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Students Explore the Wonders of the Brain

NIH Brain Awareness Activities to be held March 13-14

Press Release

Student wearing prism goggles throws football
A student discovers the disorienting
properties of prism goggles as he
attempts to accurately throw a football.
Source: National Museum of Health
and Medicine

Scientists tell us it’s the most complex thing in the known universe, yet every person owns one. What is it? Your brain! On March 13 and 14, several hundred curious students from the Washington, D.C., area will have a chance to learn more about what goes on inside the human brain, during their visit to the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Md. As part of the museum’s 14th annual Brain Awareness Week celebration, these students will explore the wonders of neuroscience through a series of interactive exhibits led by scientists from eight institutes of the National Institutes of Health.

Brain Awareness Week  is an annual worldwide celebration of the brain, coordinated by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, a nonprofit organization of over 300 neuroscientists. The week (March 11 – 17) unites the outreach efforts of government agencies, universities, hospitals, patient advocacy groups, scientific societies, service organizations and schools to make brain research accessible to the public.

“Brain Awareness Week offers young people the opportunity to follow their own curiosity and explore how the brain makes us uniquely human,” said Thomas R. Insel, M.D., director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the lead institute in this year’s program. “We hope to encourage these students to pursue their scientific interests as they become our next generation of leaders and innovators.”

NIH exhibits will include:

  • NIMH: The Brain in Mental Health and Illness
    Students will explore the frontal cortex, the front part of the brain that is involved in emotion, judgment, empathy, humor and other personality traits. NIMH scientists will tell the story of Phineas Gage, a 19th-century railroad worker whose personality was permanently changed after an explosion drove an iron spike through his frontal cortex.
  • National Cancer Institute (NCI): The Brain Tumor: Malignancy, Location and Size
    Students will observe tumors and tumor cells, and NCI scientists will help them identify characteristics unique to brain tumors. After learning the functions of several major brain regions, students will predict how patients can be affected by a tumor in a specific area.
  • National Eye Institute (NEI): More than Meets the Eye
    Students will learn how the brain and eyes work together to help us see. NEI scientists will then share the science behind optical illusions to reveal how the complex circuitry in the brain can sometimes fool us into seeing things that are not really there.
  • National Institute on Aging (NIA): Mysteries of the Brain
    Students will investigate how the brain forms memories and what can go wrong in memory disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. NIA scientists will show a video of mice performing a memory task and then engage students in a discussion of how the brain can benefit from a healthy diet, mental stimulation and exercise—some of the interventions being tested today as potential means to delay or prevent memory disorders.
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Cool Spot Carnival
    Students will learn how alcohol interferes with brain development, sensory perception, movement and balance. Students will then try their hand scoring in a football-toss game while wearing special prism goggles that simulate being under the influence of alcohol.
  • Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: Alcohol and the Developing Brain
    Students will interact with a multi-sensory Drunken Brain, pulsating with electricity and basking in a world of colored lights and eerie sounds. In addition to learning about some of the unique effects alcohol has on the brain, students will explore how alcohol exposure in the womb and during adolescence can lead to brain damage and addiction later in life.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse: NIDA Brain Derby
    Students will play an interactive computer-based game called Brain Derby. Teams of students will have the opportunity to earn Brain Scientist certificates by correctly answering questions related to how abused drugs act in the brain and body.
  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS): Brain Lobe-oratorium
    Students will discover the unique features of each of the four lobes of the human brain by interacting with colorful life-size brain models. NINDS scientists will help students learn about how each lobe contributes to perception, thinking, personality and behavior.
Students perform visual illusion

NIH scientist teaches students how to “see” through their hands with a visual illusion.

Source: National Museum of Health and Medicine


The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and care. For more information, visit

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 .