TORONTO – He plays guitar, likes tennis and has never taken an IQ test, and now Sean Amodeo of Toronto hopes to win the title of Best Brain in the World.
The 18-year-old will be matching wits against high school students from seven other countries on Saturday at the 11th International Brain Bee competition, being held at Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York Hotel in conjunction with the American Psychological Association conference.
The first-prize winner of these mind games gets a $3,000 scholarship, a trophy, a summer internship in a neuroscience laboratory, and will represent the Brain Bee around the world.
Amodeo, who won the title of best brain in Canada at the national competition in May at McMaster University in Hamilton, said he does well under pressure.
“I find I can remember things better if my heart’s beating,” he said.
But he noted there could be stiff competition from brainiacs from Australia, Grenada, India, New Zealand, Romania, Uganda and the United States.
“It’s pretty exciting and kind of nerve racking also. I don’t really know how prepared everyone else is,” said Amodeo.
The brain bee is divided into several parts. Like a game show, contestants will have 15 seconds to answer a question on neuroscience, first by writing it down, then reading it aloud. Then they have to look at brain specimens to identify their structure and function, and must diagnose a neurological disorder that’s being acted out by actors playing patients. Then they come back for several lightning rounds of questions on neuroscience.
The type of question competitors will face include: How many neurons does the brain contain? The answer is 100 billion. Stargazer mice are experimental models for which type of epilepsy? The answer is petit mal epilepsy.
Competitors must bone up on “Neuroscience: The Study of the Brain” for the neuroscience questions. But Amodeo said for the neuroanatomy section, the students have to find their own material to study.
“(On Tuesday) I met with a neurosurgeon at Toronto Western Hospital and he was helping me with the clinical part,” said Amodeo.
The students will be quizzed on everything from memory, sleep and brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and schizophrenia, to aging and perception, to their skills at patient diagnosis and neuroanatomy.
“It’s to encourage the high school students to think about neuroscience and brain research. It’s something that most of them don’t study in their regular curriculum at least not to a great depth,” said Judith Shedden, chair of the CIHR Canadian National Brain Bee Committee.
“These are the neuroscientists of tomorrow,” she said.
Shedden, who’s also associate professor of McMaster University’s Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, said part of the purpose is to raise awareness of brain research in the community and to get the students to think about neuroscience as a career choice.
Amodeo, who graduated from York Memorial Collegiate Institute this year, plans to study health sciences at McMaster University in September. Amodeo said he hopes one day to get into neurosurgery.
Although Shedden is listed as Amodeo’s Canadian co-ordinator on the program, McMaster is paying for the Ugandan contestant Wampaalu Peter to attend the competition because he did not have the financial means to come to Canada for the bee, said Shedden. He’s attending the event with Uganda’s National Brain Bee co-ordinator Sekabira Wilson.
David Alpay won the first international bee in 1999, Marvin Chum came out on top in 2002 and Jong Park took the trophy in 2006. The other years, American eggheads all took the title.
Alpay went on to become an actor, appearing in the 2006 comedy “Man of the Year” and some episodes of the TV series “The Tudors.” Last year’s 2008 winner, Elena Perry, from Rockville, Md., represented the Brain Bee at receptions held at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., and at the Convention of the Society for Neuroscience, also in the U.S. capital.