A dramatic neuroscience first

17 Mar 2006

With all the drama of a prime-time reality show, the inaugural Australian Brain Bee Challenge created neuroscience education history on Tuesday, 14 March at The University of Queensland.

The atmosphere inside the Queensland Bioscience Precinct Auditorium was often electric, evidenced by more than 200 students from 30 schools ‘pumped up’ on neuroscience – and their cheering supporters.

In teams and as individuals, the students flexed their rapidly developing brain power in what proved to be an amazing display of both intelligence and raw emotion.

Yet, this was no youthful sports carnival. The crowd, the emotions and the competition had all the ingredients of a gladiatorial battle to the finish.

Organised by the Queensland Brain Institute and the Faculty of Biological and Chemical Sciences, the Brain Bee Challenge (ABBC) is the first major neuroscience competition for high school students staged in Australia.

ABBC was a test of neuroscience knowledge, in which contestants gave each other ‘high fives’ and pumped their arms like Wimbledon champions.

More than once, neuroscience from an obscure paragraph buried deep within the set text became the heartbreaking 'decider' question.

To the amazement of the judges (two professors in neuroscience, no less) and audience members alike, the students appeared to grow taller and wiser with every question.

Event coordinator and Queensland Brain Institute neuroscientist Associate Professor Linda Richards said she was awestruck at the depth and complexity of neuroscience knowledge many of the students had demonstrated.

“Such enthusiasm is a great credit to science teachers and an indication of the growing importance and relevance of neuroscience to the whole community,” Dr Richards said.

“The Brain Bee Challenge is more than a competition to see who knows the most about the brain. For many students it is also their first opportunity to see research laboratories first-hand and to talk to scientists about their work. The Queensland Brain Institute believes it should be proactive in encouraging the best and brightest students to consider a career in neuroscience,” Dr Richards said.

Nerves play a part

Nerves played a part too. Several finalists made the mistake of saying the first answer that came into their head; while others acted more calmly, asking the judges to repeat or clarify a question before offering a more considered response.

A student from West Moreton Anglican College, Katelin Haynes, had the seemingly prescient ability to answer questions even before the judges had finished asking them.

And while there could be only one winner in the individual and team categories, it is no exaggeration to report that every student benefited from his or her Brain Bee experience.

With lab tours, scientists to talk to and valuable prizes to be won, a good number of the students left The University of Queensland with grins bigger than their clipboards.

One teacher reported: “We’re absolutely stoked … the students are beside themselves.”

Another teacher contacted QBI to pass on his sincere thanks for staging such a successful event.

“The four pupils … had an absolute ball,” he said.

“A great deal of their enjoyment was a result of the wonderful way that [the] day was a mix of competition and tours run by people that are passionate about informing school pupils about their field of science.”

Model plane enthusiast, 14-year-old Timothy Mew, a grade ten student from St Paul’s School in Brisbane, punched the air when he secured victory in the individual competition after a full-day of competition and then a dramatic 30-minute final playoff against five other equally talented students.

Tim already has a formidable academic reputation among his fellow classmates, who describe him as an ‘exceptional student’.

Part of Tim’s prize is a trip to America to compete in the International Brain Bee Challenge in Maryland next year (sponsored in part by the American Association of Anatomists and commercialisation specialists, Uniquest).

The team winners received microscopes and binoculars donated by Carl Zeiss, Australia (major sponsor) for their schools, as well as neuroscience books from Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, Ipods from Infinite Systems, plus commemorative UQ pens and T-shirts.

The American Society for Neuroscience provided books, CDs and literature specifically for the science teachers to provide ideas for teaching and learning about the brain. The Society for Neuroscience (Queensland Chapter) also provided cash support for prizes.

2006 Australian Brain Bee Individual Winners

1. Timothy Mew (St Paul’s)

2. Katelin Haynes (West Moreton Anglican College)

3. Kathryn Noakes (St Paul’s)

4. James Bennett (St Paul’s)

5. Sohum Banerjea (Merimac State High School)

2006 Australian Brain Bee team winners

1. Somerset College (Gold Coast)

2. Trinity College (Lismore)

3. Redlands College (Redland Bay)

4. St Paul’s School (Bald Hills)


For more information, please contact:
QBI Communications Office
Tel: +61 7 3346 6434

Notes to the Editor
The Australian Brain Bee Challenge (ABBC) is the country’s largest neuroscience competition for high school students. The competition is designed to test school students’ knowledge about a range of topics, including intelligence, memory, emotions, sleep, Alzheimer’s disease and stroke.