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Putting the ‘PhUn’ in Physiology


BETHESDA, Md. − Teacher Margaret Shain saw flashes of insight cross the faces of her 8th grade science students last year during PhUn (Physiology Understanding) Week, the annual event that brings physiologists and physiology experiments into K-12 classrooms.

The visiting University of Louisville scientist passed around some of her microsurgery equipment as she told the students at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in New Albany, Indiana about her work. She communicated her genuine enthusiasm, recalled Shain, and taught them, without actually saying it: ‘You could be doing the work that I do.’

The year before, when these same students were asked to draw a scientist, they drew eccentric looking men in white lab coats, mixing smoking solutions as they worked alone. Her students warmed to the woman who told them about the team of people she works with in her laboratory and how she travels to conferences to exchange ideas with other scientists doing similar work.

“They started a dialogue with her,” Shain said. They asked her how she got interested in the work and what she had to do to become a research scientist. Many students assume they are not smart enough to be scientists, Shain said, but “once they started that dialogue, you could see the light bulbs going off in kids’ heads: ‘I don’t have to be super smart’.

PhUn Week Lesson One: Physiology is interesting. PhUn Week Lesson Two: I could be a physiologist. Margaret Shain’s class: Done and done.

PhUn for students, teachers, physiologists

PhUn Week, a program of The American Physiological Society (APS), will spell fun for local students, teachers, and physiologists again when it begins November 5. More than 100 APS member physiologists in 24 states and Puerto Rico will help 3,000 K-12 students see firsthand how the body responds to exercise. Teachers and physiologists work together ahead of time to plan activities that will help students see how their bodies work.

The APS ( is a scientific organization with 11,000 members founded in 1887. Physiology is the study of how our bodies work, from the molecules and cells, to the organs and systems, and how they function in health and disease. The APS has been an integral part of the scientific discovery process.

As part of PhUn Week, physiologists visit the classrooms of local teachers to do hands-on physiology activities with the students. The program gives students a chance to meet and learn from research scientists, learn about physiology in their daily lives, and explore physiology as a possible career. It also builds local partnerships between science teachers and scientists to provide new materials for teachers and give researchers a chance to reach out to the next generation of scientists.

PhUn Week is fun for teachers. Teachers collaborate with a local APS member who works with their students in their schools. The teachers and physiologists can download activities and instructional materials from the PhUn Week website at These engaging activities have been developed and tested by teachers in APS fellowship programs, meet national curriculum standards and are available on the web at

PhUn Week is fun for students. The students spend time with physiologists learning how their bodies function and how medical discoveries are made. Students learn about the cardiovascular system by seeing how their own hearts respond as they sit or stand. They explore muscle reactions by seeing how their own muscles react to sustained and intermittent contractions. And they explore lung volume by exhaling into a balloon under various conditions. These face-to-face encounters that students have with scientists may also inspire future generations of physiologists.

PhUn Week is fun for physiologists. Physiologists step outside their laboratories and universities, share their knowledge of how the body works and perhaps inspire a student to follow in their footsteps.

PhUn Week is being highlighted by the Boston Children’s Museum with an all-day event on Saturday, November 3. Classroom visits across the nation continue throughout the rest of the week. ADInstruments, a provider of computer-based data acquisition and analysis systems for the life sciences, has generously loaned instruments for events in Missouri and South Dakota.


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