A high school junior who studied small brain structures in the WSU Vancouver lab of Barbara Sorg bested nine other scientists in a recent science-communication competition.

Monica Chang, 15, of Camas went up against a post-doc, a graduate student, undergraduates and fellow high school students as she had three minutes to discuss her lab work in the Oregon Bioscience Showcase “Research Fast Pitch” competition.

Working as a research assistant, Chang studied perineuronal nets in the brains of rats. The structures restrict brain plasticity and influence memory development. Chang focused on how they differ between day and night.

“These day/night differences lay important groundwork for finding out how our brains during the night are able to solidify our daytime experiences into memories,” said Sorg, a professor in the Department of Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience.

“We all know that sleep is important for physical bodies, but it’s actually really important for our memory and our brains, as well,” Chang told more than 200 bioscience professionals, according to a report in the Camas-Washougal Post-Record. “My project is looking at the brain structures that are involved with sleep and memory. Even though we spent a third of our lives sleeping, we don’t really know what’s happening.”

Chang took home a $400 iPad mini for her efforts.

“It was a wonderful experience, albeit stressful,” she said. “I am extremely grateful to everyone in the Sorg Lab at WSUV, the Magnet Program at CHS, and my family. I definitely would not be able to do any of this without all of them.”