Brain Bee Competition Comes to UCLA

Brain Bee Competition comes to UCLA

More than 100 students, parents, siblings, undergraduates, graduates, medical students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty gathered at UCLA in late January, bound together by their interest in brain science and the promise of a spelling-bee type contest that would send a winner off to a national competition.

After a full day of written and verbal exams, the winner of the 2019 Los Angeles Brain Bee was chosen: 14-year-old Claire Wang, a student at Elon Musk's Ad Astra School in Hawthorne. She was the top performer among a group of 74 participants ages 13 to 18.

The International Brain Bee founded in 1988 is a grassroots science education and STEM outreach initiative to motivate students to learn about the brain and inspire them to pursue careers in neuroscience. UCLA's Brain Research Institute, together with USC and Los Angeles City College, hosted this year's Los Angeles competition.

"Knowing parts of the brain is not enough to be successful in the Brain Bee. The students need to have an understanding on the circuits and underlying molecular mechanisms that make up the healthy brain," says Felix Schweizer, PhD, interim director of the Brain Research Institute.

The day began with written and verbal exams to test students' knowledge of the human brain, with questions on topics such as memory, intelligence, emotions and brain-related diseases. Parents and siblings of the contestants interacted with faculty, students and postdocs to learn about higher education and careers in neuroscience. In the afternoon, students and their families toured demonstrations designed to illustrate such neuroscience concepts such as neuroimaging techniques, neurosurgery, neuroplasticity, neuroanatomy and memory.

"I love the engagement of parents and siblings," says Ana Elias, programs and operations manager for the Brain Research Institute.

The guest speaker at the event was Nanthia Suthana, PhD, an Assistant Professor-in-Residence in the department of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. She discussed developments in neurotechnology that aid patients with epilepsy, depression and spinal cord injuries.

The Los Angeles competition is one of more than 160 local chapters in 40 countries. The winner of the LA Brain Bee will attend the National Brain Bee completion at Penn State University on April 12-14, and the international competition will be held in September in Daegu, South Korea.