The Winners of the BRAIN Challenge

BY:National Institutes of Health

Summary: Last year, the BRAIN Initiative proposed a challenge for students to describe their perspectives on the ethics and implications of emerging neurotechnologies.

picture of brain, light bulb, neuron, and scale with the

Last year, the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative proposed a challenge. This challenge was for students to describe their perspectives on the ethics, limitations, and implications of emerging technologies that are used to study and treat disorders of the human brain. Students were invited to submit their perspectives in the form of a 2-page essay or a video no longer than 5 minutes. Well, when the BRAIN Initiative called, the students answered! In fact, the NIH received over a hundred submissions from students across the United States for this BRAIN Initiative Challenge. Submissions were carefully reviewed by members of both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the BRAIN Initiative Alliance, as well as actual BRAIN scientists. Final selections occurred after thoughtful evaluation by NIH leadership involved in BRAIN and ethics. You can see the prize-winning submissions by visiting the updated Challenge Submission page!

Let’s start with the essay winners; great job everyone!

PlaceTitleWinnerHome StateGrade
1stThe Call for Guidelines to Regulate Commercial Neuromarketing
2ndNeuroethics for a Versatile Future
3rd (tie)Ethically Enhancing Human Abilities using Neurotechnology
3rd (tie)Creating Brain Organoids Isn’t a “No-Brainer”

What about the video winners? We would also like to thank all of our video winners for their amazing presentations!

PlaceTitleWinnerHome StateGrade
1stWhere Are We Headed
Ayush & AbbiramNew Jersey11th
2ndWhat the Novel 1984 Teaches Us About Neuroethics: A Student Discussion of Cognitive Liberty
Brenda & AlinneTexas10th
3rdBrain Computer Interfaces
Anisha & AnikaWashington12th

The NIH BRAIN Initiative Director, Dr. John Ngai, and Director of the National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke, Dr. Walter Koroshetz, announced our winners live via an online broadcast. We asked our winners what their key take-away was from this experience that they want their peers, parents, and teachers to remember. Here’s what a few of them said:

Mawuena“Concerning patients, we should actively listen to them because their more in tune with their experiences and their needs. When doctors and neuroscientists start to listen to patients then treatment can improve.”
Zaynab“I would like us to realize that as we are developing amazing technologies that allow us to really explore how the brain works in unprecedented ways, and even find out ways to cure devastating brain diseases. We also need to be mindful of the fact that we are potentially sentient organoids and it is our responsibility not only to study pain and suffering and sentience but also realize that this comes at the cost of reaping the medical benefits.”
Masara“I believe the brain is arguably the most important part of our body and is what makes us, us, and I think it should have the utmost time and care put it when discussing third-party applications like sensors and implants in our brains and what data they can take and use.”
Brenda & Alinne“After learning more about the threats to neuroethics we have been able to value cognitive liberty more. Developing technology puts us at risk to cognitive liberty. As this technology continues to develop it is essential to continue posing new questions about the ethics of it all.”
Vamsi“New technologies spurred by companies increasing sophisticated marketing activities will cause more invasive and potentially unethical business practices like the advent of commercial neuromarketing…To protect consumer autonomy we all must be aware of commercial neuromarketing and be wary of the subsequent advances.”
Ayush & Abbiram“What we need to do now is learn from our previous mistakes with things like the internet and data and begin to set guidelines before anything potentially bad happens…It’s these types of conversations that will need to be had in the classroom and also beyond to breed the kind of thinking that we need to question the technology and see its impacts in the future. Ultimately, everyone can and should have a voice in these conversations.

Due to the multitude of amazing submissions, there were a number of honorable mentions we would like to highlight. Here are the six honorable mentions from the essay category and one from the video category:

CategoryTitleNameHome StateGrade
EssayDeep Brain Stimulation – Improving Informed Consent
EssayFiction to Fact
EssayThe Neuro-Social Dilemma
EssayThe Ethical Concerns of Advanced Neuropsychiatry
EssayThe New Era of Neuro-Regulations
EssayShould DBS Be Performed Knowing It Can Cause Personality Change
VideoMinding the Future
James & DerekMaryland11th

Way to rise above the other entries, honorable mentions!

If you missed this prize competition, never fear! The NIH BRAIN Initiative is thrilled to announce plans for another Challenge for high school students in the coming year. Check back at and on @USBrainAlliance!