2 August 2011

An undergraduate student at The University of Queensland is packing her bags for a trip to Germany after winning a coveted international award.

Ms Elizabeth Forbes, 20, who is in her third year of a combined science/medicine degree, will accept the Brains for Brains Young Researchers Computational Neuroscience Award during a one-week trip to Freiburg, which is part of her prize.

During that time, Ms Forbes will attend the 2011 Bernstein Conference which attracts the best and brightest researchers working in computational neuroscience and neurotechnology.

In only its second year, the Brains for Brains Award bestowed by the Bernstein Association for Computational Neuroscience honours young scientists that plan to pursue a research career in computational neuroscience.

Applicants also need to have at least one peer reviewed publication (as coauthor) or a peer reviewed conference abstract (as first author) that resulted from research conducted before starting a PhD.

Ms Forbes received the Brains for Brains award on the strength of her paper, co-authored with Jonathan Hunt and Professor Geoffrey Goodhill of the Queensland Brain Institute and the School of Mathematics and Physics, on ‘The Combinatorics of Neurite Self-Avoidance’, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the prestigious journal Neural Computation.

The paper explores how molecular cues operate to achieve correct wiring of the nervous system in the neural development of Drosophila (fruit fly), particularly in relation to neurite self-avoidance, which ensures growing neurons make diverse connections with neurons other than themselves.

Researchers had hypothesized that each neuron randomly expresses a few molecular ‘tags’ from a large set of possible tags, so that usually the set of tags expressed by different neurons will have little overlap.

However, calculating the precise probabilities involved had proved difficult.

Ms Forbes realised that this problem could be solved using recent results from a branch of mathematics called combinatorics.

“It was really exciting to be able to apply an abstract branch of mathematical theory to a biological problem,” she said.


Denise Cullen
Executive Communications Officer
Phone: +61 7 3346 6434
Email: d.cullen2@uq.edu.au


Queensland Brain Institute

The Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) was established as a research institute of the University of Queensland in 2003. The Institute is now operating out of a new AUD63 million state-of-the-art facility and houses 33 principal investigators with strong international reputations. QBI is one of the largest neuroscience institutes in the world dedicated to understanding the mechanisms underlying brain function.