the "Nobel Prize in Medicine" section.

When you are finished reading about the scientists, you can play some games on the site by clicking on "EDUCATIONAL GAMES" (upper right side of page). There are several games related to the nervous system including The Ear Pages, MRI, Pavlov's Dog, and The Split Brain Experiments.


I hope you were able to celebrate Brain Awareness Week (BAW) last month. Here at the University of Washington, 600 local students arrived on campus for the BAW Open House. The students worked with many exhibits set up by neuroscientists. For example, they were connected to machines that measured their brain waves and brain blood flow. Other exhibits had students test their senses, compare the brains of different animals. extract DNA from strawberries, and build model neurons. BAW was a great success this year and I look forward to another BAW season in 2011. Read more about the UW BAW at:


Last month I visited several local elementary schools to speak with students about the brain and brain research. Young students know that the brain is very important for the senses and always know the five basic senses: touch, taste, smell, vision and hearing. When I ask the students if we have more than these five senses, they rarely know that our ears are important for the sense of balance or that our muscles and joints send information to our brains about our sense of body position.

One student mentioned that some people have another sense: ESP (extrasensory perception). I said that I did not know of any good experiments showing that ESP really existed. In fact, I explained, anyone who could demonstrate that they had ESP could get ONE MILLION DOLLARS! The students wanted to know how they could collect this money.

I mentioned that a magician named James Randi will give anyone one million dollars if they can demonstrate that they have ESP. Mr. Randi has sponsored this "Paranormal Challenge" for many years, but has never had to pay anyone. I asked the students why they thought no one had ever collected the million dollars. The students had some very creative answers:

"Maybe the person with ESP doesn't have money to travel to Mr. Randi to take the ESP test."

"Maybe the person with ESP is afraid that if people find out he has ESP that people would do bad experiments on him."

"Maybe the person with ESP doesn't know about the challenge."

These were interesting answers, but the students missed a simple explanation for why no one has taken Mr. Randi's money. When I mentioned this simple reason to the students, they all seemed to agree that this explanation was most likely. Can you guess what I told the students?

For more information about the "One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge," see:


Several weeks ago I traveled to California to give some presentations to teachers interested in neuroscience and education. In addition to giving the keynote lecture, I provided some workshops that provided the teachers with ideas for hands-on neuroscience activities they could use in their classrooms.

When I travel by air, I usually take carry-on luggage only. This requires that I pack lightly and bring only the essentials. The trip to California required careful planning because in addition to clothing, I had to bring materials and supplies for the workshops. Because my trip was fairly brief, most of my carry-on bag contained these supplies.

As I packed my bag with cards, brain and neuron models, visual illusions, and spinning tops (Benham disks), I started to worry. I knew that airport security was getting very strict about screening passengers and some of the materials in my bag were very unusual. I hoped that I would not have any problems when it came time for me to board my flight.

Waiting in the security line for my flight, I tried to remember everything I had packed just in case I was asked questions. As my bag traveled on the conveyer belt into the X-ray machine, I thought everything would be fine. I watched my bag disappear into the machine and walked through the metal detector. Suddenly, the X-ray machine stopped, lights started flashing and an alarm sounded.

"Excuse me, sir. Is this your bag?," asked a TSA agent. I replied that it was my bag. The agent asked me to step to the side and asked if there was anything dangerous in my luggage. I said that there was nothing dangerous in the bag. The agent then asked if she could open the bag and look inside. "Of course, please do," I replied.

I was then placed in the "rectangle of shame," the glass box in the airport security area where they search people who set off the metal detectors. As I waited in the rectangle of shame, the TSA agent slowly opened my bag. The first item she removed was my life-size plastic brain model. She held the brain model high in the air and called to me, "What's this?" I called back, "It's a brain." That drew some interesting stares from other passengers around me.

The TSA agent suggested that we go through the bag together so I exited the rectangle of shame and went over to the counter with my bag. I explained who I was and where I was going. The TSA agent was still interested in what I was carrying. She even brought the brain model over to her fellow agents to show them. "Look," she said, "Have you ever seen one of these?"

The next item out of my bag with my giant rope neuron model. This really caught the attention of the agent. "What are you planning to do with this 30 foot rope?", she asked. She was still a bit suspicious of me. I explained that the rope was part of a nerve cell model. The rope represents the axon of a nerve cell. The axon takes messages away from the neuron's cell body. I started to give a little mini-lecture about how nerve cells use electrical and chemical signals to communicate with each other. Two other TSA agents came over to listen.

The TSA agent then removed a small green box from my bag. "Is it safe to open?," she asked. "Yes," I replied. When the agent opened the box, she had a puzzled look on her face. "What is this?," she asked. I explained that she was looking at the brains of several small animals encased in plastic. I pointed to the smooth cerebral cortex on most of the small brains and compared it to the folded cortex on the plastic human brain model. My airport neuroscience class continued, "Why do you think the human brain has all of these folds on the cortex?", I asked. One agent answered correctly, "To get more brain inside your skull!"

As our discussion continued, I got a bit anxious because I wanted to get to my gate and did not want to miss my plane to California. Finally, after digging through more items in my bag, the TSA agent said, "I think we found the problem." She pulled out a set of neuron models that I had made from wire. Apparently the wires caught the attention of the TSA agent watching the X-ray machine. I explained that the different wires represented dendrites, the cell body, axon and terminal of a nerve cell.

My explanations seemed to satisfy everyone. As I re-packed my bag and headed off to my gate, the TSA agent called after me, "You have to come back again and teach us some more!" I am sure I will be back at the airport, but to avoid any delays in the future, I'll leave my wire neuron models at home.


The 5th annual Northwestern Neuroscience Camp at Northwestern College (Orange City, Iowa) is a one week residential camp for high school students interested in exploring the exciting field of neuroscience through mini-lectures, demonstrations, fieldtrips, a variety of hands-on activities and experiments. Preference is given to juniors and seniors who are specifically interested in neuroscience. Two camps are planned: June 21-25 and June 28-July 2. The application deadline is May 1, 2010.


A. "Cell-Phone Safety" by Bryan Walsh (Time Magazine, March 15, 2010) discusses possible radiation hazards of cell phones.

B. "Forget the Cocaine Vaccine" by Sharon Begley (Newsweek magazine, March 15, 2010) discusses the controversy associated with a vaccine for cocaine addiction.

C. Two articles in the April, 2010, issue of Scientific American: "Faulty Circuits" by Thomas R. Insel discusses how brain changes cause psychological disorders and "Regaining Balance with Bionic Ears" by Charles C. Della Santina discusses how implants into the inner ear may help people with vision and balance problems.

D. "Their Own Worst Enemies" by Sharon Begley (Newsweek magazine, March 29, 2010) discusses why many scientists have problems communicating their work to the public.

E. "Finding Alzheimer's Disease" by Ralf Dahm (American Scientist magazine, March/April 2010) discusses the search for the physical basis of neurological disorders.

F. "Love, Loss and Laughter: Seeing Alzheimer's Differently" is a photographic exhibition by Cathy Greenblat that runs from March 5 to August 20, 2010 at the National Academies' Keck Center (500 Fifth St., N.W., Washington, D.C.). To view the exhibit, you must make an appointment.

G. "Oregon's Simple Solution to the Meth Epidemic" by David A. Graham (Newsweek magazine, April 5, 2010) discusses how the restriction of cold and allergy medicines may have reduced the sale of illegal methamphetamine.

H. "Mind Over Money" is a new PBS TV show that explores how emotions interfere with the ability to make financial decisions. The program debuts on April 27, 2010; for more information, see:

I. "The Brain" is a new special issue of Discover magazine that is currently on newsstands.

J. "Frontier of the Mind" is the cover study of New Scientist magazine (April 3, 2010).


A. Oxygen is the most common chemical element (by weight) in the human body. (Source: Balaban, N.E. and Bobick, J.E., The Handy Anatomy Answer Book, Canton (MI): Visible Ink Press, 2008.)

B. Humans shed about 600,000 particles of skin each hour; this is equal to 1.5 pounds per year and 105 pounds by the time someone is 70 years old. (Source: Balaban, N.E. and Bobick, J.E., The Handy Anatomy Answers Book, Canton (MI): Visible Ink Press, 2008.)

C. The first two vertebrae of the spinal column (C1 and C2) allow the head to move.

D. Heterochromia is the rare condition in which a person has eyes of two different colors.

E. In 2009, 58,459 papers were published using the word "brain." (Source:;


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Eric H. Chudler, Ph.D.