Teens Go Head to Head at New York City Regional Brain Bee

by Johanna Goldberg, M.S.L.I.S.

February 13, 2008

Tension was high at The Rockefeller University. Four competitors remained in the New York City Regional Brain Bee after seven grueling rounds of questioning. The four—all female—would have to get as many questions correct as possible in the final round—three strikes, and they’d be out.

The competition had begun an hour before, with 35 students representing 21 schools from all five boroughs and Westchester. Students, selected by their high schools to compete, were quizzed as a group on the brain and how it relates to memory, emotions, intelligence, behaviors, and disorders.

Each round had five questions—as the rounds progressed, more questions per round had to be answered correctly for students to remain in the Bee. All questions were taken from “Brain Facts,” a 52-page booklet published by the Society for Neuroscience, which the students had several months to study. The New York City Regional Brain Bee is presented by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and co-sponsored by NRTA: AARP’s Educator Community and the Society for Neuroscience.

This year’s competition was judged by A. James Hudspeth, M.D., Ph.D., F. M. Kirby Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Sensory Neuroscience at The Rockefeller University, with help from his wife, Ann Maurine Packard, M.D., a pediatric neurologist. He brought with him a human skull, brain, and cross sections of brain tissue, which he explained in detail to several students who huddled around him before the competition began.  

After 10 final-round questions, Marvee Espiritu, a senior at Townsend Harris High School in Queens, placed fourth. Two questions later, Rebecca Ehrhardt, a junior at Manhattan’s Institute for Collaborative Education, took third, winning $100.

It took seven more questions to find a winner. By knowing that the letters in GHB stand for gamma-hydroxy-butyrate, Murrel Pereira, a senior at Townsend Harris High School, placed first, besting Maryam Siddiqui, a junior at Staten Island Technical High School.

Pereira, 17, wins $250 and a trip for two to the National Brain Bee at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, to be held March 14-15, the last days of Brain Awareness Week. She will also receive a private tutorial on neuroanatomy, given by Dr. Hudspeth and Dr. Packard. She hopes to go into a career in science, either as a bioengineer or a neuroscientist. Already, she has done research at Queens College looking at the effects of environmental contaminants on fish.

At the beginning of the competition, Dr. Hudspeth told the students that they would “make the next steps of discovery in the field,” and to “Pursue your curiosity. Go and do some neuroscience.”

That’s just what many of these students seem poised to do.