Students get brainy at NeuRA

The mysteries of the brain became a little clearer for a group of high school students today at a visit to Neuroscience Research Australia.

The visit by year ten students from the International Grammar School in Ultimo was part of an initiative of NeuRA – and the Sydney Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience – to introduce senior school students to practical aspects of neuroscience research, as well as its challenges and the benefits it brings to the community.

Jack Steward, Felix Rothery and Callum Hawkins take part in an experiment at NeuRA

NeuRA’s Assoc Prof Kay Double, one of the leaders of the initiative, says: “We want to interest young people in neuroscience to raise their awareness, but also to encourage their interest in scientific research.”

“Science isn’t as popular as it has been in the past, and fewer young people are choosing to study science. So whatever we can do to encourage bright students to become interested in science and potentially pursue a career in this area is a good thing,” she says.

That sentiment is shared by IGS’s head of science, Mia Sharma, who helped organise the event. Ms Sharma was awarded the 2010 NSW Scientist of the Year for Leadership in Teaching Secondary Science for her dedication to advancing science careers among young people.

Ms Sharma says she believes that studying science teaches young people the ability to think logically and solve problems. “[This] is a skill that they will use every day for the rest of their lives,” she says.

The year ten students were invited to participant in experimental work at NeuRA, including taking an ultrasound of the brain to look for Parkinson’s disease and learning how the brain detects the position of the body in space, and how to manipulate this perception experimentally.

Assoc Prof Double says this visit will serve as a model for other schools around the country to visit research institutes and learn about how scientific research is conducted.

“It’s part of my role as a scientist to educate the community, including young people, about the potential of medical research to benefit all of us in the future,” says A/Prof Double. “Australia does excellent medical research and we want to continue to encourage the best students to go into this area.”