Nick Byrne is a medical physicist who works for Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospitals and within the Cardiovascular Imaging Department at King’s. His main research looks at methods of manipulating cardiac MRI data to fabricate 3D printed heart models that can help cardiologists plan treatments and surgeries for patients with structurally complex heart diseases. Nick took part in Skills London 2015, a careers fair for 15-24 year olds at the Excel Centre in London, where over 7,000 students took part. Nick was joined by Dr Kawal Rhode and PhD student Shuangyi Wang, both from the Department of Biomedical Engineering.
I was recently part of a team of NHS employees who attended the Skills London fair at the ExCel Centre. This is the biggest jobs and careers event for young Londoners, in its own words, aiming to bridge the gap between what young people enjoy doing and what they could potentially do as a career.
We were a mixed group of nurses, paramedics, researchers and scientists, and were there to showcase the wide variety of career opportunities in public healthcare. As the fifth largest employer in the world, we were never going to be able to represent all NHS job roles, so were lucky to also have staff from NHS careers on hand to help us out.
Initially I was concerned that our at least superficially simple stand of leaflets, literature and a few 3D printed heart models might be outshone by some of the flashier exhibits such as the rock climbing wall, penalty kick speed gun and pedal-powered smoothie makers. However, although I found myself considering a career change to animal handling, we soon had a great many school students and young people (15 to 24 years old) approaching us with a real interest in working in the NHS.
We had enquiries from potential future doctors, clinical psychologist, nurses, midwives, dance therapists, scientists, surgeons, paramedics and geneticists to name but a few. I certainly learned a lot about the different routes into the various jobs we were exhibiting but also about just how many different roles are available in the health service. I also had the chance to talk to people about my own research work in 3D printing and enjoyed testing out the GCSE students on their recently acquired knowledge of cardiac anatomy.
It was great to see so many young people keen to learn about the relevant paths into their chosen career in healthcare. I was impressed by the number of clued up students who already knew the best route to take, both into and throughout, their chosen career path, and was happy to help those who were not so sure. We will certainly be in safe hands in the future!
Dr Arna van Engelen, a postdoc in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, recently volunteered at ‘Hands up for Health’, an interactive learning programme run by the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. In this article, she tells us about her experience.
The goal of ‘Hands up for Health’ is to help young people experience for themselves what it is like to work in healthcare. It is based in an amazing facility at St Thomas’ Hospital called the Simulation and Interactive Learning centre (SaIL), where visitors can take on the role of doctors treating manikins so lifelike that they speak and even breathe. The programme runs frequently and the staff are always in need of volunteers, so this seemed to me like a good chance to obtain some experience in teaching and interacting with school-age children.
The first time I volunteered I didn’t really know what to expect. After a general introduction to SaIL, I was excited to find my station and learn exactly what it was that I had to teach the children. I was put in charge of two separate practicals: first, a station with soap and a blacklight to demonstrate the importance of thoroughly washing your hands; and secondly, a transparent model of a body showing the lungs, along with equipment to do lung function testing. “Ok,” I thought. “I know a couple of things about this… Now to wait for the kids!”
As the first group came in – all children aged 9 or 10 – I had to catch their attention immediately. I told them as much as I could think of about germs, making sure to ask them questions to keep them engaged. Apparently my inexperience was showing, as one of the teachers started to add some new information, so I made sure to remember what she was saying for the next group! Still, it was great to see the kids get all excited as they started to play with the blacklight and tried to wash all the remaining soap off their hands. Turns out that it’s more difficult to wash one’s hands properly than you might expect!
Over at the lung station I spoke to the children about smoking, asthma and doing sports. It was fun to see them show a competitive side, as they all tried their very best at the lung function testing; and I was able to impress them all with my adult lung capacity.
Because the children were split into several groups, they kept rotating between the stations and I was able to improve my introduction and commentary every time. The kids certainly seemed to enjoy themselves, and I left feeling that everything had gone very well!
The second time I volunteered with a group of older children doing a summer programme. The session was therefore more advanced. In the morning I was running two practicals, co-teaching with an A&E doctor. The first part had us teaching students the steps you have to take when someone enters the emergency room. As a biomedical engineer, this was outside my experience, but luckily the ‘real’ doctor was around to take charge! In the second practical, students were able to take ‘blood’ samples from three lifelike false arms with ‘veins’ running through them. My experience as a blood donor came in handy here! It was great to see how proud the children felt when they successfully managed to take the blood, and I found myself thinking that teaching could be really quite fun.
The afternoon was a simulation of a boy being brought into a fully-equipped ER. The manikins used in the scenario are incredibly lifelike, moving and verbally responding to participants, so the whole experience felt very exciting and real. Again, I was glad of the presence of the A&E doctor, who lent some specific expertise. As assistant, my main task was to help the children do the work, guiding them in the right direction: “Wait, doctor, I think you need to check on him, because his blood pressure is dropping!… What just happened that could have changed his situation?” The whole process ran more smoothly with some groups than with others, but it was evident that all of the participants really enjoyed it.
I was very impressed with the SaIL facility during both of my experiences as a volunteer. The centre offers a unique experience and I am not at all surprised that the participants had such a good time. I also benefited a great deal: working on ‘Hands up for Health’ was a really good way to gain experience teaching young people, and I even gained some new knowledge for myself. As a non-medical doctor, I found it easier to manage the exhibits for the younger children; but with good guidance (and, probably, with practice) I’d recommend the simulations for the older kids to anybody else as well.
If you are keen to get involved and volunteer at Hands up for Health, contact the Division’s Engagement Manager or read more online.
Dr David Lloyd is aClinical Research Fellow at King’s College London and working as part of the iFIND project. The overall aim of the intelligent Fetal Imaging and Diagnosis project is to combine innovative technologies into a clinical ultrasound system that will lead to a radical change in the way fetal screening is performed.
One of the most important goals of the iFIND project is to build an “atlas” of the fetus: a comprehensive map of fetal anatomy at around 20 weeks gestation (when routine antenatal scans are performed). This means getting the best quality images that we can, from as many women as we can – but as I’m learning, taking pictures of a 20 week fetus while they’re still in the womb really isn’t that easy.
For one thing, they’re very (very) small. The fetal heart, for example, with all of its tiny chambers and valves, is only about 15mm long: less than the size of penny. Ultrasound technology – used in all routine antenatal scans in the UK – is actually fairly good at visualising these tiny structures. It uses very high frequency sound waves which are reflected back (“echo”) from the structures inside the body to produce an image. In fetal ultrasound, the images produced can be excellent; but unfortunately that’s not true for every patient. Ultrasound has to be able to “see” through the body to the parts of the baby we want to image, and that isn’t always easy. It will depend on the age of the baby, how they are lying in the womb, the size of the mother, and many other factors.
MRI, which uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to produce images, isn’t so limited. It can see the structures inside the body regardless of whether there’s bone, muscle or fat in the way; and in some cases it can give us even more detailed images than ultrasound. Importantly, it is also one of the few imaging techniques that is safe to use in pregnancy. The problem? MRI isn’t great with small, moving targets – like we see in the fetus.
So that’s why we ask our iFIND volunteers to have both an ultrasound and an MRI scan. By combining the strengths of these two technologies, we hope to get the best of both worlds to produce the most accurate fetal atlas we can.
Of course though, even that isn’t quite so simple. Fetal movements – like twisting, rolling, stretching and kicking – are a particularly tricky problem, even when we use both technologies together .
Watch this MRI clip from one of our volunteers. Unfortunately there’s not much you can do when your patient decides to start breakdancing half way through a scan! At least, you’d think there wasn’t… but amazingly even that may not be an insurmountable problem. In the last few months I’ve been involved with some of the work of Bernhard Kainz and his colleagues, who have devised clever algorithms to automatically correct for small fetal movements during MRI and produce usable images.
These techniques show a huge amount of potential, and are an example of how the iFIND project is helping to generate exciting new technologies on its way to the ultimate goal: to improve the way we see developing babies in the womb.
Carlotta Taddei is a 2nd year PhD student in the Division of Imaging Sciences & Biomedical Engineering. Her research is about the development of radiopharmaceuticals and radiochemicals for medical diagnostics and research. Here she talks about her involvement in an international collaboration and her secondment in Amsterdam. I am part of a project called RADIOMI which is supported by the Marie-Curie Action Innovative Training Networks and has the goal to provide training to produce new talent and innovation in radiochemistry for molecular imaging. The emphasis of this network is focused on training scientists to develop and carry-out innovative radiolabeling with short half-life positron emitting isotopes such as Fluorine-18, Carbon-11 and Nitrogen-13. These novel and improved methodologies will be trialed in the synthesis of known and new radiotracers, such as small molecules, peptides and libraries of biologically active labelled compounds.
Currently I am part of a group of 15 fellows, 13 Early Stage Researchers and 2 Experienced Researchers. We gather together with our supervisors, advisory board and associate partners every 6 months. During these international meetings we present our individual reports and receive valuable feedback on the ongoing research and suggestions for our future work. So far, there have already been 3 RADIOMI Schools and International meetings, with additional courses at the partner universities. Next meeting will be in November 2015 at CIC BiomaGUNE San Sebastian in Spain with the distinguished international Molecular Imaging Workshop 2015.
As part of the RADIOMI project, the ESR fellows have to carry out research projects in collaboration with the other RADIOMI partner universities, so-called secondments. Our department hosted Aleksandra Pekosak and Ulrike Filp, two ESR RADIOMI fellows from VUmc Amsterdam, during June 2015. We carried out a small research project on carbon-11 chemistry related to our PhD topic. This work continued at VUmc during my secondment period there in August 2015.
Before I arrived in Amsterdam, I was looking forward to carrying out radiochemistry work in a different institution to gain more skills in this field. Personally I think it was a very interesting and fruitful experience. Planning and performing radiochemistry work in a different radiochemistry centre having different rules was good training for me. Luckily we managed to obtain some good preliminary results on our research topics in order to continue our work at our corresponding institutions and strengthen the collaboration between the two partner universities.
I really enjoyed this secondment because it gave me a better understanding of team-work and time-management which can be really useful skills in my research field. In the future I hope to have similar work experience to this and grow my international collaborations so that my research can have an impact in this fascinating field.
When I was in school I unfortunately was never introduced to Healthcare Science (HS) careers through any outreach events. I was very lucky though to have been introduced to Medical Physics as part of my A-level physics, which is where it all started. Outreach events are not only used to promote HS careers but encourage and inspire young people to enjoy and take Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) classes. I’m not planning to be a famous science communicator and don’t plan on being the next Brian Cox but I do take every opportunity I have to talk to students about the importance of HS in the current medical era and try and pass on my never ending enthusiasm for it!
Outreach events co-ordinated by IPEM are very organised and everything you might need is provided! Whether it’s a projector and a screen for your presentation or a portable ultrasound scanner and a phantom! All you need is your enthusiasm, excitement and personal experiences from how you came to choose what you are doing now to what your daily job involves! I have prepared and developed a small PowerPoint presentation on what I do as a trainee clinical scientist and use it whenever necessary. I always try and take some bits and bobs of decommissioned medical physics equipment and show them to students. Practical and interactive events are always more successful I believe.
I won the I’m a Scientist (IMAS) Get Me Out of Here Medical Physics zone which came with £500 to spend on outreaching! I must admit it was a lot more intense than I thought it would be! This was an online X-factor style competition where four other medical physicists and I answered students’ questions through live chats and offline questions, which we could answer later on at our own convenience. We all love number crunching and statistics, right? Well, the Medical Physics zone had the most students and live chats of all zones! My profile page had 2,022 views and as you can see in Figure 1 I tried to answer as many questions as possible and participate in as many chats as possible. Figure 2 shows the words that were most used during the chat sessions! I think this figure sums up really well the type of questions we were most asked. Figure 1: Scientists activity pie chart
Figure 2: Cool keywords display from live chats!
The questions were so varied from ‘Can you weaponise your research?’ to ‘How far do you think the benefit outweighs the risk when using radiation for medical treatment?’ so be prepared for anything and everything! I must admit that I was caught unprepared at times and I had to ‘Google it’ when it came to non medical-physics specific questions. One of the best feelings was when a student said that we helped them see the importance of science and what they are learning at school and will think about a profession in HS!
The Science Museum Lates event was a totally new experience for me on the other hand! Why? The audience was the general public and this involved adults! I made sure I asked their profession before I started talking to them about the dangers and uses of UV rays or how light is used for blood pressure monitoring in hospitals. In this way I could adjust my use of science jargon and not waste their and my time if they already knew about it all. All in all it was a great experience and I often found that the public was so interested in medical physics that conversations drifted away to other areas of the profession. The impression I got, which I think we all know by now, is that not a lot of people know about this career. The reactions I got when explaining what clinical engineers and medical physicists do was truly rewarding!
You get the chance to meet a lot of people as well and the networking throughout the process is invaluable! Last but not least – CV! Participating in outreach events undoubtedly indicates that you enjoy your profession and is proof of your effective communication skills. For those who don’t worry about jobs and have them completely secure I have 3 letters for you, CPD! For trainees I have two words for you, professional competencies! Conclusions and Discussion On a personal level I find that being even able to talk about this profession from personal experiences is amazing. I am very lucky to be able to be a part of healthcare science.
I learn new things every single time! You learn how to communicate science at all levels! Not only at international or national conferences which you would do in your day-to-day work. It is a process of learning to explain something in very simple terms and using your own but also the audience’s everyday experiences and knowledge to help understand the importance of healthcare science and grasp the concepts used. At the end of the day we are helping deliver healthcare science to the general public and we should be able to communicate our work to them. Not only will this give recognition to our work, which most of the time is hidden in the background, but will also hopefully inspire future generations!
Dr Christina Malamateniou is a Lecturer of Perinatal Imaging in the Department of Perinatal Imaging and Health, part of the Division of Imaging Sciences & Biomedical Engineering. She organised a morning of talks and activities, showcasing King’s top quality clinical research to a local primary school.
There has never been a more exciting time for children to engage with the latest clinical science developments than now: new, more powerful and sophisticated MRI scanners are being built, a multitude of advanced imaging techniques are being developed-to study normal development and disease as early in the course of life as possible, starting (literally) from the womb(!); 3D-printing and robotics have brought visualisation and understanding of complex pathologies to a totally new level and genetics promises to disentangle the mysteries of human life!
My colleagues at King’s College London and I are passionate about both our clinical research and science and it was exactly this passion that we wanted to instil to 25 ten-year-olds from Heath House Prep School when they visited us at King’s College London Waterloo Campus at the end of summer 2015.
It was a pleasant morning at the Franklin Wilkins Library and I started our day describing how MRI scans are done in our department (Perinatal Imaging and Health) and how the clever imaging we use can make a difference in the quality of life of the very premature babies; children giggled when they saw for the first time how a fetus moves inside his mummy’s tummy and they had the chance to play with an inflatable full size MRI scanner too (a.k.a. the Giant Doughnut, “wow, now I can see why it makes such a loud noise, it is huge!”, kids remarked during the break).
The children then got a chance to learn cool facts about the most amazing, tireless muscle of our body: the human heart and got excited with the robotic arms that Dr Kawal Rhode and his PhD student Shuangyi Wang have constructed to study it. During the break kids saw, and even hold, 3D printed copies of human hearts and they got to guess which one belonged to a premature baby!
Dr Claire Thornton took the baton to introduce us to the magic of genetics and what better way than helping the children learn how to extract DNA from the most fragrant fruit of the summer: strawberries. The students were absolutely thrilled with all the lab equipment they got to use and they amazed us with their questions and eagerness to learn more. We could clearly see some little scientists in the making there!
After an inspiring morning, the children were introduced to our library facilities and academic study during a fun-packed event, carefully planned and organised by our amazing library staff. Mrs Beata Gędłek and her wonderful team navigated the children in the library quiet zones, discussion rooms, study pods (with kids commenting that they looked like coming out of a star wars movie!) and they organized a fun book treasure hunt, with books relating to the morning talks. Kids were divided into 5 groups (Medicine, Biology, Genetics, Robotics and Physiology) and they were like little science detectives as they looked for the specified books using maps and clues carefully prepared by the library staff. They then presented their results and answered questions in the high-tech touch-screen newly installed computer room in the library. There were all smiles when they were awarded their library super-user certificates and KCL gifts at the end of the day.
What an eye opening experience for the children and great fun for us too; kids were asking the most amazing questions, participating and engaging with science, their eyes lighting up with enthusiasm. They were clearly overwhelmed by the amazing facts they learned during our fun interactive workshop. Their feedback says it all: “That was the most amazing visit of our school this year”, “I learned about babies born early and strawberry DNA”, “I didn’t want the day to end!”, “I think I want to become a scientist after all”.
The success of this event and the smiles on children’s excited faces was the best reward for us all. It was also a great way to advertise the multidisciplinary top quality research that takes place everyday at King’s College London across many different departments. I am indebted to all the people who enthusiastically came along and shared their passion in doing research and teaching science to these young inquisitive brains. I guess for us all there is only one question: “When is the next time we can do it again?!”
Today we visited the Imaging Department at King’s College London at St Thomas’ Hospital. The Communications and Engagement Manager Alice Taylor-Gee, did a fantastic job at lining up different activities to showcase a diverse range of imaging modalities and lab techniques.
The King’s Imaging department is very engaged and lots of the researchers are working to communicate their research and inspire young people.
In the morning the students were introduced to members of the Imaging division and their research project and outcomes with presentations. We met Chris Kelly who works on perinatal brain imaging using a technique that can visualise diffusion to define the edges of neurones and map them. We also heard from Alberto Gomez who spoke about how robotics is being developed to provide a more sophisticated ultrasound to be used on pregnant women to scan their unborn babies.
Dr Samantha Terry (soon to be lecturer!) talked about different types and sources of radiation. She actively demonstrated how DNA damage can occur due to radiation using a rope and scissors and then detailed how her team harnesses this power and a complicated tracer/inhibitor to selectively fight prostate cancer cells.
During the afternoon, the students rotated around three labs. Firstly the students went to a lab with Enrico, Brett and Rick who work with radioactive tracers and examines the effects of hypoxia on cardiac perfusion. A very tiny rat’s heart was connected up to perfusion equipment where it continued to beat. This allows the researchers to change stimuli and heart conditions and examine the effects.
In order to understand more about the cellular changes that can take place under hypoxic conditions due to brain injury in pre-term infants, Claire and Ana from the perinatal lab talked about understanding cellular changes by extracting and examining DNA.
In this session, we extracted DNA from strawberries using extraction buffer and isopropanol and measured the DNA concentrations to compare strawberries. Surprisingly it doesn’t relate to strawberry size in our groups!
Different imaging methods can be used to visualise different parts of the body, comparing CT to examine bones versus MRI to identify liquids. The students went down to the clinical oncology departments at St Thomas’ to the MRI machine and managed to correctly identify several scanned images of items under the MRI machine.
“On Wednesday we spent the day learning about imaging; it’s a really interesting field because scientists from all parts of science are needed to improve the imaging techniques we use today. At school, they teach us very little about medical imaging and for that reason I learnt lots. Because of the summer school, I now understand the basics of a PET, CT, X-Ray, MRI and ultrasound scan, and was able to see an MRI and ultrasound scan in use. One way cardiologists are able to prepare for an operation now is through 3D printing; scientists print out hearts in plastic to see how they can operate. For me, this was really fascinating because I was able to see the structure of a real heart and learn about how medical methods are improving.” Kate Bernal (age 15)
“I’ve attended the Summer School for 5 days at King’s Health Partners. It was an extremely fun experience and I learnt and saw many things. I learnt presentation skills, various amounts of technical skills, and developed an understanding of many features of biomedical research. I learnt clinical scenarios and life support skills at a simulation centre and I sat in on lectures from many professionals; including professors, doctors, and researchers. All of the activities were engaging, and interesting, and educational. I even got to extract strawberry DNA!” Mohaned Al-Bassan (Age 16)
We would like to say a very big thank you to Alice for co-ordinating the activities today and everyone from the Imaging division who gave a presentation, demonstration or provided an activity!
Dr Samantha Terry, a post doctoral researcher in the Department of Imaging Chemistry & Biology recounts her experience of attending a conference in Vienna.
I was recently invited to submit an abstract to go for an all-expenses paid trip to Vienna as part of the Young Investigator’s Meeting of the European Association of Nuclear Medicine (EANM). I am not one to turn down any offer to travel the world for free, especially not if I get to combine it with meeting other people my age who also work as scientists in the field of nuclear medicine. I was pleased to find my abstract on “Monitoring therapy response with radionuclide imaging” was accepted and was even more pleased to find out that I am still considered young at the age of 30!
So, thanks to the funding provided by the EANM and the British Nuclear Medicine Society, I got to go to Vienna! I had only ever been once before and that was in the wintertime when the weather was so bad all I could manage was to test various hot chocolate establishments and bakeries for Sachertorte. Yum… Sachertorte…
During this trip however, the weather was glorious with on average a temperature of 35 degree Celsius. I even managed to find the famous Henry Moore sculpture called ‘Hill Arches’ in front of the Karlskirche, which last time took me two hours to find and even then it was covered in a box with an image of the sculpture!
Back to the meeting; what a great meeting this was. The age range of the 17 participants (ignoring the excellent organisers and chairs Marion de Jong from Erasmus University Medical Center and Tony Gee from King’s College London) was 28-32. Here we all are (I have circled myself but it’s not my best picture!)
The talks were all part of the greater topic “new tracers from bench to bedside” and participants were not only from different disciplines, namely clinicians, physicists, biologists, technologists, and (radio)-chemists, but also from a range of countries, including the UK, Portugal, Belgium, South Korea, Spain, Germany, Italy, Turkey and the Netherlands.
The organisers as well as the Young EANM Committee member Nevena Ristevska created a great set of talks; the only downside was the rather sweltering room in which the talks were held. It didn’t help that the air conditioning unit was initially set at full blast to warm the room! The topics ranged from using radionuclides for imaging to therapy, in phantom models, in vitro, in vivo to clinical work. The prize for best presentation went to Ingrid Bakker, currently a PhD student from Erasmus UMC, the Netherlands who showed that gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) analogues, when radiolabeled with an isotope called Gallium-68, could aid the diagnosis of patients with prostate cancer by PET/CT imaging by targeting the GRP receptors.
The meeting was a fabulous opportunity for us all to talk about our work and research interests and get feedback and ideas. Not only that but we were able to talk about the ‘behind-the-scenes’ stuff, such as issues with supply, why this generator is a pain and radiolabeling efficiencies are not always 95% or more.
I would recommend this meeting to every young scientist doing science even remotely related to nuclear medicine. Where else would you be able to create your own network of colleagues and friends who are dotted around the world and yet have similar interests, travelled to places you have/would like to go to and have similar worries and obstacles?
Anita Montagna is a 2nd year PhD student in the Centre for the Developing Brain, Department of Perinatal Imaging and Health here at King’s College London. Her research focuses on long-term brain development of babies born prematurely, using a multidisciplinary perspective, which bridges neuroscience, neuropsychology and psychiatry. Her research is supported by the Medical Research Council.
While my entire department (Perinatal Imaging and Health) is trying to disentangle the mysteries of the early stages of life, my work takes me to a place a bit further downstream. Compared to many people I work with, my role is something like a Mary Poppins of science. I travel around London with a luggage full of toys and video games and I spend most of my day “playing” with children. I study the outcomes of prematurity in childhood and look for possible links between what happens in the premature brain and children’s abilities later on. With a “spoon full of sugar”, I ask kids to perform a series of demanding (and often not very fun) neurocognitive tasks and to exercise their attention for half an hour a day for two weeks. The study is part of a wider project that boasts of a unique database of longitudinal data and for the first time it moves from investigating problems to actually improving the life of these children. Here we offer them an intervention (in the form of a brain training video game) so we can then research into how the brain can change and adapt after prematurity.
It sounds great and epic but the territory is anything but easy.
Firstly, have you ever tried to talk about prematurity with schools and families? What you see is a lot of confusion. Around 50% of children born prematurely show academic difficulties and higher risk of attention and social problems during childhood. However prematurity is not a clearly recognised condition in schools plus families do not know how to consider prematurity in relation to their child’s development.
Secondly, we are asking children to be involved in an intensive research exercise: they are asked to come to the hospital twice, to have TWO –not one but two- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans and carry out brain training for two weeks. It sounds demanding and potentially quite scary! Thirdly, while many families are in battle with their children about how much time to sit in front of a screen, we are explicitly asking their children to play video games (a computerized attention training). Not everybody agrees that video games can be educational!
I am sure you can now vaguely guess what my nightmares are about…How to recruit? How to engage? How to get reliable data? The drop-out rates for this type of study is incredibly high; the child’s motivation is crucial and the family support is essential. Being aware of these issues (and probably inspired by my Mary Poppins side) I thought I had to find a way to involve the general public as an active part of the research process. So I thought I would try public engagement. But not public engagement in the style of a fun coffee break for neuroscientists or a way of ticking the “outreach activities” box on the next grant application. Here, engagement is much more important to me. It sounds something like “no engagement, no participants” or “no engagement, no scans”, in all its possible nuances. So, regardless of the views of some of my colleagues, I scheduled in my diary a weekly appointment for me to take part in outreach activities (just for the record, I also work on weekends plus these activities do not change the amount of hours I spend on my research so my week is pretty much work work work!).
So here some of the activities I am doing along with a bunch of brave colleagues. What better place than our Divisional blog to share them?
In terms of how to recruit children to my studies, I found a trick with schools. I offer workshops about neuroscience and scientific journalism to local schools and in return we have the chance to speak with the parents and their children. It really is so rewarding to see children dissecting jelly brains in my workshops. Many of them come out after the session saying “if you really do this job, can I volunteer for your study?”
For the MRI scans, I have a double strategy! When I go into the schools, I teach the children the principles of MRI and then I ask them to design a fMRI task. At one school, a group of 11-year-olds presented a task about processing unexpected events using images of footballer Wayne Rooney wearing a Barcelona football top! Once the students have built the task, we give them the chance to come and do their task during the research MRI scan and we give them a 3D printed version of their brain and colours to paint it. We will probably end up with an art exhibition of colourful brains!
For the training, it was an adventure. The video games we are using are relatively new and no data exists yet on how a non-premature child would perform. So I took the games to the fore and I ended up working at the Science Museum with a huge number of people. I won a place in the Live Science area, a great corner of the museum where you can do real live science for 15 days (Prof Sarah-Jane Blakemore and many other scientists took part before me!). Well, 700 people tested the video games and about 50 children took part in workshops about educational video games, one hundred children also designed posters explaining the pros and cons of using video games as educational/therapeutic tools and their suggestions. Together with this incredible amount of data, the days in the museum were something like a tour de force of public engagement! I was at the forefront and people could ask me anything they felt like (while I was trying to persuade them to take part in the study!). You cannot image how often I heard questions like ‘What do you do? Why do you do it? Why should I take part?’… A super training in science communication together with the unique chance to create the normative data for the games.
Having said that, I have to remind myself that this is just the beginning of the study and I wish the next time I write on this blog, it will be about promising results! I still have a long way to go so wish me ‘good luck’ and do contact me if you want to be involved (or have a child who might want to!)