Public Release: 

Brain Awareness Week teaches kids how their brains work

NIH/National Institute of Mental Health

The fifth annual Brain Awareness Week (BAW), a science and health education fair to teach 5th-8th grade students about the brain, will take place March 14-18, 2005 at the National Museum of Health and Medicine at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will present short lessons on brain health and neuroscience on March 16th and 17th. Participating institutes include the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and 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.

"Brain Awareness Week is an outstanding opportunity not only to teach kids about the amazing power and resilience of the brain, but also to get them interested in neuroscience," said Thomas R. Insel, M.D., director of NIMH, the lead institute in this year's program. "This year, NIMH's exhibit will be staffed by some of our most promising junior neuroscientists."

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

NIDA invites students to play "Who Wants to be a NIDA Neuroscientist?" Patterned after the popular TV program "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," the game encourages students to test what they know about how illicit drugs and nicotine act in the brain. Participants will answer a series of questions on a variety of topics related to how street drugs affect the brain. If they are unsure of an answer, a NIDA neuroscientist will be on hand to serve as their "life line." Winners receive a certificate, and everyone receives NIDA publications designed for students and parents.

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

NIMH's presentation, "The Wonders of the Brain," is about perception. Led by young scientists in the NIMH Division of Intramural Research, students explore how the mind plays tricks with images it sees, such as an optical illusion drawing of an elephant with too many legs. One interesting scientific anomaly that the students explore is the Stroop effect. Students are asked to say the color of a printed word, not to read the word itself. For example, for the word, 'red' printed in blue ink, the student should say "blue." However, the word itself can interfere with the process of naming the color of the word. The exhibit encourages participants to think about how their brains work and to become brain-aware.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

Step inside NIAAA's novel, multi-sensory exhibit and see the amazing "Drunken Brain," pulsating with electricity and basking in a world of colored lights and eerie sounds. An NIAAA neuroscientist will explain why alcohol interferes with sensory perception, movement, balance, and memory, and demonstrate which brain circuits are involved in alcohol dependence and alcoholism. Then, students will visit "Roger's Party," where another NIAAA scientist will talk about why people decide to drink and what happens to the brain and body during an episode of binge drinking. Party guests will also attempt to navigate an obstacle course while wearing "Fatal Vision" prism goggles. These goggles throw off eye-muscle coordination, which allows students to experience the loss of muscle coordination and balance that occurs during alcohol intoxication.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)

Eating: It's A Brain Thing. It is often difficult for young people to understand how their brain controls behavior. Dr. Andrea Sawczuk of NINDS will take students on a guided tour of how their brain controls the every-day activity, yet highly complex activity of eating. Students will choose a food, transport it to their mouths, then smell, taste, chew and, finally, swallow the food. Dr. Sawczuk will explain what happens in the brain at each stage of the activity. Student will learn what part of their brain is involved in each stage and how their brain controls the eating process.

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.

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.


NIMH is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Federal Government's primary agency for biomedical and behavioral research. NIH is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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