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Australian Brain Bee Challenge

The Australian Brain Bee Challenge (ABBC) is a competition for Secondary students in Year 10 to learn about the brain and its functions, learn about neuroscience research, find out about careers in neuroscience, and dispel misconceptions about neurological and mental illnesses. The program commenced in Australia in 2006 and provides current and accurate information on the latest advances in neuroscience research, its value to the community, and promotes careers in science and technology.

CHAC entered all Year 10 students and of the thousands who competed in Queensland, four of our students were among the 137 students from 42 schools who made it into the finals. Emily Smith, Isaac Reed, Luke Pearce and Anna Coldham-Fussell give their accounts of their day at the UQ Brain Institute below.

Gay Ellyett
Coordinator: Exceptional Scientists’ Program

Knowledge is often referred to as enlightening. We speak of seeing the light, and cartoons depict ideas as a shining light bulb. The simplest of these metaphors for thought and reasoning are forgivable when you become aware of just how little we as a race understand about the brain and its functions.

On Wednesday 18 July, four Year 10 students were the guests of the Queensland Brain Institute on a day which covered lab tours, an international neuroethology conference, and competing in the State Finals of the Australian Brain Bee Competition.

Within the individual rounds of the challenge, about 135 students were first required to answer 30 short-response questions regarding brain facts and anatomy. From this, the top 10 were determined and they then undertook additional rounds of finals in front of the other competitors. All questions were based on the textbook Brain Facts, which we studied during the holidays.

Although no CHAC students proceeded to the national round, the day was an incredible opportunity to gain an in-depth introduction to the field of neuroscience. Witnessing the dedication and effort being put into developing human understanding of the brain’s functioning was heartening. With one in four expected to face neurological or psychological difficulty, it is inspiring to see that there might be 'light at the end of the tunnel' in treating and reversing these conditions.

Anna Coldham-Fussell, Year 10

After the challenging first round, all students were organised into groups based on which part of the brain was labelled on our lanyards. These groups then went on to tour the laboratories that the institute had to offer, with each section more exhilarating than the last. The tour allowed us to experience what it would be like to work as a scientist in the labs, exposing us to many types of research. These included: observing tiny, one-millimetre-long worms that are critical for studying the nervous system; learning about different imaging techniques; stimulating parts of the motor cortex to produce movement; typing using just the brain and much more. Of particular interest was a presentation about a possible future treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease, made all the more significant because of the devastating effects of this degenerative disorder.

Emily Smith, Year 10

The second half of the Queensland Brain Bee was the Team Challenge. This challenge required us to answer 60 questions in two hours. The catch was we had to weave our way through 400 posters in search of the answers. We were lucky enough to be able to talk to some of the scientists who created the posters and we learned a lot of interesting facts about many different flora and fauna. Unfortunately, we were not able to secure a win in this challenge; however, we all had a lot of fun.
Luke Pearce, Year 10

At the end of day, we had the privilege of meeting Daphne Soares, a scientist studying Neuroecology. One of her main research projects is studying how natural selection has shaped nervous systems to generate specific behaviours and adaption to extreme environments. In particular, it was intriguing to learn about how cave fish navigated in their habitat, lacking aspects that we would consider fundamental to life such as light and sight. She talked about the ways in which the cave fish adapted to their environment, especially how they adjusted their hearing to suit the noise level created in the caves. One of the fish that she had studied in detail was the Cryptotora thamicola, a fish with the ability to walk and climb waterfalls. I would thoroughly recommend checking out her amazing research, as it opened our eyes to the incredibly strange and wonderful parts of scientific research that we hadn’t previously considered.

Isaac Reed, Year 10