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Celebrate Brain Awareness Week with Your High School Students

By John Melville

Brain Awareness Week is March 11–17. This is an excellent opportunity for you to discuss the importance of neuroscience in your class using engaging activities. As a former instructor, I often found that teaching neuroscience could be challenging. Neuroscience is a broad field, and students need to understand molecular and cellular concepts, as well as brain anatomy and physiology. After years of teaching, I found several ways that seemed to make neuroscience easier for my students to understand. I’d like to share them with you.

Brain Structure: Taking a Closer Look

The brain is a collection of highly specialized cells with specialized functions. Different brain regions can have vastly differentiated cell types with distinctive shapes and purposes. Getting access to prepared slides of brain tissue from different brain regions can be difficult and costly. With this in mind, I have created a set of downloadable images of slides for you to use in your classroom. These images come from my personal collection and include Cajal-stained slides of the rat spinal cord, as well as Golgi-stained slides of rat cerebellum. The slides were given to me by a fellow histologist when he retired, and I captured images of many of his rare specimens to use in my classes.

When teaching students, I tried to make things as relevant as possible; so we learned about the histology of a brain region, the gross anatomy of that brain region, and then the function of that brain region. For example, the cerebellum is located at the base of the brain, and it contains a series of very specialized cells or neurons. One distinctive neuron type is the Purkinje cell. You can show your students what this cell looks like by showing them the Golgi Stained Purkinje Cells from the slide images referenced above. You might ask students to research the primary functions of the cerebellum, one of which is balance. You can then have the students perform a simple balance activity so they can learn that a cell type in this region of the brain helps them maintain balance.

Brain Function: Finding Your Balance

Balance is a complex task that involves input from multiple sensory sources. Visual input, proprioceptors from the limbs and joints, and input from the inner ears are all involved in balance. Our biology department created the “Balance” experiment (found in the Vernier Human Physiology Experiments lab book) where students use the Go Direct® Force and Acceleration Sensor to detect movement while a subject balances on two legs and then on one leg, first with eyes open and then closed.

Students intuitively understand that it is much easier to balance with their eyes open, but now they can measure the magnitude of movement for each condition using acceleration data. Less stability results in larger and more frequent movements, which produces greater accelerations. As illustrated by the graph, there is much more movement by the subject when the eyes are closed than when the eyes are open.

A graph of a student's balance measured by x-axis acceleration, comparing eyes open and eyes closed.
The built-in accelerometer in Go Direct Force and Acceleration can be used to detect movements as a subject balances on one leg with their eyes open and then with their eyes closed.

Additional Resources for Your Classroom

If you’re looking for more ideas on what to do with your students during Brain Awareness Week, check out these resources from, where they provide an interactive brain map and various brain-related facts and activities. There’s also an activity that uses Prism Adaptation goggles that is very popular. This is a great example of visuo-motor plasticity that is also mediated in part by the cerebellum. If your students are feeling creative and inspired, enter the Brain Awareness Video Contest from the Society of Neuroscience. If you enter the contest and use Vernier technology, don’t forget to share it with us on your social channels and tag us @VernierST.

Vernier in the Chemistry Journals (Spring 2019)

  • A Second Look at the Kinetics of the Iron−Oxygen Reaction: Determination of the Total Order Using a Greener Approach

    A. M. R. P. Bopegedera (The Evergreen State College, Washington);
    J. Chem. Educ., 95, 2018, pp 1897−1899.

    The author demonstrates how to use Vernier Oxygen Gas Sensors and Logger Pro 3 software to monitor the change in oxygen level as the iron in commercial hand warmers react with the air above them.

  • Investigating NOx Concentrations on an Urban University Campus Using Passive Air Samplers and UV−Vis Spectroscopy

    Cole M. Crosby, Richard A. Maldonado, Ahyun Hong, Ryan L. Caylor, Kristine L. Kuhn, and Matthew E. Wise (Concordia University, Oregon);
    J. Chem. Educ., 95, 2018, pp 2023−2027.

    The authors demonstrate how to use Vernier SpectroVis Plus Spectrophotometers and LabQuest 2 interfaces to measure gaseous nitrogen oxides concentrations.

  • Investigating the Clough, Lutz, and Jirgensons Rule for the pH Dependence of Optical Rotation of Amino Acids

    Scott Simpson and Alexandra M. Izydorczak (St. Bonaventure University, New York);
    J. Chem. Educ., 95, 2018, pp 1872−1874.

    Students use a Vernier Chemical Polarimeter and Logger Pro 3 software to determine if lowering the pH on L configuration amino acids causes the molar optical rotation to become more positive.

  • Buffers in Context: Baby Wipes As a Buffer System

    Jon-Marc G. Rodriguez, Sarah Hensiek, Jeanne R. Meyer, Cynthia J. Harwood, and Marcy H. Towns (Purdue University, Indiana);
    J. Chem. Educ., 95, 2018, pp 1816−1820.

    Students use baby wipes and deionized water to create and test buffer solutions. Vernier pH Sensors and LabQuest 2 interfaces help students study the buffer solutions.

  • Unnatural Chemical Biology: Research-Based Laboratory Course Utilizing Genetic Code Expansion

    Kelsey M. Kean, Kari van Zee, and Ryan A. Mehl (Oregon State University, Oregon);
    J. Chem. Educ., 96, 2019, pp 66−74.

    Students use a Vernier SpectroVis Plus Spectrophotometer or Gas Pressure Sensor to determine the kinetics of enzyme hydrolysis.

  • Combining the Maker Movement with Accessibility Needs in an Undergraduate Laboratory: A Cost-Effective Text-to-Speech Multipurpose, Universal Chemistry Sensor Hub (MUCSH) for Students with Disabilities

    Ronald Soong, Kyle Agmata, Tina Doyle, Amy Jenne, Tony Adamo, and Andre Simpson (University of Toronto, Ontario);
    J. Chem. Educ., 95, 2018, pp 2268−2272.

    The researchers develop a cost-effective sensor interface that uses Arduino technology. This article describes how to use a Vernier pH BNC electrode and open source software.

  • Demonstration Extensions Based on Color-Changing Goldenrod Paper

    Donald K. Schorr and Dean J. Campbell (Bradley University, Illinois);
    J. Chem. Educ., [Online early access], DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.8b00341, Published Online: Dec 5, 2018, (accessed Feb 8, 2019).

    The authors use a Vernier UV-VIS Spectrophotometer to examine ultraviolet and visible absorbance spectra from extracts of goldenrod paper.

  • Modified Siwoloboff−Wiegand Procedure for the Determination of Boiling Points on a Microscale

    Timothy L. Troyer, Kristen R. Mounsey, William J. King, Laura M. Givens, Jessica A. Hutton, Melissa Hood Benges, Kindra N. Whitlatch, and Jacob D. Wagoner (Huntington University, Indiana; West Virginia Wesleyan College, West Virginia);
    J. Chem. Educ., 95, 2018, pp 1406−1410.

    The authors devise a system to determine the boiling points of very small volumes of liquids using a digital hotplate, block of aluminum, Go!Temp temperature probe, and an original LabQuest interface.

  • Applying Chemistry Knowledge to Code, Construct, and Demonstrate an Arduino−Carbon Dioxide Fountain

    Seong-Joo Kang, Hye-Won Yeo, and Jihyun Yoon (Korea National University of Education, Republic of Korea, Dankook University, Republic of Korea);
    J. Chem. Educ., [Online early access], DOI: 10.1021/acs/jchemed.8b00663, Published Online: Jan 30, 2019, (accessed Feb 8, 2019).

    The authors automate a classic experiment, the Carbon Dioxide Fountain, by using a Vernier Gas Pressure Sensor connected to an Arduino microcontroller.

2018 Ecology/Environmental Science Teaching Award Winner Announced

Lacey Hoosier of Buckeye High School in Rapides Parish, Louisiana, was the 2018 recipient of the National Association of Biology Teachers’ NABT Ecology/Environmental Science Teaching Award, which is sponsored by Vernier.

Award winner, Lacey Hoosier, posing with a lizard and snake

Lacey’s students are active learners who participate in solving engineering problems, educate the community about vital environmental concepts, and volunteer their time to rehabilitate animals while learning about each animal’s characteristics and habitat. In addition to teaching, Lacey sponsors and coaches six extracurricular clubs/teams, serves as a Wildlife Rescuer and Rehabilitationist, and advocates for Environmental Science Community Education. Her passion for animals translates to her classroom as many animals surround her students as they learn to become knowledgeable and responsible proponents for the environment.

“Teaching is one of the most rewarding professions in the world,” she explains. “We have the unique ability to shape a mind and unlock passions otherwise unknown or unexplored. Our job is to prepare students from all walks of life for a variety of future professions. It is a privilege to be able to influence the next generation by igniting a passion in them for learning about the world around them.”

For more information about this award, visit

Now Accepting Applications for Vernier Emerging Science Education Leader Scholarship

For the third consecutive year, Vernier Software & Technology is partnering with the National Science Education Leadership Association (NSELA) to award six educators with a Vernier Emerging Science Education Leader Scholarship (VESELS). The winning educators, one from each of the NSELA regions, will each receive a $500 scholarship to be used toward attendance at the annual NSELA Summer Leadership Institute (SLI) held on June 24–26, 2019 in Orlando, FL.

All applicants must have held an emerging leader role at the school, district, state, or informal level for three years or less to qualify for the scholarship. To apply, educators must submit a resume or vita, a personal letter with evidence illustrating emerging leadership, and a support letter from a supervisor. All applicants must also agree to work with an NSELA mentor and communicate to others in the organization throughout the year about how they are applying what they learned at the SLI.

Amy Hochschild, a 6th grade science teacher at Burton Elementary School in Ohio, was one of the six recipients of the 2018 VESELS.

“Winning the VESELS has been a tremendous experience,” Amy explained. “I’ve learned to give up some control of the activities I want to do. Instead, I let students really take the steering wheel with their own learning. I’ve also incorporated the Three Dimensional Learning model, which gives students ample opportunities to reflect on data and what they’ve learned during each lesson. This process makes learning real and more relatable for my students and encourages them to continue to set new learning goals.”

All applications for the 2019 VESELS are due March 22, 2019. Scholarship awardees will be announced by April 19, 2019.

Learn more about VESELS »

Building a Better Mousetrap – A New Vernier Photogate

Go Direct Photogate for free fall experiment

We are excited to announce a new sensor for physics—Go Direct Photogate. With our first-ever wireless photogate, you get better-than-stopwatch timing accuracy of a cart traveling eight or more meters without having to run wires between the gates. And that is not even its best feature.

Go Direct® Photogate is actually three photogates in one. The interior arms of the photogate include two photodiodes. This double-gate design measures velocity more accurately in comparison to single-gate photogates. The known separation of the gates makes it possible to measure speed without concern for the object’s geometry or knowing its dimensions. The direction of motion is indicated by positive or negative velocities determined by the order in which the internal gates are blocked. For objects that have two or more flags, the acceleration of the object through the gate can be reported as well. You can also use the internal gates independently for experiments that utilize traditional photogate modes, such as motion and pendulum timing.

The third photogate is a laser gate that you can use with a laser pointer (not included) to make a single gate that is any width. This is useful when dealing with larger objects that cannot pass between the interior arms of the photogate.

You can use Go Direct Photogate with all of our existing photogate accessories including the Laser, Picket Fence, Cart Picket Fence, Ultra Pulley Attachment, and Bar Tape. (Go Direct Photogate includes a built-in Bar Tape guide located on the sensor). You can mount Go Direct Photogate on our dynamics track using the photogate brackets included with the cart and track systems without any additional parts or adapters. You can also mount Go Direct Photogate to our Centripetal Force Apparatus.

There are two optional accessory cables for the Go Direct Photogate, each sold separately. Use a Go Direct Photogate Timing Cable to daisy-chain two Go Direct Photogates together. This configuration makes the two Go Direct Photogates work using a single clock, which can improve timing accuracy by up to 10 ms. Use the Go Direct Time of Flight Pad Cable to connect a Time of Flight Pad to a Go Direct Photogate for use in projectile motion experiments.

For more information about Go Direct Photogate, see

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