On 16 January Kira, Orla and Dori gave three workshops for schools visiting our university. The schools were visiting us as part of the Widening Participation initiative, which aims to introduce young people to higher education.
We gave a guided tour through the brain, discussing what neurons are and how they communicate, how the cerebellum adapts, what’s so special about H.M.’s hippocampus and how your frontal lobe helps you make moral decisions.
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.
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!
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.
Yesterday, 26 January, we showed off our public engagement material at the public engagement showcase. This event was organised by the wonderful Katy Petherick, University’s Life Sciences Public Engagement Coordinator. Scientists interested in public engagement from all different parts of life sciences brought their public engagement knowledge and material. There was furthermore a life science baking competition, with some amazing entries!
On our stall we featured several of our cool brain-related experiments. One of the experiments is a game called Mindflex Duel. This game uses an EEG sensor to read the brain activity in the frontal lobe. Two players have to push a ball along a track with their brain power. The person that thinks the hardest wins.
We furthermore showed our Human-Human Interface from Backyard Brains. This device uses the electricity your brain uses to send signals from the brain to the muscles. One person, the controller, flexes their arm, and the electricity that causes this flexing is recorded. It is then read by a little computer (an Arduino) and transferred to the other person, the controllee. The electricity is then send into their ulnar nerve, the nerve that runs through your funny bone. This causes the arm of the controllee to flex, without them having any control over it.
It was great to by able to talk to other scientists that are interested in public engagement and to see everyone’s activities. Thanks to Katy Petherick for organising!
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 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.
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!
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!
Kira, Orla and Katie premiered their ‘tour of the brain’ for year 6 pupils on Wednesday 14 June. They guided the students through three important areas of the brain: the cerebellum, the visual cortex and the frontal lobe.
Left to right: Kira presenting the cerebellum, Katie presenting the visual cortex and Orla presenting the frontal lobe.