Meet Dr Leonie Kirszenblat, sleep and attention researcher.Meet Dr Leonie Kirszenblat, sleep and attention researcher.

What is the question you are trying to answer?

The question that I'm trying to answer is: how is sleep important for the brain? In particular how is it important for our selective attention? When we’re sleep deprived we can't pay attention the next day, but we don't really know what is actually happening in the brain during sleep.

I’m generally really interested in how we perceive the world. When we pay attention to something, we’re really just seeing one part of our world and ignoring a whole lot of other things. When we go to sleep, we’re also ignoring our surroundings. I’m interested in how attention and sleep interact, using the fruit fly as a model organism, looking at how sleep is important for attention and then how our attention also drives our need to sleep.

What motivated you to become a researcher?

I never really knew that I wanted to be a scientist when I was growing up as a kid, but I've always been really curious. I think that kids are all generally curious and that actually gets stamped out of you as you get older. The most important thing is trying to maintain a lifelong curiosity, and that's what inspired me to become a scientist.

Who inspires you?

I am always inspired by people around me at QBI, particularly when I go to a really engaging talk outside my area of expertise. When someone can explain something to you that you might not know much about in a really engaging way, that's what really motivates and inspires me to go back to the bench and do research and think about things also outside my specific field.  

What is one thing or fact that amazes you about the brain?

The amount that it can adapt. This is a particularly obvious in babies; newborn babies are born quite helpless, but they quickly learn how to control the world around them,  by learning to manipulate objects and communicate through language.  If you look at how much the brain changes from a baby to a toddler, you can see how important the brain is for learning in the first few years of life. It's amazing how much and how quickly babies can learn.

What advice do you have for young people interested in science?

My main advice would be to expose yourself to as many different research areas as possible in the early years. Try to go to different labs and get different experiences. Don't think you have to go down one path; keep your mind open to different opportunities.


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