2017 NYC Regional Brain Bee Champions

For the first-place winner of this year’s Regional Brain Bee, biology was always the high school senior’s favorite subject in school. But it wasn’t until she was 14 years old that Winsome Ching narrowed her focus to neuroscience. After visiting a museum celebrating Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud in Vienna, Ching was “hooked” by his theories on the brain, she says. Since then, she has transitioned from Freud’s psychoanalyses to the biological aspects of brain function.

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Ching’s passion for neuroscience shined through at the Brain Bee this past Saturday, along with her peers from 33 high schools spanning across Long Island, Westchester County, and New York City’s five boroughs. Half of Columbia University’s Alfred Lerner Hall was filled by a grid of white tables, adorned with the students’ name cards, directly facing the judges’ table; the other half was bustling with family members, friends, and teachers all gathered to cheer on the participating students. In the time before the competition began, students were scattered throughout the auditorium for one last chance to review notes and textbook chapters on the brain. Once all participants checked in, the competition began.

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Mysteries of the Sleeping Brain

SleepPunching your fist through a window and eating a snack in bed are drastically different behaviors, but both could be considered effects of parasomnia–a disorder characterized by abnormal or unusual behavior of the nervous system during sleep.

Exploring and explaining different types of parasomnia were Elizabeth Hand, author of award winning gothic nonfiction books, and Columbia University neurologist Carl Bazil, M.D., Ph.D., at a program last Friday night at the Rubin Museum in New York City. Hand talked about the impact that her lasting parasomnia has had on her life. Paired with Bazil for a program in the museum’s Brainwave series, her curiosity about her very real reactions to dreams and night terrors (such as the aforementioned window punching) made for a lively discussion with Bazil about the science behind her actions.

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Huntington’s Disease on NY1

Earlier this week, geneticist and Dana Alliance member Nancy Wexler, Ph.D., was featured in a segment on New York City’s local news channel, NY1. As Higgins Professor of Neuropsychology at Columbia University and president of the Hereditary Disease Foundation, Wexler is a pioneer in the race to find a cure for Huntington’s disease (HD).

The fatal, genetic disease causes a painful deterioration of physical and mental abilities, due to the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. According to the Huntington’s Disease Society of America, “HD is known as the quintessential family disease because every child of a parent with HD has a 50/50 chance of carrying the faculty gene.”

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Genius: Mind, Brain, and Molecules at the 92nd Street Y

What makes someone a genius? According to Nobel Laureate Eric R. Kandel, M.D., it is a person who is a “game-changer” and who “through their work, permanently changed the way we perceive the world.” It is less about IQ and more about “drive, persistence, and creativity.” At the 92nd Street Y’s third annual 7 Days of Genius in Manhattan, four eminent scientists, arguably geniuses themselves, discussed historical geniuses of the mind, brain, and molecules. The three speakers included two members of the Dana Alliance, Larry W. Swanson, Ph.D., and Thomas M. Jessell, Ph.D., as well as Robert Michels, M.D. Kandel, also a Dana Alliance member, moderated the event.

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braiNY Events in NYC Next Week

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Want to touch a real human brain? Take a yoga class and then learn about how meditation affects the brain? Or perhaps a brain-themed game night is more up your alley? Why not do all three?!

Next week is Brain Awareness Week (March 14-20), and to celebrate the brain, more than 20 fun and fascinating public events will be held around New York City, coordinated by the New York Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience, under the name “braiNY.” Most of the events are free; some do require purchasing a ticket.

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