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1st Annual Toronto Brain Bee 1999

The Program in Neuroscience and Department of Physiology hosted a Neuroscience competition for High School students on Friday afternoon, February 19, 1999. Twenty students from 8 different Toronto schools took part in this oral competition modeled after a "spelling bee". The first place winner was David Alpay from Earl Haig. In second place was Jessica Elsing from York Memorial and in third place, Yvonne Chan from UTS.

The winner of our local contest, David Alpay, will take part in a North America wide Brain Bee competition organized by the University of Maryland in Baltimore on March 16 where the winners from 30 other local University-sponsored competitions will be participating. The students will also get to visit neuroscience labs at the University of Maryland and the National Institute of Health in Bethesda as well as tour Capitol Hill. The winner of the Brain Bee receives a prize of US$1000.

We are very pleased to announce that the University of Toronto TRAVEL CENTRE is sponsoring the Brain Bee contest for free air travel to Baltimore for the winner. The U of T Travel Centre is grateful for your continued support. We would also like to acknowledge the support of the U of T bookstore who provided one of the prizes. Many thanks to PIN members Drs. Jim Winslow and Martin Wojtowicz and graduate students Danny Cunic, Bob Kotecha, Marosh Manduch and Greg Molnar who helped run the competition.


On March 16, high school student winners of local Brain Bee competitions from all over the US and from Ontario went to Maryland to compete for top honours in the first ever National Brain Bee held at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. The best young brains were quizzed about the brain and how it relates to intelligence, memory, emotions, sensations, movement, stress, aging, sleep and brain disorders, such as addiction, Alzheimer's, and stroke. To qualify for the Nationals, the competitors were required to win their own cities' regional brain bee competitions that were held this winter.

At the end of the competition, only two students were left standing: Otilia Husu, a young lady from a small town in Arizona, and David Alpay, a young man from the big city of Toronto. Neither would die easily. Both withstood the barrage of questions round after round. Husu matched Alpay answer-for-answer for more than twenty rounds after every other competitor had been eliminated. In the end, it was Otilia Husu who faltered on a question about synaptic transmission in the brain. It was David Alpay who was left standing and earned the right to be called the "Best Brain."

David Alpay, who goes to Earl Haig High School in Toronto, also received a $1000 scholarship. He will receive the coveted, 3 feet tall, Best Brain Trophy. This is a traveling trophy which will be held by the annual winner's high school until the following year. The second prize winner, Otilia Husu, goes to Mountain Ridge High School in Arizona. The third place winner was Anna Charbonneau from Trinity High School in New Hampshire. More than 500 questions were used in the competition. Alpay's last question was 'Neurons containing what neurotransmitter preferentially die in Alzheimer's patients?" The answer is "Acetylcholine."

The day following the National Bee all of the competitors, and their family members and teachers, took part in a Capital Hill event in Washington, DC. It was held in the Dirkson Senate Office Building and sponsored by the DANA Alliance for Brain Initiatives. Entitled "A Progress Report on Brain Research", this event included scientists and statesmen celebrating the end of the Decade of the Brain as proclaimed by President Bush in 1990. Included in the Capitol Hill Event was the introduction of each of the National Brain Bee Competitors to the audience and the cameras. The long applause as David Alpay held his trophy in the air brought excitement and pride to the faces of these young men and women.

The National Brain Bee is directed by Dr. Norbert Myslinski and is part of International Brain Awareness Week (March 15-22). Brain Awareness Week is an effort by brain scientists in 29 countries to educate the public about the importance of brain research. It is spearheaded by The DANA Alliance and the Society for Neuroscience. According to Dr. Myslinski, "the National Brain Bee is an attempt to motivate our youth to learn about the brain, capture their imagination, and inspire them to pursue careers in biomedical brain research. We need their energy and their passion to fight and win the war against mental retardation, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury and other brain disorders."