Excited neuroscience undergraduates engaged their central and peripheral nervous systems on the night of April 18 when they went face-to-face at the 17th Annual Brain Bowl.
This year, teams from three undergraduate universities battled for the trophy, including the mavericks of the University of Texas at Arlington; the Trinity University tigers; and the 2015 Brain Bowl champions, the comets from the University of Texas at Dallas. Still, after a night filled with neuroscience trivia, friendly competition, and laughter, it was the mavericks who took home the coveted trophy—along with a monetary prize.
“This year the Brain Bowl was a lot of fun,” said Brain Bowl judge and professor of pharmacology Dr. William P. Clarke. “I’m not sure if it was better (in terms of fun) than previous years (I don’t think so, it’s always fun). The student teams are always amazing. They sacrifice their time to participate in the event, and it has to be immensely stressful for them. That impresses me even more—that they’re willing to put themselves on stage in public and risk answering questions incorrectly. And many of these questions are challenging. My daughter, who is a sophomore in pre-vet at UT Austin, was watching on Facebook live and texted me during the event amazed at the abilities of the students to answer the questions! I have the greatest respect for the student participants and I hope the experience is rewarding for them.”
The Brain Bowl is a quiz show sponsored by the Center for Biomedical Neuroscience (CBN), and it would not be possible without the time and dedication of graduate students, post-docs, and faculty members who help run this event by volunteering as timers, scorekeepers, and judges.
The competition consists of three rounds of short answer questions—each more difficult than the previous—that cover topics of neuroscience research ranging from neuroanatomy; neurophysiology; neurochemistry; brain and behavior; and drugs and the brain.
At the end of the third round, there is final complex challenge question testing the students’ general knowledge of neuroscience. During the final challenge question, teams can wager any points they have accumulated in the previous rounds.
Director of the Center for Biomedical Neuroscience (CBN), professor of pharmacology, and master of ceremonies, Dr. David Morilak said at the event that “The Brain Bowl serves many purposes. First, it is our signature event for Brain Awareness Week, which highlights the importance of brain research and the many advances that have been made in the field.
Secondly, it is a chance for us to highlight our program to our colleagues and students from all across Texas, to give the visiting undergraduates, who are all interested in neuroscience, an opportunity to network, and maybe even attract some of them to apply to our program for graduate study. Finally, it is a fun event that brings the students, faculty and other members of our program together for a really enjoyable and entertaining evening.”
“The Brain Bowl is really a product of David Morilak and he deserves all the credit (or blame!) for the event’s success over the years. He has shepherded it each year—bringing in teams of students from various universities. It’s a lot of hard work that isn’t seen by most observers of the Brain Bowl. David has assembled teams of faculty and students to help during the show, but it’s all David’s hard work that makes the Brain Bowl successful.
I also really appreciate the student volunteers, who spend their time to help out with scorekeeping (I did this for a few years and it is difficult!) and timing, and all the extraneous activities that need doing in order for the event to succeed. Time is perhaps the most valuable thing we have and so I appreciate it when students choose to spend some of it to help out,” Clarke said.
First year neuroscience student Amy Wu believes the Brain Bowl offers an amazing way to reach out to new prospective students, as well as educate the public about the importance of brain awareness week. Wu is a first-time attendee who volunteered as a timer at this year’s Brain Bowl event.
“I think it was a very entertaining event. I was very impressed by the great pool of knowledge of the contestants. I wouldn’t have been able to answer all of those questions when I was an undergrad,” Wu said.
“It was definitely a lot of fun. Dr. Morilak was almost upstaged by Dr. Clarke. They were both really funny,” commented neuroscience student Grace Porter, who also volunteered as a timer.
Since its inception in the year 1998, the Brain Bowl has attracted teams from universities throughout the state of Texas. Although initially it may be nerve-wracking and intimidating for the student participants to be publicly tested on their neuroscience knowledge, the friendly banter and jokes between the master of ceremonies and other faculty members help put the contestants more at ease.
“(We) always have a lot of fun at the Brain Bowl, cracking jokes and making funny comments (mostly about David). But this just illustrates one of the things that is great about our department faculty. We’ve known each other for many years (David and I started here about the same time about 22 years ago) and the faculty genuinely like each other and are comfortable enough with each other to be able to joke around. This provides an “at ease” environment that helps the student participants with stress. Other than the questions, nothing is scripted. It’s all spontaneous and good fun” Clarke remarked.
Liliana Espinoza is a graduate student in the Neuroscience discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences program.The “Beyond The Bench” series features articles written by students and postdoctoral fellows at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.