Brain Bee Inspires Next Generation’s Neuroscientists
The International Brain Bee competition for high school students has been inspiring future neuroscientists around the world for 16 years.
“I started the program with the future in mind,” said Brain Bee founder Norbert Myslinski, associate professor in the Department of Neural and Pain Sciences at University of Maryland School of Dentistry. “Ultimately our goal is to help treat and find cures for neurological disorders, and the Brain Bee is a way to motivate young people to study the brain and pursue neuroscience as a field.”
The first Brain Bee was held at the University of Maryland in 1998, and the program has since grown to include contests that span 150 cities in 30 countries across 6 continents. For the first time in the event’s history all six continents were represented at the 2013 International Brain Bee Championship (IBBC) in Vienna. The 2014 U.S. Brain Bee took place March 13–14 at the University of Maryland, Baltimore and featured a record 50 participants. The winner was Adam Elliot, a sophomore at Matawan Regional High School in Aberdeen, New Jersey. Washington, DC, will host the 2014 IBBC August 7–10.
At the national and international levels, the Brain Bee is unlike common scholastic competitions in which students answer questions by reciting memorized facts and figures. At last year’s championship, students completed an intense five-part interactive competition that included examining real human brains, making patient diagnoses using video of actual patients, and analyzing brain scans — in addition to answering questions posed by expert judges.
“Each international class contributes great hope for the advancement of science,” said Julianne McCall, director of the 2013 IBBC and a former student participant. “What’s more inspiring is how students naturally commit to maintaining the community and supporting each other’s progress years after the common experience.”
At its core, the Brain Bee was designed to motivate high school students to learn more about neuroscience. “The Brain Bee acts as an entryway into this discipline, making it less scary and more approachable,” said Benjamin Walker, longtime judge of the Washington, DC, bee and assistant professor at Georgetown University.
The Brain Bee has certainly succeeded in motivating its young participants to get “fired up” about neuroscience, Walker said. “One year we almost ran out of questions.”
Students spend months in vigorous preparation for the competition by studying complimentary online materials available in 20 languages. Among these study materials is Brain Facts, an updated primer on the brain published by SfN and available on BrainFacts.org. SfN arranges research internships for winners of the international and U.S. national competitions.
The establishment of the IBBC and similar programs represents a step forward as the scientific community realizes its potential for significantly changing the way society views science education. “Science is never done in a vacuum,” McCall said, “and the Brain Bee provides an incredible platform for students to build relationships over their common interest in science.”