‘Brain Bee’ challenges high school students’ knowledge of neuroscience

WATERLOO — The sound of students’ clickers electronically keying in multiple-choice answers filled a University of Waterloo lecture hall Saturday.

Just over 30 high school students from across the region participated in a “brain bee” hosted by the university’s faculty of applied health sciences.

Similar to a spelling bee, students’ knowledge was tested in a competition — but the spelling was replaced with a quiz about neuroscience.

“We hope to get students excited about neuroscience,” said Laura Middleton, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the university and co-ordinator of the event.

“I think a lot of students know about basic science areas, so they know about physics and chemistry and biology and they may know about psychology … but most of them won’t know that there’s this opportunity to study neuroscience in particular,” she said.

A total of 80 multiple-choice questions were posed. Students had 30 seconds to respond using a clicker once the question was read.

“What term is used to describe letter sounds?” and “What neurotransmitter is related to stress?” were just two of the challenging list of questions.

(For those stumped by the questions, phonemes and noradrenalin are the respective answers.)

Middleton said the questions became increasingly challenging as the quiz went on.

To prepare for the competition, students received an 18-chapter study guide filled with information related to neuroscience and psychology. How they studied was up to the individual student.

“We had the neuroscience book and I looked at that,” said Jessica Lee, 17, a student at Kitchener’s St. Mary’s High School. She placed second in the event, answering 66 of the 80 questions correctly.

“My biology teacher was really pushing me to do it … I really like biology and chemistry,” Lee said.

First-place winner Unnimaya Sindhu, 16, a student at Waterloo Collegiate Institute, took her studies a step further by consulting additional books on neuroscience. She scored 73 out of 80 and will be moving on to a national competition in June.

“I’m planning to look into medical studies and neurosurgery. I’m planning to be a neurosurgeon so this definitely is an area of interest for me,” Sindhu said.

While students had their eyes on the prizes for first and second place — $400 and $100 respectively — Middleton said the goal of the event was to engage students in the subject and introduce them to the campus.

“It’s a great a chance for students to come in and engage with the (applied health sciences) department, learn about neuroscience and interact with the faculty and graduate students who are here today,” she said.

And the event appeared to achieve just that.

“I’m trying to get accepted into this place,” said Lee, who wants to study life sciences and eventually work in pharmacy. “I hope to be here next year.”