Oxford University gears up for Brain Discovery Festival

Oxford University gears up for Brain Discovery Festival

To highlight Brain Awareness Week (BAW), the global campaign that supports public understanding and appreciation of neuroscience research, Oxford University is to run Brain Discovery Festival from 9-18th March, an interactive, week-long programme of activities, highlighting its contributions to the field.

In collaboration with Oxford Neuroscience, Oxford Sparks, the University’s digital science platform, will host a micro-site packed with learning resources including animations, podcasts, articles, interactive games and lesson plans for teachers. There will also be a series of public events ranging from a ‘left-brain/right-brain’ interactive evening, to a documentary screening of ‘My Love Affair with the Brain,’ at the Ultimate Picture Palace, followed by a panel discussion with neuroscientists.

The programme will be topped off with a Facebook LIVE event which will announce the winner of last year’s Big Brain Competition. Launched as part of the 2017 Brain Diaries exhibition run by the Oxford University Museum of Natural History in partnership with Oxford Neuroscience, the competition asked visitors to suggest an idea for a brain experiment to be carried out in an MRI scanner. Selected from over 1,000 entries, the winning experiment was proposed by Richard Harrow. He wanted to find out how the brain makes sense of the voices that we hear and whether it can understand them when the sound is distorted or incomplete. You can watch the experiment as it happens LIVE over Facebook on Friday 16 March.

Of his initial reaction to winning the competition, Richard said: ‘I am thrilled that my idea for an experiment on how the brain identifies the 'signature sound' of voices, was selected in the ‘Big Brain Competition'. Having visited the excellent Brain Diaries exhibition at Museum of Natural History in Oxford last Spring, it came as a double surprise and joy to hear of my winning the competition, as I had entered it on the day of my 52nd birthday.’

Discussing the inspiration for his experiment, he added: ‘It has always intrigued me that when within a crowd full of noises and commotion one can always pick out and home in on the unique call of someone familiar to us. How does the brain block out extraneous sound and tune in to the very one that it is seeking to distinguish? With that in mind and taking this concept further, I thought it might be fascinating to test the extent of this cognitive ability in an MRI scanner. I was interested to see whether the brain would be able to continue this remarkable feat of finding the right vocal frequency and still achieve the same results, if the recognisable sound was distorted? I am very much look forward to watching the experiment, as it happens, next week.’

Stuart Clare, Director of Operations at the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging, said: ‘We had such an incredible response to our Big Brain Competition last year. I was overwhelmed by the imagination and creativity of the responses, and the brilliant questions that people were asking. People have a real fascination with what is going on inside their brains, and it reminded me of the privilege I have working with the technology that can let us see the workings of the mind.

‘Choosing the winner was a really hard job, because there were so many experiments that I would have loved to do. People had put a lot of thought into how their experiment should run. The experiment proposed by our winner was so fascinating.’

Other Facebook LIVE events taking place over the course of the week, will include interviews with leading researchers who will be looking at a range of subjects from sport and the brain, to pain and the brain and the effects of alcohol on the brain and mental health.

Stuart said: ‘The Brain Discovery Festival is going to be an amazing week of neuroscience. Inspired by the competition entries, we have been asking neuroscientists across Oxford for answers to some fascinating questions. We’ll be welcoming children and adults to see our state-of-the-art brain scanner in action during the week. The winning experiment will then be broadcast live on the Facebook site. Real life experiments can be unpredictable, so I just hope it works on the day.’