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Volume 20, Number 2, June 2009

The Center for Alcohol Studies (CAS) and the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center at UNC have worked together to develop a Science 360 module, “The Developing Brain,” that teaches the effects of fetal alcohol exposure. The 30-minute shows are presented each weekend during the spring and the fall and are open to the public.

CAS Professor Kathy Sulik provided the scientific content for ‘The Developing Brain,’ an interactive show focusing on human brain development and the effects of alcohol on the brain as it forms. The show begins with a split-screen illustration of a normal child versus a child with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) whose features tend to be smaller and less developed. The audience is then shown a model of a normal brain compared with an FAS brain and the clear differences in the development of the important parts of the brain that affect cognition; reasoning, learning and comprehension are identified.
For the presentation, the audience is provided with i-clickers, tools that allow viewers to answer multiple choice questions throughout the presentation that correspond to the information in the program, with the audience results displayed on screen. This approach allows a fun and interactive learning experience as audience members learn about the effects of alcohol on a developing embryo and fetus.

In “The Developing Brain,” audiences learn the amount of time it takes the brain to start developing in utero and how large an embryo is in its third week, when it is already vulnerable to alcohol-mediated damage. Audiences also learn that researchers use animal models to study the effects of alcohol on the brain, as animals, such as mice and fish, have brains that develop in similar ways to humans.
“What audiences should take away from this presentation is that the brain begins to develop very early in pregnancy, and alcohol can affect its development beginning at these very early stages until birth,” said Sulik. “This program is designed for everyone, but we really hope it will provide youth awareness about the effects of alcohol and subsequently aid in FAS prevention.”

A team of educators, including scientists, writers, producers, and designers, create each Science 360 program. Each module is presented by trained Morehead specialists; typically UNC graduate students in varying fields. ‘The Developing Brain’ is supported by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and will run through the end of the year. Two additional learning modules on alcohol, directed at elementary, middle, and high school students, are in the planning stages for next year.

For more information on this and other Science 360 programs, please visit