The exhibit is not for the squeamish.

Students visiting the National Institutes of Health Brain Lobe-oratorium, an interactive exhibit created to teach students about how various lobes of the human brain work, were invited to touch a real, preserved human brain.

There were a few holdouts in the crowd who attended during Brain Awareness Week, ongoing through Friday, but the majority of students who attended eagerly lined up to put on gloves and feel the brain’s slimy surface.

Feeling a human brain is part of attracting students to the field of brain research, which is also a major goal of Brain Awareness Week, which was started nearly two decades ago by the Dana Alliance for Brain Research and the Society for Neuroscience.

In 2000, the Alliance joined forces with the National Museum of Health and Medicine to give Washington, D.C.-area middle school students the chance to interactively learn about brain health and to expose them to the importance of NIH research in hopes of one day eradicating various brain diseases and ailments, such as stroke, Alzheimer’s and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.

“Brain Awareness Week exists to inspire an interest in brain sciences in the minds of our young visitors, so that we may someday see them develop into a new generation of neuroscientists,” said Andrea Schierkolk, NMHM public program manager.

Students from Blessed Sacrament School in Washington, D.C., at the Lobe-oratorium exhibit.

Students from Blessed Sacrament School in Washington, D.C., at the Lobe-oratorium exhibit.

A main focus of the exhibit was on the brain research conducted by scientists at the NIH. Students visited the Lobe-oratorium and viewed a presentation by neuroscientist Dr. Michael Oshinsky, a program director in systems and cognitive neuroscience at NINDS, and other experts on how each brain lobe can impact an individual’s perception, thinking, personality and behavior.

“The NIH’s place is understanding the basic physiology of a system that functions properly and then understanding how it changes in a pathological sense when there is damage or disease,” said Oshinsky. “If we can understand how change happens, then we can find targets for blocking that transition.”

Getting scientists involved in research and applying for research funding grants early on in their careers is critical to ensuring medical innovation continues, he said.

Continuity of funding is a very important step in making that happen, he said.

“We know that earlier in the career is when there are new ideas being generated. That’s where the real innovation comes from,” so “the goal is to take those early-stage investigators and get them grants earlier.”

Further, Oshinksy called the renewal of a research grant a “make or break point in the career,” of a scientist, and praised the guidance and resources of the NIH in helping novice researchers navigate the system.

Students also viewed a presentation by the National Institute on Aging about the brain benefits of healthy diets, exercise and mental stimulation.

Photos by Clare Rizer