Volume 2, Issue 11 (November, 1998)


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. Annual Society for Neuroscience Meeting
4. Don't Bite That Bird
5. Behind the Scenes at Neuroscience for Kids
6. Treasure Trove of Brain Trivia
7. How to Stop Your Subscription


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

A. October Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter was archived

In October, 42 new figures were added and 89 pages were modified.


The Neuroscience for Kids "Page of the Month" for November is "Java Man," a brain anatomy browser developed by the Neurovisualization laboratory at the University of Virginia. Java Man is located at:

Java Man blends brain imaging with computer technology to bring you an interactive way to see the internal structure of the human brain. By moving a line on the screen with your mouse, you can see the brain in different horizontal planes. Be patient because some of the images take a long time to load. Also, be careful how much time you spend at this's easy to stay for a long time.


The Annual Society for Neuroscience meeting will be held in Los Angeles this month (November 7-12). This meeting is the "BIG ONE" for many neuroscientists. "Big" for several reasons. First, the number of presentations at the meeting is huge. This year the Society for Neuroscience received approximately 12,600 summaries (called "abstracts") of different presentations. I received the abstracts in a two volume set of books containing 2,484 pages. Some of these presentations are short slide shows and other are poster presentations. With so many presentations and over 20,000 people, the meeting must be held in a large conference center. The 1998 meeting will be held in the Los Angeles Convention Center. There are only a few cities in the United States with an adequate convention center and enough hotel rooms for all of the participants. The meeting seems to bounce around the same cities: Washington, D.C. (1993); Miami Beach (1994); San Diego (1995); Washington, D.C. (1996); New Orleans (1997); Los Angeles (1998); Miami Beach (1999); New Orleans (2000); San Diego (2001); Orlando (2002); New Orleans(2003); San Diego (2004).

Another reason why the Society for Neuroscience meeting is big is that scientists often do not have much money to travel to meetings. Therefore, they can attend only one or two meetings each year. The Society for Neuroscience meeting is often the one chosen because of the variety of topics to be discussed. Scientific sessions include brain development, nerve regeneration, ion channels, neurotransmitters, the autonomic nervous system, sensory systems, movement, language, learning, biological rhythms, etc.

Many companies with books, supplies, instruments, tools, software and equipment also attend the meeting to capture the interest of neuroscientists and maybe even make a sale. I always enjoy walking through these displays to see what new products are available. Sometimes I can pick up free pens or refridgerator magnets for my kids.

It is impossible to see everything at the meeting. Nevertheless, I always return from the meeting energized with new ideas for the laboratory.

Thanks to everyone who wrote to me last month with their views on a Society for Neuroscience journal page. I have decided to write up my tirp as part of the December neuroscience for Kids Newsletter RATHER than post a daily account of the meeting. I promise I will keep good notes for you.


You probably know that many snakes, spiders and scorpions are venomous. The venom in many of these animals is toxic to the nervous system. These "neurotoxins" are deadly if a person receives enough of the venom.

Did you know that some frogs, fish, snails, newts and even one type of octopus also have neurotoxins? For some animals, these chemicals are used in defense; in other animals, the poison is used to capture prey. I recently read about a BIRD that contains a neurotoxin. Here is the story about this neurotoxic bird:

In 1990, an ecology student named John P. Dumbacher was doing some field work in New Guinea. John and his coworkers were studying a bird named the pitohui (scientific name = "Pitohui dichrous"). The pitohui is a brightly colored bird that smells terrible. Anyway, when John was freeing a pitohui from a collecting net, he cut his hand. His immediate reaction was to suck on his wound. This turned out to be a good and a bad idea.

It was a bad idea because almost immediately after sucking on his hand, John felt a numbness, tingling and burning of his mouth. It was a good idea because this event led John and his colleagues on a quest to find out why this happened. They published their results in 1992 in the journal Science (vol. 258, pp. 799-801).

The researchers found that local New Guineans called the pitohui a "rubbish bird." The bird could not be eaten unless its skin was removed and the bird was specially prepared. Back in the laboratory, the researchers discovered that the toxin in the bird was "homobatrachotoxin." The skin and feathers of the pitohui had the most toxin. The muscles, heart, liver, stomach and intestines has less toxin.

What makes the story even more fascinating is that homobatrachotoxin is very similar to batrachotoxin, the toxin found in the skin of the South American poison arrow frog. The pitohui and poison arrow frog are not closely related to one another, but have developed a similar way of defending themselves from predators. One bite of either the poison arrow frog or the pitohui could result in dire consequences for any predator that wanted to make a meal out of these animals.

So what is the moral of this story? Next time you are out doing field research, make sure you wash your hands...unless, of course, you want to make a scientific discovery. More on neurotoxins.

For a picture of the pitohui, see: National Geographic, April 1993 (Geographica section). For more on the poison arrow frog, see National Geographic, May 1995, pp. 98-111.


A research project is rarely the work of just one person. This is also true for the Neuroscience for Kids web site. There are several people who help me out with this newsletter and the Neuroscience for Kids web site. Several science teachers in Washington, Iowa, Hawaii and California proofread this newsletter before I send it to you. It's a good thing too...sometimes my fingers type so fast I make mistakes. It is great to have people double-check my work. Some teachers have also contributed material to the web site. There is more to come from all of us and you will be the first to hear about it through this newsletter.


A. The pufferfish, eaten as a delicacy in Japan, contains a potent neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin.

B. Stroke ("brain attack") is the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States.

C. Information travels in the nerves at speeds up to 268 miles per hour (429 kilometers/hour).

D. The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that the heart was the seat of mental processes, not the brain.

E. The heaviest human brain ever recorded weighed 5 lb., 1.1 oz or about 2.3 kg (statistic from The Guinness Book of World Records, 1997). The average brain weighs about 3 lb (1.4 kg).


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.