1 July 2014
Esmi Zajaczkowski

Esmi Zajaczkowski was only 14 years old when she won the Queensland final of the Australian Brain Bee Challenge in 2010, but the high school competition inspired her to chase a career in science.

Now 18, she is a second year Bachelor of Science student at The University of Queensland, and is working on a yearlong research project at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI).

“I was more initially inclined towards the arts, and I wasn’t fond of biology in high school, but the Brain Bee helped me decide that I want to be involved in neuroscience,” Miss Zajaczkowski said.

“Now I'm working in a research lab, coding computer programs and playing around with bees to gain insight into their basic behaviours.”

The Australian Brain Bee Challenge is a national competition for year 10 students, testing their knowledge of the brain in areas such as anatomy, how memory and emotions work, sleep, and neurological disorders such as stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

The students compete over three rounds, with the state finals occurring in the second round, and the state winners meet in the third round with the lure of the winner going overseas to compete in the International Brain Bee.

Queensland students have won the national title for the last three years, and two of them have gone on to win the international final.

“I didn’t win the national final back then, but the entire experience was incredible,” the former Holland Park State High School student said.

“I was given the chance to learn things in grade 10 that they teach in university, so the Brain Bee put us way ahead of the curve.

“I think a lot more people would be interested in neuroscience if they had early exposure to it.”

As the Queensland winner, Miss Zajaczkowski was given a chance to conduct work experience at the QBI, which motivated her to return for her undergraduate research project.

“It’s really good that they gave us the chance to do work experience, working on cutting edge scientific projects that were really interesting,” she said.

“They expected a high level of results, which drove us to study and work harder.

“I really got to learn what it’s like to be a scientist, and everyone that makes the state final gets to have a tour of the QBI research labs and meet the scientists, just by being part of the competition.”

The Queensland final of the Australian Brain Bee Challenge will be held at QBI on July 22, with more than 170 14- and 15-year-old students from over 60 schools across the state competing to be Queensland’s brainiest kid.

For more information, please visit www.abbc.edu.au.

Media: Darius Koreis, +61 7 3346 6353, d.koreis@uq.edu.au