Second Annual Upper Valley Brain Bee

On June 3, 2014 by Grad Forum

The high school participants and some of the graduate student volunteers.

On Saturday, May 17, local high school students and their families attended the second Upper Valley Brain Bee competition in the Class of 1978 Life Sciences Center. Co-sponsored by the Neuroscience Center at Dartmouth and the Society for Neuroscience New Hampshire Chapter, this event allows Dartmouth scientists and clinicians to reach out to the local community and teach high school students about neuroscience and neurology. This year a total of 27 students representing nine different high schools participated, a notable increase from the 20 student participants last year.

The Upper Valley Brain Bee would not be possible without the hard work of Alex Bender and Emily Stephens, both graduate students in the Program in Experimental and Molecular Medicine (PEMM), as well as Dr. Michelle Sama, manager of the Neuroscience Center at Dartmouth. Dozens of other graduate students, professors, and physicians volunteered to help make this a successful event.

Preparation for the Upper Valley Brain Bee started weeks before the actual competition took place. Bender and Stephens spent the preceding months visiting local high schools to teach students about brain anatomy and function. Stephens says, “The best part was that the students asked a lot of questions; they were so insightful and impressive!” Students were also provided with textbooks to use while preparing for the competition.

The Upper Valley Brain Bee kicked off with various activity stations for the competitors and their families to explore throughout the morning. Bender states, “Thanks to a grant from the Society for Neuroscience, we were able to acquire some new equipment for some of these activities, such as the SpikerBox and RoboRoach kits from Backyard Brains.” These devices exposed the attendees to the fascinating world of electrophysiology; students were able to see the activity of their own neurons, stimulate muscle activity in a cockroach leg, and even remotely control the RoboRoach—a cockroach implanted with electrodes that stimulate the antennae and cause it to turn left or right. Other stations taught students about neurological exams, aging and the brain, comparative neuroanatomy, and illusions.

After a break for lunch, the first round of the competition took place as students completed a short quiz, identified structures on real human brains, and diagnosed disorders in “patients” played by graduate student and physician volunteers. While volunteers scored the round one assessments, Dr. Barbara Jobst, director of the Dartmouth Epilepsy Program, gave a fascinating lecture describing how clinicians use electrodes to measure and correct abnormal brain activity in patients with epilepsy.

Alex Bender with first place winner Anthony Spinella.​

Alex Bender with first place winner Anthony Spinella.​

During the final phase of the competition, the top five competitors from the first round chose questions from different categories and were eliminated after responding to two consecutive questions incorrectly. Professors Allan Gulledge, Bryan Luikart, and Andrea Corcoran, and graduate student, Stella Lee, judged this round. Anthony Spinella from Chelsea High School took first place and will have the opportunity to compete in the National Brain Bee held in Baltimore, Maryland. Second and third place winners were Carly Langan of Woodstock Union High School and Zoe Yu of Hanover High School, respectively.

The goal of the Upper Valley Brain Bee was to reach out to the local community and increase knowledge and raise enthusiasm about neuroscience and neurology by teaching high school students about the brain. Based on the participants’ enthusiasm and performance throughout the event, it is evident that they all learned a great deal.

by Max Mehlman

photos by Nadia Cumbal

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