Irvine Brain Bee Ignites Passion for Neuroscience Among
Southern California High School Students

On Saturday February 10, 2024, the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California, Irvine (UCI CNLM) hosted the 6th annual Irvine Brain Bee, welcoming 76 high school students from across Southern California. The Brain Bee is an international neuroscience competition for high school students, where students compete first regionally, then nationally, then globally, on topics related to neuroscience. The event, made possible by generous donations from the Friends of the CNLM, showcased a day of exploration into the captivating world of neuroscience.



Students gathered early Saturday morning, clad in vibrant purple tie-dye Brain Bee shirts, to embark on a journey of discovery. The Irvine Brain Bee was founded in 2019 by Dr. Manuella Oliveira Yassa, CNLM Director of Outreach and Education, who directs the program and serves as co-director of the USA Brain Bee. The organization of this year’s event was led by three doctoral students Rachael Hokenson, Winny Ning and Allison Morehouse with the support of 48 dedicated CNLM Ambassador volunteers. Additionally, a panel of four esteemed faculty judges and a distinguished keynote speaker made the day possible.



The event began with a spirited “ZOT ZOT ZOT”, uniting participants in the warm embrace of the UCI community. Each student received a lucky red envelop to celebrate the Lunar New Year, with a special year of the dragon sticker - brain edition.

Highlights from the day included hands-on experiences with preserved human and sheep brains, offering insights into comparative anatomy and the 3-dimensional organization of brain structures. Students honed their laboratory skills by mounting paper-thin slices of mouse brain tissue onto slides. They visited the laboratories of Dr. Bruce McNaughton and Dr. Liz Chrastil where they learned about how we use virtual reality to explore learning and memory in humans as well as in the animal model.



“The Brain Bee is a wonderful opportunity for students to learn about neuroscience. They learn about ongoing research, experience research labs in action, and meet scientists who have had diverse paths. Students get a chance to see themselves in neuroscience careers,” says Rachael Hokenson, who has led the Irvine Brain Bee organizing committee since its founding.

Dr. Laura Ewell, a CNLM Faculty Fellow and Associate Director of UCI’s Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program delivered the keynote lecture. Her insightful presentation, titled “The path of a neuroscientist and of a memory” not only chronicled her personal journey but also illuminated the complex mechanisms underlying memory storage in the brain.





As the day drew to a close, the excitement reached its peak with the Brain Bee Finals Round — a riveting showcase of the students’ knowledge and dedication. The top ten scoring students from the written exam were invited to participate the finals round, were they faced challenging questions from a panel of faculty judges (Dr. Bryce Mander, Dr. Leslie Thompson, Dr. Gyorgy Lur, and Dr. Elizabeth Head).



The ten Irvine Brain Bee Finalists for 2024 are listed below in alphabetical order:

Tiancheng Dong (Northwood High School, Irvine, 12th grade)

Katherine Jeon (Canyon Crest Academy, San Diego, 10th grade)

Hengzhou (Ferris) Li (Northwood High School, Irvine, 9th grade)

Ocean Liauw (University High School, Irvine, 11th grade)

Diane Magpayo (Troy High School, Roland Heights, 11th grade)

Seyed Amirhos Mohammadi (Portola High School, Irvine, 11th grade)

Yoojun (Evan) Park (Valencia High School, Brea, 11th grade)

Kayla Roh (Fairmont Preparatory Academy Irvine, 9th grade)

Aadhya Shenoy (Arnold O. Beckman High School, Irvine, 10th grade)

Stanley Suen (Northwood High School, Irvine, 11th grade)

After 3 incorrect answers, students were eliminated from the finals table. At the end of the day, the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st place winners were announced.

Congratulations to the top 3 Irvine Brain Bee Winners:

3rd place: Tiangcheng Dong  (12th grader from Northwood High School)

2nd place: Aadhya Shenoy (10th grader from Arnold O. Beckman High School)

1st place: Hengzhou (Ferris) Li (9th grader from Northwood High School)

As the winner of this year’s competition, Hengzhou (Ferris) will represent the Irvine Brain Bee at the USA Brain Bee this summer. While this may be his first Brain Bee win, Ferris is no stranger to science competitions, having won the national Science Olympiad while a Sierra Vista Middle School student. “This means a lot to me,” commented Ferris, holding his 1st place plaque. “It’s like all my hard work has come to fruition.”



“The Irvine Brain Bee is not merely a competition; it serves as a catalyst for lifelong learning and exploration,” says Oliveira Yassa. “It empowers young minds to discover their potential and cultivate a passion for science that transcends boundaries, shaping the leaders and innovators of tomorrow.”

For more information about the Irvine Brain Bee and opportunities to support future initiatives, please visit irvinebrainbee.org or contact Dr. Manuella Oliveira Yassa at Manuella.Yassa@uci.edu, (949) 824-5193.

About the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory:

Established in 1983 by the UC Regents, with James L. McGaugh as its Founding Director, the CNLM is the first research institute in the world dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of the fundamental brain mechanisms of learning and memory. It is credited with numerous seminal discoveries about how memory works and is recognized as a global leader in the area. Led by Director Michael Yassa, the CNLM is home to more than 120 faculty scientists at UCI and beyond. The Center has also developed a number of successful training programs for neuroscience education at all levels and is deeply committed to enhancing diversity and inclusion in academia. For more information on the CNLM, visit cnlm.uci.edu.