12th Annual Vermont Brain Bee: February 13, 2021
Anita Surmacz, senior at St. Johnsbury Academy, took top honors at the 12th Annual Vermont Brain Bee. The event was held virtually this year.
The VBB committee has been able to take these strange times and still manage to make the Brain Bee a meaningful interaction by having weekly Virtual Brain Club Sessions with eminent speakers on different topics throughout the 2020 Fall and early 2021 winter. (see recorded sessions here).
We had a strong contingent of 22 eager students from 5 high schools around the state – The Long Trail School in Dorset, Rice Memorial High School in Burlington, Essex High School, South Burlington High School and Saint Johnsbury Academy.
There were minor changes made for the virtual format, meaning that the students took a proctored exam of written and practical questions prior to the actual bee day.
On Saturday, February 13, 2021, students signed on for the actual virtual VBB at 10:00am for Opening Remarks, with some words from the coordinator, Lisa Bernardin and Vilena Lee, the 2019 and 10th VBB winner who spoke about how it is to attend the National Brain Bee (NBB) or US Brain Bee Championships that were held at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. The 2020 NBB was postponed until this April 10-11, and will be held virtually at Northeastern Ohio Medical University in Rootsville, Ohio for both Theresa Christiansen, the 2020 VBB winner, and Anita Surmacz, a senior from St. Johnsbury Academy, won the 2021 and 12th VB and will represent Vermont in April, 2021.
A Preliminary Oral Round for all students was led by Dr. Nate Jebbett from 10:20-11:00.
Following that were Case Presentations of Neurological and Psychiatric Disorder and Diseases by Sharon Leach, Ph.D., neuropsychologist and Feyza Basoglu, M.D., child psychiatrist. Dr Leach states that “we presented a few clinical cases that help the students learn about how neuroscience can be applied to human behavior, neurological and psychological functioning.”
After a noon lunch break, the Keynote talk was held from 1:00-1:50pm,.
Gary Mawe, PhD, a UVM Professor of Neurological Sciences will present “The Little Brain in the Gut”.
Dr. Mawe reviewed the enteric nervous system of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, what changes can occur in enteric neural circuits in various disorders such as IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome, IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) and MS or multiple sclerosis.
Besides a basic introduction, he reviewed how this nervous system is organized, changes that take place in pathological conditions, and the two-way communication that exists between the gut and the central nervous system, referred to as the Brain-Gut axis.”
Dr. Mawe is an excellent presenter and his talk has been recorded for future listening.
From 2:00 – 2:25 the Final Oral Round of the top eight participants as held. This was used to determine the 12th VBB winner. Anita Surmacz, from St. Johnsbury Academy, came in first, followed by Katherine Hankes from South Burlington and Hiba Ali, also from South Burlington. South Burlington also came in as the top school overall.
To conclude the afternoon, there was a Panel Discussion of current undergraduate, graduate, medical students, faculty and professionals who answered high school students’ questions about studying science, applying to college, how to look into potential careers, helpful advice on pursuing graduate/medical school.
Theresa Christiansen, the 2020-21 VBB Media and Outreach Intern, remarks that “The Vermont Brain Bee is an incredible opportunity for high school students like me to understand the inner workings of our amazing brains and connect with passionate professionals and peers. Interested in chemistry, medicine, computer science, biology or political science? All of these and more can be explored through the lens of neuroscience.”