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By: Debbie | May 24 2012 | Category: Science History, Science Lite, Tidbits for Teachers

National Museum of Health and Medicine LogoThe National Museum of Health and Medicine opened its doors yesterday, May 21st, for the first time in its new location on Fort Detrick’s Forest Glen Annex in Silver Spring, MD just 5 miles from the National Institutes of Health main campus in Bethesda, MD.

Founded as the Army Medical Museum in 1862, the Museum celebrated its 150th anniversary as it opened its doors at its new location.  The Museum spotlights three themed exhibit rooms that are organized around topics as diverse as innovations in military medicine, traumatic brain injury, anatomy and pathology, military medicine during the Civil War, and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.  The institution's 25-million object collection includes diverse artifacts as well as graphic specimens.  The Human Developmental Anatomy Center (HDAC), part of the Research Collections division of the National Museum of Health & Medicine, acquires and maintains collections pertaining to general developmental anatomy and neuroanatomy.  This collection provides any researcher or student access to a central location from which to obtain data about normal development for both human and common research species.  The HDAC maintains and archives the largest collection of human and comparative developmental material in the United States.      

A unique feature of the museum is its primary collections storage room that allows visitors to peer into the room where staff re-house artifacts and archival materials and prepare artifacts for future exhibits and study.  The room allows visitors to watch the Museum at work.

To view information on NMHM exhibits and programs visit:

To find more information about the historical understanding of biomedical research and the world check out NIH resources available at the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, the world's largest history of medicine collections at:

Written by Jennifer Gorman Wright

For timely updates about science education, STEM, NIH research, and health and medical science, you can follow the NIH Office of Science Education through multiple channels:
By: Debbie | February 21 2012 | Category: NIH Resources, Science History

Ruth Kirschstein, M.D., at microscopeThis free new E-book details the life of Ruth Kirschstein, M.D., who provided leadership and direction to the National Institutes of Health through much of the second half of the 20th century. Author Alison Davis provides insight into the life of a brilliant scientist who had a positive impact on public policy, public health, and the training of several generations of biomedical researchers.

Ruth Kirscstein was the daughter of immigrant parents who weathered the disgraceful prejudice and stereotyping of women and Jews, which would have prevented her professional contributions if not for her perseverance and hard work. She went on to become a key player in the development of a safe and effective polio vaccine, the first woman director of a major institute at the NIH, and a champion of the importance of basic biomedical research and training programs that provided opportunity to all talented students, especially underrepresented minority students.

You can download this free E-book as a PDF or formats for Kindle, Nook, or IPad.

For timely updates about science education, STEM, NIH research, and health and medical science, you can follow the NIH Office of Science Education through multiple channels:
By: Gloria, Margaret | March 11 2011 | Category: NIH Resources, Science History, Tidbits for Teachers

Images of cover art of Women Are Scientists DVD SeriesSince March is Women’s History Month, we’ve been thinking about our relevant, free resources about women for middle and high school students, including the Women Are Scientists DVD series. Each of the series’ five videos presents three women scientists who discuss the rewards and challenges of their careers and their unique pathways to success. This series is a partnership between the Office of Science Education and the Office of Research on Women's Health.

The Women Are Scientists DVDs reinforce the theme of the Presidential Proclamation of March 2011. President Obama wrote, “As we reflect on the triumphs of the past, we must also look to the limitless potential that lies ahead. To win the future, we must equip the young women of today with the knowledge, skills, and equal access to reach for the promise of tomorrow. My Administration is making unprecedented investments in education and is working to expand opportunities for women and girls in the STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] fields critical for growth in the 21st century economy.”

A favorite DVD, Women Scientists with Disabilities, highlights high-achieving women scientists who made their mark through tenacity, courage, and hard work despite physical handicaps. We loved learning about women like Bertha Melgoza, who lost her sight from a childhood illness and faced a tough future in Mexico. Now she’s a successful clinical psychologist in the United States with a husband, a son, and a full spiritual life.

To learn more about the generations of women who have shaped history, check out

The National Women’s History Museum is featuring a video on the roles American women played in shaping Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day (March 8), now celebrating its 100th anniversary.
By: Cynthia | December 27 2010 | Category: Science History, Science News, Tidbits for Teachers

Against the Odds Exhibit PosterAgainst the Odds:  Making a Difference in Global Health, an exhibit by the National Library of Medicine

As we wrap up the old year and ring in the new this week, many of us share wishes for good health, prosperity, and peace with family and friends around the world. It seems like the perfect time to visit the National Library of Medicine’s latest exhibit, Against the Odds: Making a Difference in Global Health. It’s rich with heart-warming stories about the sometimes challenging but rewarding global efforts to improve the health and well-being of all people.

At the online exhibit,

The physical traveling exhibit is scheduled for various sites around the country through May of 2013. Check the schedule to find out if it’s coming near you.
By: Gina | August 12 2010 | Category: Science History, Tidbits for Teachers

Vegetable garden at Mount Vernon  

Most people don't think of farmers as scientists, but many are. In fact George Washington used science to become a successful farmer. Our first president’s farms in Mount Vernon were outdoor laboratories for testing new farming practices.

In Virginia in Washington’s day, most farmers grew wheat and tobacco for one year each and then let the fields lie fallow for a year. After doing a lot of research on European methods and doing his own controlled experiments, Washington came up with a much more efficient seven year crop rotation. It included wheat and corn, but not tobacco because the British taxed farmers a lot for that. He added clover and grasses to his cycle to replenish the soil and provide grazing material for his livestock. 

It’s hard to imagine farming today without fertilizers, but in Washington’s time fertilizers weren’t always of good quality, were applied haphazardly, and weren't used much, anyway.  Washington worked with manure, creek mud, selected clays, plaster of Paris, and fish heads to create high-quality fertilizers and figured out the best times to apply them. He even designed a "dung repository", thought to be the first in the country. There, he mixed and aged different combinations of fertilizer ingredients for testing.

Our first president was a great innovator. He improved the efficiency of basic farming implements, including the barrel seeder and the plow but his crowning technological achievement was the invention of the 16-sided treading barn for threshing wheat.  Before he built the barn, separating grain from straw had to be done by hand, a slow and backbreaking process.  Wheat could also be "treaded out” by horses, but dirt and horse excrement became mixed in the grain, and it was inefficient because grain was tramped into the ground and ruined if it rained. With the new barn design, grain was threshed more efficiently and it could be done indoors, and (fortunately) the horses weren’t able to contribute any unwanted items to the mixture.

How important were these science experiments? In 1765, before George Washington switched from tobacco farming and adopted his new ideas, he owed money.  By the time he he died in 1799, Washington had estimated his worth at $530,000. This is more than $6 billion in today's currency.  Washington may have been the richest man in American history!

By: Cynthia | May 5 2010 | Category: NIH Resources, Science History

image of woman with surgical maskA National Library of Medicine (NLM) traveling exhibition plus online resources celebrating America’s women physicians

Dr. Marcella Farinelli Fierro inspired best-selling crime writer Patricia Cornwell to write a highly successful series of crime novels featuring a forensic pathologist. Dr. Virginia Apgar designed the now standard physical report index for all newborns (the Apgar score). Dr. Antonia Novello was the first woman and the first Hispanic to become Surgeon General of the United States.

You can find these and other interesting facts about America’s women physicians online at NLM’s Changing the Face of Medicine exhibition. Many of the featured women faced and overcame daunting obstacles to achieve success. The exhibition honors their lives and accomplishments, with the hope of inspiring a new generation of medical pioneers.

The online exhibition offers
  • videos and inspiring stories about accomplished women physicians
  • activities about how the human body works
  • career information for students
  • lesson plans for teachers
  • a bibliography of suggested reading
The traveling exhibition is now touring medical schools across the country. Computer kiosks display multimedia features from the original exhibition (2003−2005 at NLM), including films about women physicians, career resources, and educational activities.

Check out the tour itinerary to see if it’s coming to a place near you.
By: Cindy, Gloria | April 22 2010 | Category: Science History

Another installment in our series honoring NIH-Supported Scientists on Their Birthdays

Rita Levi-MontalciniBorn on April 22, 1909, in Turin, Italy, Rita Levi-Montalcini overcame all sorts of challenges on her way to winning the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1986. She’s the oldest living Nobel laureate and the only one to reach her 100th – and now her 101st! – birthday.

Rita’s first big hurdle was persuading her father to let her go to college. Mr. Levi, an electrical engineer and mathematician, believed that a career interferes with the duties of a wife and mother. Eventually, he came around, thank goodness. Rita enrolled in the local university, and she graduated from medical school in 1936 and went on to pursue basic research in neurology and psychiatry at the University of Turin.

Rita, whose family was Jewish, suffered under Benito Mussolini’s rule during World War II. In 1938, Mussolini issued the Manifesto of Race and laws barring Jewish citizens from academic and professional careers. Not to be thwarted, Rita set up lab equipment in her bedroom. Soon, heavy bombing in the city forced her to move her lab to her family’s country cottage. When the Germans invaded Italy in 1943, she moved again, this time to Florence, where she lived under ground – with another makeshift lab – until the end of the war.

After the war, she returned to the University of Turin Institute of Anatomy. Her work impressed Viktor Hamburger, head of the Zoology Department at Washington University in St. Louis. He invited her to collaborate with him as a research associate. Her plans to stay one semester in 1947 stretched into 30 years.

At Washington University, Rita worked with another faculty member, Stanley Cohen, on the growth of nerve fibers. Much of their work was funded by NIH. She and Cohen shared the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for isolating nerve growth factor (NGF)External Web Site Policy and epidermal growth factor (EGF)External Web Site Policy. Her many discoveries in neurology and psychiatry have furthered our understanding of such diverse diseases as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.

In addition to the Nobel prize, Rita has received many honors and awards -- and she’s been serving in the Italian Senate as a Senator for Life since 2001! Her achievements -- against all odds -- are still making a difference in the world today.
She told a reporter last year from her office in Rome that the secret of her longevity is, basically, “no food, no husband, and no regrets.” She
  • gets up at 5 a.m.,
  • eats one meal a day (lunch),
  • keeps her brain active by working in her lab in the morning and her foundation, which supports education for women in Africa, in the afternoon, and
  • goes to bed at 11 p.m.

She’s also been a mentor her whole life and says she “encourages the young to have faith in themselves, and in the future.” She hopes she conveys to everyone the message that “ the important thing is to have lived with serenity using the rational left-hand side of one’s brain, and not the right side, the instinctive side, which leads to misery and tragedy.”

For further reading

Levi-Montalcini, Rita, and Pietro Calissano. 1979. The Nerve-Growth Factor. Scientific American 240:44–3.
Article about Rita Levi-Montalcini on her 100th birthdayExternal Web Site Policy
Nerve growth factor signaling, neuroprotection, and neural repair
Nerve Growth Factor Gene Therapy for Alzheimer's Disease - Clinical Trial UpdateExternal Web Site Policy
Nerve growth factor levels in Parkinson disease and experimental parkinsonian rats
Nobel laureates funded by the NIH
Press relase for the 1986 Nobel prizeExternal Web Site Policy
By: Cindy, Gloria, Joanne | December 8 2009 | Category: Science History, Scientists in the Community

Tom Cech PhotoIn Light of New Evidence...

For years, we taught that “not all proteins are enzymes, but all enzymes are proteins.” By 1989, though, we knew that was wrong, thanks to research by that year’s winners of the Nobel PrizeExternal Web Site Policy in Chemistry.

Thomas R. Cech, born December 8, 1947, and fellow Nobel laureate Sidney Altman discovered that RNA is not just a passive information carrier. It can also catalyze chemical reactions in living cells.

In 1982, Cech’s research group at the University of Colorado, Boulder, showed that an RNA molecule from Tetrahymena, single-celled pond organisms, cut and rejoined chemical bonds in the complete absence of proteins. The discovery of self-splicing RNA was the first evidence against the long-held belief that proteins always catalyze reactions. RNA enzymes, or ribozymes, efficiently cleave -- and thereby destroy -- viral RNAs.
As an undergraduate at Grinnell College, Tom Cech became interested in physical chemistry. By the time he left, though, he’d realized that his personality wasn’t suited to physical chemistry research.

He discovered, he says in his autobiographyExternal Web Site Policy for the Nobel Foundation, that “I didn’t have a long enough attention span for the elaborate plumbing and electronics of gas-phase chemical physics.” He was then drawn to biological chemistry because “of the almost daily interplay of experimental design, observation, and interpretation.” As a postdoc at MIT, he strengthened his knowledge of biology and, he says, “enjoyed being part of the interactive science scene” there.
As we learn more about the science we study, we often find that we have to change what we hold as truth. We also learn what type of research is most compatible with our personality. We must give ourselves permission to change the text of our lessons and the direction of our studies.

Tom Cech gave himself permission to change his course and became a Noble laureate and, from January 2000 to April 2009, director of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
By: Cindy, Gina, Gloria | November 2 2009 | Category: Science History, Science News

Photos of Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider, and Jack W. SzostakOn Oct. 5, 2007, three American researchers -- Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider, and Jack W. Szostak -- were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. This marks a milestone because it’s the first time two women have shared a Nobel prize. In a recent online interview, Blackburn said the honor for her and Greider is “a hopeful sign” for women. In the future, she said, people will say, “Oh yes, it’s not too unusual to have women getting Nobel prizes. Two got one this year. I hope it becomes very normal.” You can listen to the scientists’ reactions to The Call announcing their award at the Nobel Web site.

Their story begins with chromosomes, the giant complexes of DNA and proteins found in our cells. When cells divide, they make a copy of each chromosome, so the daughter cell receives a full complement of DNA. The enzymes that control this process can’t quite copy the chromosome all the way to the end, so a little bit of the chromosome is lost every time a cell divides. Enter the telomere and our Nobelists’ research. 

Telomeres are short regions of repetitive DNA that sit at the ends of chromosomes but don’t encode any genes. When a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter, not the business part of the chromosomes. With each cell division, the telomeres get shorter. Scientists believe that this telomere shortening is in part responsible for the limited lifespan of most cells. However, some cells, including stem cells that live for the life of an organism, can replace telomeres through the action of the enzyme telomerase. 

Telomerase is turned off in most cells, but it’s reactivated in many cancer cells. This allows the cancer cells to replicate many more times than normal. This has opened the possibility of treating cancer by zeroing in on telomerase. Clinical trials are under way to evaluate vaccines directed against cells with elevated telomerase activity.

The Nobelists’ research also opens up a wide range of investigations into the roles that telomeres and telomerase play in aging. This is because as we age, more and more of our cells have shortened telomeres. Some cells with short telomeres die while others “senesce,’ which means they remain in place but can’t divide and have reduced functional capacity. If we have too many senescent cells, normal processes are less efficient, and repairing even minor damage becomes difficult.

Nobel Prize 2009 Web Site Policy

Phone Call to Each Recipient Announcing the Award

Prize-Winners’ Lab Pages

Telomeres, Aging, and the Prize
External Web Site Policy

History of Telomere Research and Plant Telomere Biology
External Web Site Policy
By: Dave | July 28 2009 | Category: NIH Resources, Science and the Arts, Science History, Tidbits for Teachers

Harry Potter's World homepageI was surfing the NIH National Library of Medicine's Website looking for visitor information, when I stumbled onto:

Harry Potter's World - Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine

Even if you haven't seen the latest movie, this online exhibit provides an interesting contrast between life at Hogwarts and the science of the 15th and 16th Centuries.

There are resources for teachers, too.

This exhibit will be traveling to librariesExternal Web Site Policy nationwide from September 2009 to January 2011, hopefully to a location near you.

BTW - if you're in the DC area, there are three more chances to see this sort of science fact versus movie fiction discussion live at Science in the Cinema.
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