Even before the question was finished, Siddhartha Lavu knew the answer. “I just got a really good feeling inside, knowing that my hard work had paid off,” said Lavu, who finished as the top point scorer in a closely contested competition at the Upper Valley Brain Bee, held recently at Dartmouth’s Moore Hall Psychology Building.
“The way it works is all of the competitors go through three rounds—a written test, a patient diagnosis, and a neuroanatomy test—and the top five people from those rounds go into a final question and answer round,” he explained. “The other students knew what they were doing and they all did well, so I was happy to come out on top.”
Lavu, a freshman from Bedford High School, will now have the opportunity to represent New Hampshire in the national Brain Bee competition next spring in Baltimore, Maryland.
This was the fourth time (in as many years) that the Neuroscience Center at Dartmouth and the NH chapter of the Society for Neuroscience hosted and sponsored the bee, which offers the friendly neuroscience competition to teens (age 13-19), as well as a popular interactive neuroscience fair. The overall aim is to “show students the fun in learning about the brain while allowing them to experience what the field of neuroscience is all about.”
“I think this year’s bee was the best one we’ve done yet,” said Emily Stephens, a fourth-year graduate student at Geisel School of Medicine who’s been involved in the event since its inception and again served as a co-organizer—this year with fellow Geisel grad students Arielle Baker and Stephanie Getz (who will assume Stephens’ lead role next year).
“We had 30 students from 10 schools, about half coming from outside the Upper Valley from areas like Concord, Nashua and Bedford, which is the most students and the most diversity among schools that we’ve had,” she said. “And this was the first year that the top five finalists were all freshmen and sophomores.”
Usually it’s the upper classmen who finish at the top in scoring, said Stephens, making Lavu’s performance all the more impressive. “I started studying well in advance of the bee, putting in two hours a day the last three weeks, and I went through the brain facts book twice and had my mom ask me questions,” said Lavu, who also attended a brain bee “boot camp” at the Hanover Howe Library run by Dartmouth College grad students to train for the event.
He and the other competitors, along with friends, family and members of the community, enjoyed the interactive neuroscience fair portion of the bee, which featured 13 demonstration stations—ranging from how to do a neurological exam to illusions and how the brain can be tricked. The fair included a special lecture by Matt van der Meer, an assistant professor in the department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth, who studies the physical changes that take place in the brain when memories are made.
“Our station volunteers, who included friends who are grad students, teachers, and also faculty in the Anatomy and Physiology Department at the medical school, did an amazing job—their passion for neuroscience generated a lot of excitement and interest among participants,” said Stephens.
“One of my favorite parts was getting to hold a human brain,” said Lavu, who is interested in becoming a brain surgeon, and also doing neuroscience research to help people with psychiatric disorders. “I got to meet a lot of neuroscientists and doctors and learn about the current research that’s going on and some of the questions they’re trying to answer. All in all, it was a really great experience.”