News Release

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Brain Awareness Week Teaches Kids How Their Brains Work

The 10th annual Brain Awareness Week (BAW), a science and health education fair held in various locations across the United States, teaches fifth through eighth grade students about the brain. In Washington, D.C., it will take place March 16-20, 2009, at the National Museum of Health and Medicine at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Several institutes from the National Institutes of Health will provide interactive exhibits and lectures focusing on brain health and neuroscience on March 18th and 19th. Participating institutes include: the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the National Institute on Aging (NIA), and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

BAW is an annual international partnership of government agencies, scientific organizations, universities, and volunteer groups organized by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, a nonprofit organization of more than 200 pre-eminent neuroscientists dedicated to advancing education about the brain.

"We hope to seize this opportunity to inspire young people with the fascination of brain science," said NIMH Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D., director of NIMH, the lead institute in this year’s program. "Young researchers from our labs will be communicating their excitement to a potential future generation of neuroscientists."

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
NIMH’s presentation, "The Wonders of the Brain," focuses on perception. Led by young scientists in the NIMH Division of Intramural Research, students will have the opportunity to explore how the mind plays tricks with images it sees, such as the elephant with too many legs or the old crone who transforms into a beauty before your eyes. One interesting scientific anomaly that the students will explore is the Stroop effect, first identified in 1935. If you try to name the physical color of a word, the word itself can interfere with the process of naming the color of the word. If the word and color don’t match, it often takes even longer to name the color. The purpose of the exhibit is to help the participants think about how their brains work in order to become brain aware.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
At the NIDA booth students will be invited to a simulated party for fun and games, where they will learn about the physical and societal harms of alcohol and drug abuse. During the first half of the presentation, party guests will be engaged in an interactive discussion that will include identifying possible reasons why people may choose to drink alcohol or take drugs, the immediate and long-term medical and social consequences of substance abuse, and the particular risks of binge and underage alcohol and drug abuse. The guests will attempt to navigate an obstacle course or hit balloons while wearing Fatal Vision prism goggles that simulate the impaired visual and motor performance that can result from excessive alcohol or drug abuse.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Within NIAAA’s novel, multi-sensory exhibit, students will be exposed to the amazing "Drunken Brain," pulsating with electricity and basking in the world of colored lights and eerie sounds, while a scientist from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) explains why alcohol interferes with sensory perception, movement, balance, and memory, and will demonstrate which brain circuits are involved in alcohol dependence and alcoholism.

National Institute on Aging (NIA)
A scientist with the NIA’s Division of Neuroscience will be giving a presentation on the complexity of the brain. She will explore the uniquely human qualities such as memory, speech and abstract thinking that reside in the brain, and will provide the students with methods designed to maintain the health of their brains throughout life.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
In the "Night of the Living Brain" exhibit, NINDS neuroscientists will give an interactive demonstration about sleep and how it is related to brain function. Students will learn that the need for sleep is widespread throughout the animal kingdom, the brain is active during sleep, and that sleep might help strengthen memories. At the end of the demonstration, students will test their knowledge by playing a game similar to the television show "Jeopardy." Winners will receive an NINDS stress ball shaped like a brain.

Attendance is by pre registration only. Schools interested in attending future events may contact Karen Graham at the Dana Foundation at 202-408-8800 for more information about the event.

Please note: Because this event is located on an Army post, media wishing to attend must contact Courtney MacGregor at 202-782-2671 to pre-register their names and, if applicable, vehicle information (make, model, color, license plate, and state of registration). Media should use the main entrance at 6900 Georgia Avenue, NW, which intersects with Elder Street.

The NIA leads the federal effort supporting and conducting research on aging and the medical, social and behavioral issues of older people. For more information on research and aging, go to

NINDS is the nation's primary supporter of biomedical research on the brain and nervous system. Information from the NINDS about Parkinson’s disease is available at

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health, is the primary U.S. agency for conducting and supporting research on the causes, consequences, prevention, and treatment of alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and alcohol problems and disseminates research findings to general, professional, and academic audiences. Additional alcohol research information and publications are available at

The National Institute on Drug Abuse is a component of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIDA supports most of the world's research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction. The Institute carries out a large variety of programs to inform policy and improve practice. Fact sheets on the health effects of drugs of abuse and information on NIDA research and other activities can be found on the NIDA home page at To order publications in English or Spanish, call NIDA's new DrugPubs research dissemination center at 1-877-NIDA-NIH or 240-645-0228 (TDD) or fax or email requests to 240-645-0227 or Online ordering

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) mission is to reduce the burden of mental and behavioral disorders through research on mind, brain, and behavior. More information is available at the NIMH website,

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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