Public Engagement Blog
Reminiscence session with older adults in Banbury
By Grace Gillis, Research Coordinator, Department of Psychiatry
March 2022 - On 14 March, my colleague Gemma Butler and I had the opportunity to engage with older adults in Banbury, at a monthly Reminiscence group hosted by Banbury Museum. This activity was part of the events programme tied to the museum's Your Amazing Brain exhibition, created in partnership with WIN. During the Reminiscence session, individuals gathered to reminisce together, sharing memories connected to various objects. This event formed part of a wider discussion on maintaining brain health throughout the lifespan.
Attendees were invited to bring an object that was associated with strong memories. We began with a brief presentation on the interactions between memories and the brain. Afterwards, we had time to discuss the brought objects and associated memories. We rooted our conversation in the interaction between memories and sensory experiences, even linking back to the underlying neural networks. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the stories associated with the various objects, from a figurine with memories of the suffragette movement to a small coinbox with memories of managing finances in a different era. Beyond hearing these reflections, my favourite part was seeing the sense of community that developed across the group from the sharing of common experiences. I was witness to the power of group reminiscence to stave off the social isolation and loneliness so pervasive among older adults.
We finished with a discussion on additional ways to maintain brain health, including learning new things and staying socially engaged. It was inspiring to see their interest in our research, including an eagerness to get involved. For me, public engagement activities like this refresh my motivation to research cognitive ageing in health and disease.
Banbury Primary School visits
By Lucy Starling, Research Assistant, Vision Group
February 2022 - As part of the ‘Your Amazing Brain’ exhibition at Banbury Museum, I was invited to deliver a session to a class of Year 4 students at Longford Park School in Banbury. This was the first time I had ever stood at the front of a class to present anything, so I am very glad I had a wonderful group with me who had much more experience with kids than myself!
The pupils were amazed by facts such as the speed that information travels along a neuron (faster than an F1 car!) and the average number of neurons in a human brain (around 86 billion), and they leapt at the chance to stand at the front of the class with a plush neuron and demonstrate how neurons communicate. It felt very rewarding to introduce this area of science to the class, and what surprised me most was how much some of the pupils already knew! One pupil in particular gave a detailed explanation of memories, the hippocampus, and the nervous system.
I specifically delivered slides about MRI and how we can use magnets to look inside things, such as the brain. We started with a guessing game where I showed MR images of fruit before moving on to say that we can use MRI to see the structure and function of living brains. This got the class excited and curious about things that might affect the scanner, with one pupil asking what would happen if someone fell asleep and another asking whether someone with braces can have an MRI scan. And of course, everyone was excited to make their own model brain out of plasticine at the end of the session!
WIN researchers Lucy Starling, Lilian Weber, and Marco Wittman at Longford Park school. Photo by WIN researcher Miriam Klein-Flugge.
Drawing Neuroscience: Report of a neurosketching workshop in november 2021
By Lucy Starling, Research Assistant, Vision Group
November 2021 - Visual representations are important in scientific communication - the 'gist' of an image can usually be captured and processed more quickly than a paragraph of words can be read, and an eye-catching diagram or figure is often the centrepiece of a poster. A good image can allow us to explain concepts more easily to all kinds of audience, from explaining your proposed method to a grants panel, disseminating findings in a paper, or telling family members just what exactly it is that you spend your time doing.
Michelle Fava Darlington, a visual practitioner and researcher based in Cambridge, visited the the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging (WIN) in November to deliver a neurosketching workshop delving into the importance of developing effective metaphors in visual communication. Beginning immediately with a group drawing warm up, the workshop explored the idea of drawing as an iterative process in which emotions and the input of others can both play a large role. It isn't often easy to communicate complex scientific principles in an easily understandable way, so instead Michelle offered an alternative approach: the use of metaphor.
The idea for this workshop was developed by Carinne Piekema of the WIN Public Engagement team and Betina Ip in the Vision Group. Betina, an avid fan of drawing and comic books, had been toying with the idea of a public engagement event which shifted the perspective from reading comics to actually making them. Together, she and Carinne developed the idea of working with Michelle and Matteo Farinella (author of Neurocomic), as a training opportunity to allow WIN researchers to think about their research in different ways.
The group discussed common metaphors in science, with Michelle providing an informative, interactive webpage of metaphors for the mind and brain to be used as a starting point for developing our own ideas that could be used to express different principles and areas of research.
After a delightful lunch break, participants paired up and described their research to one another, with each person creating a sketch of the other person’s research idea. This turned out to be a particularly useful method, as it can be difficult to see your own ideas from any other perspective. “Being stimulated to think in metaphors will potentially also give [researchers] more tools to explain their research to a wide variety of audiences,” said Carinne about the event, “which is of course brilliant from a public engagement point of view!”
Participant Katherine Bryant commented: “I think scientists sometimes shy away from using metaphors to describe scientific concepts because we have witnessed them being misused and even causing misinformation about science in the public, for example, the notion of the brain being ‘hard-wired’”. She continued: “However, this workshop gave some excellent examples of how metaphors can illuminate ideas, and how a good presenter can also highlight the places where the metaphor doesn't work as a way to clarify concepts even further.”
Towards the end of the workshop, we connected virtually with Matteo Farinella, a professional illustrator and neuroscientist known for the book Neurocomic. He provided valuable input into the use of metaphor for scientific communication, with his top tips being to ensure the metaphor is relatable so that people understand it, and to know how far the metaphor can go before it begins to break down and no longer fit your subject.
Participants said the workshop was both useful and enjoyable - and perhaps wished it lasted longer! Working in groups to discuss ongoing or future research and explore ideas to effectively communicate this research to others through art was refreshing. Personally, I had never considered using comics in science, however I now believe that art can be an effective mechanism for communicating scientific findings to non-specialists.
I would like to thank Michelle for her fantastic job in leading the workshop, Betina and Carinne for organising it, and everyone who attended for making the workshop as effective and enjoyable as it was. I would also suggest that anyone interested keeps their eyes peeled for sequel events!