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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, 2008

A. The brain of a honey bee is about 1 cubic millimeter in size and contains 950,000 neurons (Source: Menzel, R. and Giurfa, M., Cognitive architecture of a mini-brain: the honeybee, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 5:62-71, 2001).

B. For a person to see light, at least seven rod receptors in the retina need to be activated. (Source: Goldstein, E.B., Sensation and Perception, 7th edition, Belmont (CA): Thomson Wadsworth, 2007.)

C. Using their extremely good sense to detect electricity, sharks can detect 10 billionths of a volt per centimeter of seawater. This is the same as detecting a 1.5 volt battery across 1,500 kilometers of seawater. (Source: Scientific American, December, 2007).

D. "Wisdom teeth" are the third molar teeth that usually develop in the teenage years. Having (or not having) these teeth has nothing to do with intelligence. Rather, they are called "wisdom teeth" because they develop later in life, presumably when people are wiser.

E. The cave-dwelling fish (Astyanax mexicanus) is born with degenerating eyes and is blind.

February, 2008

A. In the 1800s, photographs called "Daguereotypes" used mercury in the development process. Unfortunately, this led to mercury poisoning in some people who used the method. (Source: Roberts, R.M., Serendipity. Accidental Discoveries in Science, New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1989.)

B. The melody for the song "Yesterday" came to Paul McCartney in a dream. (Source: Miles, B., Paul McCartney. Many Years from Now, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997.)

C. 737 doctoral degrees in neuroscience were awarded in the US in 2006 (Source: Hoffer, T.B., M. Hess, V. Welch, Jr., and K. Williams. 2007. Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities: Summary Report 2006. Chicago: National Opinion Research Center.)

D. In 2002, the total annual cost (direct and indirect costs) of schizophrenia was $62.7 billion. (Source: Harding, A., A very expensive disease, The Scientist, December, 2007 supplement.)

E. The last words of writer Louisa M. Alcott (died in 1888) were: "Is it not meningitis?" Meningitis is an infection that leads to inflammation of the meninges, the coverings of the brain.

March, 2008

A. March is Mental Retardation Awareness Month, Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month, National Brain Injury Awareness Month and Save Your Vision Month. Of course, Brain Awareness Week is in March too.

B. Rabies, a disease caused by a virus that attacks cells of the nervous system, was first described more than 4,000 years ago in the Eshuma Code in Babylon. (Source: Meyer, A-C.L. and Mathisen, G.E., Other tropical infections, in J. Biller, ed., The Interface of Neurology & Internal Medicine, 2008.)

C. The neurotoxin (latrotoxin) in venom of the black widow spider causes a massive release of the neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. The scientific name of the black widow spider, Latrodectus mactans, comes from a mixture of Latin and Greek words, meaning "deadly biting robber."

D. The part of the brain called the "pons" gets its name from the Latin word for "bridge" because of the similarities in shape.

E. Erabutoxin, the venom in a sea snake, blocks the action of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

April, 2008

A. The wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans), a bird that hunts over the open ocean, may be able to use its sense of smell to find food from a distance of 20 km. (Source: Nevitt, G.A., Losekoot, M., Weimerskirch, H., Evidence for olfactory search in wandering albatross, Diomedea exulans, PNAS,

B. The brain of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the leader of the 1917 Russian revolution, has been studied by scientists. When Lenin died in 1924, his brain was removed before his body was laid to rest in a Moscow mausoleum. German neuroscientist Oskar Vogt (born 1870, died 1959) spent two and a half years preparing and studying Lenin's brain and published a paper about the brain in 1929 where he reported that some neurons (pyramidal neurons) in layer III of the cerebral cortex of Lenin's brain were very numerous and large.

C. According to a 2001 survey by the Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, accountants get the most headaches. About 49% of the accountants in the survey reported getting weekday headaches. The accountants were followed by librarians (43%), bus and truck drivers (42%) and construction workers (38%) for how often they got headaches.

D. The Dalai Lama keeps a plastic model of the brain on his desk at home. (Source: Time magazine, March 31, 2007, page 47.)

E. April is National Autism Awareness Month.

May, 2008

A. The American Medical Association supports a ban on boxing because boxers risk brain injuries each time they fight. (Source: American Medical Association,

B. "Sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia" is the scientific name for "brain freeze," the headache you sometimes get when you eat something cold.

C. Spanish neuroanatomist Santiago Ramon y Cajal was born on May 1, 1852.

D. Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist who discovered the psychoactive drug LSD in 1938, died on April 29, 2008. He was 102 years old.

E. French physiologist, Francois Magendie (born 1783; died 1855) could not read or write when he was 10 years old because he had no formal schooling. (Source: Bynum, W.F. and Bynum, H., editors, Dictionary of Medical Biography, Westport [CT]: Greenwood Press, 2007.)

June, 2008

A. Magician David Blaine will attempt to go without sleep for 1,000,000 seconds (approximately 11.57 days or 278 hours). The most often cited record for the longest time without sleep is 264 hours, set by Randy Gardner in 1965. (Source: Time magazine, May 19, 2008.) B. Physicians have the highest suicide rate of any profession. (Source: Time magazine, April 28, 2008, page 16.)

C. In 1927, Julius von Wagner-Jauregg was the first psychiatrist to win the Nobel Prize.

D. St. Hubert is the patron saint of rabies victims.

E. Famous people who suffered from insomina: W.C. Fields (actor), Alexandre Dumas (writer), Judy Garland (actress), Theodore Roosevelt (US president), Groucho Marx (comedian), Mark Twain (author). (Source: Wallechinsky, D. and Wallace, A., The New Book of Lists, New York: Canongate, 2005.)

E. Serious mental illness costs the United States at least $193 billion each year in lost earnings. (Source: Kessler, R.C., et al., Individual and Societal Effects of Mental Disorders on Earnings in the United States: Results From the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Am. J. Psychiatry, first published on May 7, 2008.)

July, 2008

Just in time for summer and a trip to the beach! Facts about the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias):

A. The brain of a great white shark weighs less than 1.5 oz (42.5 gram).

B. 18% of the great white shark's brain is devoted to the sense of smell.

C. The great white shark has good vision and can see colors.

D. A reflective layer behind the retina of the great white shark eye allows the fish to see in water with little light.

E. Using special receptors in their snouts called the ampullae of Lorenzini, great white sharks can detect weak electrical currents such as those generated by your heart and muscles.

(All facts from Bensen, A., Sense and sensitivity, Smithsonian, June 2008, p. 41.)

August, 2008

A. On July 1, 2008, a new law (HEA 1318) went into effect in the state of Indiana that removes a $10 motorcycle registration charge and charges a 30-cent fee on all motor vehicle registrations. The 30-cent fee will fund spinal cord and brain injury research.

B. The brain of a killer whale (Orcinus orca) weighs 5,059 g (11.2 lbs). (Source: Marino, L., Cetacean brains: How aquatic are they?, The Anatomical Record, 290:694-700, 2007.)

C. Retired US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor cares for her husband, John, who has Alzheimer's disease.

D. The term "dyslexia" was coined by Rudolf Berlin of Stuttgart, Germany, in 1887.

E. St. Dympna is the patron saint of mental illness.

September, 2008

A. US President George W. Bush was treated for Lyme disease in August, 2006.

B. Since 1981, the United States has spent $600 billion in its "war" on illicit drugs. (Source: Dermota, K., Snow fall, The Atlantic, July/August, 2007.)

C. Countries with people who report the highest levels of satisfaction with their lives have the lowest incidence of high blood pressure. (Source: The Atlantic, July/August, 2007.)

D. Approximately 135,000 (65 percent) of sports- and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries treated in U.S. emergency departments occur each year in young people ages 5 to 18 (Source)

E. On September 13, 1848, an explosion sent a rod through the brain of Mr. Phineas Gage. Although Mr. Gage survived, the accident changed his personality and provided scientists with important information about the workings of the frontal lobes.

October, 2008

A. The size of the eye's pupil changes with age. In total darkness, the diameter of the pupil is 7.6 mm at age 10 years, 6.2 mm at age 45 and 5.2 mm at age 80. In the light-adapted state, the diameter of the pupil is 4.8 mm at age 10 years, 4.5 mm at age 45 and 3.4 mm at age 80. (Source: Rabbetts, R.B., Clinical Visual Optics, Edinburgh: Butterworth Heinemann Elsevier, 2007.)

B. The president of Zambia, Levy Mwanawasa, died in a French hospital on August 19, 2008, about two months after suffering a stroke.

C. The "Intellect Tree" is a plant (scientific name, Celastrus paniculatus) found in India that is used as an herbal medicine to sharpen memory. The herb rosemary is known as the "herb of remembrance" and has also been used to help people with memory problems. (Source: Daniel, M., Medicinal Plants. Chemistry and Properties, Enfield (NH): Science Publishers, 2006.)

D. The aqueous humor of the eye is 98% water. (Source: Rabbetts, R.B., Clinical Visual Optics, Edinburgh: Butterworth Heinemann Elsevier, 2007.)

E. Batrachophobia is an irrational fear of frogs.

November, 2008

A. Turkeys sleep about 11 hours each day. (Source: Ayala-Guerreroa, F., Mexicanoa, G. and Ramosb, J.I., Sleep characteristics in the turkey Meleagris gallopavo, Physiology & Behavior, 78:435-440, 2003.)

B. Polo players (even those who are left-handed) are required to hold the mallet in their RIGHT hands. (Source: Federation of International Polo)

C. Two scientists who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine were both born on the same day of the year. Neuroscientist Eric R. Kandel, who won the Nobel Prize in 2000, was born on November 7, 1929 and Konrad Lorenz, who won the Nobel Prize in 1973 was born on November 7, 1903.

D. The word psychology comes from the Greek words psyche ("mind") and logos ("study").

E. Rabies, a disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system, causes 30,000 to 70,000 deaths worldwide each year. In the United States, 25,000 to 40,000 people are treated each year for exposure to rabid or potentially rabid animals at a cost of at least $1000 per patient. (Source: Hankins, D.G. and Rosekrans, J.A., Overview, prevention, and treatment of rabies, Mayo Clin Proc., 79:671-676, 2004.)

December, 2008

A. The brain of an adult koala weighs 18.6 grams (Reference: Grand, T.I., and Barboza1, P.S., Anatomy and development of the koala, Phascolarctos cinereus: an evolutionary perspective on the superfamily Vombatoidea, Anat. Embryol., 203:211?223, 2001.)

B. A "polyglot" is a person who can speak, read or write several languages.

C. Siderodromophobia is an irrational fear of trains.

D. The brain of Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov was placed in the Moscow Brain Research Institute in 1989. (Source: Vein, A.A. and Maat-Schieman, L.C., Famous Russian brains: historical attempts to understand intelligence, Brain, 131:583-590, 2008.)

E. St. Giles is the patron saint of paralysis.

More trivia from other years:

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