BY JOHN COLLINS
The Valley Dispatch
CAMBRIDGE -- When it comes to answering questions about the brain, Brittany Petros has proven herself to be the brainiest high-school student in the state.
Petros, a Dracut High senior and Class of 2014 valedictorian, won the 2014 Boston Regional Brain Bee held at MIT's Picower Institute on Saturday.
For winning the ninth-annual state Brain Bee, Petros was awarded a $350 cash prize, plus an all-expenses-paid trip for two to the national Brain Bee, which is being held in Baltimore during the weekend of "Brain Awareness Week," March 12-18. She plans to take her mother with her to Maryland, she said.
The Brain Bee is a question-and-answer competition for high-school students on brain topics, such as neurological disease, brain development, learning, memory and more. All questions come from the Brain Facts book.
In topping the field of 30 student competitors, Petros did not get a single question wrong in the contest's opening round, consisting of a written test. She held on to that perfect score through three elimination rounds of live questions and answers that concluded Saturday afternoon with Petros last standing on stage as the winner, said Lakeview Junior High teacher Rebecca Duda, who accompanied Petros to the contest at her former eighth-grade student's request.
Duda credited Karen Taylor, Dracut High's Science Department head, for mentoring Petros in the months and years that led up to her crowning achievement in Saturday's contest.
Always humble despite her considerable brain power, Petros had warned her former teacher during the drive to Cambridge that she was not likely to win the state contest, Duda said.
"Brittany pointed out that she was the only kid from Dracut entered, and that she was up against students from some other very good schools," Duda said. "I told her that didn't matter; she had an excellent shot at winning."
For posting one of the top 10 scores in the written test, Petros advanced to the live elimination rounds versus nine other students. For three rounds, judges asked a question of all remaining students at once, giving them 20 seconds to write their answers in marker on white boards. Petros did not appear to struggle with any answer to the increasingly difficult neuroscience questions, Duda reported.
"She wrote her answers down immediately. She didn't even need the 20 seconds," according to Duda.
"Once I got there, and started answering questions, I felt very confident," said Petros, 18. "It was a very fun time."
Though she hadn't stumbled once, Petros had a look of surprise on her face when the Brain Bee was done and she was named the winner, Duda reported.
"I was still definitely stunned when I won," said Petros. "When you're in that position, competing against the top students in Massachusetts of all states, which is known for being tops educationally in the country, you cannot go into such a contest expecting to be the top student."
Her proud parents, Richard and Lucia Petros, may not have been quite so surprised that their oldest of three children aced the Bee.
"Brittany is just one of those children who is very motivated and self-driven; she always has been since she was a young child," said Lucia Petros. "Both her father and I are very proud of her and thrilled she has accomplished so much in her young life. Every time we might think she has done everything she can do, she does more."
Petros is a member of the Dracut High orchestra, playing the flute. She is attending Harvard University in the fall. She plans to continue studying neuroscience at Harvard, with a plan to earn a combined M.D./Ph.D degree, which would enable her "to go on to do clinical patient care, and laboratory research," as both a practicing doctor and scientist, she said.
Duda believes Petros has an excellent chance to win the National Brain Bee in March, which includes a top prize of an all expense-paid-trip to the International Brain Bee in Washington, D.C., in August.
"I've known Brittany since eighth grade and she has always been an astounding young lady, someone who involves herself in everything, and who is a lifelong learner who loves learning. She's brilliant," Duda said.
Before heading to Baltimore in March, Petros said she plans to take up offers from several Boston-area doctors and scientists, who attended Saturday's Brain Bee, to do some intensive neuroscience-quiz preparation.
"Some of the world's best doctors and scientists at the conference were talking about giving me tutoring sessions; that would be a huge help," she said.
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