Battle of the brains

USA_Brain_Bee_Group
The 2010 United States National Brain Bee competition, held last weekend at the University of Maryland in Baltimore and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, began with a call to arms from the event’s organizer, Dr. Norbert Myslinski.

“We are at war,” he declared to the room of competitors and their parents. “We are at war with Parkinson’s disease, with Alzheimer’s disease, with autism and addiction. We are at war, and we need good soldiers: young men and women like yourselves who are ready to fight the fight against all the diseases and disorders of the brain.”

After that call, the 36 competitors, all champions of local Brain Bees held across the country, spent two full days meeting neuroscience-focused challenges and absorbing educational presentations designed to inspire them to consider careers in the basic and clinical neurosciences.

The competition began with a trip to the university’s cadaver lab for a neuroanatomy laboratory practical examination; the students examined and identified structures and systems on thirty human brain specimens. Other challenges included description of microscope views of neurohistological tissues, interpretation of MRI brain images, and written and oral question-and-answer sessions. During a patient diagnosis segment mimicking clinical practice, the competitors interviewed “patient-actors” recruited from the university’s nursing school and tried to match the actor’s symptoms and “test results” to one of ten brain-related disorders. Myslinski estimates that these challenges are comparable to that of a second year medical degree curriculum.

The students also heard presentations on a variety of neuroscience practices and topics over the two days. On the first day, the competitors learned more about the university’s neuroscience programs. During a field trip to the National Library of Medicine on the NIH campus, the group heard from scientists working in genetic behavioral studies, developmental neuroscience, and deafness and communicative disorders, and learned of study opportunities at NIH. On the second day of the competition, Myslinski engaged the competitors in a discussion of the future of science and technology, including the importance of brain plasticity and adaptability in a digital age.

Yvette Leung from Jericho High School in Brookville, NY, was declared the 2010 USA National Brain Bee Champion.This summer she will travel to San Diego for the International Brain Bee Championship, to compete against national winners from Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Romania, Uganda, and elsewhere. She also will receive a scholarship, as well as a laboratory internship with a prominent neuroscientist, and will be invited to the 2011 U.S. National Brain Bee competition to speak to the students about her bee experiences.

The Dana Alliance organizes two regional Brain Bee competitions—in New York and in Washington, DC—whose winners travel to the National Bee. For more information on the Brain Bee competitions, or to find the coordinator of your local Bee, visit http://www.internationalbrainbee.com.

USA_Brain_Bee_Champ__2010.crop 2010 USA National Brain Bee Champion Yvette Leung from Jericho High School in Brookville, NY, won a trophy, a scholarship, and a chance to work as an intern in a neuroscientist’s lab. (Photos courtesy of Norbert Myslinski.)

–Sarah King

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