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Students go head-to-head at annual Brain Bee

Students go head-to-head at annual Brain Bee

High school students from all across Long Island gathered in the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell laboratories on Saturday, Feb. 3 to do something very few high schoolers get to do: hold a human brain.

This was part of a neuroscience event known as the Long Island Brain Bee competition, the local level of an international tournament, sponsored by the Zucker School of Medicine and the Department of Biology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Thirty-five students ranging in ages from 14 to 18 studied for this one-day competition consisting of three rounds: a written multiple-choice test of brain knowledge, laboratory demonstrations with authentic subjects including human brains and an examination in identifying anatomical structures and functions of these tangible specimens.

Organizers Dr. Jessica Santangelo, an undergraduate biology professor, and Dr. Zeinab Nassrallah, a professor of science education at the Zucker School of Medicine, enjoyed watching students’ firsthand engagement with this field of study.

“It’s a great way to be able to nurture the enthusiasm that some of these students have from a really early age … It’s really nice to have a space for them to be able to grow,” Santangelo said.

The Brain Bee judge was Dr. Maya Frankfurt, a co-director of the MD/PhD program at the Zucker School of Medicine.

All competitors receive certificates of completion after the local competition. First, second and third place winners earn $100, $75 and $50 gift cards, respectively. The first place winner also moves on to the National Brain Bee competition held this March in Baltimore, MD.

This year’s winner was Jessica Goldstein, a junior from Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School, who first heard about the competition last year.

Being very interested in this field, she said, “As an organ in itself, it makes up you as a person and I think that’s really incredible … Essentially your personality is your brain, and that psychological and biological bridge to who you are, I think, is really fascinating.” Goldstein thinks that the National Brain Bee in March will be “a great experience.”

Amy De Lury, a junior at Sachem North High School in Lake Ronkonkoma, New York, took second place this year, moving up one rank from No. 3 in last year’s Brain Bee competition.

“I’ve been doing [the Brain Bee] since I was a freshman in high school, and I’m going to come back next year,” De Lury said “[Neuroscience] is a field I’d be interested in as a career.”

Ankita Katukota, a junior at Comsewogue High School in Port Jefferson, came in third. She said, “It was really cool because we got to see actual brains and touch it and feel it. So I thought that was really cool. And I learned a lot of stuff from medical students.”

Hofstra medical students were on hand to engage with the competitors and give them networking opportunities, not to mention a chance to learn about medical school ahead of college.

Some of the medical students were inspired by what they saw.

Julie Hemphill, a first-year graduate student at the Zucker School of Medicine, said, “I was just unbelievably impressed … Kids so young were able to understand really, really complex and intricate systems that are really hard for med students to understand. They’re 16, 17 years old and naming these crazy pathways. So it’s really amazing and humbling.”

Her peer, Christine Cummings, a second-year student, agreed. “Just hearing some of their answers [to the question ‘Why do you like the brain?’] made me really think, ‘Oh, that’s kind of cool! I didn’t think about things in that way!’”

Santangelo ended the event by acknowledging the students, as well as the families and teachers supporting them. In a final statement, she said, “Thank you for your passion, thank you for being interested and we hope to see you back here. If you want to come be in my class, you are the type of students I want to teach.”


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