Kinga Panasiewicz studies how to enhance the function of the human brain

10 March 2015

17-year-old Kinga Panasiewicz is a scientist. Although she is just in the second grade of high school, the research studies she conducts meet the highest global standards. Although she is just in the second grade of high school, the research studies she conducts meet the highest global standards. Thanks to them, she has been recently awarded the second place in the prestigious Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Her project on the synchronisation of brain hemispheres was appreciated by a number of specialists. We decided to ask her how it is to be seventeen and a real scientist.

Synchronisation of brain hemispheres – what is it about?
But anatomically and neurologically speaking, it is comprised of two parts that work in a different way to a large extent.
That’s why synchronisation is the key.
The purpose of my study was to check how the two hemispheres synchronise. You need to remember that the hemispheres differ considerably and that they perform different functions. Neurological studies show that many things depend on that synchronisation.

For instance?
Oh, it began a long time ago – when I started in primary school. I believe that at the beginning I was interested in magic tricks and illusion. I started digging to find out how it works and it turned out that all magicians use knowledge on the functioning of human brain to trick us.
Then I started reading, watching films and asking around.

How come you gained access to such specialist equipment as an EEG?
It’s because I love talking about my interests. Once, I had a mini-lecture during a meeting of an association of graduates and teachers of my school.
I was talking about what I wanted to do and the Principal of my school liked it so much that she contacted the management of the hospital in Hrubieszów. That’s how I got permission to use the EEG lab, under a technician’s supervision, of course.
And that’s where I conducted my experiments.

Could you describe your research?
I decided to check if our intellect, perception, memory, cognitive skills would change if we performed exercises requiring the strict cooperation of both hemispheres. It took me six months to plan all of that – it was very important to me that the whole study would be conducted in accordance with all the principles of science. There was a control group, regular repeating of the tests and so on.
I designed exercises that were supposed to improve synchronisation and experiments to measure the changes. When I observed changes in the examined persons and the improvement in their abilities, I adapted the exercises to elevate their level.
I measured it using two methods – EEG that indicated the change in brain waves, and tests and examinations that showed behavioural change.

What finally came out of it?
Just what I expected – my exercises enhanced the synchronisation of hemispheres, which led to the improvement of memory and learning skills. Unfortunately, it also turned out that if you stop doing the exercises, the acquired abilities disappear shortly thereafter. Of course, I checked that as well.

You know, you are just 17 and while you are talking about those studies, I need to ask you something. Did anyone help you or did you have a mentor? Your parents? A teacher?
No. My parents are not connected to science in any way – my dad works in the customs office and my mum deals with European Union financing applications. There is also no single teacher who could direct my actions somehow. Of course many people help me and support me. My parents help me at home; they’ve taught me how to work, but their help is not related to the subject of my work, not scientific.
I’m in the second grade of high school, on the extended math and physics programme. Frankly speaking, I’m not sure yet what I will study – medicine or physics.

Did you have time for anything apart from these research studies?
On the one hand, my social life was very limited, but on the other hand, the meetings during which I analysed the results of my “lab rats” were great fun. Those were my colleagues, schoolmates, and friends.

Was the final of the Intel ISEF in the USA stressful?
To be honest, it wasn’t. I was nervous at home, in Poland, but when I came to the USA, the stress disappeared. I think it was the vibe, because all people there were extremely kind, there was no sense of competition and no envy, just the exchange of experience.I know it sounds clichéd, but it’s true.
It was the same with the presentation of my project – the committee which was comprised of well-renowned scientists gave me advice and hints. It was amazing!

And now the question that needs to be asked – do you think that you’ll study and work in Poland?
Well, it’s not that easy. I intend to apply to foreign universities. But it doesn’t mean I will study there for sure. I just want to do what I love, to have a well-equipped lab and a motivated team. Wherever that would be.


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