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Brain Bee Outreach Visits

For schools located within reasonable driving distance of Iowa City, we offer classroom/school visits to encourage participation and engagement in the Iowa Brain Bee. For schools that are a greater distance away, we are offering virtual visits. Neuroscience graduate students can visit to talk about the Brain Bee and various neuroscience topics. These presentations are developed and delivered by volunteer PhD students at the University of Iowa. Each presentation lasts approximately 30 minutes, and we recommend scheduling an additional 10-15 minutes at the end for questions. Outreach visits are tailored to grade level and size of the group, and can be modified to fit current course curriculum (e.g. biology, psychology, or advanced topics).

A typical classroom visit includes:

Introduction to visitors, their research, and the Brain Bee

Mirror tracing activity: in this fun and interactive activity, students learn about types of memory, and which brain areas are important for different aspects of memory.

Comparative neuroanatomy: students view brain specimens from different animals and learn about the similarities and differences in the brains, and how that translates to similarities and differences in animal behavior.

Q&A session

Benefits of school visits include:

Introducing students to neuroscience in a fun and engaging way

Learning more about the Brain Bee competition and day events

Giving student the opportunity to meet with neuroscientists and ask about science careers


Please see the list below for the possible options to choose from. The Neuroscience Presentations are available in-person or virtually. A University of Iowa PhD student volunteer would provide the presentation about the requested topic. Please note that depending on the availability of the volunteers, certain presentations may not be available if specific dates are requested. 


To inquire about availability and request a visit, please contact the Neuroscience Graduate Program at

Neuroscience Presentations

Cut and Paste: How Genetics have Altered the World of Neuroscience
Presenter: Emma Thornburg

Imagine a world where we can grow brains in a laboratory, where we can cure diseases with one drug, or even erase bad memories. Neurogenetics has opened the door for all of these possibilities. This presentation will take a deep-dive into the new technologies that are being developed, such as lab-grown mini-brains and different gene therapies, along with covering some of the basics of neurobiology and neurogenetics!

Topics covered: basic neuron biology and genetics, what makes neurons different from other cells in the body, limitations of animal research, mini-brains, the CRISPR system, and implications for these therapies

Chemical Warfare: How nerve cells communicate as told by the toxins and poisons that stop them
Presenter: William Milanick

For us to think, feel, and move, our nerve cells must communicate. Here we will learn the basics of nerve cell communication and interactively explore the effects of different toxins/poisons on the system and how they could be counteracted.

Topics covered: nerve cell communication at the neuromuscular junction, including the function of neurotransmitters, receptors, and enzymes – and how chemicals such as Novichok and Poison Dart Frog toxins block certain functions

Do you hear what I hear? The neuroscience the auditory system

Presenter: Sydney Houlton 

Our brains have the seemingly magical ability to turn waves of air pressure into different sounds. Air waves travel into the ear, causing the bones in the middle ear to vibrate. These vibrations cause the hair cells of the inner ear to shift in position. As the hair cells shift, an electrical signal is sent via the auditory nerve to the brain, creating the perception of sound. Hearing is one of the rare systems that uses mechanical, chemical, and electrical signals all in one system. This process can be disrupted at any level in the system, leading to different forms of hearing loss.  

Topics covered: anatomy of the ear, neuroanatomy of auditory system, sound detection, identification, localization, segregation, hearing loss

The Science of Habit 

Presenter: Maya Evans  

Our daily lives are full of many different habits -- both good and bad. Once formed, these habits can be very difficult to break or change. How are habits formed in the brain? What happens when the brain's habit formation areas function differently than normal? In this presentation, we will discuss the structures that allow us to form habits, the concepts of procedural learning and memory, and how these topics relate to some neuropsychiatric disorders.

Topics covered: basal ganglia anatomy and function; procedural learning and memory; habit formation; relevance of these topics to autism spectrum disorder, Tourette's syndrome, and obsessive-compulsive disorder

We Study Neuroscience Because We ARE Neuroscience:  The Path to Graduate School
Presenter: Sydney Houlton 

Neuroscience is a broad realm consisting of different areas such as cellular processing, molecular genetics, addiction, pharmacology, cognitive psychology....The list goes on. The path to graduate school can be very tricky, but if you know it is right for you, GO FOR IT! I will share my story of what inspired me to become a neuroscientist and some guidelines that helped get me here. 

Topics covered: spiffing up your resume, looking for mentors, what interests you, reach out for information; My Story: personal inspiration for going into neuroscience, don't let hurdles get in your way

Mock Iowa Brain Bee

Get a feel for the competition and some extra practice for next year's Iowa Brain Bee! This presentation runs through an abridged version of the competition, including real questions from previous years. It is best suited for students with some neuroscience knowledge.

Topics covered: Iowa Brain Bee competition format; mock Round 1 and Round 2; U.S. Championship competition format

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