Gray matters


First Posted: 3/7/2013

Brains. Brains. Brains.

It may sound like something out of the cult classic, “Night of the Living Dead.”

But this young man has brains in his heart.

Greg Cajka, 17, of Wyoming, the regional winner of the Brain Bee, a neuroscience competition held last month at the University of Scranton, came in 22nd in the nation at the the Fifth USA National Brain Bee Championship in Baltimore on March 2 and 3.

Cajka became interested in neuroscience when his sister was in high school and participated in the Brain Bee.

“I was always interested in science, but I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go,” he said. “After working with the Brain Bee, I think I found some direction.”

He said the brain fascinates him.

“Why we think, how we move, how we feel pain,” he said. “And there are still a lot of unknowns. It’s the most complicated structure we know of.”

Students were quizzed on their knowledge of the human brain including such topics as intelligence, emotions, memory, sleep, vision, hearing, sensations, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, addictions and brain research.

The competition involved orals, a neuroanatomy laboratory practical with real human brains, neurohistology with microscopes, brain imaging identification and patient diagnosis with nurse actors. It was divided into six parts, Cajka said.

The nerotomical practical had contestants identifying actual parts of the human brain, cut into various cross sections, from cadavers.

Neuro-histology had participants reviewing pictures of tissues, cells and nerves on microscope slides.

In the MRI section, students had to identify parts of the brain from 40 MRI images.

The written exam had contestants answering 30 multiple choice questions based on the book, “Neroscience: The Science of the Brian.”

Patient diagnosis section had contestants sitting with actors who are trained to imitate brain disorders. Students may ask questions and review symtoms after the “patient” gave a brief presentation on their case. The final part was an oral test of 20 questions.

Directed by founder Dr. Norbert Myslinski of the University of Maryland, the Brain Bee is an attempt to motivate students to learn about the brain, to capture their imaginations, and to inspire them to pursue careers in biomedical brain research.

There are about 150 Local Brain Bee coordinators worldwide that conduct competitions annually.

In addition to the Brain Bee, Cajka is also involved in other academic competitions, such as the History Bowl, concert band and marching band where he plays alto saxophone. After graduation, he hopes to attend the Unversity of Pennsylvania and study medical science and biology.

He lives in Wyoming with his parents, George anwwd Lesha Cajka, and his sister.

“It was a great experience,” he said.

“The brain is just so fascinating and intricate.”

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