Volume 5, Issue 10 (October, 2001)


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. Neuroscience for Kids Page of the Month
3. Say What? Brain Idioms
4. Science Year
5. American Academy of Neurology Prizes for Students in Grades 9-12
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 September. Here are some of them:

A. September Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter was archived
B. November NeuroCalendar
C. Neuroscience at the Movies (using film to teach about the brain with topics on blindness, deafness, autism, mental retardation, amnesia and feral children)
D. Cigarette Ads - A Promise Broken
E. Cranial Nerve Bookmarks

In September, 10 new figures were added and 59 pages were modified.


The Neuroscience for Kids "Page of the Month" for October is PsychLab On-line at:

Created by Professor Emeritus John C. Hay at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, PsychLab On-Line is an interactive web site that explores several classic psychology experiments involving conditioning, sleep, split-brain syndrome, feature detection and visual illusions. The experiments require the free Shockwave plug-in for your browser. Work with one of Ivan Pavlov's dogs in "Classical Conditioning," train a bird to peck a button in "Operant Conditioning" and guess what a split-brain patient will do when items are presented to his right or left brain in "Split-Brain Syndrome." Professor Hay warns that some students will need a teacher's guidance with the experiments. I agree! Many of the terms and abbreviations used in the simulations are not explained. Nevertheless, PsychLab On-line is great training for future experimental psychologists.


An idiom is an expression or saying that becomes part of popular culture. Idioms often cannot be understood from the individual words that make up the expression. For example, the expression "I heard it through the grapevine" does not mean "I heard something by listening to a plant that produces grapes." Rather, it means that something was heard through a network of people. English is filled with idioms that spice up language. Here are some idioms that mention the brain, nervous system or the senses:

A. "Mad as a hatter" means someone is showing abnormal behavior.
The most common belief is that this expression originated in the 1800s from observations of people who made felt hats. The workers apparently inhaled mercury fumes used in the hat-making process, and some of them developed neurological problems including shaking, depression, anxiety, and slurred speech. These symptoms caused people to assume that the hatters were "mad." A second possibility for the origin of this idiom is that people noticed that the bite of an adder (a snake) caused mental problems. "Adder" was pronounced as "atter" which later became "hatter."

B. "Asleep at the switch" means not paying attention.
This idiom probably originated in the 1800s when railroad workers were responsible for switching trains from one track to another. If a worker fell asleep, a train might crash.

C. "Lend an ear" means to pay attention.
"Lend an ear" is a line by Shakespeare's play "Julius Caesar." The line, spoken by Mark Antony, is "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears."

D. "Mind over matter" means that the mind is stronger than the body, meaning that if someone is determined, he or she will get a job done even if it is difficult. This expression was used by Roman poet Virgil in his poem titled "The Aeneid."

E. "One track mind" means to think about only one thing.
This expression originated from times when railroads had only a single track for trains. A person focused on a single thing is said to have a "one track mind."

F. "Off the top of your head" means saying something without much thought. Because the brain is in the head at the top of the body, people have used this expression to illustrate how thoughts come right out of the brain.

G. "Tickle your funny bone" means to make someone laugh.
The "funny bone" is not a bone. Rather, this "bone" is really the ulnar nerve. The ulnar nerve runs through the elbow and upper arm. The bone in the upper arm is called the "humerus." Because "humerus" sounds like "humorous," people began calling it the funny bone. When the ulnar nerve is struck, it creates the pins and needles sensation that people find "funny."

Reference: Terban, M., Scholastic Dictionary of Idioms, New York: Scholastic, Inc., 1996.


One million students in England jump-started "Science Year," a 12 month celebration of science and technology. The students were part of an experiment that took place on September 7, 2001 to see what would happen if a million people jumped up and down at the same time. Apparently all the jumping caused enough shaking to be measured by seismometers (earthquake measuring devices).

Science Year activities will continue through August 31, 2002 in Scotland, England, N. Ireland and Wales. I don't know how many events will focus on the brain, but this is a great opportunity to celebrate the workings of the mind. For more on Science Year, see:


The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) has announced a competition for two prizes for high school students: the "Neuroscience Creativity Prize" and the "Neuroscience Research Prize." The Creativity Prize is for a proposal of an experiment and the Research Prize is for a completed experiment. So, if you have a good idea for a project, the Creativity Prize is for you. If you have a completed project, then you should apply for the Research Prize. The rules and guidelines for these prizes are posted on the AAN web site.P>

The deadline for both contests is December 15, 2001.


Medicine's Brave New World by Margaret O. Hyde and John F. Setaro, Brookfield (CT): Twenty-First Century Books, 2001, pp. 143. [ISBN: 0-7613-1706-16].
Reading Level: Middle school students and up.

Authors Hyde and Setaro have done it again. Following the publication of their book "When The Brain Dies First" in 2000, they have another winner in their new book titled "Medicine's Brave New World." This new book takes on recent technological advances in medicine: test-tube babies, spinal cord repair, organ transplants, stem cells, cloning, and gene therapy. Hyde and Setaro do a fantastic job explaining new medical discoveries in language that people without much background in science can understand. All of the topics discussed in the book are filled with scientific, ethical and moral dilemmas. For example, should animals be used to provide spare parts for humans? Should employers be allowed to perform genetic tests on workers to screen for risks of mental and physical disorders? The book provides arguments from all sides of the controversies and raises many important questions about the future of medicine. Readers must use their own judgment to decide where they stand on each issue.

I asked Margaret Hyde why she wrote the book. She replied: "We wrote this book in response to requests for easy to understand information about stem cells, the genome, and other medical advances that are so important to everyone and need intelligent responses from citizens of today and tomorrow."


A. Set your VCRs for another PBS special on the brain: "Secrets of the Mind." The show is scheduled to debut on October 23, 2001. For more, see:

B. "Some Schooling On Backpacks" in the September 10, 2001 issue of Time magazine discusses the injuries that can be caused by heavy school back packs. Back pack injuries were discussed in the Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter in December 1999 at:

C. A special Fall/Winter 2001 edition of Newsweek magazine concentrates on "Health for Life." Several articles focus on the brain, including "The Brain in Winter" by Sharon Begley (pages 24-29) which discusses how the brain may shrink with age. A pull-out poster (pages 44 and 45) showing how the body changes with age features sections on the brain, nerves, ears, eyes, and memory. "Thanks for the Memories" by Anne Underwood and Russell Watson (pages 55-58) discusses memory loss, and includes some simple tests that you can do to test your memory.

D. The October 2001 issue of Discover magazine includes several brainy articles, such as "Honest Abe's Days of Rage" by Josie Glausiusz. This article discusses the mercury pills that Abraham Lincoln took to fight depression, but which made him shaky and cross--symptoms of mercury poisoning. "Here, Breathe This Liquid" by Charles Platt suggests that breathing a chilled, oxygen-rich fluid may prevent brain damage during a heart attack. What do rats dream about? Find out in "Rat Dreams." Finally, "The Biology of Schizophrenia" by Josie Glausiusz talks about people who have this mental illness and experience hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thinking.

E. "All in the Mind" in the October 2001 issue of Scientific American discusses the placebo effect.

F. "Death in Slow Motion" by Eleanor Cooney in Harper's Magazine, October 2001, pages 43-58. Author Cooney recounts her experience of moving her demented mother across the country to an apartment near her, and her mother's descent into Alzheimer's disease.


A. The iris, the colored part of your eye, gets its name from the Greek word meaning "rainbow." In Greek mythology, the goddess of the rainbow is named Iris.

B. Sleepwalking is also known as "somnambulism"; sleeptalking is also known as "somniloquy."

C. 12.5 billion aspirin tablets, gelcaps and caplets are consumed each year in the US. (Discover magazine, August 2001.)

D. The neurotransmitter serotonin was first isolated in 1933. (Discover magazine, July 2001.)

E. After age 30, the brain shrinks a quarter of a percent (0.25%) in mass each year (Discover magazine, October 2001, page 92).


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.