Brain Bee Challenge
Posted: 25-Jul-2018

Austrlian Brain Bee Challenge - Victorian Finals

Wednesday July 18 at 6:45am on a cold morning, an intrepid group of six students (Phoebe Bernard, Ellen Berridge, Hazel Penhall, Sofie Sawka, Jude Skewes-Clinton and Grace Young-Harvey) set out for Melbourne in the company of David Neate and Shona Maxwell.

The students were the top-scorers from the Brain Bee Challenge undertaken by Year 10 Science classes, and they had been given study materials provided by the Brain Bee organisers to help them prepare for higher-level questions than those faced at school.

While our students did not progress to the semi-finals, as a team or as individuals, they were able to enjoy the range of other activities put on for their benefit by the Australia Neuroscience Society and Melbourne University’s Neuroscience Institute.

The assembled teams and their supporters were addressed by a number of inspiring speakers. Perhaps the most interesting address was delivered by Dr Holly Chinnery, from the University’s Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences.

Dr Chinnery described the surprising facts about the cornea of the eye, which contains 300 times the nerve terminals compared to the skin. Corneal nerve axons are around 1 micrometre thick, and interact with connected immune cells to ensure homeostasis (steady conditions) within the cornea. All this within a structure which is transparent to our view. Fascinating scientific information was delivered with style.

Dr Chinnery gave students the classic advice – do as she had done, and choose to study what you love.

The keynote speaker, Dr David Gonsalvez from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience, covered a wide range of topics relating to major neurological health concerns – the fascinating process of myelination of neurons and the storage of memories, and the mechanism of stroke and dementia. This time, one aspect of his presentation which impressed me was the quality of diagrams available to University presenters.

Between speakers, we were taken by Ph. D. students for a tour of the research facilities – though we didn’t get to see the mice or rats which seem to feature heavily in neuroscience research projects! Because of tunnel works nearby, the anatomical museum (a feature of previous visits) was unable to be visited. It was interesting to see clearly identifiable equipment like microscopes, and to hear of the modifications which enable them to be used to far greater levels of accuracy. I don’t think it was lost on our students that the self-assured young scientists who guided us around the laboratories were not that much older than they are.

The final of the Brain Bee challenge saw Melbourne private schools pitted against each other. There were a few gasps of appreciation as one contestant gave detailed textbook answers to questions. And yes, he was to be the individual winner, who goes on to the national final of the Brain Bee Challenge.

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