Twenty-five national Brain Bee champions from around the world traveled to Washington, DC, this week to compete in the 2017 World Brain Bee. The competition tests high school students on a variety of neuroscience topics through oral tests, a neuroanatomy laboratory exam with real human brains, a neurohistology test, and a diagnosis test with patient actors. The purpose of the Brain Bee is to motivate young people to study the brain and to inspire them to consider careers in neuroscience, said International Brain Bee President and Founder Norbert Mylinksi, Ph.D.
Each year at its annual meeting, the Society for Neuroscience recognizes outstanding neuroscientists who have strongly added to public education and awareness about the field. The Dana Foundation sponsors these awards. This year’s award was presented to Dr. Norbert Myslinski, professor of Neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and founder of the International Brain Bee.
Q: Was it a conscious decision to do a lot of education and outreach, as well as research?
Dr. Norbert Myslinski: My growth in neuroscience education was an evolutionary process from the very beginning. Inspiration was all around me throughout life. My grandfather who fled Poland just before World War I and my father who fought in World War II taught me how precious life was. My religious educators in elementary and high school; my psychology teacher at Canisius College, Dr. Donald L. Tollefson; my Ph.D. advisor at the University of Illinois, Dr. Edmund G. Anderson; all gave me a life-long fascination with the human brain and mind. Brain disorders in my family made me determined to find cures: My wife died of a brain tumor; my father suffered from Guillain–Barré syndrome and died of a stroke; my brother suffers from spinal cord injury and polyneuroma; my cousins are victims of multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, autism, and drug addiction; and my mother lives with Alzheimer’s disease. Early in my research career I realized that finding cures for these disorders needed not only funds, but also a steady stream of young dedicated scientists. In the last century, neuroscience education was not a priority in our schools and society, but I soon made it a priority of mine.
Q. The Brain Bee, which you started in 1998 in North America, is now an international success. How did you scale the project up, or was the growth more organic?
A. The idea of the Brain Bee started in my basement. When the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives initiated Brain Awareness Week (BAW), I felt that the Brain Bee would be an excellent way to inspire and motivate young men and women to pursue careers in neuroscience. It would be a fun competition that was challenging but not overwhelming. Its first year in Maryland was a big success. I then contacted 12 other directors of BAW activities in the United States and Canada and created a network of Brain Bees and a second level international championship. Soon other countries such as India and Australia joined. So many other countries joined that we had to add an intermediate national level of competition. All the national champions are now invited to the World Championship that is held in a different country annually. Through the years, Florence, Italy; Cape Town, South Africa; Cairns, Australia; Vienna, Austria; Toronto, Canada; Copenhagen, Denmark; Washington, DC, and others have been venues for the World Championship. We have now grown to more than 50 countries.
Earlier this year, we recognized the winner of the NYC Regional Brain Bee, which took place shortly before the 20th anniversary of Brain Awareness Week. Now, we are pleased to announce the winner of the 2015 International Brain Bee.
From August 20-26, the 17th annual International Brain Bee took place on the other side of the globe in Cairns, Australia. Like its regional predecessor, the competition is limited to high school students, ages 13-19, and serves as a stimulating challenge for those interested in pursuing a career in neuroscience. With 24 participants from 24 different countries, this was the largest competition since its inception in 1999. Students journeyed from their homelands of Grenada, Iran, Macau, Romania, Nepal, Ukraine, Japan, and the United States along with many more, to participate.
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.
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.)