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R.I. holds first Brain Bee competition

High school students competed for cash prizes and the chance to vie for a national trivia title

High schoolers descended on campus Saturday afternoon to put their neurons to work, answering questions about topics that included memory, sleep and addiction in Rhode Island’s first Brain Bee, a neuroscience trivia competition for high school students, hosted by the Department of Neuroscience.

John Stein Ph.D. ’95, senior lecturer in neuroscience, moderated the competition with three judges: Bob Patrick, associate professor of medical science, and neuroscience graduate students Rachel Stevenson GS and Torrey Truszkowski GS.

The competition’s goal is to encourage high school students to learn about and study the brain, Stein said.

Only six Rhode Island high schoolers competed, said Tara Torabi ’15, the bee’s student coordinator. She attributed the low turnout to the fact that the bee, which was originally scheduled for last weekend, had to be postponed due to Winter Storm Nemo. Originally around 20 students planned to compete, Torabi said.

The competition’s structure follows a “question-answer format,” Stein said. Three judges each ask a question to the competitors twice. Immediately after the second iteration of the question, the competitors have 30 seconds to write their answers on handheld whiteboards, with correct answers receiving a set amount of points. There were three rounds, each with 10 questions. The rounds increased in difficulty as the competition progressed.

Tension mounted when a question pertaining to hair cell types spurred dispute amongst the judges as to whether Cranston High School East contestant Rachel Moore’s ambiguous answer should be accepted. The judges deliberated Moore’s answer before ultimately rejecting it.

Moore wound up placing second, taking home a cash prize of $125.

The first place contestant, Barrington High School freshman Vivian Tian, took home $200, and the third place contestant, Hope High School student Yoselina Noriega, won a $75 prize.

Tian won the opportunity to represent Rhode Island in the National Brain Bee at the University of Maryland in March.

“Neuroscience has been something that’s sort of not what people study,” Tian said, adding that it interests her because it is different from typical high school subjects.

Tian heard about the Brain Bee from her chemistry teaching, who encouraged her to pursue it. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to push myself further in this field,” Tian said.

Rhode Island may not have had a Brain Bee if not for the efforts of Torabi, who represented her home state, Ohio, in the National Brain Bee during her senior year of high school.

“When I came to Brown, I realized Rhode Island didn’t have a Brain Bee, and I wanted to give high school students the same opportunity that I had,” she said. Torabi added that had she not participated in the bee, she may not have decided to pursue neuroscience in college.

To organize the bee, Torabi recruited student participants from local high schools and planned neuroscience “enrichment sessions,” lectures for the high schoolers on Brown’s campus.

Ralph Johnson, program manager of Brown’s College Advising Corps, helped her coordinate the Brain Bee, Torabi said. Johnson helped reach out to students in Rhode Island interested in neuroscience and helped secure funding from organizations like the Office of Education Outreach at Brown, Rhode Island Campus Compact, the Department of Neuroscience and Rhode Island Partnerships for Success, which aims to promote mutually beneficial relationships between high education institutions and local high schools, Torabi said.

 - With additional reporting by Gadi Cohen



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