Courtesy of Jingqi Zhu

Twenty-five Michigan high schoolers and their parents gathered at the Michigan League for the Michigan Brain Bee (MBB) competition Saturday, at the end of Brain Awareness Week. MBB is a neuroscience competition that encourages high school students to study the brain and pursue careers in neuroscience. 

This year’s competition was the first time the University of Michigan hosted the Brain Bee competition. MBB was also the only 2022 Brain Bee competition site in the state of Michigan after Brain Bee at Michigan State University was canceled due to the pandemic. The event was funded by the LSA Neuroscience department, and the Neuroscience Student Association (NSA) helped sponsor the event.The winner of MBB will have the chance to compete at the USA Brain Bee.

The competition started with a 55-question written exam in Session I. The top eight students  moved on to compete in Session II, which consisted of 25 interactive questions presented on the screen. Students had 15 seconds to write down their answers on their individual whiteboards. The top two students advanced to Session III, which was in a head-to-head format with the same type of questions in Session II, but students had 20 seconds to provide answers. 

LSA freshman Devarshi Mukherji, one of the students who helped create questions for the exam, said all questions came from information in the Brain Facts book from the Society for Neuroscience.

“Everything has to be from the book, anything outside of the book is not fair game,” Mukherji told The Michigan Daily. “So it’s really dependent on our making sure that we take all the information from the book as properly as possible and as fairly as possible.” 

LSA sophomore Aishwarya Ramaswami, leader of the University outreach subcommittee, said the subcommittee reached out to faculty and graduate students to find judges for the competition. Research fellow Yan Xiong and graduate student Mekhala Kumar from the Psychology Department judged Sessions II and III. Ramaswami, who had participated in a few Brain-bee competitions in high school, said she was looking forward to being involved given how transformative the events were for her.

“The fact that we are hosting our first Brain Bee here at Michigan was very exciting,” Ramaswami said in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “I know exactly how big of an impact this can have on high school students.”

LSA sophomore Deniz Kirca, head of the Michigan Brain Bee committee and the outreach chair of the NSA, told The Daily that past experiences with the Brain Bee in high school impacted his college major choices and led him to initiate the Michigan Brain Bee competition. 

“I was personally inspired to found a Brain Bee because I did the Brain Bee when I was in high school in 2017,” Kirca said. “It’s part of the reason why I major in neuroscience. I heard that MSU, which is where I competed at that one time, wasn’t doing the Brain Bee anymore. I was inspired to do one here because we’d be currently the only Brain Bee in the entire state.”

LSA senior Sooin Choi, president of the NSA, said they received lots of support from the University and said the NSA plans to host the event annually and recruit a broader range of high school students, including those from rural areas and those who have never participated in similar events. 

“What I’m hoping is that high schoolers across Michigan and across the world are able to bring their ideas and experiences from high school and also translate them into creating new opportunities in college,” Choi said. “I do think for our next years, we can further our expansion of recruiting high schoolers participants.”

For Jonathan Marx, a senior at the International Academy in Bloomfield Hills, this year’s competition was his second time attending the Brain Bee. Marx said his Brain Bee journey started when he saw some notes on the white board in his freshman biology class, which he later learned were from a student who was studying for a neuroscience competition. It led him to study the “Brain Facts” book and explore other resources for students interested in neuroscience. 

“I started reading, and over the summer between freshman and sophomore year, I realized that it was something that I really cared about and I wanted to learn more,” Marx said. “I was invigorated when I would study it, and it was just really interesting.” 

Marx said he participated in his first Brain Bee at MSU in his sophomore year. Though he didn’t place, he said he enjoyed meeting with the neuroscience community. “MSU canceled their Brain Bee so I thought I was done … And then three to two weeks before this event my biology club at my school did an announcement saying that Michigan was hosting this Brain Bee,” Marx said. “I was really unsure if I wanted to participate … I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare … but even so I (decided to come here) because it might be fun.”

Marx was accepted to the University of Michigan class of 2026. Even though he didn’t proceed to Session II this time around, he said the Michigan Brain Bee competition gave him the opportunity to talk to many U-M students and learn about their college experiences.

“(U-M students) clearly are passionate about what they do … maybe not be wholly interested in just neuroscience but also be interested in other things,” Marx said. “There’s just everything for anyone that has an interest in anything. So you can really do what you want if you have the time.” 

Daily Staff Reporter Jingqi Zhu can be reached at