Supporting one of NZ's brightest young scientists

Supporting one of NZ's brightest young scientists

Sally Mangai

Getting behind Kiwi learners and helping them achieve amazing outcomes is at the heart of what we do at LearnWell.  Recently, we had an opportunity to sponsor an amazing young talent, Tauranga's Luca Ririnui.  He is representing New Zealand this July at the International Biology Olympiad.  Read more about Luca and his interests and skills below.

Hi Luca! Tell us about yourself, your school and what sparked your interest in biology and science?
I'm Luca Ririnui, a Year 13 student at Mount Maunganui College in Tauranga. My interest in biology and science began at a young age, nurtured through science classes at the House of Science since I was 7, involvement in robotics, and a memorable science fair project where I created Mars soil in Year 8. My fascination with biology, especially neuroscience, has driven my passion. This interest was further ignited during my experience at the London International Youth Science Forum where I saw the cutting-edge work being done in stem cell technology and gene therapy.

Representing at the International Biology Olympiad 

You've certainly packed a lot into your school years! Can you share with us what the International Biology Olympiad (IBO) involves?

The main competition spans two days of exams. One day is dedicated to 4 practical biology labs, each lasting 1.5 hours. This year’s labs focus on molecular biology, biochemistry, animal anatomy and physiology, and bioinformatics. Participants tackle tasks like dissections and DNA analysis, as well as surprises revealed on the day. The following day features two consecutive 3-hour theory exams, challenging students with complex problems that reflect current global research.

Between these competitive events, the IBO is full of social opportunities. Students can connect with like-minded peers from 80 countries and experience the rich culture of Kazakhstan, our host country for 2024.

It sounds amazing. How did you feel when you found out you were selected for the competition? 

It was a huge honour and an incredible surprise! There are so many talented and passionate students who worked alongside me in the NZ Biology Olympiad Programme who all could have made my spot on the team given different circumstances or on a different exam day. I feel very privileged to have been awarded this opportunity.

Getting ready to compete

And we are privileged to support you in this wonderful opportunity.  Can you describe the preparations you've been doing for the competition?

I’ve been doing a lot of reading to cover up my knowledge gaps across the huge spectrum of biology. I’ve done this predominantly with first year university biology textbooks, but also a plethora of online resources. My school has been incredibly helpful in providing me with specimens to practice fine dissection skills on, microbes for inoculation techniques, and a variety of other biological equipment to sharpen my practical skills. I’ve done lots of work looking through past IBO exams as well, trying to get familiar with the brain twisting question format they use. Since the exam content is unpredictable, I've focused on building a broad knowledge base and staying adaptable to whatever comes my way during the exams.

Mount Maunganui College's Luca Ririnui together with Julie and Sue from LearnWell.

We can't wait to hear how it goes. What do you think is the most challenging aspect of competing at an international level?

Probably just the natural pressure of representing your country and living up to the expectations of everyone who has supported you on this journey to the competition. I've had incredible support and guidance from many people along the way, and that's what drives me to compete. Normally, my mental preparation is strong, and I don't feel a specific need to prove anything at the IBO. The entire experience has been incredible so far, and I'm looking forward to the competition itself, which I'm sure will be both enjoyable and immensely valuable for my future.

Finding balance

You clearly aim high, Luca. How do you balance your studies with your extracurricular activities like debating and badminton?

It’s pretty difficult! My strategy is to just keep the momentum going. Even if it means staying busy for extended periods, that's when I perform best. Achieving the flow state is the toughest part, but once I'm in that mindset, I aim to sustain the momentum. I find it most effective to focus on what's immediately in front of me and work through tasks systematically.

Finding balance is always the goal, and we're all on the journey!  What aspect of biology fascinates you the most and why?

Definitely neuroscience - the study of the human brain. It’s so amazing to learn how the human experience is formed by a collection of neuron cell bodies: incredibly complex things like the perception of sight, decision making, emotions can all be traced back to this. I’m especially interested in how we can treat mental illnesses and help the lives of people who suffer from them by knowing more about how they operate on a biological level.

Advice to share

What advice would you give to younger students interested in pursuing biology, or in competing at an international level in a similar competition?

I believe students interested in biology or any science should harness every opportunity to expand their knowledge. This could involve participating in programs like the Olympiad, studying for NZQA scholarship exams or exploring the wide range of fascinating topics available online. Don’t feel constrained by the limitations of the school curriculum!

Thanks for sharing with us Luca.  We are wishing you every success both in the Olympiad and in life in general.  You are certainly one of Aotearoa New Zealand's brightest up and coming scientists and we're proud to be associated with your journey. Your approach to life, learning and the opportunities offered to you is truly inspiring.  

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