Senior Michaela Breach places at National Brain Bee


Natalie Clark– The Brain Bee, a neuroscience competition for high school students, begins with local competitions that feed into national and international championships. The regional round for Indiana competitors began at IUPUI on Dec. 6, 2014. Senior Michaela Breach not only competed in and won the regional competition, but continued on to the National Brain Bee in Maryland.

With over 150 chapters in 30 countries and six continents, the Brain Bee competition has substantially grown over the past few years. Participants advance through three different tiers of competition from regional to national and finally to the International Championship. Worldwide, there are more than 30,000 students competing each year.

“I started preparing in January. The official 2015 National Brain Bee (NBB) study guide wasn’t released until February, so I started studying off of last year’s just to get things going. In all honesty, I spent 3 months’ worth of free time studying for this competition. I couldn’t even tell you how much money I spent on Starbucks during long nights of studying – I’m a gold member now,” Breach said.

The national competition was composed of six parts: neuroanatomy, neurohistology, MRI identification, a written exam, patient diagnosis, and an oral question and answer.

The neuroanatomy portion was in a cadaver lab and involved 25 stations with either whole or half human brains. Each station had a pin in a structure or area that the competitor needed to identify. Participants only had one minute at each station and they could not go back to check answers. Michaela ended with a perfect score on this portion.

Following the lab portion, the neurohistology section involved 20 stations with a microscope slide of a type of nervous tissue. They were given one minute at each station and a list of answer choices. They had to write which station corresponded with what was on the list.

The MRI identification consisted of 40 different Magnetic Resonance Imaging photos with red arrows pointing to a structure and contestants had one minute to write down the correct answer.

The written exam had 44 multiple choice questions that were based on information from the Brain facts book as well as a book called “Neuroscience: the Science of the Brain.” Breach only missed four questions of this segment.

Michaela’s favorite part came last. During the patient diagnosis simulation, each participant had four minutes with each of the twelve patients. Each patient actor had one of 15 different diseases, including bipolar disorder, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, Huntington’s disease, schizophrenia, stroke, AIDS dementia, Tourette Syndrome, multiple sclerosis, Guillian-Barre Syndrome, chronic pain or autism. Actors shared their symptoms and participants could ask them three questions to which they could answer yes, no, or I don’t know.

“[The patient diagnosis] part was most similar to what I really want to do in the future, so I loved it. I want to help people who have mental illnesses and abolish the stigma associated with getting help from therapy or medication,” Breach said.

After all rounds were completed, Breach ended up taking home second place in the competition. Although participants can only enter the National Brain Bee once, she will continue on in her studies as she double majors in psychology and neuroscience next year at Indiana University. She hopes to attend medical school after her undergraduate degree.

MBreach w brother
Breach poses with her brother after winning the Regional competition. Photo used with courtesy of Michaela Breach.

“I am so happy to have made connections with IUPUI professors and I am sure I will keep in touch with them in the future. I have learned so much from this whole experience and I know there is just so much more to explore from here,” Breach said.