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Long Island Brain Bee draws largest turnout ever

Long Island Brain Bee draws largest turnout ever

Dozens of eager high school students gathered for a one-day neuroscience competition on Saturday, Feb. 9, at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell to put their skills to the test. The third annual Long Island Brain Bee was sponsored by the medical school in collaboration with the biology department.

The event is part of a larger, international tournament. Every year, regional brain bees like the Long Island one are held across the world. The winners from each regional competition go on to compete in their country’s national competition and the winners from each national competition compete in the International Brain Bee.

This year’s Long Island Brain Bee consisted of 64 students – making it the largest turnout ever – and almost doubling that of last year’s. The students ranged in age from 14 to 18 and represented 25 different schools.

Each brain bee involves two exams: a written multiple choice-style exam and a laboratory portion in which students have to identify anatomical structures and functions in real human brain specimens. The questions from both exams are taken from the Society for Neuroscience’s Brain Facts, which competitors were expected to study thoroughly before arriving at the Bee.

The exams, however, were not the only events of the day. Students were also given demonstrations on normal and pathological human brains and spinal cord specimens to prepare for the laboratory exam. The demonstrations were led by faculty and student volunteers from both the Zucker School of Medicine and HCLAS. As additional prep for the lab exam, the competitors played a game of “medical charades” with student volunteers and were given presentations on the field of neuroscience from Hofstra professors.

Andrew Biccum, a junior neuroscience and biochemistry major, was one of the volunteers helping out with the Brain Bee.

“It’s very mind-blowing – no pun intended,” Biccum said of the competitors’ abilities. “It’s amazing to see that students are so excited to learn the material at such a young age and be able to relay it to other people.”

Yanel Guzman, freshman neuroscience major, spoke about how humbling it was to see young people so knowledgeable about the field of neuroscience. 

“It was just amazing ... they’re so incredibly smart,” Guzman said. “I feel like there’s things that they know that I still don’t know, and I’m in college.”

Zeinab Nassrallah, a professor of science education at the Zucker School of Medicine, started the Long Island Brain Bee at Hofstra three years ago. Nasrallah said she got the idea to host a brain bee at Hofstra after helping run one as a graduate student at Pennsylvania State University.

“I was helping run the lab component of the Brain Bee there and when I came here, I saw that we weren’t doing it,” Nassrallah said. “I knew this would be a great opportunity and that there would be tons of interest on Long Island.”

Nassrallah also spoke about the event’s popularity, given that the amount of students participating has almost doubled in recent years, as well as the fact that many students are returning from previous years.

“Some students have done this for the past couple of years and they’re here again. That is, I think, the biggest sign of a strong interest and motivation to pursue the neurosciences,” Nassrallah said. 

She added that the increasing interest in the event shows that, “We’re really building a solid foundation for the future of neuroscience.”

Jessica Santangelo, an undergraduate biology professor who has co-organized the event with Nassrallah for the past two years, had similar sentiments.

“The fact that we have so many young people who are that interested in neuroscience and the brain is truly heartwarming and uplifting because it means we have a really solid next generation ... to help us work on the brain,” Santangelo said.

 All competitors in the Long Island Brain Bee received certificates of completion and the first, second and third place winners were offered monetary prizes. First place won a $100 gift card as well as their trip to the National Brain Bee fully funded for them and one chaperone. Second place took home a $75 gift card and third place took home a $50 gift card.

This year, first place went to Breanna Huang-Ouyang, a junior at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School, who hopes to study neuroscience, medicine or anything related after graduation. “I didn’t really expect [to win],” Huang-Ouyang said. When asked how she felt about going to the national competition, she responded, “It’s a lot more material to have to study, but I’m pretty excited for it.”

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