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Neuroscience For Kids

Treasure Trove of Brain Trivia

A collection of trivia about the brain and nervous system from the archives of the Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter. For more trivia about the brain, see brain facts and figures.

2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 |
2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000 | 1999 | 1998


January, 2018

A. The scallop has 200 eyes that focus light on two retinas (Source: Palmer et al., The image-forming mirror in the eye of the scallop, Science. Vol. 358, December 1, 2017, p. 1172. doi:10.1126/science.aam9506.)

B. Approximately 6 million Americans currently have Alzheimer's disease or mild cognitive impairment; this number is expected to increase to 15 million by 2060. (Source: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/new-forecast-shows-6-million-alzheimers-disease-cognitive-impairment.)

C. Between 1.1 and 1.9 million sports- and recreation-related concussions occur in children 18 years and younger in the United States each year. (Source: Bryan, M.A., Rowhani-Rahbar, A., Comstock, R.D., Rivara, F. and Seattle Sports Concussion Research Collaborative, Sports- and Recreation-Related Concussions in US Youth, Pediatrics, 2016 Jul;138(1). pii: e20154635. doi: 10.1542/peds.2015-4635.)

D. An oligodendrocyte is a type of glial cell that provides support and myelin to axons in the central nervous system. The word "oligodendrocyte" come from Greek meaning "few tree cell."

E. Dr. May-Britt Moser, a neuroscientist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2014, was born on January 4, 1963.

February, 2018

A. Encephalartos is a genus of tree found in Africa. The name "Encephalartos" comes from the Greek words "en" meaning "within," "kephali" meaning "head," and "artos" meaning "bread."

B. Last month, singer Neil Diamond (age, 77 years old) revealed that he has Parkinson's disease.

C. Last month, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates revealed that his father has Alzheimer's disease.

D. Only 27.3% of the high school students in the United States gets enough sleep each night. (Source: Wheaton AG, Jones SE, Cooper AC, Croft JB. Short Sleep Duration Among Middle School and High School Students -- United States, 2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2018;67:85; 90. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6703a1)

E. The tectum is an area of the midbrain responsible for processing auditory and visual information. The word "tectum" comes from the Latin word meaning "roof."

March, 2018

A. The brain of an alligator weighs about 8 grams.

B. The cerebellum of a squirrel weighs about 1.5 grams.

C. The spinal cord of a rat weighs about 0.7 grams.

D. Sea lions can hear sounds with frequencies from 100 Hz to 40,000 Hz.

E. The length of a rabbit spinal cord is 18 cm.

April, 2018

A. Physicist Stephen Hawking died last month (March 14, 2018); he was afflicted with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease).

B. April is National Autism Awareness Month and Sports Eye Safety Month.

C. The top graduate programs in neuroscience/neurobiology as ranked by US News and World Report (2018) are Harvard University, Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, University of California-San Francisco, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California-San Diego.

D. Anna Mary Robertson Moses [Grandma Moses] (1860-1961) wrote: "A strange thing is memory, and hope; one looks backward, and the other forward; one is of today, the other of tomorrow. Memory is history recorded in our brain, memory is a painter, it paints pictures of the past and of the day."

E. Some snails have chemosensors called "osphradia" in the mantle cavity; these receptors are used to detect chemicals in water.

May, 2018

Now that spring has arrived, here about some facts about plants and the nervous system.

A. Strychnos nux-vomica is a small tree in Southeast Asia. The seeds of this plant contain a high concentration of strychnine. Strychnine is a neurotoxin that can cause muscular convulsions and interfere with breathing.

B. Indian snakeroot (Rauvolfia serpentine) contains the chemical reserpine; reserpine can reduce the levels of some neurotransmitters and cause depression.

C. Hemlock (Conium maculatum) contains the chemical coniine, a neurotoxin that is said to have killed the philosopher Socrates.

D. Neurotoxins (grayanotoxins) in some rhododendron plants attack the nervous system.

E. The drug named atropine is made from the plant Atropa belladonna (deadly nightshade). Atropine is used to treat some heart problems, reduce saliva flow during surgery and to dilate pupils. Poisoning from eating the plant can be lethal.

June, 2018

A. New research shows that maintaining five healthy lifestyle factors can increase a person’s lifespan by 10 years or longer. These factors are: 1) maintaining a healthy diet; 2) not smoking; 3) getting at least 3.5 hours/week of moderate to vigorous physical exercise; 4) drinking only moderate amounts of alcohol; and 5) maintaining a normal weight. (Source: Li et al., Impact of Healthy Lifestyle Factors on Life Expectancies in the US Population, 2018 Apr 30. pii: CIRCULATIONAHA.117.032047. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.117.032047. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 29712712.)

B. The total length of capillaries in the human brain is approximately 400 miles (Source: Cipolla, M.J., The Cerebral Circulation, San Rafael (CA: Morgan & Claypool Life Sciences, 2009).

C. The largest vertebra (backbone) ever discovered was 1.4 m (4 ft, 7 in.) long; this bone belonged to a sauropod dinosaur. (Source: Wedel, M. J. and Cifelli, R. L., Sauroposeidon: Oklahoma's native giant. Oklahoma Geology Notes 65: 40-57, 2005.

D. 68.8% of high school students in the United States do not get enough sleep (less than or equal to 7 hours) on school nights (Source: Wheaton, A.G., Olsen, E.O., Miller, G.F., Croft, J.B., Sleep duration and injury-related risk behaviors among high school students - United States, 2007-2013. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2016;65:337-341. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6513a1).

E. In the United States, the number of reported cases of disease transmitted to humans by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas tripled from 2004-2016; mosquitoes and ticks can transmitted illnesses that affect the nervous system (e.g., Lyme disease, encephalitis, Zika virus) (Source: CDC Vital Signs, May, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/pdf/vs-0518-vector-borne-H.pdf).

July, 2018

A. African elephants sleep only 2 hours each day. (Source: Gravett, N., et al. (2017) Inactivity/sleep in two wild free-roaming African elephant matriarchs - Does large body size make elephants the shortest mammalian sleepers? PLoS ONE 12(3): e0171903, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0171903.)

B. The word "paranoia" comes from the Greek words meaning "beside" or "beyond" and "mind."

C. In 2017, an estimated 2.5 million high school students reported having at least one concussion related to sports or physical activity and an estimated 1.0 million students reported having two or more concussions. (Source: DePadilla L, et al., Self-reported concussions from playing a sport or being physically active among high school students-United States, 2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2018;67:682-685. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6724a3)

D. The brain size to body weight ratio is smaller in domestic rabbits than it is in wild rabbits. (Source: Brusini, I., et al., Changes in brain architecture are consistent with altered fear processing in domestic rabbits, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jun 2018, 201801024; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1801024115).

E. On July 3, 1946, U.S. President Harry S. Truman signed the National Mental Health Act.

August, 2018

A. Spider can detect electrical fields in the atmosphere. (Source: Morley, E.L and Robert, D., Electrical fields elicit ballooning in spiders, Current Biology, published online on July 5, 2018, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2018.05.057.

B. Plants belonging to the genus Fittonia are also known as nerve plants.

C. Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote "On Sleep and Sleeplessness" around 350 B.C.E. to explain why we sleep.

D. Last month, actor Alan Alda (M*A*S*H and West Wing) revealed that he has Parkinson's disease and that he was diagnosed in 2015.

E. "Inemuri" is the Japanese word that means "sleeping while present"; this is a form of napping in a place not meant for sleep (Source: National Geographic magazine, August, 2018.)

September, 2018

A. 6.5% of the adults who are 40 years and older experience phantom odors. In other words, they smell things that are not really present. (Source: Bainbridge, K.E., Byrd-Clark, D., Leopold, D., Factors associated with phantom odor perception among US adults: Findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, JAMA Otolaryngol. Head Neck Surg., Published online August 16, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2018.1446.)

B. People who live in high latitudes have larger than average sized eyes. (Source: Pearce, E. and Dunbar, R., Latitudinal variation in light levels drives human visual system size, Biology Letters, 8:90-93, 2012.)

C. Koalas spend about 4.8 hours resting while awake and 14.5 hours sleeping each day. (Source: Nagy, K.A. and Martin, R.W., Field metabolic rate, water flux, food consumption and time budget of koalas, Phascolarctos Cinereus (Marsupialia: Phascolarctidae) in Victoria, Australian Journal of Zoology, 33:655-665, 1985.)

D. Brain Ridge is located in Northern California about 25 miles northwest of Santa Rosa, CA.

E. Senator John McCain passed away on August 25, 2018, after a battle with brain cancer (glioblastoma). Glioblastoma is the same type of brain cancer that afflicted Senator Ted Kennedy and Beau Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden.

October, 2018

A. Writer Roald Dahl (born, 1916; died 1990), with the assistance from a toymaker and neurosurgeon, helped invent the Wade-Dahl-Till shunt. This device was used to treat children with hydrocephalus (Source: Buis, D.R. and Mandi, E.S., Roald Dahl's contribution to neurosurgery: the Wade-Dahl-Till shunt, Acta Neurochir (Wien), 153:429-430, 2011).

B. Mental Illness Awareness Week will take place October 7-13, 2018.

C. Sea lions can hear sounds from 100 Hz to 40,000 Hz (Source: Discover Science Almanac, New York: Hyperion, 2003).

D. Sockeye salmon can see ultraviolet light (Source: Flamarique, I.N., The ontogeny of ultraviolet sensitivity, cone disappearance and regeneration in the sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka, J. Exp. Biology 203, 1161-1172, 2000).

E. The typical number of sodium pumps on a neuron is 1000 pumps/square micron of membrane surface (Source: Willis and Grossman, Medical Neurobiology, Mosby, St. Louis, 1981).

November, 2018

A. Paul Allen, who established the Allen Institute for Brain Science in 2003, passed away last month on October 15, 2018.

B. Last month, retired US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor revealed that she has been diagnosed with the early stages of dementia.

C. Although loud noises at athletic and entertainment events can cause hearing damage, only 8% of the adults in a recent survey reported that they consistently used hearing protection devices (e.g., ear plugs or ear muffs) at these places. (Source: Eichwald J, Scinicariello F, Telfer JL, Carroll YI. Use of Personal Hearing Protection Devices at Loud Athletic or Entertainment Events Among Adults -- United States, 2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2018;67:1151-1155. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6741a4.)

D. November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month and National Epilepsy Awareness Month.

E. The volumes of the human, dog, and goat olfactory bulbs, respectively, are 0.06 cubic centimeters, 0.18 cubic centimeters, and 0.17 cubic centimeters (Source: Kavoi, B.M. and Jameela, H., Comparative morphometry of the olfactory bulb, tract, and stria in the human, dog, and goat. Int. J. Morphol. 29, 939-946, 2011.)

More trivia from other years:

2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 |
2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000 | 1999 | 1998

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