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Released March 3, 2004

By Angela Cutrer

HATTIESBURG -- From inspiration to inflation, "The World's Largest Brain" balloon is making a soft landing at The University of Southern Mississippi March 26-27 in honor of International Brain Awareness Week.

"This event is truly a community effort intended to provide information about health and science issues related to the brain," said Dr. Joan Exline, interim dean of the Southern Miss College of Health. "We think people of all ages will learn something new and have a good time."

While visitors to the Southern Miss campus will get a chance to see the spectacular, nine-story balloon - as tall as the Johnson Science Tower - they will also have the opportunity to learn about keeping the brain healthy. Six tents will be set up on campus grounds during an "Investigating Brain and Science Health" event sponsored by Southern Miss' College of Science and Technology and College of Health.

Visitors can watch the brain balloon's inflation each day from 7-9 a.m., and from 4-6 p.m. In between, they can visit tents where professionals from the medical community will discuss such topics as the parts of the brain; functions and interaction of the brain; bicycle helmet safety; the brain and food and exercise; the sleepy brain; the science of addiction and disease; the interaction of the senses; cranial nerve assessment of athletic injuries; seizures; infectious diseases of the central nervous system; and stroke awareness.

The sixth tent will have representatives from Southern Miss' five colleges available to discuss career programs for those wanting a career involving working with the brain. Snacks will also be available on the grounds, as well as blood pressure and cholesterol screening.

"This will be a dynamic, collaborative event brought together by the Southern Miss community and the health industry community in an effort to build awareness and understanding of the brain and its functions," said Will Hansen, development officer for the College of Health. "The entire community - anyone from small children to retirees - will have the opportunity to be engaged and educated on many related topics. Certainly, the hot-air brain balloon will provide an interesting backdrop and conversation piece for the event."

Organizers claim "The World's Largest Brain" as the most complex special-shaped hot-air balloon ever designed and manufactured. The culmination of a five-year effort spearheaded by neurosurgeon Dr. Scott Gibbs, the balloon is presented by BrainLAB, the "world's foremost developer of neurosurgical navigation technology."

Gibbs' inspiration for the balloon came from witnessing the overwhelming crowd appeal of special-shaped balloons at the National Balloon Championship in 1995. This sparked his vision of a larger-than-life icon to effectively capture the attention of all and elevate public understanding about the brain. Gibbs felt he had discovered the perfect vehicle to supersize the message for everyone with a neurological disease, disorder or injury.

Aerostar International, a leading hot-air balloon manufacturer, constructed the gigantic icon, working with large clay models, and more than 900 complex engineering renderings. After months of planning, and thousands of yards of precision-cut and sewn balloon fabric, with a team of 150 people, and more than 15,500 hours of labor, the brain balloon was first inflated March 5, 2001. Its massive structure captures imaginations and creates an atmosphere that quickly lends itself to the brain balloon's mission: to raise public awareness about the importance of the brain and the diseases that afflict it, while promoting education, and encouraging all people to live their lives with high purpose.

"The brain is the organ of discovery, hope and human possibility," Gibbs said. "We're not just flying a balloon; we're flying a mission for education and inspiration (in) a celebration of human intelligence."

On Friday, the event will be a site of swarming children from local schools. "Invitations have been sent out and we've been putting teachers' classes in the time slots," said event coordinator, Julie Smith, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Biological Sciences at Southern Miss. "We've had a huge response."

On Saturday, the Brain Injury Association of Mississippi will give away 500 safety helmets from size 3T to adult from 1 p.m. until all are gone. Cholesterol and blood pressure screening will continue to be available most of the day.

Smith came up with the idea of inviting the balloon to Hattiesburg after realizing that no one in Mississippi was hosting the brain balloon.

"I'm interested in neuroscience and Alzheimer's research and thought this was a way to encourage children's interest in science and donors' interest in supporting science research here at the university."

"International Brain Awareness Week is recognized in 55 countries, and when people see the value of science and research, they understand how important it is to their everyday lives," she added. "This community outreach will show how the university works together as a whole and with the community. It's really exciting."


Igniting Imaginations
Brain Balloon Facts

  • Fashioned from an idea of neurosurgeon Dr. Scott R. Gibbs
  • Engineered and manufactured by Aerostar International Inc.
  • Presented by BrainLAB
  • Nine stories tall, 100 feet long, 80 feet wide, weighs 1,100 pounds
  • 1,200 internal catenary tension lines (2,400 knots)
  • 155,000 cubic feet double-envelope balloon
  • Unique "balloon within a balloon" double-wall construction with a record- setting 50,000 cubic feet between its inner and outer balloons
  • Anatomically accurate, as each of the various lobes are defined and brightly colored for distinction
  • IT'S HUGE! If Abraham Lincoln's head on Mt. Rushmore had a brain inside it, "The World's Largest Brain" would be more than five times larger.
  • If the Statue of Liberty had a brain, "The World's Largest Brain" would be more than seven times larger.
  • "The World's Largest Brain" is the size of 3 million human brains, more brains than populate the metropolitan St. Louis area.


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM