By Wade Coggeshall
INDIANAPOLIS — Do you know the name of the specialized cells that support and nourish neurons? What about the type of knowledge that involves skilled behavior and learned habits? Or that Parkinson's disease is characterized by a deficit of what neurotransmitter?
If you answered glial cells, procedural memory, and dopamine in that order, you'd be an excellent candidate for IUPUI's annual Brain Bee competition.
The fourth edition of the contest was conducted Saturday in the university's Lilly Auditorium. Dozens of students from around the state competed for a $2,000 yearly scholarship to IUPUI's undergraduate neuroscience program, as well as an all-expense paid trip to the national Brain Bee in early March at the University of Maryland.
The top three this year - Sharmila Paul, Josh Segaran, and Saiuth Malpeddi respectively - all attend Carmel High School.
Steve Boehm, social professor of psychology and director of the undergraduate neuroscience program, says IUPUI got the idea for the Brain Bee from the national competition and the international one, which involves more than 30 countries.
"We thought it would be a really great way to do some outreach in the community," he said.
The Brain Bee started here before IUPUI established its neuroscience program. The Psychology Department was the first to sponsor it.
"But even when we started this, we had plans and aspirations to establish an undergraduate neuroscience program on campus," Boehm said. "The pieces were all in place, we just hadn't formerly put it together. We recognized the Brain Bee would be a great way to promote that program."
They had a record number of participants this year. As important, the first IUPUI Brain Bee winner has applied to the school's neuroscience program and will matriculate in the fall.
"These students who participate are the best of the best - the brightest minds at their high schools around the state of Indiana," Boehm said.
Contestants have 20 seconds to answer each question, all of which involve the human brain and nervous system. Participants are eliminated from the contest after three wrong answers. This year it took about 40 minutes to determine a winner.
"This is a great way to reach out to the community and at the same time shed light on opportunities here," said Boehm, who noted that neuroscience is growing within Indiana's burgeoning life sciences industry. More young people need to develop an interest in how the human brain works, he said, even when it comes to basic behavior.
"These are things we want to try to understand," Boehm said. "It's an important area of research. We're going to need new and bright minds trained in the discipline, who can then replace us and continue making important advances and finding new cures that have eluded us."
For more information on IUPUI's neuroscience program, visit the website at science.iupui.edu.