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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, 2013

A. Eyeglasses were used in China around 1270. (Source: Pickover, C.A., The Medical Book. From Witch Doctors to Robot Surgeons, 250 Milestones in the History of Medicine, New York: Sterling, 2012.)

B. Meningitis (inflammation of the meninges, the coverings of the brain) can be caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi.

C. Cerebrospinal fluid was once called "Liquor Cotunnii" after Italian Domenico Cotugno who described CSF in the ventricles of the brain in 1764. (Source: Pickover, C.A., The Medical Book. From Witch Doctors to Robot Surgeons, 250 Milestones in the History of Medicine, New York: Sterling, 2012.)

D. Potassium bromide was one of the first effective medicines for epilepsy.

E. The countries that have published the most neuroscience papers between 1996 and 2010 are: United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Canada. (Source: Scimago Lab,

February, 2013

A. The aye-aye, a small animal found in Madagascar, is the only primate thought to use echolocation to locate food. (Source:

B. The hagfish is the only known animal that has a skull but no vertebrae (spinal column).

C. Fregoli syndrome is a neurological disorder where people insist that they know other people who they actually do not know.

D. What sound is more unpleasant than scraping nails over a chalkboard? According to a study published in 2008, the sounds of a steel fork scraped across glass and a knife moved along a bottle are both rated as more unpleasant than nails on a chalkboard. (Source: Kumar, S., Forster, H.M., Bailey, P., and Griffiths, T.D., Mapping unpleasantness of sounds to their auditory representation J. Acoust. Soc. Am., 124: 3810-3817, 2008.)

E. The "substantia innominata" is a brain area that is named for the Latin words meaning "unnamed substance."

March, 2013

A. The skin around the nostrils of the star-nosed moles (Condylura cristata) contains more than 100,000 myelinated nerve fibers. This skin has the highest density of nerve fibers than any other mammalian skin surface. (Source: Gerhold, K.A., Pellegrino, M., Tsunozaki, M., Morita, T., Leitch, D.B., Tsuruda, P.R., Brem, R. B., Catania, K.C. and Bautista, D.M., The Star-Nosed Mole Reveals Clues to the Molecular Basis of Mammalian Touch. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (1): e55001 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0055001)

B. The neurotoxin "tetrodotoxin", found in the blue-ringed octopus and some frogs, newts and salamander, is 10 to 100 times more deadly than black widow toxin (NAME) and 10,000 times more deadly than cyanide. (Source: Mather, J.A., Anderson, R.C. and Wood, J.R., Octopus, The Ocean's Intelligent Invertebrate, Portland: Timber Press, Inc., 2010.)

C. The sea robin (a fish) uses it pectoral fins to taste. (Source: Shanor, K. and Kanwal, J., Bats Sing, Mice Giggle, London: Icon Books, 2010.)

D. In the octopus, 60% of its nerve cells are located in its arms. (Source: Mather, J.A., Anderson, R.C. and Wood, J.R., Octopus, The Ocean's Intelligent Invertebrate, Portland: Timber Press, Inc., 2010.)

E. The blue-footed booby, a bird found on the west coasts of Southern California, Mexico, Central America and northern South America, has special air sacs in its skull to protect its brain when diving. (Source: Hearst, M., Unusual Creatures, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2012.)

April, 2013

A. When fur seals are on land, both sides of their brains show the same electroencephalogram (EEG) activity during slow-wave sleep (SWS). When fur seals are in the water, their right and left hemispheres "sleep" at different times. (Source: J. L. Lapierre, P. O. Kosenko, T. Kodama, J. H. Peever, L. M. Mukhametov, O. I. Lyamin, J. M. Siegel. Symmetrical Serotonin Release during Asymmetrical Slow-Wave Sleep: Implications for the Neurochemistry of Sleep-Waking States. Journal of Neuroscience, 2013; 33 (6): 2555 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2603-12.2013.)

B. Most birds have two foveae in each eye. (Source: Birkhead, T., Bird Sense. What It's Like to Be a Bird, New York: Walker & Company, 2012.)

C. The nymph of the orb-weaving spider, Anapisona simoni, has a body mass of less than 0.005 milligram. Almost 80 percent of the cephalothorax of these animals is filled with the brain. For some spiders and mites, the relatively large brain flows into the legs. (Source: Eberhard, W.G., and Wcislo, W.T., Plenty of Room at the Bottom?, American Scientist, May/Jun 2012, Vol. 100, Issue 3.)

D. Energy drinks were related to 20,783 visits to emergency departments in 2011; 58% of the visits involved only energy drinks; 42% of the visits involved energy drinks and another drug. (Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (January 10, 2013). The DAWN Report: Update on Emergency Department Visits Involving Energy Drinks: A Continuing Public Health Concern. Rockville, MD.)

E. The horseshoe crab has 10 eyes. (Source: Fredericks, A.D., Horseshoe Crab. Biography of a Survivor. Washington, D.C.: Ruka Press, 2012.)

May, 2013

A. The average wait in 2012 for new patients to see a neurologist is 34.8 business days.

B. The average wait for a follow-up visit to see a neurologist is 30.0 days.

C. The average wait time for new neurosurgery patient visits is 24.1 days (and 20.3 days for family practice, 16.8 days for orthopedic surgery, and 15.5 days for cardiology).

D. The need for child neurologists is high: in 2012, 39% of children's hospitals reported vacancies of 12 months or longer for child neurologists.

E. The average patient wait times to see a child neurologist is 45 business days.

Bonus fact: The demand for neurologists will increase from 18,180 in 2012 to 21,440 by 2025.

(All above data from "Supply and demand analysis of the current and future US neurology workforce", Timothy M. Dall, Michael V. Storm, Ritashree Chakrabarti, Oksana Drogan, Christopher M. Keran, Peter D. Donofrio, Victor W. Henderson, Henry J. Kaminski, James C. Stevens, and Thomas R. Vidic, in NEUROLOGY, 10.1212/WNL.0b013e318294b1cf; published ahead of print April 17, 2013.)

June, 2013

A. The American Association for the Advancement of Science was established on September 20, 1848, in Philadelphia, PA.

B. 99% of all animals are invertebrates; they do not have a backbone.

C. Electric eels generate their shock uses specialized cells in their nervous system. (For more details, see:

D. The word "Physiology" comes from Greek meaning "the study of nature."

E. Plessor, plexor and percussor are words used to describe the small hammer that doctors use to test reflexes.

July, 2013

A. In the early 19th century, American physicians prescribed spider webs to treat nervous system disorders, pain, and insomnia. Fresh cobwebs were made into bread, dough or pills. (Source: Hartnett, J.C., The cobweb or spider's web. The dreamy stuff of 19th century pharmacy and therapeutics, Pharmacy in History, 16: 11-17, 1974.)

B. In the United States, approximately 70 million people suffer from insomnia or another sleep disorder. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

C. By the year 2030, almost 4% of the adults in the United States will have a stroke. (Source: American Heart Association, double-by-2030?preview=6648)

D. Capgras syndrome is a neurological disorder where people see friends, family members and other familiar people as if they are imposters.

E. The word "nucleus" comes from Latin meaning "nut."

August, 2013

A. The word "yoga" comes from Sanskrit meaning "joined together." The word "synapse" comes from the Greek words "syn" and "haptein" that mean "to clasp together."

B. The flower called the "zinna" was named after Johann Gottfried Zinn. Zinn was a professor at Gottingen University who also published a book about the anatomy of the eye.

C. The costs to treat stroke may increase from $71.55 billion in 2010 to $183.13 billion in 2030. (Source: double-by-2030?preview=6648)

D. The Swahili word for brain is "ubongo."

E. "Australopithecus africanus" had a brain volume estimated to be between 454 and 461 ml. (Source: Gunza, P., Weberb, G.W. Hublina, J-J., Endocranial volume of Australopithecus africanus: New CT-based estimates and the effects of missing data and small sample size, Journal of Human Evolution, 63:498-510, 2012.)

September, 2013

A. The Voyager spacecraft includes a brain wave recording (electroencephalogram) of a woman. (Source:

B. American singer Linda Ronstadt announced last month that she has Parkinson's disease.

C. In 1596, Sir Walter Raleigh mentioned arrow poison in his book titled "Discovery of the Large, Rich and Beautiful Empire of Guiana."

D. Constanzo Varolio named the part of the brain known as the pons in 1573.

E. Oligodendroglia are cells that provide insulation (myelin) to neurons in the central nervous system. Schwann cells provide insulation (myelin) to neurons in the peripheral nervous system.

October, 2013

A. The electric ghost knifefish, Apteronotus albifrons, has sensors all over its body that detect electrical fields of prey and predators.

B. Brainea insignis is a plant (fern) native to Thailand, Indonesia, West Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and southern China.

C. David Hunter Hubel, neuroscientist and winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, died last month on September 22, 2013.

D. The last words of writer Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) were: "Is it not meningitis?" Louisa May Alcott was best known for her novel titled "Little Women."

E. October 10, 2013 is World Mental Health Day.

November, 2013

A. During 2007-2010, 60.4% of U.S. adults aged 20 years or older slept 7-9 hours at night, 37.3% slept 6 hours or less, and 2.3% slept 10 hours or more. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

B. In the United States, an estimated 1.7 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury each year. Of these people, 52,000 die and 275,000 are hospitalized. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

C. 86,629 people are injured when they fall over cats and dogs. 20,397 of these injuries are to the head/neck. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

D. The word "thalamus" comes from Latin meaning "inner chamber."

E. The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine went to one neuroscientist and two cell biologists (James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman and Thomas C. Sudhof) for their discovery about how molecules, including neurotransmitters, are transported within and between cells.

December, 2013

A few statistics from last month's annual Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego, CA.

A. More than 30,000 neuroscientists attended.

B. This conference is the world's largest meeting focused on scientific discovery related to the brain and nervous system.

C. 15,000 scientific presentations were developed.

D. 34 professional development workshops were held.

E. 600 exhibitors attended.

(Statistics: Society for Neuroscience)

More trivia from other years:

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2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000 | 1999 | 1998

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