22 December 2009

It is not how most Year 10 students are spending their holidays but working in a world-renowned neuroscience institute has proved an early Christmas present for Cleveland District State High student Millie MacDonald.

After winning the Queensland finals of the nation’s largest and most prestigious high-school neuroscience competition, the Australian Brain Bee Challenge, Millie was offered a week’s work experience at UQ's Queensland Brain Institute.

She has spent the past week exploring the state-of-the-art neuroscience laboratories in QBI, learning how neurons in the brain communicate through electrical activity and how genes and molecules can influence brain formation.

Millie has also seen some of the most sophisticated microscope and imaging facilities in the world and has interacted with top scientists who are working hard to understand how the brain functions and what can go wrong in diseases of the nervous system. She was so impressed she’s now determined to become a neuroscientist herself.

“I want to study neurodegenerative conditions, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. The science here is different from the normal science at school and it’s great to do something my friends don’t get to do,” Millie said.

This week Millie has also been honoured at a morning tea and given the opportunity to meet previous Brain Bee winners, many of whom are currently studying science at The University of Queensland.

Australian Brain Bee Challenge National Coordinator, Professor Linda Richards said the Australian Brain Bee Challenge was designed to excite students to learn about the brain and how research can find cures and treatments for people with neurological and mental illness.

“Through this competition we have been able to identify students with a real passion for science and help them to explore what professions may come from doing a science degree at UQ. Students who do well in the competition, which is open to all students entering year 10 in 2010, have the opportunity to do work experience in neuroscience labs at QBI," Professor Richards said.

“We’re looking for the next generation of Australian scientists able to tackle problems facing our community through research, and to help those suffering from stroke, aging dementia, schizophrenia, motor neuron disease, multiple sclerosis, mental retardation and learning difficulties, and many more conditions.”

But the hard work does not stop for Millie when she heads home. The 15 year-old is currently busy studying for the national Brain Bee finals, to be held in Sydney early next year.

“We’ve got a textbook that we have to learn so I take pages and pages of notes on every little thing," Millie said.

“I am studying a lot so it would be nice to win but the other kids will have been studying hard as well and also have a good chance.”

Her mother Beryl MacDonald said the outcome of the national finals was not important.

“We’re already bursting with pride. She does see neuroscience as a career so it’s great that she’s come this far,” she said.

The Sydney finals will take place on 31 January - 1 February, 2010. The national winner will be flown to San Diego, USA to compete at the International Brain Bee final in August.

Media: Anna Bednarek, QBI Communications Manager (07 3346 6414).