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Once a year, and not on Halloween, Houston kids get to hold a real human brain. Not a plastic replica. A real one. Pretty icky and neat at the same time. “The kids are really impressed with that,” chuckles John H. Byrne, PhD, the brains behind the annual Brain Night for Kids at The Health Museum in Houston.

The event began in 2001 as part of International Brain Awareness Week organized by the Dana Foundation. “We wanted to introduce elementary school students to research in general and brain research in particular,” says Byrne. “Thanks to support from the Ellwood Foundation, we engage them in free, fun, hands-on science activities that help them learn a little about the brain. We also hope to inspire them to study science and maybe become a neuroscientist, neurologist, or neurosurgeon.”

About 450 kids and parents attend each year, along with more than 50 volunteers from UTHealth, Rice University, and Texas Woman’s University. Demonstrations range from using an egg to show the importance of bike helmet safety to comparing brains of different species. Children can also build their own nerve cells using pipe cleaners.

This year, participants taped electrodes to their skin, which let them see the electrical activities in their muscles as they moved their hands or squeezed an object. “That’s a real eye opener to link electricity with their bodies,” Byrne says.

As for that brain—it was on loan from the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth as an example to show kids how science and research can be exciting and fun. It’s a no-brainer.

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Dr. John H. Byrne
John H. Byrne, PhD, uses annual Brain Night for Kids to show that science and research can be fun.