In 2023, the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI)
celebrated its 20th year!


Scroll through a few of our highlights and milestones


An open letter from our Director


20 years ahead — discovering what makes us human

Can you recall what you were doing 20 years ago? For some people, this is difficult (or impossible for younger readers). For a handful of us at UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), we remember 2003 very distinctly.  
2003 was an exciting and optimistic time for Australian neuroscience. It was the year that philanthropist Chuck Feeney, the State Government and The University of Queensland joined forces to create something great – the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) – under Founding Director Professor Perry Bartlett.  
QBI was to be a collaborative environment for discovery research where findings about the fundamental mechanisms of the brain would underpin new ways to prevent, manage and treat brain diseases, injuries and disorders and advance the science of learning at any age. 

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Our precious memories

Dr Tara Walker

The same week I got an offer from QBI to join the Bartlett lab as a postdoc, I’d just accepted a role at CSIRO in sugarcane research. But Perry convinced me that researching the brain was far more fascinating than plant biotechnology. The decision to join QBI in 2003 has shaped my career, and I’m glad. 

In the early days, QBI was about 20 people, and we were like family. Everyone knew everyone, and if someone was having a social gathering, we were all there! Perry had legendary parties on his rooftop, and we’d all go on bike rides and picnics together.

When I left in 2010 to pursue my work overseas, QBI had grown to about 15 research groups. I never lost touch with the QBI team. By the time we decided to return to Australia, QBI was one of the best places for neuroscience research. So, when QBI advertised a position, I went for it. Now I lead a lab here, and it’s good to be back.

Clare Seaman

When the new building was ready, myself, Dave Wheeldon and his team, had 2 weeks of just us in this brand new, squeaky clean, space. Dave and I had our first morning tea in what is now the animal house office. The lift operator working on the building would sell chocolate bars, so we'd buy chocolate from him and sit on the floor with our hard hats on (it was still technically a building site). We'd soak up this beautiful new space filled with brand new equipment and state-of-the-art facilities that was still untouched, before 100-odd researchers moved in with all of their experiments.

This is the Safety Committee in 2006, before the big move. 

Back row (L—R):  Tim Butler, James Crane, Clare Seaman, Amanda White
Front row:  Virginia Nink, David Wheeldon, Dana Bradford 

Kaylene Young — the first QBI PhD student

In the earliest days of QBI, Perry Bartlett, Lizzie Coulson, Helen Cooper and Rodney Rietze settled their teams into office and lab space in the Skerman-MacGregor building.  Pankaj Sah and his team joined a few months later, when the refurbished space became available in Ritchie.  If it hadn’t been for John’s knowledge of how everything worked at UQ, and the local postdocs that Perry hired, Dave Gordon, Natalie Bull, and Tara Walker, we would have had a much harder time getting settled in.  

The Institute was small enough then that you spoke to every member of the Institute, including Perry, at some point in your normal workday.  Whether you were a student, staff member or group leader, there was a sense that we were building something and everyone could feel it.  Most of us were new to Brisbane and we spent a lot of time together inside and outside of work.  Perry and Jane’s house (the embassy) was just down the road and a great venue for the “Perry parties” that gathered everyone to enjoy the garden or the roof terrace and an abundance of wine!  

When we were first moving into Ritchie, John and Claire Seaman came and told me they had an important job for me.  We walked over the new lab space and stopped at the safety shower.  It turns out, that they wanted to be sure that even the shortest member of the lab could adequately reach the safety showers.  We were very safety conscious from the outset and that was my important contribution. 

While helping to get QBI established, I got some good science done, but also gained some life-long friends. 

Dave Wheeldon

I have so many fantastic memories from over the years here at QBI. It’s hard to pick one that stands out. It was very cool to work on the design of a completely new building for QBI’s research with Wardle and Wilson Architects. Their team was amazing to work with and very thorough in the design process. One thing I think is great is that I can still pick up the phone and call John Thong from Wilsons Architects today with any questions about the building, and he will always help.       

I can also clearly picture the building taking shape from the ground up and events like the concrete being poured for the second floor or some people working during the construction, like the elevator operator who always used to sell us chocolates. I remember the QBI lift shaft being dug. Then rain filled it with water, and a family of ducks adopted it as their new home. I spent so much time working on the plans for the new building that when we started to set up for occupation, it was like walking into the plans.