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Neuroscience, which studies the structure and function of the brain and nervous system, defines what it means to be human.

“Within the organ you have mental illness, addictions, neurological and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson's disease and dementia,” says Professor Peter R Schofield AO. “The field of neuroscience doesn’t have a strong, single disease focus but we pick up all of those things, as well as the underpinnings of how our brains work – how we move, emotion, memory, etc.”

The annual Brain Bee Challenge – a competition for Australian and New Zealand high school students – aims to spark an interest in the area that will propel the next generation of scientists, physicians and researchers.

The Challenge attracts up to 5000 Year 10 Australian high school students and Year 11 New Zealand students each year.

They initially compete in an online quiz, with the winners progressing to in-person Regional Finals. Regional winners are then flown with a parent or guardian to the Australasian Neuroscience Society’s Annual Scientific Meeting where the National Finals are held. On three occasions students from Australia have gone on to win the International Brain Bee, with several others placing highly.

Supporting talented STEM-focused students

Professor Schofield – the past President of the Australasian Neuroscience Society which has run the Challenge since 2006, – says the knowledge displayed by students is extraordinary.

“I was sitting next to one of my colleagues this year and there was a question where we both looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders. We didn’t know. But in science, it’s not ‘do you know the answer?’, it’s ‘how do you find the answer’.”

Professor Schofield says the Challenge has fostered a collegiate atmosphere in recent years, with competitors forming study groups to help each other, WhatsApp groups to stay in touch, and exchanging emails and phone numbers to stay friends.

“The process makes it easy for bright kids, wherever they might be, who are interested. We also owe a lot to the science teachers for waving the flag promoting it and then it becomes part of the school’s curriculum.”

The Challenge plays a role helping to encourage an interest in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Australia’s National STEM School Education Strategy 2016–2026 is aiming to reverse the general trend among Australian school students of declining or stagnating science and maths results.

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Integrative Brain Function (funded by the Australian Research Council from 2014 to 2021) sponsored the operational costs of the Australian Brain Bee Challenge from 2017 to 2022 as part of its community outreach and educational activities.

However, with its funding coming to a close, the Society is now dipping into operational reserves to keep the Challenge running. 

The Australasian Brain Bee Challenge is seeking $70,000 per annum over five years to support a part-time assistant to help with the organisation, venue costs, and to support travel and accommodation for the regional and national champions and their parent or guardians.

Professor Schofield has firsthand experience in understanding the importance of nurturing the next generation of researchers. The Professor is Chair of the Mason Foundation National Medical Advisory Panel, a Foundation managed by Equity Trustees. The Mason Foundation provides grants and fellowships to researchers in the areas of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or ME/CFS) and Alzheimer’s disease. Health focused grants made up more than 43% of charitable distributions from Equity Trustees’ managed trusts in FY2023.

For further information about how to support the Australasian Brain Bee Challenge please contact Professor Peter R Schofield AO at