Volume 6, Issue 7 (July, 2002)


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. Reviewing Review
4. Roller Coasters Ahead
5. Workshops at the Society for Neuroscience Meeting (Orlando, FL)
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. June Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter was archived
B. August NeuroCalendar
C. September NeuroCalendar
D.Neuroscience Word Root Flashcards
E. The Surf is Up
F. Age Differences in Language Processing
G. No Need for Long Fast Before General Anesthesia
H. Rats May Join War on Drugs

In June, 15 new figures were added and 37 pages were modified.


The Neuroscience for Kids "Page of the Month" for July is "BrainScience on the Move: Cool Stuff" at:

Dr. Jan Dubinsky in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota has created this animated Flash program to describe how an action potential is produced. As you may know, action potentials are the all-or-none electrical signals that travel down the axon of a neuron. Some students find it difficult to understand how these signals are produced. That's where the "Cool Stuff" program can help!

Dr. Dubinsky uses cartoon characters to describe the parts of the neuron and the ions (electrically charged molecules) that are responsible for setting up the potential difference across the neuron membrane. You can also learn about ion channels and about how the membrane potential changes when ions flow through these channels. A narrator will help you through the program by reading the text on the screen.

If you have extra time, explore the rest of the BrainScience on the Move site. For example, click on the "Resources" neuron at the top of the "Cool Stuff" page to download student and teacher guides for some great neuroscience activities.

I asked Dr. Dubinsky to tell us more about the web site. Here is her reply:

"We wrote the cartoon to try and explain neuronal electrical activity in a simple manner for teachers and learners without extensive chemistry and biology backgrounds. We wanted to emphasize synaptic communication in our BrainU summer teacher institutes, but felt that the idea of the action potential was too basic to leave out altogether. We thought a cartoon (initially conceived as a comic book) would be a fun way to make that information available to those who wanted to understand it. Then we could spend class time on synapses and leave the action potential for extra reading. I'm not sure it's worked out that way. The cartoon attracts attention. So of course, the next project will be a cartoon explanation of synaptic transmission.

Initially I wrote a story board version and showed it to Paul Ceelen, the FLASH artist and lab technician across the hall. Paul then created the protein characters. As we repeatedly reviewed the project, the explanations became simpler (we hope) and the animation was added. Voice was added only after an initial group of teachers previewed the cartoon. And web publishing was so easy, we've never had a printed version. We still view this as an evolving work."


As a neuroscientist, I have many job responsibilities. In addition to doing experiments, writing reports and balancing laboratory expenses, I review the work of other scientists. Researchers make their work known by publishing papers in scientific journals. However, before a paper is published, it must be reviewed for its importance, accuracy, and clarity. Journal editors usually send each paper to two or three scientists who are familiar with the topic of the research. These scientists read the paper and provide a detailed written review of the paper. If the reviews are good, the paper is published; if the reviews are bad, the paper is rejected. Often reviewers ask authors to clarify certain points before the paper is published. This gives the authors a chance to revise the paper and make it better before it is published. This "peer-review" acts as a filter to allow good science into journals.

I have also reviewed grant applications. When I review a grant proposal, I ask myself several questions including:

* Can the research be done by the people who propose to do it?
* Is a hypothesis being tested?
* Are the experiments designed properly?
* Do the researchers have the necessary facilities to do the experiments?
* Will the experiments advance the field?

I hope that my reviews help other scientists by offering them suggestions to improve their experiments.

Read more about grants from the National Institutes of Health at:

For more on a career in neuroscience, please see: and


My family and I will visit California for vacation this summer. While in California, we'll stop at Disneyland and hop on some rides including the roller coasters. You may have read recent articles in magazines and newspapers warning people that roller coasters are getting bigger and faster and, perhaps, more dangerous. These concerns have prompted Massachusetts Congressman Edward J. Markey to introduce the National Amusement Park Ride Safety Act to regulate the amusement park industry in hopes of reducing injuries on rides.

Can roller coasters hurt your brain? Drs. R.J. Braksiek and D.J. Roberts of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center (Minneapolis, MN) reviewed the medical literature and found 16 cases of brain injury caused by roller coasters. All of these cases except one were published in 1991 or later. Congressman Markey's web site lists 58 cases of roller coaster brain injuries since 1964.

Some roller coasters such as "Superman, The Escape" (Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia, CA) and "Tower of Terror" (Dreamworld, Coomera, Queensland, Australia) can reach speeds of 100 miles per hour. The world's fastest roller coaster is "Dodonpa" at Fuji-Q Highland (Japan). Dodonpa can travel at 107 miles per hour. Safety concerns also focus on the "G-forces" produced by the rides. A G-force of 1 is equal to the normal pull of gravity on the body. As a ride accelerates, it applies more G-force to the rider and makes a person feel heavier. "Taz's Texas Tornado" (Six Flags AstroWorld, Houston, TX) generates the most G-force (6.5 G) of any roller coaster in the world. When the Space Shuttle blasts off, astronauts experience only 3 Gs! Exactly how speed and G-force contribute to brain injuries is not known.

I have to admit that I like roller coasters and I feel safe on these rides. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions estimates that almost 320 million people visit amusement parks in the US each year. Given the small number of injuries and the large number of people that ride roller coasters, the chance of an injury is quite low. Also, according the data on Congressman Markey's web site and the paper by Drs. Braksiek and Roberts, none of the rides at Disneyland exceeds 4 Gs. "Space Mountain" (Disneyland) reaches speeds of only 30 miles per hour and the new "California Screamin'" (Disneyland California Adventure) has a maximum speed of 55 miles per hour.

Nevertheless, it is very important to follow the safety rules when riding a roller coaster. These include:

* Understand the safety rules for each ride.
* Listen to the ride operator.
* Dress properly: do not wear clothes that could get caught in the ride.
* Make sure you are tall enough for the ride.
* Make sure the seatbelts, safety bars or harness fit properly.
* Keep your feet and hands inside the ride.
* Hold on and have fun!

Braksiek, R.J. and Roberts, D.J. Amusement park injuries and deaths. Annals of Emergency Medicine, 39:65-72, 2002.

Congressman Markey Web Site

Neuroscience for Kids site on roller coasters (from 2000)

Amusement Park Ride Accident Reports and News

International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions


The annual Society for Neuroscience (SFN) meeting will take place in Orlando, FL, between November 2 and November 7. Although approximately 25,000 neuroscientists will be at the meeting, there will also be some lucky K-12 teachers and high school students in attendance. The SFN Committee on Neuroscience Literacy has scheduled workshops for K-12 teachers and a short neuroscience course for high school students. Teachers must register their students for the short course. Registration is FREE to K-12 teachers and high school students for these events. If you are a K-12 teacher outside the Orlando area, you can also apply for financial support (up to $1,000 for five teachers) to help with travel expenses. Space and financial support is limited, so apply early. For a description of the program, registration materials and a financial support application.

I hope to see you in Orlando!


"The Great Good Thing" by Roderick Townley, Scholastic paperback, 2001, 216 pages [ISBN 0-439-39784-7].
Review by Lynne Bleeker, middle school science teacher and NFK consultant. This book is suitable for upper elementary students to adults.

I found this book in the Scholastic book orders this spring and found it is a wonderful story! It will be of interest to anyone who enjoys a good fairy tale or a creative approach to storytelling. So what's the connection to neuroscience? The book explores themes related to dreams, memory, and the storage of memories in the brain. The approach is more literary than scientific, but some interesting ideas are proposed. The "Literature Circle Questions" at back of the book could easily be expanded to include some questions more directly related to brain function. The book would be a fantastic introduction to a unit on the brain. Questions raised in the book could be researched on the Neuroscience for Kids web site, especially those pages on sleep and dreaming.


A. "Birdbrain Breakthrough" by Edwin Kiester, Jr. and William Kiester (Smithsonian magazine, June 2002, pages 36-38) discusses neuroscientist Fernando Nottebohm, his work with birdsong, and the path to research about neuronal regeneration in the brain.

B. "Understanding Anxiety" by Christine Gorman is the cover story in the June 10, 2002 issue of Time Magazine. The article includes a discussion of the brain and anxiety.

C. "Fighting G-Force" by Debra Rosenberg (Newsweek magazine, June 10, 2002, page 49) discusses roller coasters and their effect on the brain.

D. "The Nose Takes a Starring Role" by Kenneth C. Catania (Scientific American, July 2002): the star-nosed mole and its amazing sense of smell.

E. "So Berry Good for You" by Anne Underwood (Newsweek magazine, June 17, 2002, page 71): eating berries -- including blueberries -- can be good for your brain and fight the effects of aging. Also, see the Neuroscience for Kids article on this subject at:

F. "What You Can Learn From Drunk Monkeys" by Meredith F. Small (Discover magazine, July 2002): alcoholism, genes and the environment.

G. "New Remedies from Old Poisons" by Susan Freinkel (Discover magazine, July 2002).

H. The cover story of the June 26, 2002 issue of Newsweek Magazine is titled "The Next Frontiers. Fixing Your Brain."


A. Raccoons can smell an acorn buried up to two inches under dry powdery sand. (Reference: Zeveloff, S.J., Raccoons: A Natural History, Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002.)

B. Pesticides which disrupt the nervous system are part of the reason why 32 species of frogs have become extinct in the last few decades and 200 species are in decline. (Reference: Newsweek, May 13, 2002.)

C. Botox temporarily paralyzes muscles by interfering with acetylcholine, which transmits nerve signals to muscles. Sales of the wrinkle-softening toxin Botox totalled $309.5 million in 2001. (Reference: Newsweek, May 13, 2002.)

D. In 1999, 30.1% of all traffic accidents resulting in a fatality involved alcohol. (Reference: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism,

E. Huntington's disease (HD), an incurable, untreatable inherited illness, affects 30,000 people in the US. HD slowly kills neurons which causes impairment of muscle coordination, memory, judgment, and emotional stability. (Reference: Discover magazine, January, 2002.)


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.