University of Vermont

High School Students Display Passion for Neuroscience at Annual Brain Bee

Left to right: Ryan Martin, 3rd place; Qingxi "Tim" Jia, 2nd place; Aidan May, 1st place; and Lisa Bernardin, Vermont Brain Bee Coordinator (Photo: LCOM Creative Services).

A three-pound human super computer was the focus of the Vermont Brain Bee, held Saturday, February 18 at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. The event attracted 40 students from 10 high schools across the state – a record in the Vermont Brain Bee’s eight-year history – who eagerly participated in written and “wet lab” examinations, and a first and final oral bee round centered on the many complex details of the brain and nervous system.

Mount Abraham Union High School junior Aidan May was declared the first-place winner, with South Burlington High School senior Qingxi “Tim” Jia coming in second place and Ryan Martin, a senior at Burlington Technical Center, the third-place winner. The school team that earned first place was Mount Abraham, whose members include:  Aidan May, Kameryn Norse, Delana Tow, Isabel Lucarelli. The Middlebury Union High School team earned second-place. Team members were Isabel Rosenburg, Riley Fenster, Grace Widelitz and Erin Stocker.

Some students traveled as far as two-and-a-half hours to attend the event, proving that despite their youth, high school students are eager to learn about neuroscience. Schools represented at the Bee included Burlington Technical Center, Bellows Falls Union High School, Champlain Valley Union High School, Essex High School, Middlebury Union High School, Mount Abraham Union High School, Otter Valley Union High School, Rice Memorial High School, South Burlington High School and Stowe High School.  

After the preliminary competition agenda was complete, students were treated to three neurological disorder “vignettes” performed by pediatric neuropsychologists Sharon Leach, Ph.D., of the Stern Center for Language and Learning, and Kathryn Workman, Ph.D., of the Vermont Department of Health.  Brain Bee participants were able to observe and guess diagnoses, as well as ask for additional diagnostic information. “The students showed a lot of enthusiasm, as they asked well thought out questions,” said Leach.

Following the first oral round, participants heard a keynote presentation on auditory neuroscience from Vermont Brain Bee alumnus and Champlain Valley Union High School graduate Kameron Clayton, who is currently a doctoral student at Harvard University in the Program in Speech & Hearing Bioscience & Technology. 

Anthony Morielli, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology and director of the Neuroscience Graduate Program, and Sean Flynn, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurological sciences at the UVM Larner College of Medicine, served as judges at the event.

University of Vermont Neuroscience Graduate Program students helped run the event. They were all impressed with the level of knowledge the high school students displayed during the written and practical quizzes. “I know a lot of neuroanatomy now,” said Patrick Mullen, a second-year doctoral student, at the UVM Larner College of Medicine. “If I had had a three- or four-year jumpstart like this – wow!”

Riley St. Clair, a fourth-year Ph.D. student organized and ran the practical exam, which featured identification of brain specimens, and helped run the preparatory Brain Bee Boot Camp held two weeks before the competition. “It’s really cool that high school students are getting exposed to neuroscience so early,” she said.  

Vermont Brain Bee Coordinator Lisa Bernardin is pleased that more and more high school students are learning about neuroscience.  “It's so important that this age-group learns about the brain – it’s what controls everything we do,” she said. “Gaining access to the faculty, students and facilities at the UVM Larner College of Medicine is a wonderful opportunity for these students who will soon be making college and career decisions.”

As the winner of the 2017 Vermont Brain Bee, Aidan May is eligible to participate in the National Brain Bee held in Baltimore, Md., March 17 to 19, 2017. 

A number of Vermont-based businesses and organizations help support the Vermont Brain Bee each year.  For more information, visit vermontbrainbee.com.