Ottawa teen wins international neuroscience competition

·2 min read
Helene Li competed against 30 students from six different continents over eight days of tests, and question and answer rounds. (Submitted by Helene Li - image credit)
Helene Li competed against 30 students from six different continents over eight days of tests, and question and answer rounds. (Submitted by Helene Li - image credit)

A Merivale High School student won first place at the International Brain Bee (IBB), the world's top neuroscience competition for teenagers.

This year's world championship was held virtually from July 2-9 and hosted by the 2022 Federation of European Neuroscience Societies Forum and the Paris Brain Institute.

Helene Li, 15, competed against 30 students from six different continents over eight days of tests, and question and answer rounds.

The competition was made up of three sections: general neuroscience knowledge, patient diagnosis, and neuroanatomy and neurohistology.

"My favourite part I would have to say would be the neuroanatomy/neurohistology section, because I find it interesting to map out spatially where structures are in the brain," she told CBC's Stu Mills on All in a Day.

It's no surprise then that she won the neuroanatomy/histology award for receiving top scores in both of those components of the competition.The prize included $100 US and a book on the works of 1906 Nobel Laureate Santiago Ramón y Cajal.

Li also took home a cash prize of $3,000 US as the 2022 IBB world champion and a 2023 virtual advanced medical neuroscience internship or advanced medical public health internship sponsored by Leadership Initiatives, a U.S. based non-profit.

It ultimately made me a better student. - Helene Li

As winner of the Ottawa Brain Bee, she will also get the chance to work as an intern at one of Carleton University's neuroscience labs next summer.

But winning didn't come easy. During the 2022 IBB world championship, she experienced a three-day power outage which she said "forced me to work quicker during the time while the sun was still up."

Interest in neuroscience

In the end though, the competition was about more than just winning for Li.

"I was more focused on applying my knowledge well, and making sure that my past efforts justified my performance. So I think in that way, I learned something very meaningful through this experience," she said, adding that she "thoroughly enjoyed studying about the intricate structures of the brain."

Li said it's the unknowns about the brain that first sparked her interest in neuroscience.

"I think the more you look at it, the more you're amazed by it," she said.

She also shared that she hopes to one day pursue a career in neuroscience to further treatments for Alzheimer's disease.

For now, she plans to expand her interests thanks to new friends she made at the competition.

"I find that their achievements and their skills have inspired me greatly to pursue shared interests, such as computer coding," she said.

"And so I think, ultimately, the best takeaway from this experience extends beyond neuroscience … it ultimately made me a better student."

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