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Pupils Discover the Science of the Mind

Tuesday, 08 March 2016

Year 10 pupils from the Girls’ and Boys’ Divisions were joined by pupils from Manchester Academy, Accrington Academy and William Hulme Grammar School for a day of insight into neuroscience with staff and postgraduate students from University College London (UCL).

The ‘Science of the Mind’ conference opened with an introduction to neuroscience from PhD student Clare Palmer. This short lecture gave a brief introduction to neuroscience and how the brain works.

Clare invited pupils to join in with some short experiments during the lecture: the ‘stopped clock illusion’ showed how the brain can change the perception of time, and listening to some music backwards proved that perceptions change based on what the brain expects. She explained why these changes in perception happen, before going on to talk about the perception of time during life-threatening events and why it seems to slow down.

She also talked about how, by studying the brain and how it generates certain behaviours and reacts to social cues such as laughter, neuroscientists can understand more about human behaviour. Her talk ended with a discussion of fine motor skills and some of the amazing advances that have been made in brain-machine interfaces for people with paralysis, allowing them to control cursors on a computer screen or even robotic arms.

The Year 10 pupils then divided into smaller groups for a series of workshops run by the neuroscientists.

In the Neuroethics workshop, pupil debated whether criminals with brain injuries, such as Cecil Clayton who lost part of the frontal lobe of his brain in a sawmill accident, are responsible for their actions. The Visual Illusions session explored a variety of different optical illusions – including ‘the dress’ that became famous on the internet in early 2015 – and looked at how and why these arise. The Memory workshop was really useful, as it contained lots of helpful tips for revision! The neuroscientists looked at how memories are stored and what techniques can be used to improve memory and recall. The Brain Structure and Function session introduced pupils to the anatomy and structure of the brain: what different parts are responsible for, and what can happen when part of the brain is injured. In the Drugs workshop, pupils learned the science behind the drugs and alcohol messages they had heard in school and discussed some of the issues relating to these and to neuroscience. Neuromyths looked at some popular facts and fictions about neuroscience and explored the truth behind them, asking pupils to contribute to the discussion with their thoughts and ideas as well.

Finally, everyone convened for a game of ‘Neuro Bingo’. This fun game asked pupils questions based on some of the key facts from Clare’s talk at the start of the day. The answers were written on bingo cards, and the pupils who were first to reach a row of three answers won prizes.

The day ended with a fascinating question and answer session with four neuroscientists: Archy de Berker, Talfan Evans, Clare Palmer and Isi Weinberg. They took questions about their studies at A Level and university, what an ‘average’ day looks like for them, as well as some more thought-provoking questions, such as what they think the biggest advances have been in neuroscience, whether it will one day be possible to transfer memories from one brain to another or into a computer, and what are the best and worst things about being a scientist.

Mr Ickringill said, “It was a pleasure to host this event for local schools and our own pupils. The presentations and workshops by UCL postgraduate students and staff were excellent. A delightful Q&A session gave pupils a deeper insight into the day to day life of a researcher and left us all wanting more.”

Science of the Mind was hosted by Bolton School Girls’ Division. It was organised by Mr Ickringill alongside United Learning, who arranged the inspiring neuroscientist guests and planned a spectacular day for the sixty Year 10 pupils who attended. The event was run in partnership with UCL and Hands Up.

The UCL neuroscientists who volunteered their time to run the workshops were Archy de Berker, Mrudul Bhatt, Svenja Espenhahn, Talfan Evans, Grace Gale, Ricci Hannah, Lone Horyck, Alexandra Kalpandakis-Smith, Louise Marshall, Claire Mokrysz, Clare Palmer, Natacha Sha’Ban, Sam Solomon, Isi Weinberg, and Ewa Zotow.

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The UCL neuroscientists who ran the workshops

The UCL neuroscientists who ran the workshops

Coming up with ideas in the Neuroethics workshop

Coming up with ideas in the Neuroethics workshop

The Q&A session was one of the highlights of the day

The Q&A session was one of the highlights of the day