Volume 4, Issue 8 (August, 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 Poster Set
4. Teacher/Student Events at the Society for Neuroscience Meeting
5. Going Buggy Over Mosquitoes
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 June. Here are some of them:

A. July Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter was archived
B. August NeuroCalendar
C. Get the Lead Out! (Effects of Lead on the Nervous System)
D. Alzheimer's Disease on the Rise
E. No Helmet, No Bike
F. Brain Posters (large PDF file, ~600KB)
G. Your Brain at Work (Worksheet)

In July, 17 new figures were added and 66 pages were modified.


The Neuroscience for Kids "Page of the Month" for August is "Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body" from at:

[This review was written by Marge Murray, Ph.D., Neuroscience for Kids Staff Writer.]

This on-line text is the 20th edition of a classic anatomy book published originally in 1918. Although the text is somewhat dated in style, referring, for example, to the eye as the "organ of sight" and its connective tissue coverings as the "tunics of the eye," the information is accurate and comprehensive. Each section begins with a brief anatomical description and then discusses the embryonic development of that system. The text brings in many animal counterparts to human structures, a feature that enriches the reading. The real treasures for students of anatomy are the finely detailed images: click on any illustration to enlarge it and see details and labels of structures. The illustrations of developing organs are especially fun to follow.

The aim of "Gray's Anatomy" is to show structure, so you will not find much discussion of function. The text also does not discuss structure at the electron microscope level. Nevertheless, for an understanding of anatomy on a larger scale, this book may make you exclaim, "So that's how it's put together! It's beautiful."


Ellen Poliakoff and Sally Bee, two students from the University of Manchester (England), developed a poster for Brain Awareness Week 2000. They want to distribute the poster to a wider audience and have asked "Neuroscience for Kids" to help. Their poster with brain facts and cartoons has been divided into four pieces and is now available to you. The posters can be downloaded (PDF format, ~600 KB filesize for the complete set) at:

I asked Ellen and Sally for some background about their poster. Here is their reply:

"We are both postgraduates at the University of Manchester and are interested in communicating science to a wider audience. Brain Awareness Week 2000 seemed the ideal opportunity to get involved with promoting neuroscience. By chance, a play titled "The Brain" was being performed by Forkbeard Fantasy at the Contact Theatre, Manchester the very same week as BAW. The play received the Wellcome Science on Stage and Screen award. We arranged to display a poster about the brain in the foyer for theatre-goers to read on their way in and teamed up with artist Serena Korda. We hoped to convey some interesting facts about the brain and some of the many exciting ongoing areas of research. In addition, we provided a quiz for children to take home with them and visual illusions to entertain people during the interval. To our amazement, the Forkbeard performers liked the poster so much that they took it to the Edinburgh Science Festival with them and will be taking it to the Natural History museum in London in September.

This made us think that the poster might be a useful resource if it were more widely available and so we offered it to Neuroscience for Kids to use on their web site. We hope that people will enjoy reading the poster and will use it both as a poster display or stapled together as a booklet."


The annual Society for Neuroscience (SFN) meeting will be held this year from November 4 to November 9 in New Orleans, LA. Although the meeting is primarily for neuroscientists, there are activities for K-12 teachers and high school students.

The SFN Committee on Neuroscience Literacy will host several events for pre-college teachers. On Saturday, November 4, teachers can attend a workshop that will bring them together with neuroscientists. This workshop will be held at the LSU Medical Center and will feature a laboratory session, a lunch lecture and hands-on activities to use in the classroom. I will also give a presentation during this workshop on using the Internet to teach neuroscience. On Sunday, November 5, a social get-together will be held to continue discussions with neuroscientists and fellow teachers. The workshop is free of charge, but you must pre-register. Make sure you register early because there is space for only 30 teachers!

High school students can register for a free short course in neuroscience to be held on November 6. Lunch is also provided as part of the course. Following the course, neuroscientists will guide students through the poster sessions and vendor booths at the convention center. Students should appreciate an expert guide because it is easy to be overwhelmed by the many presentations.


(Swat!) Summer is a great time (Swat!) for an outside picnic (Swat!) ...except for all of those nasty mosquitoes! Summer and mosquito season are now in full swing in the Northern hemisphere. Although you may think that every mosquito in the world lives in your backyard, they can be found on all continents except for Antarctica.

In addition to spreading diseases such as malaria, yellow fever and some forms of encephalitis, mosquitoes are just plain pests. It is difficult to spend much time outdoors without being bothered by these creatures. What is it about the mosquito nervous system that allows them to find us and how do insect repellents work?

Many details about how a mosquito finds a meal are not known. However, it is clear that they use several senses to find their target. Smell (olfaction) is probably the most important sense for the mosquito. We humans release many different odor-containing chemicals from our bodies. Sweat and exhaled air are two examples of such "odoriferous" substances. More specifically, we release carbon dioxide and lactic acid that act to attract mosquitoes. Mosquitoes have chemical receptors on their antennae that respond to such chemicals and send messages to their little brains. These messages cause the mosquito to adjust its behavior to zero in on the source of the smell. Mosquitoes are also sensitive to temperature, air currents and humidity. Some mosquitoes hunt during the day and probably use visual information to find lunch or dinner. It is possible that these daytime feeders are attracted by our movement or dark clothing.

Perhaps the most effective mosquito repellents are those that contain a chemical called N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide or "DEET." DEET was developed by the US Department of Agriculture and was patented by the US Army in 1946. DEET works by disrupting the olfactory sense of mosquitoes so they can't find you. A few reports have raised health concerns regarding the use of DEET-containing products especially by children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that repellents used on children should contain no more than 10 percent DEET.

Other repellents have different degrees of anti-mosquito power. Citronella, permethrin and various essential oils such as soybean, clove, cedarwood, peppermint, lemongrass oils have all been used to repel mosquitoes. The Avon cosmetic company sells a product called "Skin-So-Soft" that contains 0.05% citronella oil. Many people report that this product is an effective mosquito repellent and data show that it does work, but it is much less effective than DEET. Some people burn citronella candles to avoid mosquitoes. One study reported that people who burned these candles had 42% fewer bites than those without the candles. Regular candles reduced bites by 23%. It may be that burning candles interfere with the mosquitoes' ability to detect heat, moisture or odor. Another chemical used to fight mosquitoes is permethrin, a synthetic form of pyrethrum, a chemical from the chrysanthemum flower. Permethrin is not a repellent, rather it is a neurotoxin that kills bugs on contact. Permethrin should be used only on clothing, not directly on your skin. Clove and thyme oils are effective mosquito repellents when used in high concentration. However, some people develop skin rashes from these oils and these materials also have strong odors. So if you hate mosquito bites more than skin rashes and strong smells, then these oils may work for you.

So why do mosquito bites itch? When a mosquito "bites" you, it injects a small amount of its saliva under your skin. This saliva causes your skin to release a chemical called histamine. Histamine stimulates nerve fibers that send messages to your brain that makes you think "Hey, that itches!"

Here are two interesting mosquito facts:

A. Only female mosquitoes feed on blood. Male mosquitoes survive primarily on flower nectar.

B. In one meal, a female mosquito can eat more blood than its own body weight.

References and further information on mosquitoes:


The Lives of a Cell; Notes of a Biology Watcher by Lewis Thomas, New York, Penguin Books, 1978 (ISBN: 0140047433) Suitable for high school students and older. [This book review is by Ira Surolia, a third-year medical student at B.R. Ambedkar Medical College, Bangalore, India.]

Did you know that the leader of a school of catfish has a different odor than the rest of the fish in the school? Did you know that the word "leech" is derived from an old term for "doctor?" Although "The Lives of a Cell" provides these facts, it is not just a book of trivia. Rather, the book shows you how to look at biology with a new, wonderful perspective. Subtitled "The Notes of a Biology Watcher," the book brings alive the world of bees, leeches, ants, gorillas, and of course, humans. Often, the book gives readers new ways to look at organisms by examining attitudes toward pathogenic organisms such as bacteria. For example, Thomas characterizes some bacteria as innocent wanderers who stumble upon humans and attempt to colonize their new found hosts. This sometimes results in havoc as the host's immune system reacts to these "guests."

Lewis Thomas excels when he examines human feelings, interactions, behaviors and fears. Two outstanding chapters in this regard are "The Iks" and "Death In The Open." In "The Iks" he narrates the seemingly bizarre behavior of a tribe in Uganda whose members fight and laugh at their neighbors' misfortune. "Death In The Open" is an objective, and yet touching treatment of the subject of death. It tells how we are spared the images of death, because most living things die "behind things, under things," but never in the open. It talks about death as a constant recycling process in which each cell comes alive in exchange for the death of another. Thomas argues that we need to stop treating death as a tragedy, an anomaly, and a catastrophe and that death is only the end of "the long habit" we have of living.

"The Lives Of A Cell" is not a "new, just arrived" book of layman science. In my opinion, it is a masterpiece of science writing that should be read by anyone seeking to renew or reinforce their sense of wonder of biology. This book is sheer poetry as demonstrated by how Thomas begins the book by comparing the earth to a single cell and by ending with the earth as an organism that breathes, lives and functions like a complex organism. In more ways than one, it reminds me of the childhood classic "The Little Prince."


A. "Alzheimer's: A Cause But No Cure" in Time magazine, July 10, 2000.

B. "Weather and the West Nile Virus" in Scientific American, August, 2000.

C. "The New Science of Alzheimer's" in Time magazine (cover story), July 17, 2000.

D. "Music and the Brain" in Newsweek magazine (July 24,2000).

E. "Understanding Autism" in Newsweek magazine (cover story), July 31, 2000.


A. The human corticospinal tract, the pathway from the cerebral cortex to the spinal cord that is important for movement, contains over one million axons. (Statistic from Carpenter and Sutin, Human Neuroanatomy, 8th edition, Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1983, page 282.)

B. About 50 ml of blood travels through 100 g of brain tissue each minute. (Statistic from Carpenter and Sutin, Human Neuroanatomy, 8th edition, Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1983, page 707.)

C. The Society for Neuroscience, with more than 28,000 members, is the largest professional organization in the world dedicated to the study of the nervous system. (Statistic from the Society for Neuroscience web page at:

D. Some butterflies have ears on their wings. (From Yack, J.E. and Fullard, J.H., Ultrasonic hearing in nocturnal butterflies, Nature, 403:265-266, 2000.)

E. The facial, glossopharyngeal and vagus nerves all carry information about taste.


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.