In third place is Indian-origin teen Elwin Vethamuthu of Malaysia
By Geeta Goindi
Washington, DC, August 6, 2017 – Indian-American whiz kid Sojas Wagle, 15, of Arkansas has won the nineteenth edition of the World Brain Bee, an ever so meaningful neuroscience competition for teenagers.
He was awarded the top prize of 3,000 dollars, a trophy, and the right to represent the Brain Bee worldwide.
About being crowned the champion, he told us, “It happened so fast, it’s so surreal. I’m happy that my hard work paid off”.
A sophomore at the Har-Ber High School in Springdale, Sojas studied diligently for the last two months. “Preparing for the nationals helped”, he said.
In second place was Milena Malcharek of Poland, and Elwin Vethamuthu, 17, of Malaysia, also of Indian origin, bagged third position in the challenging contest that “builds better brains to fight brain disorders”.
Elwin who majors in physics, chemistry and biology at SMK Seri Bintang Utara, in Kuala Lumpur, was jubilant. “I feel really happy and proud because this is the first time Malaysia has come in the top three in this competition”, he said.
Elwin aspires to pursue a career in neuroscience. He is desirous of delving into the field hoping to find a cure for brain disorders. His ambition is tempered with a humility that is endearing.
“I want to thank all my school friends and my parents because they always test my knowledge in neuroscience on a daily or weekly basis, and the local university in Malaysia”, he told us.
The 2017 edition of the World Brain Bee, also called the International Brain Bee (IBB), saw 24 future neuroscientists, each representing a country, participating in the championship event held August 2 to 7 at the spacious Marriott Marquis hotel, a prominent DC convention venue.
The competition is the brainchild of Dr. Norbert Myslinski, associate professor in the Department of Neural and Pain Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, and is presented by the International Brain Bee organization which he founded in conjunction with the American Psychological Association. The purpose is to motivate youngsters, ages 13 to 19, to study the brain and to inspire them to consider careers in the basic and clinical neurosciences. Organizers hope that one day they will treat and find cures for the some 1,000 neurological and psychological disorders around the world.
Students are tested on their knowledge of the human brain. Topics include intelligence, emotions, memory, sleep, vision, hearing, sensation, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, addictions and brain research.
The competition involves oral tests, a neuroanatomy laboratory exam with real human brains, a neurohistology test, and a patient diagnosis component with patient actors.
This year, there were a total of 25 finalists, with one absentee from Nepal, of which five were of Indian origin: Rutvik Savaliya, India; Prerana Keerthi, Canada; Kartik Goyal, United Arab Emirates; Vethamuthu, Malaysia; and Wagle, United States. Risini Gamage, an eleventh grade student at the Illawarra Grammar School in Australia, is of Sri Lankan descent.
The 25 finalists emerged from an original pool of 10,000 students after competing in 200 local chapter competitions, each involving manifold schools. The winners then competed in their respective regional (national) championship, following which the regional winners came to Washington to represent their country in the championship event. The contest is held in various cities around the globe, and every three years in the US capital. The 2018 edition of the Brain Bee will be held July 7 to 11, in Berlin, Germany.
In the competition’s nineteen-year history, beginning in 1998, there have been six champions of Indian origin: Arjun Bharioke of New Jersey, US, 2001; Saroj Kunnakkat of New York, US, 2003; Bhaktapriya Nagalla of Connecticut, US, 2004; Ritika Chokhani of Mumbai, India, 2010; Gayathri Muthukumar of Bangalore, India, 2014; and now the 2017 winner.
About neuroscience, Sojas says, “I became engrossed in the topic after I self-studied AP Psychology as a freshman, and I enjoyed learning about all the neurological disorders”.
He is a child genius, no newcomer to name or fortune! He was selected for the Whiz Kids Edition of the popular game show, ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ and won 250,000 dollars. “I later donated some of my winnings to my school district and the Arkansas Children’s Hospital”, he discloses.
Sojas is captain of his school’s Quiz Bowl team, involved in debates, passionate about Geography having secured third place in the 2015 National Geographic Bee, a member of the Arkansas Philharmonic Youth Orchestra playing violin as first chair, and has volunteered as an algebra tutor at his local summer school.
Prerana, in eleventh grade at The Woodlands School in Toronto, secured seventh place in the 2017 competition. By her own admission, she nurtures “a passion for neuroscience” and was “very excited to be representing Canada at the International Brain Bee”.
Earlier this year, Prerana completed an online research co-op program at her school which enabled her “to study the genetic relationship between the immune system and psychiatric disorders. It was a fascinating experience that further cemented my long-held interest in neuroscience”, she says. “In the future, I want to be a neurologist, researcher and professor. I truly hope that my work will be able to positively impact the lives of others”.
Kartik is in grade 12 at the Indian High School in Dubai. His favorite subjects are biology and chemistry, and he hopes to become a doctor.
He lives amidst a close-knit Indian community and the Brain Bee afforded him a great opportunity “to socialize, meet new people and get to understand different cultures”.
Rutvik is a twelfth grade student in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. “I belong to the Patel community”, he told us. “My parents are both doctors, gynecologists. I, too, want to pursue medicine after completing high school”.
About the Brain Bee competition, he said, it is a wonderful opportunity “because it gives me exposure at the international level so I can know my strengths and weaknesses, take that back with me, and improve”.
Rutvik spoke about his passion for neuroscience. After winning the national championship in his home state, he delved deeper into the features of the brain. “I wanted to learn more”, he said. “That’s how I came across neuroscience and now I am really passionate about it. I will definitely take it up as a profession”, he vowed.
We asked him about the highlight of the competition: What would you take back with you?
“I will certainly take back the bonding with the new friends I’ve made”, he replied. “If you are living in India, you think I will never be able to make a German friend or an American friend or a Nigerian friend. Now that you are here, you see that they are just like you. I will definitely take the bonds back with me and the memories, and also the exposure”.