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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, 2001

A. The pupil of the eye can vary in diameter from 1.5 to 8.0 mm. Therefore, the amount of light entering the eye can change 30-fold. (Statistic from Guyton and Hall, Textbook of Medical Physiology, 10th edition, 2000.)

B. The word "cerebellum" comes from the Latin words meaning "little brain."

C. There are 10 billion neurons in the human cerebral cortex (statistic from G.M. Shepard, The Synaptic Organization of the Brain, 1998, p. 6).

D. The brain of the bottle-nosed dolphin weighs about 1,500 grams. (The human brain weighs about 1,400 grams.)

E. Worker honey bees have a ring of iron oxide ("magnetite") in their abdomens that may be used to detect magnetic fields. They may use this ability to detect changes in the earth's magnetic field and use it for navigation.

February, 2001

A. The term "dendrite" was introduced by C. Golgi in about 1870. (From Afifi, A.K. and Bergman, R.A., Functional Neuroanatomy, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998.)

B. The part of the brain called the "amygdala" gets its name from the Greek word for "almond" because of the similarities in shape.

C. The aroma of coffee contains over 800 different chemicals, but only 20-30 of them contribute to the characteristic quality. (Statistic from The Neurobiology of Taste and Smell, 2nd edition, edited by Finger, T.E., Silver, W.L. and Restrepo, D., 2000.)

D. Monarch butterflies migrate up to 3000 kilometers (1,864 miles). (Statistic from Science, March 17, 2000, p. 1883.)

E. The weight of the human brain triples during the first year of life, going from 300 grams to 900 grams. (Statistic from Brodal, P., The Central Nervous System. Structure and Function, New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1998, p. 144.)

March, 2001

A. There are 1 quadrillion synapses in the human brain. That's 1,000,000,000,000,000 synapses! This is equal to about a half-billion synapses per cubic millimeter. (Statistic from Changeux, J-P. and Ricoeur, P., What Makes Us Think?, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 78.)

B. The total length of wiring between neurons is 100,000 kilometers. (Statistic from Coveney, P. and Highfield, R., Frontiers of Complexity. The Search for Order in a Chaotic World, New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1995, p. 283.)

C. In 1504, Leonardo da Vinci produced wax casts of the ventricles of the human brain.

D. Each year about 10,000 babies born in the United States develop cerebral palsy. (Statistic from

E. The human olfactory system is anatomically complete before birth (From The Neurobiology of Taste and Smell, 2nd edition, edited by Finger, T.E., Silver, W.L. and Restrepo, D., 2000.)

April, 2001

A. The olfactory epithelium of the human nose contains about 12 million olfactory receptor neurons. (From: The Neurobiology of Taste and Smell, 2nd edition, edited by Finger, T.E., Silver, W.L. and Restrepo, D., 2000.)

B. The cerebral cortex is composed of six layers of cells.

C. About 30 million people (10% of the population) in the United States have functionally significant hearing loss. (A.J. Hudspeth, Hearing and Deafness, in Neurobiology of Disease, Vol. 7, No. 5, Part b, pp. 511-514, 2000.)

D. The lumbar puncture, a method to obtain cerebrospinal fluid by inserting a needle between the lumbar vertebrae and into the subarachnoid space of the spinal cord, was introduced in 1891 by Heinrich Quinke. (A.K. Afifi and R.A. Bergman, Functional Neuroanatomy, 1998.)

E. The word "axon" comes from the Greek word meaning "axle" or "axis."

May, 2001

A. Every 33 minutes someone dies in an alcohol-related traffic accident. (National Safety Council)

B. Pteronophobia is the irrational fear of feathers; linonophobia is the irrational fear of string; nephophobia is the irrational fear of clouds.

C. In the season finale (May 14, 1998) of the TV show "Seinfeld," Jerry Seinfeld said, "Maybe if we lie down our brains will work."

D. A jellyfish has no brain.

E. The word "cochlea" (a structure in your ear) comes from the Latin word meaning "snail shell."

June, 2001

A. Americans consume about 45 MILLION pounds of caffeine each year. (Chou, T., Wake up and smell the coffee. Caffeine, coffee and the medical consequences, West. J. Med., 157:544-553, 1992)

B. Women comprise 22% of the US scientific and engineering workforce. (Science, July 21, 2000, page 379)

C. The US Drug Enforcement Agency seized 9.3 million ecstacy pills in 2000 (up from 400,000 in 1997). (Newsweek, April 2, 2001, page 8)

D. There are an estimated 300,000 sports-related brain concussions in the United States each year. (from

E. When tests for speed and accuracy are given, people who stay awake continuously for 20-25 hours have similar problems as people who have a blood alcohol level of 0.10%. (Lamond, N. and Dawson, D., J. Sleep. Res. 8:255-262, 1999)

July, 2001

A. Three neuroscientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2000. (For details on this event, please see

B. The word "physician" comes from the Greek word "physis" meaning "nature."

C. For centuries, people thought that the heart, not the brain, was important for memory. The expression "memorize by heart" is derived from this old belief. Also, the word "record" comes from the Latin word for "heart."

D. The entire last name of the person for which Tourette Syndrome is named is Gilles de la Tourette. People dropped the "Gilles de la" and the disorder is known simply as "Tourette Syndrome."

E. Normal vision for people is 20/20. A hawk's vision is equivalent to 20/5. This means the hawk can see from 20 feet what most people can see from 5 feet. (Scientific American, April 2001, page 24)

August, 2001

A. At least 56,000 motor vehicle accidents each year in the United States are attributed to sleepiness behind the wheel. (Mahowald, M.W., Minnesota Medicine, 83:25-30, 2000.)

B. Birds are insensitive to the effects of hot peppers because they do not have receptors for the chemical (capsaicin) that makes hot peppers "hot."

C. Epilepsy was once called "morbus Herculeus" because it was thought that Hercules had epilepsy. Epilepsy was later called "morbus sacer" which means "sacred disease."

D. A textbook on phrenology, the "science" correlating bumps on the skull with personality traits, sold over 100,000 copies in 1827. (Bear, M.F., Connors, B.W. and Pradiso, M.A., Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain, 2nd edition, Baltimore: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2001.)

E. There are an estimated 300,000 sports-related brain concussions in the United States each year. (from CDC)

September, 2001

This month's brain trivia all come from the book Spineless Wonders: Strange Tales from the Invertebrate World by Richard Conniff (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1996; ISBN:0-8050-5531-2)

A. Compared to humans, houseflies are 10 million times more sensitive to the taste of sugar.

B. Leeches have about 10,000 neurons. (Humans have approximately 86 billion neurons in their brains.)

C. The octopus and squid belong to the class of animals known as the "Cephalopoda" meaning "head-footed."

D. Tarantulas and other spiders sense vibration with hairs on their legs.

E. Slime eels have no eyes, but they do have light-sensitive sensors in their tails.

October, 2001

A. The iris, the colored part of your eye, gets its name from the Greek word meaning "rainbow." In Greek mythology, the goddess of the rainbow is named Iris.

B. Sleepwalking is also known as "somnambulism"; sleeptalking is also known as "somniloquy."

C. 12.5 billion aspirin tablets, gelcaps and caplets are consumed each year in the US (Discover magazine, August 2001).

D. The neurotransmitter serotonin was first isolated in 1933 (Discover magazine, July 2001).

E. After age 30, the brain shrinks a quarter of a percent (0.25%) in mass each year (Discover magazine, October 2001, page 92).

November, 2001

A. Eight Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientists were born in November: Adrian, Sherrington, Moniz, Wald, Lorenz, von Frisch, Schally, and Kandel. For details of the accomplishments of these and other "Noble" neuroscientists, see:

B. Nine out of 10 people are right-handed, 8 out of 10 people are right-footed, 7 out of 10 people are right-eyed and 6 out of 10 people are right-eared. (Statistics from Stanley Coren, The Left-Hander Syndrome: The Causes and Consequences of Left-Handedness, Free Press, New York, 1992.) To determine your own sidedness, go to:

C. The Snellen Eye Chart (the one with the letter E pointed in different directions) was invented by Dr. Hermann Snellen in 1862.

D. The pupil in the eye of the giant cuttlefish (a squid-like animal) is rectangular. (Statistic from Schwab, I.R., British J. Ophth., 85:109, 2001.)

E. "Neuroptera" is the name of an insect order including the lacewings and antlions. "Neuro" comes from the Greek word for "nerve" and "ptera" comes from word for "wing." These insects were named for the extensive branching of veins on their wings, which reminded early scientists of the patterns made by nerve fibers.

December, 2001

A. Approximately 450 million people suffer from neuropsychiatric (mental and behavioral) disorders (Source: World Health Organization).

B. The giant anteater has no teeth. (Naples, V.L., J. Zoology, 249:19-41, 1999.)

C. Myelin, the fatty, insulating material that wraps around some nerve fibers, makes the brain more efficient and allows messages to travel faster. Without myelin, the human brain would have to be 10 times bigger than it is now and we would have to eat 10 times as much to maintain our brain. (Neurons and Networks. An Introduction to Neuroscience, J.E. Dowling, Cambridge: Belnap Press, 1992.)

D. The Tokay gecko (Gekko gekko) uses it tongue to clean its eyes. (Schwab, I.R., British J. Ophth., 84:1215, 2000.)

E. Tuition and fees for a first-year medical student in the US are $28,224 at a private school and $10,941 for a public school (1999-2000 school year; resident costs only; non-residents costs are higher). (Statistic from AAMC Data Book: Statistical Information Related to Medical Schools and Teaching Hospitals, edited by Le'Etta Robinson, Washington, D.C.: Assn. American Medical Colleges, 2000.)

More trivia from other years:

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