Brain Bee competition at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre inspires school students

23 March 2018

The Sainsbury Wellcome Centre were pleased to host the London Brain Bee championship this year during Brain Awareness week 2018. The Brain Bee competition brings together secondary school students aged 14-19 and aims to inspire and motivate participants to learn more about the brain and explore potential careers in neuroscience.

As the excited students arrived on the morning of Saturday 17th March, they were greeted by friendly volunteers and guided to the ground floor lecture theatre of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for the launch of a series of videos, featuring neuroscientists from the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre, the Francis Crick Institute and King’s College London, including advice on how to pursue a career in neuroscience.

The competition began with a welcome session for all followed by a multiple choice written test for students and a neuroscience quiz for parents and teachers. The main topics stemmed from the revision material recommended to the students prior to the competition, and covered in the revision session at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre on 17th February. In summary the topics included: intelligence, emotion, memory, sleep, vision, hearing, sensation and a number of neurological conditions including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, schizophrenia, epilepsy, depression and addiction.

Following the multiple choice questions, the three judges from the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre, Professor Tom Otis, Chief Scientific Officer; Danbee Kim, PhD candidate, Intelligent Systems Lab; and Egzona Xh. Morina, Murray Lab, withdrew to mark the papers guided by National Brain Bee Coordinator for England and Scotland, Martyna Petrulyte.

Image of the Brain Bee judges

The next part of the competition involved a neuroanatomy exercise, where students were asked to identify anatomical and histological structures in the human brain and spinal cord specimens and slides and their associated functions.

Following the written exams, participants were invited to lunch with undergraduates, PhD students, postdocs and researchers and a number of exciting activities were presented. The demonstrations included an anatomy activity involving jelly and panna cotta brains, edible marker pens and glitter, led by Victoria Tung, Research Associate, Murray Lab and Chi-Yu Lee, PhD student, Isogai Lab, Sainsbury Wellcome Centre.

Jelly brain dissection

Another stand showcased visual illusions demonstrating that perception is an active process, relies on experience, and has limitations and can be fooled. This demonstration was led by Jasper Poort, UCL Excellence Fellow, O’Keefe Lab, and Simon Thompson, PhD student, Murray Lab, Sainsbury Wellcome Centre.

London Brain Bee judge Egzona Morina and fellow Sainsbury Wellcome Centre PhD student Francesca Greenstreet, also led an interactive activity exploring the hidden science behind our appreciation of food and flavour and finally the Dementia Research Center at UCL showcased their work.

Food and flavour activities at Brain Bee

Following the lunchtime demonstrations, Dr Martina Bocchetta, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Dementia Research Centre, presented her journey from high school to PhD student to Research Associate specialising in neuroimaging and neuroanatomy in dementia.

Then it was time for the final round of the London Brain Bee competition. The top 10 students from the two morning exams were invited forward to take their seats at the front of the lecture theatre, where they were asked a series of neuroscience questions by Professor Otis and wrote down their answers on white boards, which were revealed to the audience and fellow judges Danbee Kim and Egzona Morina who kept score.

A contestant writes down answers to be displayed on the whiteboard during Brain Bee

While the judges reviewed the final scores, Professor Otis gave an inspirational presentation on the great progress neuroscientists are making in understanding the brain and how this will hopefully lead to the development of treatments to target neurological disorders.

Just when the audience were expecting the winners to be announced, the Brain Bee team gave the exciting news that there was a tie for the top places and thus began a tense tiebreaker round, where students battled for the top places and demonstrated an impressive knowledge of the brain.

Brain Bee cupcakes

Following a brief interlude and some very beautiful cupcakes, the winners were finally announced. Third place went to Sam O’Connor (home educated), in second place was Sophy Popov (Peter Symonds College) and first place was awarded to Amy Campbell (Peter Symonds College).

The winners from London Brain Bee will go through to the National Brain Bee competition coming up shortly on 10th April in Nottingham, which will select a national winner to represent the UK in the International Brain Bee Championship hosted by the FENS Forum of Neuroscience in Berlin, Germany, 5-9th July 2018.

The prizes of the International championship include:

  • For 1st place: USD $3,000 cash, perpetual international brain bee championship trophy (held for 1 year) and a summer research internship coordinated by the Society for Neuroscience
  • For 2nd place: USD $2,000 cash
  • For 3rd place: USD $1,000 cash
Group photo of the London Brain Bee winners

Congratulations to everyone who took part!