Lewes STEMfest

Last Saturday 28 April our lab was at Lewes STEMfest. We had a stand were visitors could battle each other using the power of their brain, or were they could control someone else’s arm! In the process we tried to teach them about how the brain works.

Katie and Orla mind battle
Katie and Orla are battling to see who has the strongest frontal cortex

We had great fun, Orla even overcame hear fear and held a snake! And it was great to see so many people interested in Neuroscience!

Orla overcomes her fear of holding snakes
Orla overcomes her fear!

 

Kira and Dori to start the Sussex Neuroscience Coding Club

In our projects we spend a lot of our time coding in order to analyse our data. Kira primarily uses Matlab, and Dori uses Matlab and Python. In fact, what a lot of people may not know when they start their career in Neuroscience, is that these days the ability to code is pretty much an essential. It can save the researcher many hours, and even improve the quality/objectivity of their data analysis.

Why did we want to start this group?

We noticed that many students were joining the school with little previous experience coding, and limited support for learning the new skill. It can be very daunting when you first start, with so much jargon and syntax ahead of you.  And as you delve further into the syntax, you may even feel duped – afterall, ‘cellfun’ isn’t as exciting as it’s name suggests!

We want to provide a safe space for people to work on developing their coding skills. Whether that be someone who is just starting, and wants some direction on where to begin; or an experienced coder who wants dedicated time to work on their analysis. People of all abilities are welcome, and we want everyone to feel relaxed and supported.

The aim of this group is to “help people to help themselves“.

What is the format of the session?

There will be an short 30 minute lecture, followed by 1.5 hours for self-directed study with the opportunity to ask other people questions. For the initial 30 minute lecture, we welcome anyone who wants to present. This could be someone who wants to share their knowledge, or someone who is stuck on an analysis problem and wants feedback from the group. The remaining 1.5 hours are meant to allow everyone to work on their own projects. That can be an online coding course, writing their own script, or something else. During this time you are able to ask questions and discuss your code. We will not be providing projects, but are happy to point you to resources where you can find projects to work on.

When are the sessions?

The sessions will be every Wednesday 2-4pm in CRPC seminar room, University of Sussex.

People can attend all or just some of the sessions. It is completely up to you, and what fits your schedule the best.

Starting your own coding club

If anyone is interested in setting up a similar group in their own University or workplace, and would like some ideas please feel free to contact Kira by email on kira.shaw@sussex.ac.uk.

We want to see as many people coding as possible, and for everyone to get the support they need!

Alzheimer’s Research UK Research Conference 2018

From 19th – 21st March I was able to attend the annual Alzheimer’s Research UK conference, the biggest one to date!

Day 1 was an early career researcher day where we were able to meet other PhD students in the field, as well as learn about their work through a series of talks. One challenging aspect of the day was perfecting our elevator pitches! Trying to describe a PhD in 30 seconds is difficult when there is so much to say – however it was really interesting to learn about the work of others in a concise and simple way. We also had a careers section where both industry and academic representatives told us about their careers and how they got to where they are now.

Day two was when the main section of the conference began, it started off with a short speech from an amazing ARUK fundraiser who had sadly lost his mother to dementia and has been raising money for the charity ever since. It was both humbling and inspiring to hear him speak and served as a reminder to us all why we have chosen this field of research.

Throughout the next two days there was a series of talks on dementia research that is taking place throughout the UK as well as information about the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI). UK DRI is a joint £290 million investment from the Medical Research Council, Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK which aims to bring together dementia researchers from different fields in a national institute.

I was also given the opportunity to discuss my work with conference delegates via a poster presentation. Not only was it really helpful to have comments and feedback on my work but it was great to present alongside other dementia researchers from Sussex, representing the Dementia Research Group.

 

 

Outreach at the Brighton Science Festival

On Saturday, myself (Katie), Kira and Devin went to the Brighton science festival to host a stall, teaching children a bit about the brain and giving them a taste of what neuroscience is like. We set up ‘build your own neuron’, where they could make their own neuron from pipe cleaners, pom poms and plasticine. The kids could also make brain hats so that they could see all the parts of the brain in relation to their own heads.

‘Backyard brains’ proved to be very popular, as kids were able to control their parents’ arms with their brains! We hook up electrodes to the arm muscles of the children, and another set of electrodes to a nerve in the arm of their parent. When the children move their arms, the electrodes pick up the activity, and through an Arduino, this leads to stimulation of their parent’s arm. It was great to see the children squeal delightedly as their parents’ hands twitched whenever they moved their own arm. It was also a nice opportunity to illustrate how neurons work through changes in charge, and that electrical stimulation can therefore cause our muscles to move.

Controlling each other arms
Controlling each other arms with Backyard Brains

Our main attraction was the ‘mind-flex duel’ game. The aim of this game is to push a ball away from yourself through the power of your brain. Players wear a headset with a sensor that picks up activity in the frontal lobe. The player for whom it senses more activity gets more “power” and therefore pushes the ball harder away from them. Parents and children alike loved this and were fascinated by how it worked! The children wanted tips on how they could beat their parents (and the adults were especially keen on finding out how to win against their partners), and so it was a really great way of teaching them in what functions the frontal lobe is particularly involved, which led to a lot of children practising their times tables!

Katie with a snake around her neck
Katie with Sunny around her neck

We also enjoyed going around different stalls during our break, and made a bee-line for the reptile rooms, where we were lucky enough to be allowed to hold one of the snakes (his name is Sunny!) We also talked with the people running the coding education stand, which really inspired us to get involved in hosting classes for young children starting to learn- hopefully we’ll be able to start doing this soon!

A visit from our Sheffield colleagues

This week started with a visit from our fellow “neurovascular coupling friends” all the way from Sheffield. To welcome our visitors to Brighton after their long train journey, we began with a few drinks and some pizza. After all what could be more welcoming than chatting pericytes in the pub?!

After everyone had become well-acquainted, we decided to head back to our various homes/hotels for the night, ready to share our research with a series of presentations the next morning. The research showcase started with two talks from Sussex (Catherine Hall) lab by Kira Shaw (postdoc) and Orla Bonnar (PhD student). Kira talked about establishing two photon imaging to measure neurovascular coupling in hippocampus, and Orla talked about using two photon imaging and haemoglobin spectroscopy to measure neurovascular coupling in visual cortex of APOE4/4 and APOE3/3 subjects.

A capillary supplying pyramidal cell bodies in CA1 hippocampus

Next up, it was Sheffield’s turn. First, Osman Shabir (Jason Berwick’s PhD student) gave a very interesting talk about his plans to investigate neurovascular coupling in models of atherosclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. Then it was time for Llywelyn Lee (Clare Howarth’s PhD student) to take the floor. Llywelyn presented his exciting data about the contribution of NOS and SOM interneurons to neurovascular coupling in somatosensory cortex.

Osman presenting
Llywelyn presenting

After lots of interesting scientific discussion, and talk of future experimental plans, we gave our visitors a tour of the University and its facilities. Following a hearty lunch at the union, the afternoon involved a two photon imaging session to look at neuronal calcium and blood vessels in CA1 hippocampus.

Feeling rather tired after an action-packed day, we ended the visit with a walk along Brighton seafront to watch the sun set with a warm cuppa. Thanks for visiting guys! Hopefully see you in Sheffield next time!

Sunset on Brighton beach
The giant deckchair at Brighton beach

Early Career Researchers Meeting

Just before the Christmas break the University of Sussex hosted an early career researchers (ERC) meeting for members of the Alzheimer’s Research UK South Coast network. This was organized by Chrysia Pegasiou, Devkee Vadakul and our own Orla Bonnar. The aim of the meeting was to promote the sharing of techniques and encourage collaborations between members of the network. PhD students and post docs working on different aspects of Alzheimer’s disease from the universities of Sussex, Portsmouth and Bournemouth attended the event.
The morning started of with three 20 minute talks. Louise Kelly (University of Portsmouth) talked about her work on the locus coeruleus nucleus that she did during her PhD. Lucas Kraft, a PhD student at the Sussex Drug Discovery Centre, talked about his work on identifying novel APOE modulators. Mohsen Seifi (University of Portsmouth), took a very different approach by looking at the gastrointestinal tract.
After a quick break the day continued with a set of flash talks (5 minutes each). Our lab member Kira Shaw gave an excellent talk on recent work in two-photon in-vivo imaging of the mouse hippocampus. After the talks we had to wait for a bit for lunch, but the delicious lasagne was definitely worth it!

Kira giving a presentation

Kira giving her presentation

In the afternoon a careers session was arranged where speakers from various fields spoke to us about their jobs and gave advice on how to pursue a career in their area. It was interesting to learn about career options both inside and outside academia. We found that there’s a surprising range of jobs that require skills you learn during your PhD. The session included speakers from Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Alzheimer’s Society, UCL and the Wellcome Trust.
It was a useful day full of interesting talks. It was nice to hear what other ERCs in the region are working on. A big thank you to Chrysia, who initiated all of this and did an excellent job organizing, as well as Orla and Devkee, who helped her.

 

 

PhD Poster Presentation Winner!

This Friday was the first year psychology poster presentation, allowing all first years in the department to share and discuss their work with fellow students and faculty members. Two lab members, Orla and Devin, presented their posters with both students receiving a lot of interest throughout the afternoon. Orla ended up winning the award for best poster!


Orla (left) and Devin with Devin’s poster

As well as the poster presentations, the ‘Great Psychology Bake Off’ took place, with lab member Dori winning the prize for ‘Best Tasting Biscuit’!


Look how pleased Dori looks with her engraved wooden spoon!

Well done to all three lab members – a successful day for Hall Lab!

6th European Visual Cortex Meeting

Last week (11-13 September) the 6th European Visual Cortex Meeting was being held at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre in London. We went to the meeting with the majority of the talks.

Cris Niell talked about his large-imaging of the cortex using a crystal skull. This resulted in some interesting findings regarding the responses during stimulation and locomotion.

Nathalie Rochefort gave a talk that complimented the previous one very well. She showed findings that could not be explained by the inhibition model, and presented a new model to explain their data.

During the rest of the conferences we heard about a range of interesting topics regarding the visual cortex, including the effect of brain state, the neuroanatomy and the relation with navigation. This has given us many good ideas to improve our own research!