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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.

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January, 2000

A. When asleep, humans spend 23.1% of the time in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. (Aserinksy, E., in Rapid Eye Movement Sleep, edited by B.N. Mallick and S. Inoue, Narosa Publishing, New Delhi, 1999.)

B. Venomous snakes can be dangerous even after they are dead. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), it was reported that 14.7% of the people envenomed by rattlesnakes were "bitten" by snakes that were dead or thought to be dead. (NEJM, June 17, 1999, vol. 340:1930.)

C. The word "carotid" (carotid artery) comes from the Greek word karotis meaning "deep sleep." This is because it has been known for a long time that pressure on the carotid arteries causes animals to become sleepy.

D. The cerebellum makes up 10% of the total volume of the human brain. (Statistic from Trends in Neuroscience, November 1995.)

E. Glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness in the United States. About 3 million Americans have glaucoma; 120,000 of these people are blind. (Statistics from the National Eye Institute)

February, 2000

A. Taste buds are not just found on the tongue; they are also found on the palate, pharynx and larynx.

B. The brain of the fly contains 337,856 neurons. (Statistic from Comprehensive Insect Physiology, Biochemistry and Pharmacology, Vol. 5, edited by G.A. Kerkut and L.I. Gilbert, Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1985, p. 307.)

C. Opossums do not have a corpus callosum (the large bundle of axons that connects the right and left cerebral hemispheres).

D. Many spiders have eight eyes.

E. Receptor cells in the taste buds are replaced about once every 10 days.

March, 2000

A. 13,285 scientific abstracts (posters and slide presentations) were presented at the Society for Neuroscience meeting held in October 1999. (Statistic from the Society for Neuroscience Newsletter, January/February 2000.)

B. The human eye weighs about 7.5 g. (Statistic from R.F. Spaide, Diseases of the Retina and Vitreous, 1999.)

C. The barbituate "pentobarbital" is also known as truth serum.

D. A 12 oz can of Jolt cola has 71 mg of caffeine. A cup of coffee has 60-150 mg of caffeine.

E. The first lobotomy in the United States was performed by Walter Freeman in 1936.

April, 2000

A. The brain of a goldfish makes up 0.3% of its total body weight. An adult human brain is about 2% of total body weight. (Statistic from G.E. Nilsson, "The Cost of a Brain," Natural History, 12/99-1/00.)

B. Approximately 2 million people in the U.S. are impaired by the effects of cerebrovascular disease, including strokes. (Statistic from Kandel, Schwartz and Jessell, Principles of Neural Science, 2000.)

C. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 states that the mandatory penalty for possession of 1 gram of LSD is 5 years in prison.

D. The word "glia" comes from the Greek word meaning "glue."

E. There are over 1,000 disorders of the brain and nervous system.

May, 2000

A. Each year there are about 300,000 brain concussions that occur during sports activities. (Statistic from the Center for Disease Control.)

B. About 100 million Americans need eye glasses. (Statistic from Prevention's Giant Book of Health Facts, 1991.)

C. A Purkinje neuron in the cerebellum may receive 150,000 contacts from other neurons. (Statistic from Kandel, Schwartz and Jessel, Principles of Neural Science, 2000, page 25.)

D. The human brain has 100 trillion synaptic connections. (Statistic from Kandel, Schwartz and Jessel, Principles of Neural Science, 2000, page 173.)

E. Cerebrospinal fluid is 99% water.

June, 2000

A. More than 28 million Americans (about 10% of the population) have hearing impairments. (Statistic from the Better Hearing Institute.)

B. Harvard University has the best graduate program in neuroscience, as rated by US News and World Report.

C. Acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) was first synthesized by Felix Hoffmann in 1897.

D. Aphasia is the name of speech and language problems caused by brain injury.

E. The knee jerk reflex takes about 30 milliseconds (30 milliseconds is 30 one-thousandths of a second). This is time between the stimulus (the tap on the ligament in the knee) and the response (the contraction of the quadriceps muscle in the leg). (Statistic from P. Brodal, The Central Nervous System, 1998.)

July, 2000

A. The vagus nerve, important for controlling heart rate and other internal functions, is the longest of the 12 cranial nerves.

B. About 3% of all people living to the age of 80 will be diagnosed with epilepsy (Kandel et al., Principles of Neural Science, 2000, p. 911).

C. The cerebellum is only 10% of the entire volume of the brain, but contains more than half of all of the neurons in the brain. (Kandel et al., Principles of Neural Science, 2000, p. 833).

D. Humans sleep for 17-18 hours a day at birth, 10-12 hours at age 4 and 7-8.5 hours by age 20 (Kandel et al., Principles of Neural Science, 2000, p. 943).

E. Young adults spend about 20-25% of sleep time in REM sleep (Kandel et al., Principles of Neural Science, 2000, p. 943).

August, 2000

A. The human corticospinal tract, the pathway from the cerebral cortex to the spinal cord that is important for movement, contains over one million axons. (Statistic from Carpenter and Sutin, Human Neuroanatomy, 8th edition, Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1983, page 282.)

B. About 50 ml of blood travels through 100 g of brain tissue each minute. (Statistic from Carpenter and Sutin, Human Neuroanatomy, 8th edition, Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1983, page 707.)

C. The Society for Neuroscience, with more than 29,000 members, is the largest professional organization in the world dedicated to the study of the nervous system. (Statistic from the Society for Neuroscience.)

D. Some butterflies have ears on their wings. (From Yack, J.E. and Fullard, J.H., Ultrasonic hearing in nocturnal butterflies, Nature, 403:265-266, 2000.)

E. The facial, glossopharyngeal and vagus nerves all carry information about taste.

September, 2000

A. Atropine, a drug that blocks the action of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, comes from the plant called "the deadly nightshade" (scientific name "Atropa belladonna"). Belladonna is Italian for "beautiful lady." This plant is named belladonna because women once used this drug to make their pupils get bigger. Apparently large pupils were considered attractive.

B. In 1998, illegal drug use or nonmedical use of legal drugs resulted in 542,544 visits to emergency departments in the United States. (Statistic from the Drug Abuse Warning Network)

C. The three most common fears are: snakes (#1), heights (#2) and flying (#3). (Statistic from Health, "News for Healthy Living," Nov/Dec. 99, p.28)

D. The human ear canal is about 2.5 cm in length and 0.6 cm in diameter.

E. Each of your eyeballs is moved by six muscles.

October, 2000

A. In 1904, US President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to outlaw football after 19 college football players were killed or paralyzed from brain or spinal cord injuries. (Statistic from Maroon et al., Neurosurgery, 47:659-672, 2000.)

B. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget has grown from about $300 in 1887 to more than $15.6 billion in 1999. (from

C. As you age, the amount of rapid eye movement ("dream") sleep you have decreases.

D. When children are six years old, they can understand approximately 13,000 words; high school graduates know at least 60,000 words. (Statistic from Kandel, Schwartz and Jessell, Principles of Neural Science, 2000.)

E. Between 20-28 million American have some form of hearing loss. (Statistic from Alpiner et al., Rehabilitative Audiology: Children and Adults, Philadelphia: Lippincott, 2000.)

November, 2000

A. Mountain Dew soda (12 ounces) contains 55 mg of caffeine. A cup of coffee has between 60-150 mg of caffeine.

B. The folds and ridges of the outer ear are called the pinna.

C. Each year approximately 7,000 sledders age 16 and younger are taken to the emergency room for head injuries. (Statistic from The Seattle Times, Associated Press, 12/19/99, in an article by I. Dreyfuss, "Bicycle helmets should be used for children on sleds, doctor says.")

D. Charles Scott Sherrington coined the term "synapse" in 1897.

E. The dura mater is the outermost covering of the brain. The term "dura mater" comes from Latin meaning "hard mother."

December, 2000

A. The roundworm (Caenorhabditis elegans) has 302 cells in its nervous system. (Statistic from "Simple Organisms" by Cori Bargmann, Neurobiology of Disease, Vol. 7, pp.520-522, Oct. 2000.)

B. Dr. James Parkinson first described a neurological disorder called the "shaking palsy" (later to be called Parkinson's disease) in 1817.

C. The active ingredient in catnip is called nepetalactone.

D. Physicist Albert Einstein did not speak until he was three years old. (Statistic from the New York Times op-ed by Steven Pinker, 6/24/99 "His Brain Measured Up.")

E. The chemical known as ether was first used to manage pain during surgery in 1846 at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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