Melissa Duff of Holy Spirit High School, Manuels, won the 2008 Newfoundland and Labrador Brain Storm competition held Feb. 16 at the Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University. The top prize was a chance to go to the first Canadian National Brain Bee competition to be held at McMaster University, Hamilton, on May 10. Melissa’s Grad Night is also scheduled for May 10 so she was compelled to decline the trip. Second-place winner Robbie Butt of Basque Memorial High School in Red Bay, Labrador, will now face the challenge and prestige of representing Newfoundland and Labrador at the national competition.
Melissa Duff outlasted 22 other competitors through three stages and several rounds of questions to answer the final question “During digestion, what hormone is released from the stomach to suppress hunger? It is also found in the brain.” The answer: cholecystokinin. The other two finalists, Robbie Butt and Jonathan Mong, Holy Heart High School, could not recall the answer.
Preparation for the national event will necessitate Robbie honing his “brain” skills by distance learning since he lives very far from the St. John’s campus. Robbie is used to such learning methods as he has taken distance courses from teacher Michael Sceviour who encouraged him to join in the Brain Storm competition in the first place.
The Newfoundland Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience has been hosting the Brain Storm competition for high school students since 2000. The competitors were invited following in-school preliminary competitions of multiple choice questions based on a 60 page Brain Facts booklet. Forty-four students from 11 schools on the Avalon Peninsula, Grand Falls-Windsor and Labrador participated in that segment in early January.
This year the St. John’s competition began with a six- round first stage that was followed by a break that included visits to three research labs and a luncheon. After the break, the top seven remaining students used their visual memory to answer questions, shown by power point, about such topics as drug effects on the brain and brain pathways. This led to the final three person show-down. Special guests, Pam Anstey from Epilepsy Newfoundland and Labrador, and Christina Dove, Autism Society, asked the questions. Graduate students from the neuroscience group at the Faculty of Medicine collected a wide assortment of prizes for all participants. Neuroscientist Dr. John McLean co-ordinated the event.