by Sonal Gagrani

Question: How many miles of myelin-covered nerve fibers exist in the brain of the average 20 year old?

In an effort to bring together students and faculty to celebrate and spread the awareness of neuroscience, the Neuroscience Majors Union, Synapse, and the neuroscience education team put together its first annual Brain Games. Students who had signed up beforehand to compete formed four teams with one faculty mentor per team to collaborate on various neuroscience related games.

Faculty mentors included Dr. Jenni Groh, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Dr. Nina Sherwood, Assistant Research Professor in Biology, Dr. Leonard White, Associate Professor in the Duke Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development, and Dr. Tobias Egner, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience.

The games consisted of 6 different sections of play. The first was the Left Brain game in which a neuroscience related word or phrase was shown to one member of a team and he or she had to use describe that word with other words so that the team could guess it.

In the second game, called Timing is Everything, teams had to chronologically arrange a given series of events such as discoveries about neurotransmitters and drugs or the order of founding of certain neuroscience/psychology programs at Duke.


photo by Sonal Gagrani

The third game was called the Match game in which students, without their faculty mentors, had to match facts to the correct faculty to whom they belonged. Facts ranged from baby pictures of faculty to which pets they had to which instruments they played. Dr. Groh plays the banjo, Dr. Marty Woldorff juggles flaming torches and Dr. Craig Roberts has written a paper on the management of lower extremity lawn mower injuries in children. So many things you never knew about professors at Duke!

After this came the Right Brain game, similar to the Left Brain game but instead of using words, teams drew pictures of the given neuroscience phrases. The fifth game was the Numerical Cognition Game, which was essentially Price is Right: Neuroscience Version. Given a prompt, the teams had to guess the value of what was shown without going over the true value, like the myelin question. Answer: 100,000 miles!

The end of the Brain Games was a bonus round that allowed teams to bet any amount of points that they wanted. They viewed two images quickly switching back and forth that had a very slight difference between them and had to identify what that change was. This presents a phenomenon known as change blindness where it is very difficult to detect quick or subtle changes between two photos or environments. Surprisingly, all the teams were able to identify the change and all finished with comparable scores.

Shaina Gong, a sophomore neuroscience major and visual arts minor from the winning team said about the experience, “I signed up for this without knowing what I was really going to do. I was really nervous actually, like, what if I didn’t know enough neuro for this? But it was fine and really fun! Anyone interested in neuroscience should definitely try it out!”