Head­ing for a brain storm


High school stu­dents from all ar­eas of the province are en­cour­aged to write a quiz that could land them in St. John’s in April to com­pete for the ti­tle of Brain Storm Cham­pion 2013 and an op­por­tu­nity to rep­re­sent the province at the na­tional com­pe­ti­tion in Hamil­ton, On­tario in June.

Me­mo­rial Univer­sity’s Fac­ulty of Medicine es­tab­lished the brain storm com­pe­ti­tion in 2000 to en­cour­age high school stu­dents to learn more about the brain and to con­sider neu­ro­science as a ca­reer.

The com­pe­ti­tion tar­gets high school stu­dents tak­ing bi­ol­ogy, ad­vanced place­ment psychology and other high school sci­ence cour­ses.

“We’re work­ing to ex­pand the com­pe­ti­tion and to get more schools in­ter­ested,” says grad­u­ate stu­dent Brian Roome, who is co-or­di­nat­ing this year’s com­pe­ti­tion.

In prepa­ra­tion for the pro­vin­cial com­pe­ti­tion held at the Health Sciences Cen­tre in St. John’s in April, stu­dents write a qual­i­fy­ing quiz at their high school based on a stan­dard­ized in­for­ma­tion book­let.

The Top 50 stu­dents will par­tic­i­pate in the pro­vin­cial com­pe­ti­tion, con­sist­ing of both oral and writ­ten ques­tions about the func­tion, anatomy and dis­eases of the brain.

This year’s win­ner will travel to Hamil­ton, On­tario, on June 1 to rep­re­sent New­found­land and Labrador at the Na­tional Brain Bee com­pe­ti­tion.

Roome is orig­i­nally from Grand Falls-Wind­sor. He’s in the neu­ro­science pro­gram at Me­mo­rial and is cur­rently study­ing the use of neu­ral stem cells as a ther­a­peu­tic op­tion for stroke.

Roome grad­u­ated from Ex­ploits Val­ley High in 2005. He never heard about the brain storm com­pe­ti­tion when he was in high school but is de­lighted that the school is par­tic­i­pat­ing in this year’s event.

“I liked par­tic­i­pat­ing in pro­vin­cial com­pe­ti­tions and the math teach­ers really pushed those. But, as far as sci­ence goes, there wasn’t a lot that we heard of,” he says.

Stu­dents who travel to St. John’s not only get to com­pete in Brain Storm 2013 but will be given free tours of se­lect neu­ro­science re­search labs at Me­mo­rial.

“This is a great way of get­ting the stu­dents in­ter­ested in the neu­ro­sciences into the labs to see how things are done,” Roome says.

Greg Pen­ney won last year’s com­pe­ti­tion. Pen­ney was born and raised in Har­bour Bre­ton but moved to Gan­der with his fam­ily and com­pleted his fi­nal year of high school at Gan­der Col­le­giate.

He took part in the com­pe­ti­tion with his bi­ol­ogy class at Gan­der Col­le­giate. All stu­dents par­tic­i­pated in the first stage of the pro­vin­cial com­pe­ti­tion, which con­sisted of a writ­ten exam.

“We then had mul­ti­ple choice ques­tions re­lat­ing to neu­rol­ogy and neu­ro­science and that was an elim­i­na­tion round. It was three strikes and you’re out,” Pen­ney ex­plains.

The com­pe­ti­tion con­tin­ued un­til the three f in­al­ists — Pen­ney, Michaela Gar­land of Bac­calieu Col­le­giate in Old Per­li­can and Michaela Rose of Prince of Wales Col­le­giate in St. John’s — were left to bat­tle it out for top prize.

For this stage of the com­pe­ti­tion, the judges read ques­tions to the fi­nal­ists who wrote out their an­swers.

The win gave Pen­ney the hon­our of rep­re­sent­ing his province at the na­tional com­pe­ti­tion held at McMaster Univer­sity in Ot­tawa last year. It was great to be part of both the pro­vin­cial and na­tional com­pe­ti­tions, he said.

Pen­ney is a first-year en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent at Me­mo­rial. He says he’d en­cour­age all high school stu­dents who are tak­ing bi­ol­ogy, psychology and other sci­ence cour­ses to write the quiz at their school.

“You don’t have any­thing to lose. You don’t pay any­thing to write the exam. But the test shows that you’re in­ter­ested in neu­ro­science as a ca­reer and that’s what they’re look­ing for.”

Schools in­ter­ested in of­fer­ing the quiz to their stu­dents can con­tact Roome via e-mail at rroome@mun.ca


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