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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, 2009

A. The volume of one sound relative to a standard is called a "bel." Tenths of bels are called decibels. The bel is named for Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. (Source: Nolte, J., The Human Brain. An Introduction to Its Functional Anatomy, 6th edition, Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier, 2009.)

B. Famous people who succeeded after having a stroke include Louis Pasteur (scientist), Winston Churchill (British prime minister), Dwight D. Eisenhower (US president), Kirk Douglas (actor), and Quincy Jones (musician). (Source: Wallechinsky, D. and Wallace, A., The New Book of Lists, New York: Canongate, 2005.)

C. 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.)

D. There is a Dutch proverb that says: "A handful of patience is worth a bushel of brains."

E. January 4, 2009 is World Braille Day. January 4th is the day that Louis Braille, the inventor of Braille, was born.

February, 2009

A. More than 55,000 people die of rabies each year. About 95% of human deaths occur in Asia and Africa. (Source: World Health Organization)

B. The earliest known piece of art that displays eyeglasses is a portrait painted by Tommaso da Modena in 1352. (Source: Corson, R., Fashions in Eyeglasses, London: Peter Owen Limited, 1967).

C. Anemophobia is an irrational fear of wind.

D. New Caledonian crows, birds that use tools, have brains that weigh an average of 7.56 grams. (Cnotka, J., et al., Extraordinary large brains in tool-using New Caledonian crows (Corvus moneduloides), Neuroscience Letters, 433:241?245, 2008.)

E. The brain of Russian chemist Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev (born 1834; died 1907) weighed 1570 grams. Mendeleev is credited with creating the first version of the periodic table of elements. (Source: Vein, A.A. and Maat-Schieman, L.C., Famous Russian brains: historical attempts to understand intelligence, Brain, 131:583-590, 2008.)

March, 2009

A. The irrational fear of Friday the 13th (March 13, 2009 is on a Friday) is called paraskavedekatriaphobia and friggatriskaidekaphobia. Triskaidekaphobia is the irrational fear of objects, people, and events associated with the number 13.

B. "Arbor vitae" (Greek for "tree of life") is the name of a portion of the white matter of the cerebellum.

C. The volume of the brain of a locust is 6 cubic millimeters (Source: Burrows, M., The Neurobiology of the Insect Brain, 1996).

D. The human cerebellum weighs about 142 grams (Source: Sultan, F. and Braitenberg, V. Shapes and sizes of different mammalian cerebella. A study in quantitative comparative neuroanatomy. J. Hirnforsch., 34:79-92, 1993.)

E. There are no blood vessels in the lens of the eye.

April, 2009

A. Fubo, a 42-year-old western lowland gorilla living at the Bronx Zoo, had an brain scan (magnetic resonance image) to help diagnose the reason for his seizures. Damage to his left temporal lobe was found. (Source: Bronx Zoo Press Release, March 26, 2009; http://www.bronxzoo.com/press/press-releases/gorilla-gets-mri-at-bronx-zoo.aspx)

B. Rabies has been found in every state of the US except for Hawaii. (Source: Hawaii Department of Agriculture, http://hawaii.gov/hdoa/ai/aqs/info)

C. Normal body temperature can vary up to two degrees Fahrenheit in a 24-hour period.

D. Perfume makers claim that they can identify as many as 5,000 different types of odorants. (Source: Kandel et al., Principles of Neural Science, 4th Ed., page 625, 2000).

E. "Kaleh pache," a traditional Iranian breakfast dish, is a soup made from cooked sheep's heads, brains and hooves.

May, 2009

A. The medical term for a "hiccup" is "singultus."

B. The loss of 1 to 1.5 hours of nighttime sleep can reduce daytime alertness by one-third. (Source: Bonnet, M.H. and Arand, D.L., We are chronically sleep deprived, Sleep, 18:908-911, 1995.)

C. The three most common causes of fatal car accidents are alcohol (18%), poor attention (15%) and sleepiness (10%). (Source: Bonnet, M.H. and Arand, D.L., We are chronically sleep deprived, Sleep, 18:908-911, 1995.)

D. The brain of the estuary stingray (Dasyatis fluviorum) weighs approximately 11.5 grams (Source: Lisney et al., Variation in brain organization and cerebellar foliation in Chondrichthyans: batoids, Brain Behav. Evol., 72:262-282, 2008.)

E. Umami, the fifth basic taste, was discovered in 1908 by chemist Kikunae Ikeda. (Source: Scientific American, March, 2009).

June, 2009

A. The tusk of a narwhal (a type of whale, the "unicorn of the sea") is filled with dental pulp and has nerve fibers like a regular tooth. The scientific name for the narwhal is Monodon monceros which means "one tooth, one horn." (Source: Tucker, A., In search of the mysterious narwhal, Smithsonian magazine, May, 2009.)

B. A newborn elephant has a brain that is 50% of its adult brain weight; a newborn human has a brain that is 25% of its adult brain weight. (Source: Shoshani, J., Kupsky, W.J. and Marchant, G.H., Elephant brain. Part I: Gross morphology, functions, comparative anatomy, and evolution, Brain Research Bulletin 70:124?157, 2006.)

C. Neuroscientist Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini, who won the 1986 Nobel Prize for her discovery of nerve growth factor, was the first Nobel laureate to reach 100 years old when she celebrated her birth on April 22, 2009.

D. The eye of the spookfish does not have a lens. Rather, light is focused on the retina by tiny crystals that act as mirrors. This makes the spookfish the only vertebrate (animal with a backbone) with an eye that uses mirrors for vision. (Source: Wagner, H., Douglas, R., Frank, T., Roberts, N. and Partridge, J., A novel vertebrate eye using both refractive and reflective optics, Current Biology, 2008, DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.11.061)

E. June is National Aphasia Awareness Month and Vision Research Month.

July, 2009

A. Nobel Prize winner and neuroscientist Roger Sperry captained his basketball team and set a state record in the javelin throw while a student at Hall High School in West Hartford (CT). (Source)

B. The brain of Russian poet and novelist Sergeyevitch Turgenev weighed 2,012 grams. (Source: Finger, S., Origins of Neuroscience. A History of Explorations into Brain Function, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.)

C. July is Eye Injury Prevention Month!

D. The word "ambidextrous," meaning that both hands can be used with equal skill and comes from the Latin words that mean "both right-handed." The opposite of ambidextrous is "ambisinistrous," meaning clumsy, comes from the Latin words that mean "having two left hands."

E. Acetylcholine was the first neurotransmitter ever identified. (Source: Brain Facts, Society for Neuroscience, Washington, DC, 2008)

August, 2009

A. In the United States, 3 out of every 1000 children between the age of 6 and 17 have been diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009)

B. About 25% of the human brain is involved with vision. (Source: Brain Facts, Society for Neuroscience, Washington, D.C., 2008)

C. The act of chewing repeatedly is called rumination, from the Latin word ruminatio. To ruminate also means to think, reflect, meditate or ponder.

D. Nerve agents that can be used as chemical weapons were first developed as pesticides.

E. In the United States, an estimated 40,000,000 anesthetics are administered each year. (Source: American Society of Anesthesiologists)

September, 2009

A. On a typical day, 34% of the adults in the United States take a nap. (Pew Research Center survey, released July, 2008).

B. World Rabies Day is on September 28, 2009; see: http://www.worldrabiesday.org/

C. In 2007, adults in the United States spent $33.9 billion on complementary and alternative medicine including buying nonvitamin, nonmineral, natural products (e.g., fish oil, glucosamine and Echinace) and visiting acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists, practitioners. (Source: Nahin, RL, Barnes PM, Stussman BJ, and Bloom B. Costs of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) and Frequency of Visits to CAM Practitioners: United States, 2007. National health statistics reports; no 18. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, 2009)

D. In the United States, 3 out of every 1000 children between the age of 6 and 17 have been diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009.)

E. September 13, 2009 marks the 161-year anniversary of the date that Mr. Phineas Gage suffered his unfortunate brain injury. Read more information about Phineas Gage at: http://www.uakron.edu/gage/

October, 2009

A. Mayim Bialik, the actress who played the title character in the 1990s TV comedy show "Blossom," received her bachelor's degree (2000) and Ph.D. (2007) in neuroscience from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). (Source: http://www.mayimbialik.net/)

B. An analysis of approximately 50,000 words in the 20th edition of Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary showed that 58.5%, 21.77% and 13.23% of the words came from Greek alone, Latin alone or a combination of Greek and Latin, respectively. (Source: Butler, R.F., Sources of medical vocabulary, J. Medical Education, 55:128-129, 1980.)

C. The word "doctor" comes from the Latin word "docere" meaning "to teach." Therefore, a doctor can be a teacher who holds an advanced degree in just about any subject.

D. Barbital, one of the first barbituate drugs, was introduced in 1903. The trade name for barbital was "Veronal," referring to Verona, Italy, where Juliet (of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet) took a drug that put her to sleep.

E. Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States from 1913 to 1921. On October 2, 1919, Wilson had a stroke in the right side of his brain that paralyzed the left side of his body and prevented him from seeing objects on his left side (left homonymous hemianopia). (Source: Owen, D., Diseased, demented, depressed: serious illness in Heads of State, QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, 96:325-336, 2003.)

November, 2009

A. The carotid arteries bring most of the blood to the brain. The Parthenon, the ancient Greek temple in Athens, has a marble figure of a centaur (half human, half horse) attempting to kill a soldier by pressing on the carotid arteries. (Source: Barnett, H.J.M., Reflections on the carotid artery: 438 BC to 2009 AD, Stroke, 40:3143-3148, 2009.)

B. Nobel prize-winning neuroscientist Julius Axelrod (born: 1912; died: 2004) was blinded in one eye by an exploding ammonia bottle in 1934.

C. Every 70 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer's disease. (Source: http://www.actionalz.org/facts_figures.asp)

D. The last (bottom) bone of the spinal column is called the coccyx, from the Greek word meaning "cuckoo."

E. The grass pea (Lathyrus sotivus) is a good source of protein and is a common food in Africa and Asia. The peas must be boiled in water for several hours to eliminate a neurotoxin (beta-ODAP) in them. (Source: Barceloux DG. Medical Toxicology of Natural Substances: Foods, Fungi, Medicinal Herbs, Toxic Plants, and Venomous Animals. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2008. pp. 62-66.)

December, 2009

A. The brain of the tropical paper wasp (Polybia aequatorialis) is about the size of two grains of sand. (Source: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-10/uow-tba101409.php)

B. Tarantula spider toxin (GsMTx4) may someday be turned into a drug to relieve pain. (Source: Park S.P. et al., A tarantula spider toxin, GsMTx4, reduces mechanical and neuropathic pain, Pain, 137:208-217, 2008.)

C. Cerberus, the three-headed dog in Greek Mythology, supposedly spit out the neurotoxin aconite (aconitine).

D. The heat intensity of peppers is measured with the Scoville Rating Scale. The Scoville Scale is calculated by the ratio of water to pepper extract needed to eliminate the hot flavor. A bell pepper has a rating of 0; the hottest pepper is the Bhut Jolokia with a Scoville rating of 1,001,304. The active ingredient that gives peppers their hot taste is called capsaicin. (Source: New Mexico State University Press Release)

E. The larvae of the sunburst diving beetle (Thermonectus marmoratus) have 12 eyes and 28 retinas (some of the eyes have multiple retinas). (Reference: Mandapaka, K., Morgan, R.C. and Buschbeck, E.K., Twenty-eight retinas but only twelve eyes: an anatomical analysis of the larval visual system of the diving beetle Thermonectus marmoratus (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae), J. Comp. Neurol. 497:166-181, 2006.)


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