BY SARAH OWENS
After three days of intense competition among 51 budding neuroscientists at the 18th annual National Brain Bee last month in Baltimore, Sojas Wagle, a 15-year-old sophomore from Little Rock, AK, emerged victorious. In August, Sojas will represent the US at the 2017 International Brain Bee in Washington, DC.
Encouraging Young Brain Scientists
Created in 1998 by Norbert Myslinski, PhD, professor of neuroscience at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, the Brain Bee competition is designed to "build better brains to fight brain disorders," Dr. Myslinski says. Contestants test their knowledge of the brain and nervous system, including its structure, function, and conditions that affect it, such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and epilepsy.
Every year, Brain Bees are held at the chapter, regional/national, and international level with the winners of each Brain Bee advancing to the next level. There are almost 200 chapters across the world, spanning about 50 countries on 6 continents.
Testing Brain Knowledge
During the two-day competition, the students spend time in a neuroanatomy lab where they rotate through acadaver lab containing 25 stations with real human brains and are asked to identify the parts of the brain marked by pins. "Most of these students have never seen a real live human brain, so it's really an impressive thing for them," says Dr. Myslinski, who was awarded the 2016 International Science Educator of the Year.
- For the diagnostic section, students work with actors who pretend to have a neurologic disorder such as Parkinson's disease, which the high schoolers must diagnose accurately.
- For the neurohistology test, students look at brain tissue under a microscope and are asked to identify what they're seeing. "For example, they might have to identify a certain cell in the cerebellum, an axon, or a myelin sheath," Dr. Myslinski says.
- Contestants also must complete a brain imaging analysis, in which they are asked to identify certain things on MRI scans. The final section involves a live Q&A period, during which students must answer questions like "How heavy is the average adult brain?" and "What's the function of the amygdala?" in front of a panel of judges.
Once students complete all components, the judges assess the scores and announce a winner.
Crowning the Champion
As champion of the National competition, Sojas wins a monetary prize; an eight-week internship in a neuroscience laboratory; and a donation to his brain disease charity of choice, which is the Alzheimer's Association. He's also the second winner in a row from Arkansas following last year's winner, Karina Bao.
Next, he'll proceed to the international competition, which will be held August 3-6 in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association. Good luck, Sojas!