Neuroscientists greeted NYSF Year 12 with a brain wave

Researcher at the Eccles Institute of Neuroscience students from the National Youth Science Forum 2023 Year 12 Program.
20 January 2023

With the sweet scent of lavender diffused quickly into the sun-heated air on Thursday afternoon, The John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR) welcomed students from the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) 2023 Year 12 Program.

Inspiring Australia’s young scientists for almost four decades, NYSF provides young people with a unique range of opportunities to learn about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

The Australian National University (ANU) has been among the hosts of the NYSF Year 12 Program for many years. 

This year, JCSMR researchers guided 28 Year 12 students to the world of neuroscience.

Professor John Watson AM, the Director of the Eccles Institute of Neuroscience, kicked off the half-day visit by sharing the life story of the Nobel Prize-winning neurophysiologist Sir John Eccles, after whom the Institute was named.

Assistant Professor Joe Northey, an invited speaker at the University of Canberra, then demonstrated how neuroscience research is carried out nowadays by showcasing his work on the interrelationship between human movement and brain function.

But why choose neuroscience in the first place?  

Rhodes Scholar Max Kirkby shared with the students his journey towards a Bachelor of Philosophy (Science) and how he fell in love with using cutting-edge neuroscientific tools to study the brain.

Max was amazed when a video illustrating the use of optogenetics in neuroscience was shown to him during his undergrad course Cellular Neuroscience:

“At the ANU, you also get the chance to put the knowledge from these theoretical courses into practice,” said Max.

Max Kirkby shared his thoughts of neuroscience and some real data from his research projects. Image:Calo Huang

To give the students a taste—technically a smell, a sight, and a touch—of how the ‘practice’ part of research in neuroscience means, Eccles researchers organised a two-hour lab tour for the NYSF cohort.

Guided by Dr Ulrike Schumann, and PhD students Felix Thomas, Rebekah Parkinson, and Angela Nicoli, the students visited four labs at JCSMR.

At the Olfaction Lab, Professor John Bekkers and PhD student Muqin Zhang demonstrated how the sense of smell was studied using patch clamp electrodes.

PhD students from the Neural Coding Group showcased advanced imaging techniques to investigate neuromodulation in the brain and explained how behavioural experiments, including the use of a VR system, help them decipher the sensorimotor system used by mice.

And, of course, few people can really resist raising their hands when they hear the question, “Who wants to see the back of their eyes”.

At the Clear Vision Research Lab, where researchers investigate neurodegenerative retinal diseases, the NYSF students got to participate in a series of hands-on activities, ranging from exploring the back of their eyes through a fundoscopic exam to performing hematoxylin and eosin staining of healthy and damaged retinal sections.

All kinds of questions, inspired by the activities and general curiosity, were raised by the students.

“Really cool,” said one of the students, “Who would have thought, my head would hurt from so much great information at a Neuroscience Program!”

“We feel sure that our efforts have helped inspire the next generation of neuroscientists!” remarked Professor Watson.