Brainiacs meet in S’pore

Sunday July 1, 2012

http://thestar.com.my/education/story.asp?file=/2012/7/1/education/11518230&sec=education

By PRIYA KULASAGARAN
educate@thestar.com.my

COMING face-to-face with the human brain for the first time was something unbelievable for Norman Soo Jun Man.

“I thought it was fake at first! It looked like something made out of clay,” said the SMK Subang Utama student.

Norman was relating his experiences during his stint at the STEP-NUS Sunburst Brain Camp held in Singapore from June 10 to 15.

The inaugural camp was jointly organised by the Singapore Technologies Endowment Programme (STEP) and the Department of Physiology at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.

A total of 160 youths aged between 16 and 18 from Asean countries as well as China, India and South Korea took part in the event.

Norman had attended the camp with his fellow schoolmates Mohamad Razaly Dani Salahudin Dani, Shalini Josephine Joseph and Madeline Ashley Lok.

SMK Subang Utama senior teacher Pushpa Naraindas explained that the Education Ministry had selected the school to represent Malaysia at the camp.

Brainstorming win: (from left) Madeline, Shalini, Pushpa, Norman and Mohamad Razaly Dani. Looking on is NUS Faculty of Science director (special projects) Prof Leo Tan Wee Hin.

“We nominated eight students for the organisers and STEP selected the final four,” she said.

According to STEP general manager John de Roza, the camp was aimed at cultivating youth interest in the life sciences and research.

“(The camp also aimed) to foster connectivity in science and friendship amongst like-minded youth from Asia,” he said, when contacted.

From being able to set up their own electroencephalograph test (a test that measures and records the electrical activity in your brain) to attempting to create the smallest paper aeroplane, the camp was filled with inspiring activities.

For Mohamad Razaly Dani in particular, the exposure he received has cemented his resolve to pursue his studies in the field of neuroscience.

“There are so many (neurological) diseases that we have yet to find a cure for, like Parkinson’s and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

“There’s so much more research to be done; it’s really interesting,” he said.

Meanwhile, Shalini Josephine said that a talk on psychosis had got her thinking about exploring her options in the field of psychology.

“The speaker used schizophrenia as an example of how mental illnesses work, and I learnt that medication only controls the disease instead of curing it.

“I know someone who has a mental disorder so the lecture helped me understand this person’s condition better,” she said.

Aside from learning more about the brain, Madeline said that the camp offered her an opportunity to meet like-minded students from other parts of the world.

“It didn’t matter that we all came from different cultures and countries because we had the same interest (in science).

“I think more (Malaysian) students should take part in camps such as these because there’s nothing like being on an international platform,” she said.

The Malaysian team also won a medal for the Best Research Presentation during the camp.

“Each team was given a topic to write a research paper on. Ours was on alcohol-related disorders,” said Mohamad Razaly Dani.

“I think what contributed to our win was that we were very comfortable and spontaneous during the question-and-answer session with the audience.”

Listening to her students’ share their camp experiences, the school’s principal Rahanim Abd Rahim expressed her desire to carry out similar activities at the school.

“It would be fantastic if we could collaborate with local universities who are carrying out (neuroscientific) research and organise events within the school.

“The key here is to spark the interest of students by doing something that is beyond the curriculum or textbooks,” she said.