London high school student named 'best brain in Canada'

For the first time since the Canadian National Brain Bee launched a decade ago, a London high school student has been named the 'best brain in Canada'.

Ingrid Huang will represent Canada at the International Brain Bee in Berlin this July

Ingrid Huang (left) is the first student from the city of London to take home the National Brain Bee's 'best brain in Canada' title. (Submitted by Judith Shedden)

Inrgid Huang admits she didn't know a lot about neuroscience. But that didn't stop the London high school student from being named the "best brain in Canada".

Huang, a grade 12 student at Sir Frederick Banting Secondary School, earned the title after beating more than a dozen other students in the Canadian National Brain Bee neuroscience competition last month in Hamilton. 

"The competition was really fun because I got a chance to try out things I had never done before. I learned a lot, and met a lot of people that were really interesting," said Huang. "I studied really hard and then felt really happy about it — that I could achieve this and represent London."

Along with the "best brain" title, Huang received a trophy and $1,500. She will also be representing Canada at the International Brain Bee in Berlin, Germany in July.

Prior to getting involved with the Brain Bee, Ingrid Huang had never studied neuroscience. (Submitted by Judith Shedden)

For the competition, participants rotate through a series of about 20 stations with real pieces of a human brain, and have a limited amount of time to answer questions on a worksheet before a bell rings to move on to the next. 

There also are mock patient diagnoses, multiple choice questions, short answers and an "oral showdown".

"My favourite part so far has been the patient diagnosis because it's the most challenging," Huang said. "It's a valuable experience because it's what I want to do in the future — to be a neurologist you have to diagnose patients."

Judith Shedden, Chair of the Canadian National Brain Bee, said the level of knowledge and intensity is equivalent to that of a second or third year university-level course in neuroscience.

"Our purpose is to raise awareness in the community, so we reach out to the high schools and encourage the students to consider careers in neuroscience, brain sciences and medicine," said Shedden. 
Ingrid Huang (second from right) stands with a group of participants at the Canadian National Brain Bee at McMaster University in Hamilton. (Submitted by Judith Shedden)

Huang said that, although she takes courses such as biology, chemistry, physics and calculus at her high school, she had no experience with neuroscience prior to the competition.

"They don't get that content as part of the curriculum in high school," said Shedden. "So the Brain Bee ... gets them to know about the brain diseases are out there and to consider being a part of the next generation of neuroscientists that will solve [them]."

To be eligible to compete at the national, they're already a champion. They've already studied really hard.- Judith Shedden

To compete in the Brain Bee at the national level, winners like Huang had to come in first place at the local level.

These local competitions are held at 17 universities across the country, and usually host anywhere between 20 and 50 young protégés, according to Shedden.

"To be eligible to compete at the national, they're already a champion. They've already studied really hard. Then when they start to prepare for the national, it's a whole new set of books and materials to study," said Shedden. "Each level of the competition gets more and more intense."

The International Brain Bee will take place in Berlin, Germany July 5-9.