Brain power: Annual Brain Bee competition and Neuroscience Fair attract more than 1,100 visitors

Neuroscience Fair 2013

Participants take part in the “Color a Brain” booth at the 2013 Neuroscience Fair.

The Michigan State University (MSU) Neuroscience Program held its third annual Brain Bee at MSU competition and Neuroscience Fair on Jan. 12. The brain bee competition took place in the morning; the fair ran from 1:30 to 5 p.m.

Brain Bee at MSU
Not every teenager would willingly spend a Saturday morning answering college-level neuroscience questions, but 21 such students from around Michigan gathered on campus to compete in the 2013 Brain Bee at MSU. Launched in 2010, Brain Bee at MSU is an annual Q & A competition that tests the neuroscience knowledge of high school students. The winner has to make it through a multiple-choice written exam and then best other participants in two oral question-and-answer rounds.

Brain Bee at MSU 2013

Participants for the 2013 Brain Bee at MSU competition.

“Our hope is that this event motivates students to learn about the brain, captures their imaginations and ultimately inspires them to pursue careers in biomedical brain research,” said Cindy Jordan, professor of neuroscience and associate director of the MSU Neuroscience Program. “We are very pleased with the level of interest and participation in this year’s program.”

Students prepare for the competition by studying “Brain Facts,” published by the Society for Neuroscience. They also participate in MSU-organized “tune-up” workshops and a Brain Bee Boot Camp that takes them on a whirlwind tour of the brain and reviews the fundamentals of neuroscience and its application in everyday life.

2013 Brain Bee at MSU winners

Brain Bee at MSU 2013 winners (left to right: Kenji Golimlim (first place), Abhijit Das (second place) and Scott MacGuidwin (third place).

The winner of this year’s Brain Bee at MSU competition is Kenji Golimlim, a senior at Summit Academy High School in Romulus, Mich.

“I’ve really enjoyed this unique experience,” Golimlim said. “I’ve gained a considerable amount of knowledge in neuroscience, and it has become one of my prime interests as I plan for college. I’m certainly looking forward to representing the state of Michigan at the national competition in March, and I hope to capitalize on this opportunity.”

Golimlim receives an all-expense-paid trip to the National Brain Bee championship March 2-4 in Baltimore, with a chance to move on to the International Brain Bee championship in July. As the first-place winner, he also received “The Mind’s Machine,” an undergraduate neuroscience textbook authored by Neil Watson and MSU Barnett Rosenberg professor of neuroscience Marc Breedlove.

Second place in the competition went to Okemos High School junior Abhijit Das, with sophomore Scott MacGuidwin, also of Okemos High School, earning third place in the event. The second- and third-place winners received $200 and $100 cash prizes, respectively.

Neuroscience Fair
More than 1,100 people packed the main atrium of the MSU Biomedical Physical Sciences building during the Neuroscience Fair, stopping at exhibits to touch real human brains, make model neurons, learn how their senses can be tricked, meet real neuroscientists and, most importantly, to experience the fun and excitement of neuroscience. Kids and adults of all ages visited the numerous booths that were staffed by MSU Neuroscience Program student volunteers. Guests could, for example, trick their taste buds by eating a “miracle berry” pill, which causes sour items to activate sweet taste receptors, or learn about the importance of head protection when playing sports or riding bikes by making protective helmets for eggs.

Neuroscience Fair 2013

Neurons of all different shapes and sizes were made by participants at the “Make a Neuron” booth.

MSU faculty member Michelle Mazei-Robison attended the fair with her 4-year-old daughter, Auden.

“Although my daughter is only 4 years old, the students were able to do a great job relating the material in a way that was exciting and that she could understand,” Mazei-Robison said. “She particularly liked being able to hold and touch a real brain, put together a brain puzzle and draw her own nervous system. She was so proud of her drawing that she hung it up in her room when she got home and has been ‘teaching’ everyone about her brain, spinal cord and nerves. It was a great event. We can’t wait to attend again next year!”

“I loved everything!” said Gwendolyn Millar, 7, who visited the fair with her brother Gideon, 10, and mom, Mary, an MSU staff member. Gideon enjoyed numerous booths but said that he was truly amazed to be able to touch a human brain.

“The cow eye dissection smelled bad, but it was awesome!” he added. “I got to touch the lens!”

Bringing out such enthusiasm for science is the main goal for the Neuroscience Fair organizers — graduate students Maggie Mohr and Jennifer Langel, postdoctoral student Casey Henley, staff member Jennifer Taylor, and faculty adviser Cynthia Jordan.

“The public turnout for the fair was far beyond our expectations, and the level of neuroscience knowledge the Brain Bee participants displayed was incredible,” Henley said. “It’s wonderful to see so much excitement in the community for neuroscience.”

The fair also included a digital art competition for high school students. The winning artwork, created by Francesca Zapata, a senior from Howell High School, became the design for the 2013 Neuroscience Program outreach T-shirt.

For more information on the Brain Bee at MSU and the Neuroscience Fair, visit https://www.msu.edu/~brainbee/ or follow Brain Bee at MSU on Facebook and Twitter.

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The MSU Neuroscience Program faculty members and graduate students take great pride in their outreach efforts. It took more than 70 student and faculty members to make this effort a success. In addition putting on the annual Brain Bee at MSU and the Neuroscience Fair, program staff members also visit local schools each March during Brain Awareness Week and volunteer for local science fairs, the annual Girl’s Math and Science Conference and the Prime Time Seniors Program. For more info on the Neuroscience Program, visit www.neuroscience.msu.edu.

Written by: Casey L. Henley, Ph.D., postdoctoral research associate
Photos: Kevin V. Henley