The teen brain is an amazing thing – especially when it’s hard at work learning about itself.
Through the St. Louis Area Brain Bee (SLABB) on Feb. 17, Washington University and the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) are giving future researchers, physicians, and scientists the chance to get up close and personal with the human brain and discover what truly makes us tick – all while they compete for great prizes.
“Neuroscience is not a topic that’s considered a standard of learning in high school,” said Erik Herzog, professor of biology at Washington University. “The idea of the Brain Bee is to encourage students to learn how their brains work on a personal level – why they feel the way they do, how it helps them perform in the classroom or on the sports field, and even what it means to fall in love.”
In addition to educating participants about the brain, SLABB is helping them set the foundation for a possible career in neuroscience by introducing them to possible mentors, engaging them in hands-on activities, and in the case of one lucky winner, giving them the chance to learn more about brain science on a national level!
Seven years of educating and empowering
Since launching in 2011, SLABB has grown in scope and participation. Last year, 55 students from 44 local area high schools took the leap to study, examine, and explore the wonders of the human mind.
All questions for the SLABB competition come from SfN’s Brain Facts, a 70-page journey through the brain. As they read, teens not only examine the “mechanics” of the brain, such as how neurons talk to other neurons, but explore topics that are relevant to them, including learning and memory, sleep, and stress. Undergraduate students from Washington University’s Synapse, a large and active group with interests in neurobiology, will also offer free tutorial sessions for competitors Jan. 27, and Feb. 3 and 10 at the St. Louis Science Center.
Competition day at Washington University includes a written quiz in the morning. The top 10 winners then go on to compete in an oral competition that afternoon. Students vie for a variety of prizes and trophies, and the winner of SLABB receives an all-expenses-paid trip to the national Brain Bee competition in Maryland this March and a summer research fellowship at Washington University!
The day also includes fun and educational opportunities for competitors and spectators, including a neuroscience panel discussion featuring Dr. Deanna Barch, Professor and Chair of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Washington University, and Dr. Joshua Rubin, Professor of Pediatrics and Co-director of the Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Center. Participants can get their hands on a human brain and a SpikerBox, which allows them to hear and see the activity of neurons in insects, and enjoy an eye-opening interaction with electric fish.
It’s this combination of traditional learning, mentoring, and interactive activities that allow SLABB to truly resonate with its participants.
Said Herzog, “We want to get students in St. Louis excited about science. We recognize science education is something the U.S. needs to work on, so we’re motivated to show kids just how fun learning can be. It’s our goal to create a community for them and make experts like myself available to get them involved in research as high school students and connect them to opportunities today and in the years to come. Last year, over 50 students competed. We hope even more will come, have fun, and compete this year.” The St. Louis Area Brain Bee will be held on Saturday, Feb. 17 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in Rebstock Hall, Room 215 on the Washington University Danforth Campus. Teens can register for the event and find more information at biology4.wustl.edu/SLABB.
Metro East mom Nicole Plegge is the lifestyle and pop culture blogger for STL Parent. Besides working as a freelance writer & public relations specialist, and raising two daughters and a husband, Nicole's greatest achievements are finding her misplaced car keys each day and managing to leave the house in a stain-free shirt. Her biggest regret is never being accepted to the Eastland School for Girls. Follow Nicole on Twitter @STLWriterinIL